Primate voices concern in General Synod presidential address over domestic abuse
In his presidential address at last week’s meeting of the General Synod, held at the South Court Hotel, Limerick from 4th-6th May, the Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Richard Clarke expressed deep concern at the levels of domestic abuse in both parts of Ireland.
Referring to people who “are not at ease with themselves and who cannot find their true identity”, Dr Clarke said: “One of the terrible outcomes of this is in the terrifying incidence of domestic abuse and violence in Ireland today.
“Inevitably, victims are more often female than male but this is not the entire picture. What is immensely disturbing is that the incidence of reported violence is so high – and we know that it cuts across all social classes and all socio-economic groups – that we must therefore assume that it is present within every community represented here today.”
THE GENERAL SYNOD
As always, the General Synod last week was a time for the bishops, clergy and laity of the Church of Ireland to come together to deliberate for the good of the Church. The venue – the South Court Hotel in Limerick – provided suitable accommodation for the large gathering and it was surely a welcome change for all concerned to have the opportunity of visiting Limerick and of learning about the diocese, experiencing worship its cathedral and hearing about its wider ministry. The Dean of Killaloe, the Very Revd Gary Paulsen’s leading of the daily devotions in the Synod hall was much appreciated.
In connection with the diocese’s wider ministry, it was instructive for the General Synod, in an informal session, to hear a presentation from Canon Patrick Comerford and David Breen on ‘Celebrating our Communities: tension and cohesion in Rathkeale’. During the presentation, the Synod heard of a special focus of the local parish’s ministry in the ecumenical Rathkeale Pre-Social Cohesion Group’s outreach to the travelling community, which comprises at least one- third of the population of the town. It is an exemplary ministry of concern for a marginalized section of Irish society.
The General Synod Book of Reports, all 378 pages of it, showed, once again, the breadth of activity on the part of both the staff of the Representative Church Body and of members of RCB and General Synod bodies. The Standing Committee and RCB reports were subject to in-depth consideration and debate (see this week’s Gazette, pages 3 and 5 respectively). In addition to the various reports in this week’s issue, the Church of Ireland’s General Synod website commendably provides a very comprehensive record of speeches, debates and Bills, along with photographs.
Probably the most anticipated debate of the three days was that of the motion proposed by Dr Leo Kilroy and seconded by the Revd Brian O’Rourke:
“Notwithstanding the diversity of conviction regarding human sexuality, and in order to maintain the unity of the Church of Ireland, the General Synod A. Acknowledges the injury felt by members of the Church who enter into loving, committed and legally-recognised, same-sex relationships,
due to the absence of provision for them to mark that key moment in their lives publicly and prayerfully in Church. And B. Respectfully requests the House of Bishops to investigate a means to develop sensitive, local pastoral arrangements for public prayer and thanksgiving with same-sex couples at these key moments in their lives, and to present their ideas to General Synod 2018, with a view to making proposals at General Synod 2019. The development of any such pastoral arrangements should not infringe Canon 31 and the facilitation of such arrangements would not impair the communion between an individual bishop or diocese with any other bishop or diocese of the Church of Ireland.”
The tone of the debate was respectful on both sides of the discussion and it was very sensitively chaired by the Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Richard Clarke. While there were many contributions to the debate, both for and against the motion, in the end it was lost by a clear but not large majority voting against (Clergy for 56, Clergy against 72, Clergy abstentions 9; Laity for 90, Laity against 104, Laity abstentions 15). The Bishops chose not to enter into the debate or to vote. Archbishop Clarke explained that they had so decided as the motion before the Synod involved a request to the House of Bishops.
While couples who enter into such same-sex relationships do need to be reassured both that the Church respects their love and care for each other and that they are not barred from receiving Holy Communion, the kind of public liturgical celebration that was envisaged in the motion could easily have given rise to some confusion over the Church of Ireland’s teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman (Canon 31).
Before the debate on Dr Kilroy’s motion, and after four years of discussion, the Church’s select committee on human sexuality recommended “that the bishops further examine the unresolved theological differences as represented in the select committee, with a view to making a proposal to facilitate a way forward”. Clearly, this is a debate that will continue and, hopefully, it will do so in the same good spirit that was evidenced at the Limerick General Synod.
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