BBC airing of clergy and civil partnerships issue

Canon Ian Poulton, Rev Barry Ford and the Archbishop of Armagh took part in BBC Radio’s “Sunday Sequence” programme yesterday morning on the vexed subject of clergy in civil partnerships.

Canon Poulton said that Christians at times have been opposed to democracy, and have supported racial discrimination. Evangelicals had moved on the role of women to accept the ordination of women. He asked why we could change our views on some issues but not on others.

Rev Barry Ford said that the ordination of women involved lengthy discussions involving examinations of Scripture and tradition. Regarding the situation of a cleric in a civil partnership, he asked, “Where has been the debate? Where has been the discussion with the rest of the Church of Ireland on the issue of same-sex relationships? Does it fall into the same category as biblical interpretation on slavery and on women’s ordination?”

William Crawley, the presenter, asked whether the action by the Bishop of Cashel had been a preemptive act. Canon Poulton said the Bishop could have done nothing to prevent this.

Barry Ford said we have had a transparent version of events from Tom Gordon. So far we have not heard from the Bishop as to whether he would go along with these versions of events.

William Crawley said that Archdeacon Philip Patterson had stated that he believed the bishop acted preemptively, he had harmed the unity of the church and that he should resign. Asked to comment,  Barry Ford said that he thought the action would have caused considerable hurt in distress in the Church of Ireland. He didn’t know whether or not it is a resigning matter. But he continued stating that something had happened which is quite unilateral. It has been forced upon the church and there had been a lack of process.

William Crawley said that getting anybody in the House of Bishops to comment on the matter over the past week had been a challenge. Barry Ford said that something which the Church of Ireland has not received as being in accord with its life and teaching had been introduced. Ian Poulton stated that he could not comment as to whether or not this matter would create a split in the Church of Ireland. He said, “Nobody over the past six days in my parish has said anything to me about the matter.”

Barry Ford said he was disappointed that this issue had been presented as, and allowed to become, a North/South issue. The problem started when individuals acted in a way the Church of Ireland had not hitherto acted. He continued stating that it was clear that “ this is going to be very fractious.” Ian Poulton stated that he wished the House of Bishops had drafted guidance for issues like this. He continued – There has been a dearth of leadership. There is a vacuum of leadership at times. There was no leadership on economic issues. It is not just on sexual issues.

Archbishop Harper – House of Bishops need to discuss first

Archbishop Harper who had heard the discussion, said that the comments on leadership on this matter by the House of Bishops was fair due to a range of circumstances.

“We had determined to revisit the discussions of 2003 in meetings this autumn”, he said.

The Archbishop continued saying that three issues have changed the situation. First, there was the new provision of civil partnerships. Secondly, the signing up to the Anglican Covenant by the Church of Ireland and thirdly, the composition of the House of Bishops has radically changed since the discussions on 2003.

“What has happened has so focused the issue around a specific event that it is hard to move away from it. That is unfortunate,” he commented

He continued stating that in 2003 when the House of Bishops met they had determined to maintain collegiality whilst respecting the diversely of views of its members.

The Archbishop said that there would be no change unless there is a consensus of change across the church. A change had happened in a particular situation. “What we do not have is a broad consensus for change. There is a need for discussions, first in the House of Bishops and then in the General Synod,” he stressed.

Asked about the position in which Dean Tom Gordon found himself, the archbishop replied,“I think Tom Gordon is in a difficult, but not in an impossible situation. I would need to know more of the circumstances which led up to his appointment.” He added that the Bishop of Cashel should be given the opportunity to talk to the House of Bishops.

William Crawley stated that Dean Gordon had said he had informed his bishop concerning his personal circumstances. The Archbishop replied that he accepted that Dean Gordon was truthful.

The Archbishop stressed that the House of Bishops needs to have this discussion. He said that the situation in which the dean is, is in conflict with the general norms which this church has been applying since the House of Bishops last discussed the matter in 2003 and that there have been no change in these norms across the church.

The Archbishop refused to be drawn further and stressed his responsibility of ensuring and sustaining a free and open discussion in the House of Bishops in the first instance. He said that when he wished to express himself and he would do so in a clear, thoughtful and forthright manner.