COI Gazette – 10th June 2016

Carnage of the Somme and the Irish who fought there – Centenary event at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Dr Gavin Hughes speaking at the Somme event (Photo: Lynn Glanville)

Dr Gavin Hughes speaking at the Somme event (Photo: Lynn Glanville)

The horror of the Battle of the Somme was recalled at a special commemorative event in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, on Wednesday 1st June.

A large crowd in the cathedral’s Music Room heard from two speakers who highlighted the contribution of Irish battalions and individuals to the largest battle on the Western Front during World War I and one of the bloodiest battles in human history.

The Somme: A Wider Set of Reflections and Experiences was organised by the Church of Ireland Historical Centenaries Working Group. Dr Gavin Hughes of Trinity College Dublin spoke about Irish Battalions and the long Battle of the Somme and the author, Turtle Bunbury, detailed some of the Irish personalities who ventured on to the Somme battlefield.

The event was chaired by the British Ambassador to Ireland, Dominick Chilcott, who commended the Church of Ireland for the work it was doing on commemorating centenaries during this Decade of Centenaries.



In a recent joint letter to The Observer newspaper, looking ahead to the 23rd June referendum on the United Kingdom’s place in the European Union, senior religious leaders from different faith backgrounds set out their argument that the UK should remain an EU member. The 37 signatories included former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Wales Barry Morgan and Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe Robert Innes. The move follows similar advice from the Archbishops of Armagh and Dublin, voiced during the press conference at last month’s General Synod, and the publication of The Irish Churches and the EU Referendum – A Discussion Paper, a short document prepared by the European Affairs Committee of the Irish Council of Churches and recommending an ‘In’ vote. The Convener of the ICC committee is the Church of Ireland’s Kenneth Milne, an ardent supporter of the EU.

In their letter to The Observer, the faith leaders said that faith is about “integration and building bridges, not about isolation and erecting barriers”. They pointed out that the past 70 years have been the longest period of peace in Europe’s history, adding that institutions that “enable us to work together and understand both our differences and what we share in common contribute to our increased security and sense of collective endeavour”. They stated that “so many of the challenges we face today can only be addressed in a European, and indeed a global, context”, commenting: “We hope that when voting on 23rd June, people will reflect on whether undermining the international institutions charged with delivering these goals could conceivably contribute to a fairer, cleaner and safer world.”

The fact of the matter is that, while the ‘In/Out’ vote appears to be a single issue, it is in fact about a myriad of issues – economic, cultural, statistical, political, and so forth. It is difficult to see how the average person can really master all of the arguments, especially in the context of seemingly endless facts and figures being released by both sides of the debate to bolster their respective cases. Indeed, in his ‘blog’, the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, has gone so far as to describe the debate as “pathetic”, referring to “the trading of unsubstantiated prophetic claims on both sides, accompanied by ‘selective’ representations of European history and the pursuit of personal vendettas by people who seemed – on other matters, at least – to be on the same side”.

Bishop Baines points out, with undeniable truth, how easy it is to break down institutions and relationships but how difficult it can be to build them up, and he also warns that consideration has to be be given to how the UK’s departure from the EU “might well fuel the disturbing nationalist fires in other parts of Europe and how further fragmentation of the EU might lead to new political associations over which we will have no control and even less influence”. Reflecting on the tone of the debate so far, Bishop Baines aptly points out that the appeal that dominates is the appeal “to purely national self-interest over against what we might bring to the common good”.

The emerging far-right political trend in Europe is indeed serious – and worrying. One only has to consider how close Norbert Hofer, Austria’s far-right Freedom Party candidate, came to winning the Austrian presidency last month. It was only after the postal votes had been counted that the Green Party’s Alexander Van der Bellen clinched victory by a margin of 50.3 to 49.7 per cent of the poll. At least we know what Mr Van der Bellen might be expected to advocate as far as the UK’s 23rd June vote is concerned. A retired Professor of Economics at the University of Vienna, he has expressed the view that if the EU did not exist, something along its lines would have to be invented.

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Letters to the Editor


THE BATTLE against abortion is one of the great human rights battles of our era. It is a matter of scientific fact that human life begins at conception; that means it is also a matter of fact that an abortion ends a human life.

It was therefore disappointing that the Revd Stephen Neill, in his column calling for the liberalising of abortion laws in the Republic (3rd June), completely ignored the rights of the unborn child to life in this matter – a right that is part of the inherent dignity of all those who are created in the image and likeness of Almighty God.

Ignoring the God-given right of the child to life, of course, allows one to skew the argument in a particular way.

Mr Neill, for example, speaks of the 166,951 abortions procured by women from the Republic in the UK since 1989, saying that number of women represents half the population of Greater Belfast; he makes no mention at all of the fact it means that it means that there is an equal number of young men and women, boys and girls, who are missing from our towns and cities, homes and schools.

It is, of course, necessary for those who are pro-abortion to ignore the rights of the child; for it is only by ignoring these rights that it can be claimed that there exists a right to an abortion.

Mr Neill suggests that limiting access to abortion denies women the fundamental right to determine their own role in creation. However, no one can have the right to end the life of another, particularly one who is so innocent and so vulnerable as the child in the womb.

Life is given by God; it is not for us to take it away.

Mr Neill suggests that St Luke’s account of the Annunciation supports his contention. This is a somewhat selective reading of the sacred Scriptures, ignoring as it does the sanctity of human life that is woven into the Bible from beginning to end.

It also ignores those places in Scripture where the humanity of the person is recognised as existing prior to birth. For Christians, the most important of these comes in St Luke’s account of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, where the Christ- child, only days after his conception, is prophetically recognised as Lord.

Jesus was fully God and fully man from the moment of his incarnation, when the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary. As he was fully man from that moment, so too must the humanity of all people be acknowledged from the moment of their conception.

I would agree with Mr Neill on one thing. The issue of abortion needs to be discussed within the Church of Ireland. However, I would suggest that it needs to be framed in the context of how we, as part of God’s Church, may best be part of the fight to protect the rights of unborn children, millions of whom are sacrificed every year as the consequence of an ideology that denies them any right to life.
Patrick G. Burke (The Revd)

The Rectory Castlecomer Co. Kilkenny

I ADMIRE the Revd Stephen Neill’s courage in speaking out on the contentious issue of abortion (Gazette, 3rd June) and agree with him that a conversation on this topic is vital.

However, I am not persuaded that his arguments in favour of repealing the 8th Amendment are coherent or convincing. A few points may illustrate my concerns:

1. Stephen feels that the present situation means that Ireland has “exported” this issue to the UK mainland. But consider an analogy: a town has two off-licences. One declines to sell alcohol to underage customers, while the other sells to anyone. Is the first business “exporting the problem” of underage drinking? Should it therefore join the second off- licence and start selling to anyone? Or should it continue to do what is right, rather than follow its neighbour?

2. Stephen says he is “pro-choice” but “not in favour of abortion on demand”. I wonder what exactly the difference is between “choice” and “demand” in this context. The two words certainly stir differing emotions, but Stephen needs to explain how they actually differ logically. When does a choice become a demand?

3. Thankfully, Stephen rejects the termination of pregnancies on the basis of diagnosed special needs. However, this seems to undermine rather than support his overall pro- choice stance.

4. Stephen argues that human beings are enabled but not forced by God to “create life”. This is true enough, but it does not logically follow that they have liberty to terminate that God-enabled, creative process at a later stage.

5. The Virgin Mary, Stephen argues, “was given the choice to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to bearing the Incarnate Lord.” Whether or not this is a fair reading of the Gospel accounts, it is quite clear that Mary was right to say ‘yes’ and would have been wrong to say ‘no’. In other words, Mary’s example makes the opposite point to the one Stephen wants to argue.

Abortion is indeed an important and emotive topic and my highlighting of the points above is not intended to minimise the painful pastoral realities involved, which call for prayer and compassion.

However, the issues also call for clear and logical moral reasoning and sadly, on this front, Stephen’s article falls short.
David Huss (The Ven.) The Rectory The Glebe Donegal Town Co. Donegal

Commission on Episcopal Ministry and Structures

IT IS HIGHLY regrettable that four years of time and work diligently undertaken by the Commission on Episcopal Ministry (CEMS) and Structures was failed by the prevailing culture of the Church.

The CEMS Bill itself (which was withdrawn from the General Synod; report, Gazette 20th May) was, at one and the same time, the very most the Commission felt they could ‘get passed’ and the very least – after all that work – that they could propose.

It may have been observationally correct for the Bishop of Tuam to advise Synod to “get real” when those objecting claimed the withdrawn Bill was not imaginative enough but, as an observation of what is possible, it is damning.

In the end, the very most that the Church didn’t even allow the Commission to get away with, was to pick off ‘low-hanging fruit’ by way of localised boundary changes.

The Commission, given its mandate by the whole Church for the sake of our shared mission, could only recommend that the matter lapse back into those dioceses immediately affected – the very thing that 2012 sought to avoid.

This does not serve the mission of the whole Church. It does not serve the mission of those dioceses most immediately affected. It does nothing to enhance the mission in Connor or Cork, in Derry or Cashel, other than to mask the problems by pretending they don’t exist ‘for us’.

The enormous work undertaken should not be allowed to have been in vain. The Commission has four years’ worth of material to consider. It is incumbent now on every diocese to review the clear issues that remain on episcopacy and structures.

Although each will have its own issues to address, we should all be prepared to consider what cost we might bear for the sake of the mission of the whole Church.

The current structures are not sane, they are not sustainable, and they are not set up for growth.

We do need to get real, but about the culture that serves to block rather than to build.

My thanks go to the Commission for its work. My genuine sympathy goes to the dioceses who have ended up feeling they are carrying the can.

My appeal, though, is that every diocese will not fall for the temptation to abdicate its care and responsibility for a critical issue that should, rightly, affect us all.

Barry Forde (The Revd) 22 Elmwood Avenue, Belfast

Dr Ed Silvoso controversy

NOT KNOWING anything about Dr Ed Silvoso (Letter from Leo Kilroy, 27th May), I decided to ‘Google’ him and found that he is an international figure of renown, an evangelist, an author, a mentor of Church leaders as well as a mentor of heads of government and industry.

According to the RTÉ website, his proposed visit to Redcross was “to speak about prayer and encouraging people to be the light and salt of their communities” and that “he was not going to address the topic of gays (homosexuals) and lesbians”.

I do hope that the pressure that was exerted to rescind his invitation to Redcross was not motivated by a desire to stifle debate on same-sex issues.

Discussions on human  sexuality must include listening, particularly to what our Church teaches and to what Scripture speaks.

Dr Silvoso may have a view on human sexuality not shared by some, but then many of the utterances of the pro same-sex lobby are not shared by others.

I have been in churches where pro same-sex speakers have been given pulpit space and treated with respect even though many present, including myself, would not have agreed with all that was said.

Should not the same respect be given to someone of stature who might have a different view?

Peter T. Hanna (The Revd) Farnahoe Innishannon Co. Cork


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