THE CHURCH of Ireland primate Archbishop Alan Harper said its two-day General Synod conference on human sexuality at the weekend could have been “a bear pit”, but that “just didn’t happen”.
The conference was announced by the church’s bishops last October following disclosures the previous month that the Dean of Leighlin (Carlow) the Rev Tom Gordon and his male partner of 20 years had entered a civil partnership last July.
The archbishop said there was “a genuine willingness” on the part of the 450 people in attendance at the weekend “to listen and engage”.
He dismissed as “caricature” a view that same-sex issues seemed to upset more church members in Northern Ireland than in the Republic.
The Archbishop of Dublin Dr Michael Jackson said the conference, which began on Friday at the Slieve Russell hotel in Co Cavan, was “tremendous”.
He felt personally it had helped remove heat from the internal debate in the church on same-sex issues.
It also helped clarify a view of some that a stance on principle did not equate with a prejudice.
Both archbishops were speaking at a press conference at the conclusion of the conference on Saturday.
Archbishop Harper commented that nowhere else in the world-wide Anglican Communion, currently riven by debate on the same-sex issue, had there been such a conference.
Visitors at the conference from other Anglican provinces had commented favourably on it as a method, he said.
The church’s standing committee is meeting tomorrow, but he could not say whether it would propose a motion to the General Synod in May arising from the weekend conference.
“Personally I’d prefer if the motion came from the synod itself,” he said.
The conference had been “unusually fortunate in that people put themselves up there” to speak about the same-sex issue from personal experience, he said.
These included parents, an Irish gay clergyman and gay people “from further afield”. He felt the Church of Ireland was breaking new ground on the issue.
Earlier, in a joint statement, the archbishops acknowledged that while “there are still difficult issues for us as a church, there is not an atmosphere of division”.
They “observed a common desire to welcome all people to participate in the life of the church, while accepting there were no easy answers to difficult questions”.
Speaking at the conference, Canon Ginnie Kennerly, chairwoman of the Church of Ireland’s pro-gay Changing Attitude Ireland group, said the Church of Ireland “has always had gay clergy, but this has only been accepted openly in their own immediate circle”.
This “closeting of gay clergy now has to end, because it forces them into dishonesty, threatens them with unemployment or exile, and fosters hypocrisy in the church,” she said.
She added that “in the name of justice and of Christ’s care for marginalised people of whatever kind, I can only stand firm in my support of gay clergy’s right to fulfil their vocation openly and without fear.”