A private two-day Church of Ireland conference in Co Cavan that aimed to discuss the issue of homosexuality has passed off in a relaxed manner, it has been reported.
Although there has been an often heated debate within the denomination in recent months on the subject, archbishops and an independent delegate agreed yesterday that the conference had been respectful.
The event at the Slieve Russell Hotel, Ballyconnell, was attended by the 450 members of the General Synod, the church’s broad-based leadership grouping.
The church’s stance came into sharp focus in September when the first civil partnership involving an acting cleric in the denomination came to light. The Rev Tom Gordon, Dean of Leighlin Cathedral in Co Carlow, confirmed he had entered the partnership with his partner of 20 years. The news was widely seen within the church as defying its traditional stance on marriage and the subsequent debate triggered the conference.
Generally, the Church of Ireland has been more conservative than the larger Church of England, which allows clergy to enter civil partnerships so long as they agree to remain celibate.
In a joint statement yesterday, the Archbishop of Armagh the Rev Alan Harper and Archbishop of Dublin the Rev Michael Jackson, said the conference had been “a substantial conversation reflecting strongly held convictions characterised by clarity of expression without judgmentalism”. They said the climate “was one of respectful dialogue” and that it had “become clear that there is a breadth of opinion in the Church of Ireland on these matters but also a strong sense of the cohesiveness of the church”.
The conference observed a common desire to welcome all people in the church, “while accepting that there are no easy answers to difficult questions”. However the church seeks to “witness to society” they said, “rather than simply reflect[ing] current popular opinion”. And in the current debate on the legalisation of same-sex marriage, the church’s position on marriage as being “the union of one man and one woman, remains constant”.
There were no votes, motions or resolutions during the conference, although a resolution could potentially be formed by the standing committee of the General Synod tomorrow for consideration at the General Synod in May.
Editor of The Church of Ireland Gazette, Canon Ian Ellis, praised the bishops who organised the conference, saying the atmosphere was “relaxed”.
But Canon Charles Kenny, secretary of pro-gay group Changing Attitude Ireland, while welcoming the conference said he was “concerned at the insufficient contribution by gay and lesbian people”. He added: “Of the many conference sessions over two days only one 45-minute session was allocated to gay speakers.”
His group tried to counter this, he said, by hosting a fringe gathering of gay, lesbian and bisexual people with members of the church in the hotel foyer.