Constitutional Convention to discuss same-sex marriage in Ireland
The next meeting of the Republic’s Constitutional Convention will be held from 13th-14th April, when Convention members will debate and vote upon whether they want to see the Constitution amended to provide for same-sex marriage.
The Irish Examiner reported on 23rd March that more than 1,000 individuals and organisations had contributed to the Convention’s deliberations on the subject, while other issues had seen between only 12 and 28 submissions.
The newspaper reported Brian Sheehan, Director of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, as saying that the submissions were “running about four to one in favour of same-sex marriage”.
Several developments have arisen in the last week or so, all coinciding in relation to the controversial, but nonetheless important, issue of same-sex marriage.
As we report in this issue of the Gazette, the discussion of the subject by the Republic’s Constitutional Convention on 13th and 14th April will be informed by more than 1,000 submissions, mostly understood to be in favour of change; Reform Ireland has revisited the issue of the Dean of Leighlin’s appointment in 2010; the Archbishop of Dublin and the Bishop of Down and Dromore have responded to a Gazette enquiry regarding the implications of Canon 31 in relation to same-sex marriage; and in England, retired Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey has voiced suspicion that the UK government’s promotion of legislation providing for samesex marriage betrays “an aggressive secularist and relativist approach”.
There now appear to be real prospects for the introduction of same-sex marriage not only in Britain but also in the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland remains out of this equation, but for how long this will remain the case is debatable; The Guardian newspaper (29th March) reported Amnesty International’s Patrick Corrigan as saying there could be “a straightforward legal challenge” if Northern Ireland were not to make the same provisions as obtained in the rest of the UK. The question naturally arises as to where the Church of Ireland would stand in relation to any development in Ireland introducing same-sex civil marriage.
Soundings by the Gazette among a range of sources suggest that in the event of same-sex marriage being introduced by law in either jurisdiction in Ireland, the wording of the Church of Ireland’s Canon 31 could ultimately be used in a legal challenge to the Church if it were not to provide for same-sex marriage (report, page 4).
However, Changing Attitude Ireland has told the Gazette that it, “along with every other organisation which supports marriage equality in Ireland, is very clear that freedom of conscience for Churches must be respected in the introduction of marriage equality”.
Precisely how any eventual challenge might play out in Court would, of course, only be clear if a case were actually brought.
It is not surprising that reconciliation has been a major theme in the new Archbishop of Canterbury’s ministry so far. Archbishop Welby is facing the same divisions over samesex relationships within world Anglicanism that we are facing within the Church of Ireland.
There is clearly urgent work to be done both among us and in world Anglicanism if there is to be real reconciliation on this subject.
BELFAST AGREEMENT, 15 YEARS ON
The 10th April fifteenth anniversary of the signing of the Belfast Agreement – it was Good Friday in 1998 – was highlighted in a recent statement by US President Barack Obama, who is due to visit a very different Northern Ireland for the G8 Summit in June.
While acknowledging that there is still urgent work to be done in consolidating the peace, Mr Obama paid generous tribute to the people and leaders in Northern Ireland for “the model they have given to others struggling toward peace and reconciliation around the world”.
Many in Northern Ireland will without doubt be grateful for that recognition from the leader of the free world. The Belfast Agreement is an example of precisely what people in all divided societies need to find within themselves – the wisdom to reject violence and the courage to take bold risks for reconciliation and peace.
At the heart of reconciliation lies forgiveness itself. In his book, God has a Dream, Desmond Tutu – who is to receive the 2013 prestigious Templeton Prize for making “an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension” – writes about the subject out of his own profound experience in South Africa.
While Dr Tutu points to the damage any harbouring of hatred does to oneself and says that a “palpably unjust” situation, in which a victim could be locked into victimhood, can be avoided by forgiveness being expressed without confession preceding it, he also identifies a lack of completion in such circumstances: “True reconciliation is based on forgiveness, and forgiveness is based on true confession, and confession is based on penitence, on contrition, on sorrow for what you have done.” Dr Tutu adds that “reparation, wherever feasible”, is part of this continuum of healing. The analysis is true, but also very deeply challenging because there truly are no short-cuts to reconciliation.
The peace process in Northern Ireland has taken many twists and turns and deadline after deadline has been pushed beyond the limit, but the healing process has moved forward. The challenge is being met and, while the dissident threat remains real, while sectarianism lingers and lurks like a stubborn sore and while feelings among many loyalists remain raw, there is no going back on the great journey on which Northern Ireland has set forth in that remarkable and generous spirit to which President Obama drew attention, the journey towards a fully reconciled and truly shared future.
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Letters to the Editor
The ‘IF’ campaign
I had heard of the ‘IF’ campaign, which involves so many aid agencies coming together once again to highlight the fight against poverty, but it was interesting to have their arguments in support set out (Gazette, 22nd February), declaring that there was enough food in the world for everybody ‘IF’ …
However, there is one staggering omission: IF Government and government agencies are prevented from being corrupt.
Perhaps the fourth ‘IF’ declaration in the Gazette report approaches this point, but it certainly does not nail it.
Too many of the governments of countries blighted by terrible poverty are not to be trusted with financial contributions from outside, never mind internally-generated finance.
The more the finances of outside aid and investment can be kept away from governmental influence in the guilty countries the better.
Of course, it is vital that indigenous knowledge and personnel are involved in advice, decision-making and execution on the ground, but preferably from individuals outside government or from Churches which have proven integrity and are accountable.
This is a vital issue as so many people have become cynical about the disappearance of large amounts of money into projects with little to show for it.
In saying this, I am not promoting ‘aid fatigue’, but I am aware that many people, including myself, are more savvy at following their giving through organisations and projects. We like value for money in this area, as well as when making purchases.
I am surprised that this issue did not head the list of ‘IF’ declarations, or at least nail it as one of the big changes needed – perhaps the biggest – for the campaign against poverty to be successful.
Colin Hall-Thompson (The Revd) Belfast BT4
Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse in NI
As Chairman of the Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse in Northern Ireland can I, through the columns of the Gazette, appeal to members of the Church of Ireland who may have experienced abuse as children in a residential institution in Northern Ireland, or who may have seen other children being abused, to contact the Inquiry.
The Inquiry is an independent Inquiry set up by the First Minster and the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland to investigate abuse of children who were under 18 in residential institutions (but not schools) in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995.
Abuse could be sexual or physical abuse, or emotional abuse or neglect.
The Inquiry has an Acknowledgment Forum where individuals can come and tell experienced professionals in private, and in confidence, about abuse they have experienced.
Another part of the inquiry will investigate abuse, and then make recommendations to the Northern Ireland government.
An individual who wishes to speak to the Inquiry can choose to talk to both parts, or to either part, of the Inquiry.
I hope that as many people as possible who experienced abuse in institutions, or witnessed others being abused, will come forward to help the Inquiry investigate the way these children were treated, and what should be done about it.
If readers know someone who was abused, I encourage them to contact us.
If someone wants to contact the Inquiry, or wants to know more about what the Inquiry is doing, there is much more information on our website: www.hiainquiry.org.
Individuals who live in the UK can write to us at FREEPOST HIA Inquiry, ring us at our FREEPHONE number 0800 068 4935 or contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anyone who lives outside the UK can write to us at the address below.
Anthony Hart (Sir) Chairman Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry PO Box 2080 Belfast BT1 9QA
I read with interest the article relating to the establishment of a library in St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast (Gazette, 8th March).
It was reported that, at the opening of the library, the Dean “spoke of St Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary”, stating that she had been seen as “a teacher and one dedicated to the encouragement of the whole person”.
An observant parishioner of mine asked me to clarify where St Anne is mentioned in the Gospels. Of course, the answer is that she is not. As one who was a former trainee choirboy in the same cathedral, I confess that I had not previously asked the question!
The 2nd century apocryphal Gospel of James refers to her, but this is not a canonical Gospel, so we could say that Anne’s saintly pedigree derives from Tradition rather then Scripture.
I attempted to find on the Belfast Cathedral website any details about St Anne herself, but there appeared to be none. Perhaps the Dean could explain how the dedication came about.
The establishment of the library is a great initiative and I wish it every blessing. Hopefully, it will inspire further reflection on Scripture and Tradition, aided by Reason!
Peter Rutherford (The Revd) Julianstown, Co. Meath
I refer to Dermot O’Callaghan’s letter (Gazette, 15th March) regarding same-sex marriage.
Your readers should know that the study to which he refers (Regnerus, 2012) has been criticised by the most well respected, major academics in the field of social science.
It cannot be relied on as evidence in relation to children growing up with lesbian or gay parents, as it does not compare children in stable, long-term family units.
Let me also point out the obvious: marriage is not just about children.
Marriage certificates are not issued in Ireland conditional upon couples having children. Many couples do not have children, e.g. older couples, couples with fertility issues and couples who decide not to. It doesn’t make their marriages less valid.
Moreover, some Irish people have children without getting married, some of them as cohabiting couples, including lesbian and gay parents who are already raising children in loving homes all over Ireland.
The meaning of ‘the family’ has changed in Ireland over the years. Single parents, stepparents, grandparents, aunties and uncles, foster parents and lesbian and gay parents are all raising children as a family unit.
Thirty years of scientific research proves that children growing up with lesbian and gay parents turn out just fine and have found no significant developmental differences between them and children with heterosexual parents in their intelligence, psychological adjustment, social adjustment, popularity with friends, development of social sex role identity or development of sexual orientation.
Professor Sheila Greene, formerly of the Children’s Research Institute at Trinity College Dublin and a leading expert in this field, reviewed all the research in relation to outcomes for children of samesex couples and agrees that children in same-sex families reach their developmental milestones and do just as well as children raised by opposite-sex couples.
Children in same-sex families do experience hardship and social exclusion, but it is not because of the sexuality of their parents per se, but because of lack of legal recognition and protections afforded to their families, e.g. medical consent, school, hospitals.
We must ask ourselves whether we want to continue to discriminate against these children (even if we are uncomfortable or do not approve of their family forms) or to learn from mistakes in the past and change the law to cherish these children equally.
Clodagh Robinson Portarlington, Co. Laois
Columns and Features
Events in South Carolina by Canon Bill Atkins
From 4th to 12th March, I was part of a group from Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh that visited the Church of the Cross in Bluffton, South Carolina. We went at the invitation of the Very Revd Chuck Owens, the rector of one of the fastest growing parishes in South Carolina.
We were privileged to see at first hand the practical teaching about Church growth we had received from Chuck at the Small Strong Churches Conference in the Slieve Russell Hotel, Co. Cavan, in September 2012.
The Diocese of South Carolina is the latest to secede from the US Episcopal Church (TEC). Why has it seceded? The Bishop has always asserted his intention to stay in TEC. Four dioceses have seceded since the 2003 consecration of Gene Robinson. In each case, it has been the policy of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to declare the Bishop to have renounced orders and the Bishop and those who voted to secede to have abandoned the doctrine and discipline of the Church.
The Presiding Bishop then appoints another Standing Committee and another Bishop in order to assume the identity of the diocese and act as plaintiff against the real Bishop (now regarded as a layman) and as many parishes as possible.
To date, more than $25 million have been spent from central Church funds on litigation. On 26th February, the Executive Committee of TEC authorized a loan of $250,000 to the new Diocese of South Carolina. Where parishes leave a diocese, the Presiding Bishop insists that the diocese sue for the property. Her policy is that it be sold if there is no continuing congregation, but under no circumstances must it be sold back or rented to the departing parishes.
The Title IV Canons regarding abandonment of Communion were originally meant to enable diocesan authorities to remove Bishops who joined the Roman Catholic or Orthodox Churches without resigning their position. They were never intended to be used against a Bishop who seeks to join another Anglican Church.
Why has it come to secession, when Bishop Lawrence has repeatedly said he will stay in TEC, without acceding to all the actions of General Convention? He says it’s not just about homosexuality.
When the diocese was seeking the consents to his consecration, he wrote that the fabric of the Episcopal Church had been frayed “by our misguided passion to be culturally sensitive and intellectually flexible … I am personally saddened for those gay and lesbian Christians within the Church that so much of the debate has focused upon homosexual behaviour and relationships … Nevertheless, it is for now the place where the battle lines have been drawn”.
In 2009, the General Convention of TEC voted to pass canons which effectively overturned the moratoria asked for by the Primates’ Meetings from 2004 to 2007. The Title IV Canons were revised, with effect from July 2011, giving unprecedented powers to the Presiding Bishop to investigate and remove Bishops.
The accused may have no knowledge that they are being investigated, or who their accusers are!
The Diocesan Convention of South Carolina also amended its constitution and canons. If there was a clash between diocesan canons and national ones, the diocesan ones would prevail. The new Title IV Canons would be null and void in the diocese. Should any move be made against their Bishop, it would trigger a Special Convention to consider the diocese’s place in TEC.
At the 2012 General Convention, canons were enacted which had the effect of overturning the biblical doctrine of the creation of mankind as male and female. Official TEC teaching now is that gender identity and expression is entirely a matter of personal choice.
The delegates of South Carolina walked out of the 2012 General Convention. Mark Lawrence addressed the House of Bishops, saying he could not concur and would have to consider his position in TEC.
Bishop Lawrence’s detractors want him to remain loyal to his ordination vows to “conform to the doctrine, discipline and worship of TEC”. This would include those canons which themselves are contrary to the discipline and worship of the universal Church and the Anglican Communion. Can one ask an ordinand to accept that gender identity is purely a matter of individual choice?
After going into a period of prayerful retreat, Bishop Lawrence felt he could not abandon his diocese. He then was engaging with the Presiding Bishop, trying to negotiate a way forward, when she suddenly announced that a month earlier he had been found guilty of abandoning the discipline of the Church “and that she was restricting his ministry”.
The Diocese of South Carolina is a recognized corporation in South Carolina law and the Supreme Court of South Carolina has already ruled that the Dennis Canon (the TEC canon which claims all parish properties are held in trust for the TEC diocese) is not valid in South Carolina.
The Chancellor of the Diocese has already given quit-claim deeds, giving parishes full ownership and control of all their property, irrespective of which ecclesiastical group they align themselves with.
The diocese and the majority of the parishes have already pre-empted the expected move of TEC by bringing a lawsuit against TEC to protect their property. Until the outcome of that trial, which could take several years, the diocese has obtained an injunction to prevent anyone from assuming the name, identity and seal of the Diocese of South Carolina.
Only the Standing Committee of the diocese can call a Special Convention or ask the Presiding Bishop to appoint a provisional Bishop. Nevertheless, the Presiding Bishop was involved in the formation of a steering committee to claim to be the continuing diocese.
Calling themselves “TEC in South Carolina” (to adopt the title, ‘Diocese of South Carolina’, would infringe the court injunction), they called a Convention in January and appointed a retired Bishop as Provisional Bishop. In a sermon at the Convention Eucharist, the Presiding Bishop likened Bishop Mark Lawrence to al-Qaeda terrorists and gunmen who shoot children.
As much as 80% of the Diocese remains with Bishop Mark Lawrence. In the meantime, Provisional Bishop von Rosenberg has filed a complaint against Bishop Lawrence in the Federal Court that he is impeding his mission and ministry by taking the title of Bishop of South Carolina and using the episcopal and diocesan seals. The complaint itself violates the existing court injunction.
Canon Bill Atkins is rector of Mohill, Diocese of Ardagh.
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