COI Gazette – 17th June 2016

Scottish General Synod moves towards accepting same-sex marriage

Bp David Chillingworth

The General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church last week passed a rst reading of a change to its Canon on marriage (Canon 31) to remove from it the doctrinal statement regarding marriage that it is to be understood as a union “of one man and one woman”.

A first reading of the change is the first step in a process and does not represent a final decision.

The proposed change now passes from the General Synod to the Church’s seven dioceses for discussion and comment in their diocesan synods in the coming year.

The opinions from the dioceses will then be relayed back to the General Synod which will be invited to give a second reading of the Canon in June 2017.

At that stage, for a second reading to be passed, it must achieve a majority of two- thirds in the Houses of Bishops, Clergy and Laity within the General Synod.

The change to the Canon would include a conscience clause ensuring that clergy opposed to the change are not required to marry people of the same sex.




According to a 31st May report in The Times by the newspaper’s Science Editor, Tom Whipple, researchers at Hadassah Medical Centre in Jerusalem had scanned the brain of a man during an epileptic seizure, after which he reported having had a revelation from God. Dr Shahar Arzy and Dr Roey Schurr were reported as having said that the patient “had not been especially religious before this event”, his life thus changing quite dramatically. Mr Whipple’s report was headed, unsurprisingly: “Did St Paul hear God’s voice or was he having a fit?”

The researchers had written about the case in the journal, Epilepsy and Behaviour, and Mr Whipple went on to recall how a 2013 paper in the Journal of Medical Biography had suggested that Socrates and Joan of Arc also may have had epilepsy, explaining the “extended periods of motionlessness” and the “demon” experienced by the former and the latter’s hearing of unusual voices throughout her life.

St Paul’s physical experience on the Damascus Road may indeed have been an epileptic fit. However, if that was the case, are we really to conclude that God was not ‘speaking’ to the apostle (using the word ‘speaking’ here in its broadest sense)? The headline indeed suggested that the whole experience was either God’s voice or an epileptic fit – one or the other. Yet, it could have been both.

It is surely the case that God can ‘speak’ to people through their ordinary – and, indeed, their extraordinary – experiences. People come to think of God in the first place for all sorts of reasons and particular experiences in life can be life-changing in a ‘faithward’ direction. It is quite possible that, if it was an epileptic fit, St Paul was so moved by the experience that he was
converted from Judaism to Christianity, his life turning completely around. It is also quite possible that all the persecutions he had been meting out to Christians played so much on his mind that he was so stressed that he had a seizure of some kind, which in turn marked a certain critical moment in his life – and, indeed, in human history.

Do many people in fact want to explain away things like St Paul’s conversion experience, or the miracles of Jesus, because they cannot cope with living in a world they do not understand? Human beings tend to want the security of everything being explained; in affluent societies in particular they often begin to think they can do without God. The kind of argument that St Paul did not hear the voice of God but was having an epileptic fit represents the argument for an atheistic, ‘cut and dried’ world. It is a drive to what is thought will be a comfort zone without the demands and commands of God – but actually it soon turns out that it isn’t all that comforting a place after all.

The demands and commands of God include the call to love one’s neighbour as oneself, to care for the other, to be forgiving and compassionate towards the other, irrespective of nationality or race or whatever. Yet, what kind of world would it be without such a real imperative? Do we want to live in a world in which people around us all have their hearts closed, a world in which people actually and routinely ignore others in obvious need? Do we want to live in a matter-of-fact kingdom of godlessness? The vision of the kingdom of God is far, far better. It may or may not have been an epileptic fit that St Paul experienced but such events can have an unexpected place in God’s greater scheme of things.


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Letters to the Editor


I WOULD like to thank both the Revd Patrick Burke and the Venerable David Huss (Letters, 10th June) for their responses to my column of the previous week. In writing on abortion I did expect to provoke some debate and I welcome it.

I think it is only fair that I try to respond to at least some of their comments.

Mr Burke suggests that in coming to my conclusions I have “completely ignored the rights of the unborn child” and that it is “necessary for those who are pro-abortion to ignore the rights of the child”.

In response I would wish to say two things.

First, I did not ignore the rights of the child and, to clarify, I firmly believe that to minimise the reality of abortion as the termination of a life is to undermine our own humanity.

I did write much more fully and I would hope with some balance on this subject for the Irish Times in the wake of the Savita Halappanavar case and this can be read here online (

Second, Mr Burke (perhaps unintentionally) misrepresents my stance in describing it as “pro-abortion” when it is ‘pro-choice’ and there is an important difference.

My argument was for choice; some women choose not to seek an abortion and that is their right.

Archdeacon Huss, on the matter of exporting the abortion issue, uses an analogy which I feel is not applicable in that there is general consensus that underage drinking is not to be desired whereas the issue of abortion divides society almost down the middle.

The Archdeacon also asks me to clarify the difference between ‘choice’ and ‘demand’ and I would openly acknowledge that this is problematic.

I don’t like the idea of ‘abortion on demand’ but I believe I must trust that women in their integrity will weigh up all the factors in making their choice.

On the issue of our role in Creation and Mary’s ‘yes’ to God, I think the Archdeacon and I are in fundamental disagreement and I can only reiterate that this is my personal understanding of this particular Scripture.

I hope that this clarifies at least some of the issues raised by the two respondents.

Stephen Neill (The Revd) The Rectory  Celbridge Co. Kildare


IT IS ALWAYS distasteful when men pontificate about women’s bodies and presume a right to their control and equally distasteful when women pontificate about other women’s bodies.

Mary’s reply to Gabriel’s message was not given in the context of a ‘command/obey’ scenario. Her consent was full, informed and free.

If it wasn’t, then it was utterly worthless and can only be compared with the ‘command rape’ scenario when David decided to copulate with Bathsheba and the subsequent result when the ‘innocent’ life that was born from that compelled mating was allowed to die by God as a punishment. Not much ‘sanctity for human life’ in that biblical narrative.

It would behove all those who are so pruriently interested in the bodies of raped women and children to turn their attention to the obscene scandal of the 2,121 living and innocent children now homeless in the Republic – a shameful statistic (April 2016, Peter McVerry Trust) indicating a new and despicable low.

However, to address that properly would require a willingness to dig much, much deeper into our pockets by way of taxation; much cheaper and easier to shout about abortion where we don’t have to worry as long as the foetus comes to term and is birthed. After that, it’s ‘not our problem’.

Leave women and their partners to make their own informed decisions as to the ‘when’ and ‘how’ of any children they may choose to bear and devote up to a quarter of a century in rearing.

Coercive reproduction should not be on the statute books of any civilised country.

Marie Rowley-Brooke (Canon) Nenagh Co. Tipperary

Protestant residential homes

THE ONLY way to get justice for the very few Protestant survivors of residential homes, and others, is to work with the homes and institutions that are covered by the Commission set up in 2015 with a fast track to redress for any living survivors who can prove their case with more than heresay, i.e. with documentary evidence.

Living survivors must be at the centre and the issue must not driven by outside political influence along with historians and academics, who should be made to take a back seat with justice for survivors being the ‘driver’. Justice is what survivors want – and now.

The Bethany Home – after 23 years – is the only home which has produced indisputable evidence from the state’s own archives; to date, no home which has qualified under the 2002 Redress Act has been able to make the same case in writing as the Bethany Home has.

It is now long overdue to give the few Bethany survivors the justice that has been denied them for so long, as they are now very elderly people, sick and some suffering with advanced dementia.

If we let other people dictate what is happening here, as they try to make a name for themselves, no Bethany survivor will ever see justice – or any one else.

We are only working on the criteria laid out by the then minister, Dr Michael Woods, and the Bethany Home has ticked all those boxes – and more.

There are probably six people from Bethany who could make their case in court with the right documents. It would be a legal right of these citizens of Ireland – and if not legal right, then a moral and Christian right.

In 2010, we the Bethany Home Survivors ’98 Group, met the then Minister and his team of civil servants and we were able to give them the Freedom of Information documents that his civil servants had claimed for over 11 years did not exist; they said there were no records on the “privately” run Protestant Bethany Home.

I proved then, and had proved before, that there were records on the notorious Bethany Home but again the same Minister was toothless when it came to doing the right thing.

In 2011, he set aside €500,000 for a memorial; again he did not have the moral fibre to do the right thing by living survivors.

All these years later – and all the deaths of our friends and crib mates from all the homes later – we all are still dying one by one and waiting for the right thing to be done.

Derek Linster Warwickshire CV22

Interfaith letter on UK/EU referendum

I AM PLEASED to see the debate on the United Kingdom and its EU membership feature in the editorial of the Church of Ireland Gazette (10th June). It raises many issues and indeed maintains that no one could claim expertise on all the factors in the debate.

The interfaith letter does not appear to have any sense of balance towards those who, for various reasons, believe the better future of the United Kingdom lies outside the European Union.
The faith leaders’ letter is also errant in claiming the longest period of peace in Europe is that enjoyed at present. This ignores the great western European period of peace from 1815-1870 after the defeat of Napoleon.

Furthermore, the departure of the United Kingdom would not mean an end to interstate faith dialogue. Much good work has been done by those involved in the relationship building stemming from the Porvoo Communion and the Lutheran – Episcopal agreement. Indeed, one could also mention the heritage, work and courage to face issues of the Anglican Communion as a worldwide example of independence and yet fellowship at very difficult times, upon which the EU could draw.

Mark Watson (Canon)
Trory Rectory Co. Fermanagh BT94


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