House of Bishops’ lack of leadership
The Pastoral Letter of the House of Bishops on the recent civil partnership crisis gives great cause for concern to all in the Church of Ireland. Once again, no mention is made of the Bishops’ part in causing this crisis. This debate has not arisen in a vacuum. It has come about as the result of the decision of at least two bishops - there may be more- who, knowing that this civil partnership was to take place, did nothing to stop it. In this Pastoral letter, whilst they acknowledge that this civil partnership has caused division, hurt and schism within the church, they refuse to take responsibility for their part. There is no apology and no expression of regret for the hurt, confusion and utter chaos that some of their number have caused. .
Therefore, the statement: ‘we as bishops take very seriously our responsibility ….to act in a way that will help to further the unity of the church in truth and love’, is breathtaking in its hypocrisy. Some of those same bishops, including the Archbishop of Armagh, who admitted to a newspaper (Belfast Newsletter 7th October 2011) that he knew of the civil partnership 2 days before it happened, are the very cause of the current disunity and division. How can they claim to be furthering truth, unity and love in the church when they knowingly did nothing to stop an action that contradicts the truth of God’s word, has divided the Anglican Communion, and had no regard for the feelings and views of the rest of the Church of Ireland?
From Archbishop Harper’s interview, he said he could do nothing and even attempted to shift responsibility to the Archbishop of Dublin since it occurred in his province - this also raises the question of whether or not the Archbishop of Dublin knew this civil partnership was about to take place. Whilst the Archbishop of Armagh may indeed have been powerless to stop the civil partnership, it seems from this interview he did not even ask Dean Gordon to refrain from such an action; nor, it seems, did he warn him of the consequences for the church’; nor indeed did he suggest to him that if he went ahead with his civil partnership that he should immediately resign. Instead, it seems that the Archbishop took no action whatsoever to safeguard the Church of Ireland from the subsequent hurt, division and chaos that has ensued.
From the Pastoral Letter, the setting up of a conference to study the issue of human sexuality is intended only as a beginning of what could be a relentless programme to grind down all opposition to the acceptance of same-sex partnerships as a valid Christian lifestyle. Once again, this has shifted the focus from where it should truly be - on the offending clergyman and bishops who have caused such division. In the light of the role of those bishops who knew this civil partnership was to take place and seemingly did nothing to prevent it, they should publicly repent. They have hardly served the best interests of the Church of Ireland by allowing this civil partnership to go ahead.
Furthermore, the appeal at the end of the letter for ‘all shades of opinion within the Church of Ireland to refrain from any actions or the use of emotive or careless language which may further exacerbate the situation within the church’, is also breathtaking in its hypocrisy. When we consider the lack of restraint on the part Dean Gordon, and the carelessness of those bishops who allowed this civil partnership to go ahead, and the utter chaos in which they have now embroiled the church, it ill becomes any of these bishops to lecture the rest of the church on restraint!
The (offending) bishops, having acted without the usual Anglican concern for ‘decency and order’ in the church - indeed they’ve driven ‘a coach and horses’ through that notion by their part in the civil partnership - cannot muzzle the voices of concerned Christians in the Church of Ireland. Whether they realize it or not, their disregard for decency and order means that many in the Church of Ireland no longer trust them to do what is in the best interests of the whole church. Church of Ireland people must now not only speak up, but they must take action.