Clarke brings liberal credentials and ecumenical experience to role as Primate of All-Ireland
The appointment of Richard Clarke as Archbishop-elect of Armagh surprised many, due to his liberalism and limited experience of Northern Ireland
THE APPOINTMENT of Bishop Richard Clarke (63) as Primate of All-Ireland and Archbishop-elect of Armagh has been a source of surprise and delight to many.
Although he is a popular and a widely respected figure in ecumenical and interfaith circles throughout Ireland and beyond, it was thought his liberal credentials and limited experience of Northern Ireland might go against him in yesterday’s election by the House of Bishops.
Traditionally, the northern membership like their Archbishops of Armagh to come from there and to be more evangelical than is generally the case with bishops in the Republic. The majority – 275,000 – of Church of Ireland members live in Northern Ireland, compared with 129,039 in the Republic.
Bishop Clarke is a Dubliner. He was born there in June 1949 and educated at Wesley College and Trinity College before going to King’s College London.
Following his ordination in 1976, he served as a curate in Holywood, Co Down, for two years.
Since then his clerical career has been in the Republic, culminating in his election as Bishop of Meath and Kildare in 1996.
Possibly his election yesterday is a positive sign of the times on this island.
He will be enthroned on December 15th next and from then will face problems familiar to church leaders in Ireland.
These include a falling membership, lack of interest among the young, and increasing secularisation of Irish society, north and south.
More immediately it is likely he will have to win over a possibly suspicious northern church membership.
It will also fall to his stewardship as primate to oversee how the church addresses the ongoing and troublesome issue of gay clergy and gay marriage. Following contentious debate at the church’s general synod last May, a motion reaffirming its traditional teaching on marriage was passed by a two-to-one majority.
The synod also requested the standing committee to progress work on the issue of human sexuality and to bring proposals to next year’s synod for the formation of a select committee.
The divisions exposed extended to the bishops themselves, two of whom, Bishop Paul Colton of Cork and Bishop Michael Burrows of Cashel, did not support the motion, which was proposed by Archbishop Michael Jackson of Dublin and Bishop Harold Miller of Down and Dromore.
Bishop Clarke recalled afterwards how he and Bishop Miller were on opposing sides at the 1998 Lambeth conference in a resolution on sex, “but our relationship was never tainted, never damaged . . . if Harold and I can do it, I think the rest of us can as well.”