Thinking Anglicans

Update on Irish civil partnership controversy

See earlier reports here, and then here.

The Church of Ireland Gazette last week published an editorial column, which can be read in full here (scroll down a little).


There has been concerned and very deep reaction to the recent revelation that the Dean of Leighlin, the Very Revd Tom Gordon, who is open about being a gay man and was appointed as Dean last year, has entered into a same-sex civil partnership. The situation gained added momentum after Dean Gordon confirmed on Radio Ulster’s Sunday Sequence programme on 4th September that this had been with the prior knowledge of his Bishop and without being asked for any assurances regarding lifestyle. In addition, he said that he had initially declined to be considered for the post of Dean but that, after being pressed to reconsider, had agreed to allow his name to go forward for interview on the understanding that “this is who I was and also that this would be what would be happening”.

While civil partnership is not marriage and does not necessarily involve same- sex sexual expression, there is a very wide perception that it is a form of gay marriage, and perceptions are, of course, often as important as facts. No doubt for this reason, and also because the Christian ethical aspect of same-sex expression is theologically highly contentious, Church of England bishops ask clergy entering civil partnerships to give an undertaking that their relationship is celibate. Differing views on this subject have co-existed in a relatively settled way in the Church of Ireland during the whole inter-Anglican debate over recent years, but what has now developed jeopardises that situation. While those on one side see an advance for gay rights in the Church, those on the other side feel that there has been an unacceptable, unilateral move on the subject. There is thus a sense of ‘log-jam’, and it is dangerous.

This is a time both for an honest speaking of minds and for action that displays Christian grace. Without openness, matters cannot really be confronted; without grace, the Church is untrue to itself.

Regular central meetings of the Church of Ireland are due to be held shortly and the Archbishop of Armagh has indicated that the subject in question will be considered by the Bishops in the near future. The Church now needs a breathing space and the relevant bodies should be allowed the opportunity to reflect, with urgency, leading to the best steps that can be taken to guard the Church of Ireland’s unity in truth and holiness.

The same link also contains (scroll down more) a number of letters to the editor on this topic.

Today, there are reports in the Portadown Times of a further statement from ten clergy: Clerics unite against civil partnership.


  • Fr Mark says:

    Oh dear, protests from Portadown, Drumcree…where could we have heard that before?

    Despite being a great-grandchild of signatories of the 1912 Covenant and Declaration, I think it’s about time Ulster churchpeople moved on from being famous for always saying “No”!

  • Chris Smith says:

    The Church has had a “breathing space” on this subject for nearly two-thousand years! Homophobia comes in many forms. This is but one of them. I believe most people see this as a justice issue but for some, there are still the old hatreds. Let the debate begin! I believe the time is right.

  • JCF says:

    Concern Trolls are CONCERNED!!1!1!

    Lord have mercy…

    [And get back to me, Church of Ireland Gazette, when your response to “the recent revelation that the Dean of Leighlin, the Very Revd Tom Gordon…has entered into a same-sex civil partnership” is a hearty and joyful “Mazel Tov!”]

  • Nathaniel Brown says:

    “…without being asked for any assurances regarding lifestyle.”

    The “lifestyle” word again!

    I can only speak for myself, of course, but my lifestyle includes a good deal of reading, music, sports, my ranch (which takes rather a lot of time!), supporting my friends, working at and for my church, various hobbies, the charities I support… So if the bishop had the impertinence to inquire what my “lifestyle” was, those things would all need to be mentioned. Oh, and yes, by the way, I’m also gay, but I spend a good deal more time repairing the roofs and maintaining the irrigation at the ranch than I than on sex, so I don’t see why those roofs and that irrigation shouldn’t matter at least as much in defining my “lifestyle” for the good bishop.

    So why is it that gay people have “lifestyles” why presumably straight people seem just to get on with living, which is what I thouhgt, all along, that I was doing?

    I propose that we avoid the word altogether, or else make sure always to refer to the “straight lifestyle”.


  • Nat says:

    Apologies for the typos in my last; I should never be allowed near a keyboard without my glasses.

  • ” The Church now needs a breathing space and the relevant bodies should be allowed the opportunity to reflect, with urgency, leading to the best steps that can be taken to guard the Church of Ireland’s unity in truth and holiness.” – C.of I. Gazette –

    Truth is about reality – not fantasy (or a culture of cover-up). Holiness is about wholeness – not hypocritical piety. One wonders whether the Church in Ireland (or, indeed, in any place) is ready for both Truth and Holiness.

  • Fr John says:

    God Bless Tom Gordon and his partner, long may they enjoy each others company.
    It is impertinence of any Bishop to enquire of a person concerning what goes on in the bedroom and his home. Do they ask the same questions of married and bachelor clergy.It reminds one of a case in a cathedral close where a busy body clergy wife reported to the Bishop the sequence of lights going on and off in a neighbours house. The clergyman in question was single. As you might guess it hit the press!!!!!

    The Church’s busy body interference in the lives of gay clergy causes much hurt, and causes much lying about their ‘ friend’. Let them live in peace with their friend and their creator. Rejoice in their God given love.

    Fr John

  • Martin Reynolds says:

    Like Fr Ron I find the editorial poorly framed and ill thought out, and usually the Gazette does things well.

    It is not NEWS that the Church in Ireland has no requirement for a cleric to inform the bishop of their Civil Partnership nor does it require that partnership to be sexless, neither does the Church in Wales nor the Scottish Church. The Church of England uniquely makes this requirement. The difference has been well marked and longstanding and this makes the present huff and puff rather strange.

    I cannot remember any campaign supported or reported by the Gazette asking for this to be clarified.

    All the other facts seem to have been well known the length and breadth of Ireland – Tom Gordon is gay – Tom Gordon has been sharing his life with another guy for over twenty years. It seems everyone knew this when he was appointed Dean, including the editor of the Gazette.

    Is it then by a failure of TRUTH that the Irish Church “co-existed in a relatively settled way” up to now? How does this civil partnership so unhinge the peace of Ireland?

    Surely the metaphor of a logjam is more appropriate to what went on before if one accepts the Gazette’s view of this “unilateral action”.

    The Celtic Churches all agreed on this formula that says within their bodies a whole range of opinions on homosexuality subsist. Surely that allows for just such a development as we see now, and was intended to allow for it.

    Clerics in civil partnerships have been appointed to livings here in Wales and no assurances were required – none asked and none given.

    To reiterate – England alone has this policy – and everyone knows it!

    The breathlessness of this piece is quite extraordinary – its author, quite clearly overcome by some vapour – and she/he quite plainly needs a “breathing space” and an “opportunity to reflect”. I suspect the rest of us will get on with life and along with Fr John wish Tom and his partner a long and happy life together.

  • John says:

    ‘Despite being a great-grandchild of signatories of the 1912 Covenant and Declaration …’

    Wow! Father Mark. Never knew that. Ca explique tout. (Perhaps we’re related?)

  • Erika Baker says:

    Gay people in civil partnerships? Whatever next! Someone had better tell the church so it can start to think about it! After all, it might eventually be asked to say something constructive about it.

  • David Oxley says:

    It may seem depressingly slow, half-hearted and inadequate, but the careful and cautious statements coming from Archbishop Harper actually reflect an attempt to maintain a little space and sanity in which gay people may find room to live. Ulster in particular is heavily influenced by fundamentalism, even if the CofI is often more liberal than most of its competitors. It would be very easy at this juncture for the extreme evangelicals to precipitate a reaction that might drive gay people even deeper into the closet. So far General Synod has been managed so as not to narrow the church’s scope – the bishops (or at least some of them) clearly want to continue to maintain a non-commital space that allows both opinions to breathe. However irritating that may be to those of us who do heartily wish Tom and Mark mazel tov, we still have to deal with reality, as Fr Ron says. And here that reality includes conservative apprehension as well as acknowledged gay relationships. Patience, please!

  • Chris Smith says:

    Tom Gordon and his partners should be respected and saluted for their integrity and courage in the face of obvious hypocrisy and homophobia by some bishops and church bureaucrats. Bishops must be elected by the People of God (lay people, priests, deacons, bishops) and should never be “appointed” as this carries a bag of built in prejudices.

  • Martin Reynolds says:

    And looking carefully at the statements from the Churches on the Celtic fringe they are all declaring that as a matter of internal polity homosexuality/civil partnerships IS adiaphora.

    While the bishops of all three provinces MAY, for the time being, be committed to keeping the episcopate free from the presence of an openly partnered homosexual, it is obvious that this must be viewed as temporary and as a hard wrung concession to some idea of Communion unity rather than a matter of conviction or moral doctrine – what I call “the Rowan disease”, an hysterical phenomenon.

    There is not the slightest attempt to accommodate the English approach.

    One gets the flavour of this Celtic amphictyony in this vigorous response to Andrew Goddard from the late lamented bishop of Bangor:

    As far as The Celtic bishops are concerned it is a matter akin to the remarriage or women priests – there are those who are fundamentally opposed to both – their position is respected, but it is allowed.

  • john says:

    As I have said before on this blog, Alan Harper is a decent person. His statement is careful, as DO says, but the ’tilt’ is sufficiently clear(at the end). Of course, I entirely agree with Martin Reynolds on the superiority of the Celtic churches in all respects, including this one, and note – sorrowfully – that Harper is English, but no one can help the accident of his or her birth. As, on the other side, the Duke of Wellington said, when charged with being Irish (he was born in Dublin): ‘Just because a man is born in a stable, it doesn’t make him a horse’ (and here, apparently along with Father Mark, I assert the superiority of Belfast to Dublin). The essential thing to hang on to here is that Harper is decent – and more principled (it seems) than Rowan Williams (compatriot of Martin Reynolds). Confused?

  • Fr Mark says:

    John: probably!

  • Robert Ian williams says:

    The Church of Ireland, celtic!At its peak in 1861, the Church of Ireland never represented more than 11 per cent of the Irish population.

    Obviously the writers know nothing of the Church of Ireland and have never visited its heartland in northern Ireland…where 78 per cent of the active membership lives.

    Interesting to see that 3 of the signatories of the Portadown letter are women. Yes you can revise St Paul on women but not on gays.

  • Martin Reynolds says:

    “The Celtic bishops” is what they call their own meeting Robert.

  • Patrick Delaney says:

    The Church of Ireland, in its own understanding, is “celtic”, if ones takes that to mean able to trace its roots to the earliest days of Christianity on this island. I don’t know if that calls for a “!” or not.

  • Now you are a Welshman, Robert. Does not that make you a Celtic Member of the Roman Catholic Church?

  • Robert ian Williams says:

    Yes I am Welsh with English and Irish admixtures, but I am proud to be British as well.

    The issue with the Church of that it was an alien creed imposed on the Irish by an overseas occupying power. Fortunately the majority of Irishmen and women simply rejected it.

    As did the majority of Scots in 1690 reject the Anglican Church foisted on them, and the nineteeth century Welsh patriots who got the Church of England disestablished in Wales.

  • After Robert’s explanation, I’m wondering if the Roman Catholic church will ever be disestablished in Italy. And anyway, is the Roman Catholic Church ‘established’ in Wales? – or anywhere?

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