The Very Rev Ian Corbett, a former Dean of Tuam in Dublin, now serving as an assistant priest in the benefice of East Clevedon, Bristol, is returning to Ireland after being invited by Changing Attitude Ireland to address a meeting in Dublin on the topic, “Living as a sexual and spiritual being in contrasting cultures”.
Ian Corbett was open about being gay but resigned 12 years ago in protest at the church’s attitudes to same-sex relationships. He left the Republic in 1999 after speaking out at the 1998 Lambeth Conference in favour of the church accepting gay partnerships. His pro-gay contribution was criticised by local churches in Ireland.
His return to speak at the Changing Attitude Ireland event comes as both sides in the Church of Ireland’s debate on same-sex unions position themselves ahead of next spring’s major conference to discuss the issue, prompted by the crisis which followed the first civil partnership involving a serving Church of Ireland minister.
Ian Corbett has said: “It is moving for me to be invited back to Ireland as it was the reaction to my speaking out in the context of the 1998 Lambeth Conference that led me to leave Ireland prematurely.” He added that he found that “ordinary people in the Church of Ireland were now ahead of their clergy in their experience of, and acceptance of, gay people”.
The secretary of Changing Attitude Ireland, Dr Richard O’Leary said: “Thirteen years ago he courageously spoke up for gay persons at the Anglican Lambeth Conference and for which he paid a personal price. Fortunately since then Irish society and the Church of Ireland have become better informed and accepting of gay persons, although this process still has some way to go.”
The conservative Church of Ireland group Reform Ireland has urged church lay people to withhold funds from the church, a tactic used by conservative groups in England. In a letter to lay people, Reform said: “Vestries should also make clear their unwillingness to financially support a system that endorses such an unbiblical and sinful lifestyle. Money is given in trust by parishioners to support the work of the Gospel, and the church in that work, not to promote ungodly teaching or lifestyles.” It added: “Also, they should consider supporting and assisting their rector in seeking alternative Episcopal oversight.”
Reform’s response repeats the stance taken by conservative pressure groups in England: the threat to withhold money, a thinly-veiled attempt at blackmail; the threat of schism, the inevitable result of alternative episcopal oversight; and the abuse of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians by calling our lifestyle sinful and unbiblical. We are as passionately engaged in the work of the gospel as our brother and sister Christians in the conservative evangelical tradition.
Ian Corbett’s comment that ordinary people are ahead of the clergy in their acceptance of gay people reflects exactly our experience in England. It is not an issue for the huge majority of Church of England members, and younger people are astonished at the prejudice of the stance taken by Reform.