COI Gazette – 27th February 2015

Church not offering guidance on adoptions by same-sex or unmarried couples


Following an enquiry to the central Church of Ireland, the Gazette has been told that there is “currently no statement or paper that we can provide from the Church or its committees addressing the issue of adoption by same-sex or unmarried couples”.

Last December, George Glenn, the Acting Chairperson of the Church of Ireland Board of Social Responsibility NI (BSR NI), which manages the Church of Ireland-related adoption agency, Adoption Routes, told the Gazette that in 2012 the Board asked the Honorary Secretaries of the General Synod for “advice on the issue of the then prospective need to consider placing children for adoption with same-sex couples, in the light of pending legislation in Northern Ireland”.

Mr Glenn said that a meeting took place between the Honorary Secretaries of the General Synod and the Secretary-General of the Church of Ireland on 7th November last, at which it was decided to appoint an independent consultant to advise on the situation regarding BSR NI.





In the current climate of opinion, not least with all the confusion over the Church’s own adoption work and the Republic’s Children and Family Relationships Bill and its same-sex marriage referendum both now pending (report, page 1), the question arises as to whether the Church should comment on either subject.

It is clear from the Gazette’s own enquiries that the Church of Ireland, at least as yet, does not wish to do so on the issue of the adoption of children by same- sex or unmarried couples in society at large. However, regarding the same-sex marriage referendum, a Church spokesperson has indicated that the Church of Ireland “draws the attention of its members to its own doctrinal position, but does not direct its members how to vote”.

In 2012, the General Synod, echoing part of Canon 31, resolved: “The Church of Ireland affirms, according to our Lord’s teaching that marriage is in its purpose a union permanent and life-long, for better or worse, till death do them part, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side, for the procreation and nurture of children, for the hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and affections, and for the mutual society, help and comfort which the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.” The resolution also indicated that the Church of Ireland “recognises for itself and of itself, no other understanding of marriage than that provided for in the totality of Canon 31”, and provided for further dialogue on the matter.

The 2012 resolution thus sets out what the Church of Ireland affirms about marriage and states that it does not recognise any understanding of marriage, other than that contained in Canon 31, for and of itself; however, this does not mean that the Church of Ireland’s affirmation about marriage is only for its own purposes, as it were. The Church of Ireland affirms, objectively, what it believes marriage actually to be. While it recognises, subjectively, no other understanding of marriage “for itself and of itself”, it still affirms what it affirms about marriage.

Neither the indication that the Church of Ireland “recognises for itself and of itself, no other understanding of marriage than that provided for in the totality of Canon 31”, nor the commitment to a dialogue process, is a qualification of the Church’s actual affirmation of what it believes marriage to be, although it is possible for the Church to change what it affirms about marriage, after due process. The resolution’s phrase, “for itself and of itself”, thus does not mean that the Church of Ireland is to be ambivalent about important matters concerning people beyond its membership. On the contrary, as William Temple (Archbishop of Canterbury, 1942-44) famously said: “The Church is the only organisation that does not exist for itself, but for those who live outside of it.”

The Church’s focus must be outwards and it follows that what we see as best for ourselves – a life of Christian faith and obedience – is what we see as best for every person. While the Church should not seek to impose its will on society, it should be ready to indicate to society what it sees as the best for everyone.


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Letters to the Editor

The Church, the Constitution and same-sex marriage

TIM BRACKEN says he doesn’t know if the upcoming referendum will lead, if passed, to religious solemnisers being forced to conduct same-sex marriages in the Republic (Letter, 20th February).

Neither do I, and it is an important question, as the answer to it has the potential to influence how people may vote on the issue. So what do the experts have to say about this issue?

The best legal opinion I can find on the matter was that offered by Dr Conor O’Mahony, a senior lecturer in constitutional law at University College Cork Law School.

In an article in The Irish Times dated 22nd January, he wrote that the wording of the proposed amendment was such that “the reference to marriage being ‘contracted’ clarifies that the amendment relates to the civil law marriage contract, and not to the religious sacrament of marriage. This forestalls any
possible opposition based on the amendment being an attack on religious freedom.”

In the absence of an authoritative contradictory opinion (and I have yet to come across one, although obviously that does not mean that one does not exist), that would seem to make the prospect of attempts to force clergy to act against their will and the teaching of the Church remote.

However, it is a long road that has no turns, as they say, and should Dr O’Mahony be wrong, what is the worst case scenario?

Not, I should think, that the Churches would have to fall into line with the State, but rather that the religious and civil aspects of weddings would be separated as they are in other jurisdictions (such as France).

Incidentally, I can only imagine that if this did happen, the government would move swiftly to correct it, as it would be quite a nightmare for a
State that struggles to manage queues for healthcare, driving tests, etc. in a timely fashion suddenly to have dumped in its lap the responsibility to conduct all weddings in the jurisdiction.

The anger over water charges would be as nothing compared to the fury provoked by messing up people’s wedding plans!

However, all that is to be quite speculative. Based on what we actually know as of right now, there is little or no reason to suppose the Courts would rule in such a manner.

So, on that basis, I would suggest that, whichever way one plans to vote on this, the worry that religious freedoms might be impinged upon as a result of it being passed should not be taken to be a serious issue in this debate.

Patrick G. Burke (The Revd)

The Rectory Castlecomer Co. Kilkenny

Church Hymnal

I UNDERSTAND that a Hymnal Committee is still working on the new supplement to the 2000 edition of Church Hymnal. I had expected it to be published by now.

A prize was to be offered to the person who was judged to have produced the best name for the new book. I didn’t enter the competition, as I couldn’t then rustle up a suitable name, but I just wonder what has been holding up the publication.

I fear the supplement will cost a fair amount. I know the cost of the large choir Hymnal has escalated quite a bit and is now over £40.00. So many of our hymn and prayer books are languishing in book cases or on pew seats unused because screens are now being installed in so many churches which is all rather sad, I think. I like to be able to use my personal hymn/prayer book in church.

I am sure many copies of Irish Church Praise are stacked away somewhere. I always  found this little book very useful, especially as a guide to the choice of hymns for every occasion was printed at the back and would still be very useful to a young organist who would be unable to obtain a copy of Bishop Darling’s little book, Sing to the Word, long out of print.

Could I say, finally, that I was very disappointed to find the very popular hymn, I vow to thee my country, deleted from our current hymnal.

We had it in the previous hymnal, but, for some unknown reason, it got the chop; perhaps it was regarded as being too militaristic and was too popular with royalty.

I hope it will be restated in the new supplement. Let’s call it, for want of a better name, Sing to the Lord.

Wilfred Breen, Omagh Co. Tyrone

Charlie Hebdo – the bigger picture

THE RECENT spate of criticism in the Gazette against the publication of Charlie Hebdo’s anti-Islamic cartoons might have carried more moral credibility if the critics (either through denial or ignorance) had not neglected to mention that the satirical magazine also vilified the name of Christ.

In other words, does the use of violence constitute the primary foundation on which we form our moral responses to the issue of blasphemy?

Would it not follow logically from this that persecuted Christians have a ‘right’ to become involved in militant, aggressive action so that the world would take note of the victimisation and violence they continually face – and, more often than not, at the hands of Islamic ‘extremists’?

Which begs the question: who are these extremists? Are they merely the perpetrators of these crimes?
This, of course, is what the West wants to believe (not to mention a wide cross-section of the Christian Church). There is a desperate need to assume that, somehow, we are dealing with minority groups or solitary individuals, but not the system that feeds their hearts and minds.

Is that actually true? We read the following from the Quran: “They do blaspheme who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity … verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them” (Surah 5: 73) and “… the Christians call Christ the son of God … Allah’s curse be upon them” (Surah 9: 30).

Now do these statements not qualify as blasphemy – blasphemy against our Lord Jesus Christ? Or is it the case that through intimidation and violence, blasphemy is now reduced to a one way process?

No doubt, there will be those who deliberately refuse to countenance the possibility that the fault line begins with the belief and not the believer, either because it does not resonate with their cherished westernised view of truth or out of fear or guilt (or both), they refuse to face reality.

Nevertheless, our wilful avoidance of these questions not only reveals our somnolent obsession with ‘peace at any price’ but it also represents a betrayal of our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ.

History, theology and current developments in the Islamic world, politically and militarily, hardly reflect the sanitized view of Islam cherished in recent correspondence; neither do they point towards a golden age of ecumenical bliss.

Colin McCormack (The Revd) The Rectory Warrenpoint Co. Down BT34

Senator Norris on the market economy

MR ROBERT IRWIN (Letters, 6th February) writes in response to some comments of my own.

Unfortunately, I haven’t the time to give a full programme, although I have been raising these issues for the last 15 years.

What I am looking for is an end to one rule for financial institutions, the rich and the powerful and another for ordinary people.

Money, since abandoning the Gold Standard, is a fiction. Therefore, a ‘crisis of confidence’ can destabilise the Stock Exchange and financial system, with governments acting to support institutions rather than the people of their individual countries.

The growing inequality across the globe, as highlighted by the Oxfam list and figures, is a clear cry for action.

David Norris (Senator) Seanad Éireann, Leinster House Kildare Street Dublin 2


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