Two out of 10 Church of Ireland bishops affirm same-sex relationships at international conference

Leader of Anglicans worldwide reaffirms declaration that gay sex is ‘incompatible with scripture’

The signatory bishops affirmed “the holiness of... love wherever it is found in committed relationships". Photograph: Ian Hodgson/ Reuters

A document affirming same-sex relationships circulated this week at the 15th Lambeth Conference in Canterbury received approval from just two Church of Ireland bishops.

The Lambeth Conference, which usually takes place every 10 years, is attended by bishops of the Anglican Communion worldwide, including those in the Church of Ireland.

Currently 10 of the 11 Church of Ireland bishops are in attendance there, as the recently elected Bishop of Cashel Adrian Wilkinson has yet to be installed.

The document, prepared by the Primate of the US Episcopal Church Bishop Michael Curry, affirmed that “we believe that LGBT+ people are a precious part of God’s creation” and recognising “that many LGBT+ people have historically been wounded by the church” while affirming “the holiness of their love wherever it is found in committed relationships”, the signatory bishops committed themselves to “working with our siblings across the communion to listen to their stories and understand their contexts, which vary greatly”.


They would “never shy away from tackling discrimination and prejudice against those of differing sexualities and gender identities”.

The two Irish bishops who signed the document were Bishop of Tuam, Limerick and Killaloe Michael Burrows and Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross Paul Colton. Among the approximately 110 bishops who signed the document to date are five other Primates; those of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church in Wales, the Church of Canada, the Anglican Church in Brazil, and the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.

About 650 Anglican bishops are in attendance at the conference, representing 42 provinces and 85 million people of the Anglican Communion worldwide. Absent are the primates of Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda, jointly representing about 30 million Anglicans, who are boycotting the conference, as they did the last Lambeth Conference in 2008, following the ordination in 2004 of gay man Gene Robinson as Bishop of the US diocese of New Hampshire.

Addressing the same-sex issue at the conference earlier this week, leader of Anglicans worldwide and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, affirmed the validity of a 1998 church declaration that gay sex was “incompatible with scripture”.

However, he also said he would not seek authority to discipline or exclude churches – including those in Scotland, Wales and the US – that conduct or bless same-sex marriages.

He noted how “for the large majority of the Anglican Communion the traditional understanding of marriage is something that is understood, accepted and without question, not only by bishops but their entire church, and the societies in which they live. For them, to question this teaching is unthinkable, and in many countries would make the church a victim of derision, contempt and even attack. For many churches to change traditional teaching challenges their very existence.”

He continued that “for a minority, we can say almost the same. They have not arrived lightly at their ideas that traditional teaching needs to change. They are not careless about scripture. They do not reject Christ. But they have come to a different view on sexuality after long prayer, deep study and reflection on understandings of human nature. For them, to question this different teaching is unthinkable, and in many countries is making the church a victim of derision, contempt and even attack. For these churches not to change traditional teaching challenges their very existence.”

There would be, however, he said, no attempt made “to alter the historic teaching of the vast majority of churches of the Anglican Communion”. He advised: “let us not treat each other lightly or carelessly. We are deeply divided. That will not end soon. We are called by Christ himself both to truth and unity.”

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times