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Clerics back barring of US wing over same-sex marriage move

By Alf McCreary

Published 18/01/2016

Backing suspension: Primate Richard Clarke
Backing suspension: Primate Richard Clarke
Backing suspension: Canon Ian Ellis

A leading Church of Ireland cleric has defended a move by Anglican leaders to bar a liberal US branch from decision-making for allowing same-sex marriage.

Canon Ian Ellis said the Anglican Communion's three-year suspension of the US Episcopal Church may have been the only way of avoiding an even worse situation developing.

Anglicans have been split on the issue since the US Episcopal Church ordained an openly gay bishop in 2003.

A four-day meeting of 39 Anglican primates in Canterbury ended with the Church being suspended from participating in the life and work of the Anglican communion.

Canon Ellis, who is editor of the independent Church of Ireland Gazette, told the Belfast Telegraph: "What was decided by the Primates in Canterbury last week was necessary to avoid the ongoing crisis within the Anglican Communion over same-sex relationships from deepening yet further."

He also said the Primates' decision, which prevents the American churches taking part in worldwide Anglican Communion decisions for three years, was "a sanction".

He added: "I believe that as the issue continues to be debated in the Communion, all Anglicans should try to stay together and listen carefully to one another."

Canon Ellis underlined that "the reality is that within the Church of Ireland we are going to find committed parishioners in some churches who are in same-sex civil marriages.

"It's a case of finding a way of recognising their decision in conscience, and in certain situations the church may decide to allow for that in some way, without surrendering its teaching."

Yesterday the Church of Ireland Primate, Archbishop Richard Clarke, speaking on Radio Ulster, defended the decision taken by the Primates at the Canterbury meeting, which he attended.

He said that the Primates "wanted to stay together, we wanted to walk together, while leaving enough breathing space, or faith space, so that hopefully we can grow together."

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland has declined to comment in detail, and a spokesman said: "This is a matter for the Anglican Communion."

The issue of same-sex relations remains divisive within the local churches, including the Presbyterian Church.

Last June the Presbyterian General Assembly in Belfast voted not to send a representative to this year's General Assembly in Edinburgh because of the Scottish Church's support for people in same-sex relationships taking a ministerial post, provided their congregations agreed.

Last year the Armagh Presbytery set up a commission to consider the remarks of Portadown minister, the Rev Christina Bradley, who expressed support for same-sex relationships, following the referendum in the Irish Republic. The Rev Bradley later reiterated her support for Presbyterian teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman.

Meanwhile, Methodist president, the Rev Brian Anderson, said: "Same-sex marriage is a subject on which many churches are struggling to find a common mind."

Fr Patrick McCafferty of the Catholic Church said: "For any part of the Christian church to permit same-sex marriage is apostasy. It can never be permitted by a Christian church faithful to what God has revealed about the Sacrament of Marriage."

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