Motions run high as synod debate on same-sex marriage is called off on a technicality

A MOTION affirming traditional church teaching on marriage could not be taken at the Church of Ireland General Synod in Dublin…

A MOTION affirming traditional church teaching on marriage could not be taken at the Church of Ireland General Synod in Dublin yesterday, on a point of order. Speakers argued that as wording of motion 8A could be construed as proposing a doctrinal change, it ought to be a Bill not a motion.

The motion on Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian Belief stated that the church “continues to uphold its teaching that marriage is part of God’s creation and a holy mystery in which one man and one woman become one flesh, as provided for in Canon 31”.

It continued that the church “recognise for itself and of itself, no other understanding of marriage than that provided for in the totality of Canon 31”.

Raising the point of order, Dean of Cork Rev Nigel Dunne said that the church’s teaching on marriage “as expressed in Canon 31 stands in conflict with an understanding of same as expressed in Marriage Service Two in the Book of Common Prayer”.

He continued: “Canon 31 gives first place to the procreation and nurture of children. Marriage Service Two does not. Marriage Service Two is quite clear that sex and sexual intercourse is firstly to strengthen the relationship. The procreation of children comes second.” Motion 8A, he suggested, could “constitute a modification or alteration of doctrine” and ought not be considered as a motion but ought to be a Bill.

Following some debate on the matter the Church of Ireland primate and Synod president Archbishop Alan Harper, concerned with “the avoidance of doubt”, ruled that the motion not be taken. Related motions 8B and 8C were withdrawn by proposers Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson and the Bishop of Down and Dromore Harold Miller, who had also proposed motion 8A.

The motions followed a special two-day General Synod conference on human sexuality at the Slieve Russell hotel in Co Cavan on March 9th and 10th last. It was called by the church’s bishops last October following disclosures the previous month that the Dean of Leighlin (Carlow), the Rev Tom Gordon, and his male partner of 20 years had entered a civil partnership last July.

Earlier in General Synod proceedings yesterday the Bishop of Cork, Paul Colton, expressed regret “at the naming of one single individual” in a standing committee report on the Slieve Russell conference. He had missed the conference and subsequent standing committee meeting due to his father’s death and funeral, he said, but that such naming “has never been done before”.

He also said the church should “stop talking about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as if they are not members of the church”. Such people had been members of the church “for generations”, he said.

In his presidential address, Archbishop Harper drew attention to a recent survey commissioned by the Association of Catholic Priests which showed “the extent to which the churches are challenged by the circumstances of the modern world and the speed at which established cultural assumptions are changing in Ireland and elsewhere”.

The survey found that 87 per cent of Irish Catholics believed priests should be allowed marry, 77 per cent believed there should be women priests, 75 per cent believed church teaching on sexuality was not relevant to themselves or their families and 61 per cent rejected Catholic Church teaching on homosexuality.

The survey, “demonstrated the extent and the continuing pace of change in outlook, attitudes, beliefs and self-confidence now exhibited among the people surveyed.” The Church of Ireland was “not insulated from similar processes of attitudinal change,” he said.