Bishops divided on same-sex marriage, say CoI Archbishops

Archbishop cannot recall occasion when bishops advised on vote

The Church of Ireland’s two Archbishops have agreed fellow bishops are divided on the same-sex marriage referendum.

The Church has not taken a public stand on the referendum.

Speaking at the Church of Ireland General Synod, Archbishop of Armagh Richard Clarke said he could not think of an occasion when the House of Bishops "ever said vote in such and such a way or not in such and such a way".

The Synod was attended and addressed by the Catholic Primate of All Ireland on Friday morning.

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Archbishop Eamon Martin was warmly received, and spoke briefly and informally to delegates and the Church of Ireland House of Bishops.

He said it was a joy and an honour to attend. It was wonderful to see people who had a real interest in their Church, their faith and who were willing to give up their quality time to ensure that Church remained fresh and new, he said.

When he became Archbishop of Armagh he was asked to choose a motto, which he said is “Sing to the Lord a New Song”.

"I'm not sure what it means to me," he said. He wondered if it meant new words or a new melody. Then, he said, along came Pope Francis, and he put down a challenge to people to try doing things in a new key, and Pope Francis said this is a missionary key.

“We are challenged to get out there with the message of the gospel to get out to the messiness of people’s lives, to the reality of where they are living. We’re in the present and we’re called to sing a new song. I know that’s not always easy,” he said.

Wishing Synod delegates well with their deliberations, he encouraged them “to consider how you sing a new song to the Lord, delivering the challenging message of the gospel without alienating people, but calling them to come and see”.

Bishops divided

Separately and speaking to the media, the Church of Ireland’s two Archbishops agreed fellow bishops were divided on the same-sex marriage referendum.

Archbishop of Armagh Richard Clarke said: “I can’t think of an occasion when the House of Bishops has ever said vote in such and such a way or not in such and such a way.”

He would not regard divergence of opinion among the bishops “as particularly unhealthy in the slightest. We need to remember two things; that this is about a civil matter. It does not in any way affect the teaching of the Church of Ireland and therefore people, perhaps inevitably, take different views on it.”

Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson said: “It is not our way of working. It’s not like the Church to be prescriptive…But I wouldn’t in any way go as far as to say that the absence of a public statement (on the referendum) betokens internal division.”

The General Synod agreed to extend time for a final report from its select committee on human sexuality by another two years. It will address same-sex marriage as well as ministry by gay clergy in the church.

The committee was set up by General Synod in 2013 for a two-year term. Its Guide to the Conversation on Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian Belief is to be published later this year.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times