Irish church divided over gay marriage vote

Last month’s vote in support of gay marriage will not change the practices of the Church of Ireland, its House of Bishops have declared.

Last month’s vote in support of gay marriage will not change the practices of the Church of Ireland, its House of Bishops have declared.

Liberal Anglican voices have called for the church to honour the outcome and find a pastoral way to conform its doctrine and discipline to popular sentiment. Conservative Evangelicals have called for a redoubling of efforts to spread the Gospel in what had become a “hell-bent” land. The Roman Catholic Church was also disappointed by the outcome. The Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin on 26 May 2015 in Rome said he was “deeply saddened by the result”, which was a “defeat for humanity.”

The Yes victory may prompt some Anglican clergy to refuse to act as civil registrars for marriage, conservative leaders tell the Church of England Newspapers — a move likely to be taken by Roman Catholic clergy.

On 22 May 2015 the Republic of Ireland went to the polls to vote on a constitutional amendment put forward by the Fine Gael-Labour government that would mandate the legal recognition of same-sex marriage. The measure was approved by 62 per cent of voters and received a majority all in but one of Ireland’s counties.

The Church of Ireland took no formal stance on the referendum. Its Archbishops told a press conference following a meeting of General Synod earlier this month the church did not instruct its members how to vote. The Church of Ireland Gazette reports the Rt. Rev. Ferran Glenfield added to his signature to a declaration by Protestant leaders opposing an amendment to the Republic of Ireland’s constitution stating: “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”

However two Church of Ireland bishops have said in the run up to the vote that they would vote Yes. The Bishop of Cork, the Rt. Rev. Paul Colton told the BBC last year he supported the introduction of gay marriage, while the Bishop of Cashel, Ferns & Ossory, the Rt. Rev. Michael Burrows last month told a conference at Trinity College, Dublin that gay rights was the “great justice issue of our time just as the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of women were in the past.”

He asserted the “call for same sex marriage is a logical and timely development in the march of law reform and equality” and was “convinced that it will be a contribution to a fairer and more truly equal Ireland, and I cannot see any way in which it could be considered repugnant to the common good, or indeed to the vital role of the family.”

Two retired Archbishops of Dublin have also said they would vote Yes. The Most Rev. Walton Empey, archbishop of Dublin from 1996 to 2002, said: “I certainly have no hesitation in calling for a Yes vote.”

The Most Rev. John Neill, the archbishop of Dublin from 2002 to 2011, told The Irish Times “the understanding of marriage in the church has evolved, putting partnership first before procreation”, in which context “there is less of a problem about same-sex marriage”. A Yes result would not affect the church’s teaching on marriage and it could continue “to order [its] own affairs,” he said. But he hoped church thinking would evolve “to take account of this distinction.”

He further stated “we now recognise that there are many different types of unions and I don’t see why they cannot have the protection and status of marriage”. He was also “quite happy this wouldn’t affect the status of children.”

However, the Bishop of the United Dioceses of Meath and Kildare, the Most Rev. Patricia Storey said in a pastoral letter to her clergy it was the effect on children and the family that led her to cast a No vote.

“I believe that civil partnerships give gay people clear civil rights and recognition as people committed to one another, and I fully endorse this. However, I do not think that this requires the redefinition of marriage to uphold it, and I do not believe that marriage should be redefined,” she wrote.

Same-sex marriage would harm children and society. “You cannot redefine marriage without including information and reference to children, family life and the good of society. It is my view that, where possible, children benefit most from both genders parenting them. That is not to say that single parents who find themselves alone do not do an immensely great job in raising their children. Yet I believe that it is God’s intention that, wherever feasible, children should have a mother and father.”

In a statement released after the results were announced, the House of Bishops said the Church of Ireland “defines marriage as between a man and a woman, and the result of this referendum does not alter this.

“The church has often existed, in history, with different views from those adopted by the state, and has sought to live with both conviction and good relationships with the civil authorities and communities in which it is set. Marriage services taking place in a Church of Ireland church, or conducted by a minister of the Church of Ireland may – in compliance with church teaching, liturgy and canon law – continue to celebrate only marriage between a man and a woman.

“We would now sincerely urge a spirit of public generosity, both from those for whom the result of the referendum represents triumph, and from those for whom it signifies disaster,” the bishops said.

For Reform, the outcome was a disaster. “Ireland is spiritually and morally bankrupt, at war with itself, and Hell-bent, detesting the idea of Christianity – at least the version of it that has been presented to it by the Roman Catholic church,” the conservative evangelical group said in a statement released after the vote.

“So, where do we go from here?  Well, like the Apostle Paul, our ambition in Ireland is simply to preach the Gospel where Christ is not known … In Ireland, the vast majority ‘know’ Christ as only a swear word, or as a distant, cold stone statue figure at best.  But our ambition, as Irish Christians, as Evangelicals, is to bring the Gospel afresh to this generation of Irish to know Him as their loving Lord and Saviour,” they said.

An editorial in the Church of Ireland Gazette — an independent publication reporting on the Irish church — argued the church should change its doctrine and discipline to conform to the spirit of the age.

There is no doubt that in Irish parishes there will, in due course, be parishioners who are in same-sex marriages performed under the auspices of the state.

“Although it is not what the church advocates, there will have to be an honouring of those who choose such a committed and loving path in life…

“For the churches, to live in Ireland as a distinctly minority voice is now a clear reality, and it is a humbling experience. A time for reflection is now needed within all the churches.

“It would be good if this could be done by churches together, and we do have the ecumenical structures in place in Ireland to do just that.

“An ecumenical, pastoral response to what has been a momentous change in the settled culture of the Republic would be a welcome development,” the newspaper argued.

Sources in the Church of Ireland tell the Church of England Newspaper that there is active discussion underway amongst Evangelical clergy as to how to respond. One measure under discussion is withdrawing services as civil registrars for marriages. Clergy would perform church weddings, but ask all couples to have their nuptials solemnized by a state registrar, it has been suggested.

This article first appeared in The Church of England Newspaper.

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