Corrymeela chief declares his support for same-sex marriage
The leader of the inter-denominational Corrymeela Community has come out strongly in support of same-sex marriage.
Padraig O'Tuama, a practising Catholic who has been leader of Corrymeela since last November, told the Belfast Telegraph: "I am a gay man and I am interested in finding a space where we can discuss differences in the spirit of Christianity, and to deepen each other in love, which is the demand of the gospel."
The Corrymeela Community, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, was founded by the late Rev Dr Ray Davey and his colleagues.
A chaplain with the YMCA during the Second World War, Dr Davey was taken prisoner at Tobruk and based Corrymeela on his experience of community life in a series of prison camps, where he was incarcerated by the Italians and Germans during the war.
Corrymeela is an inter-denominational community with 150 members. Its headquarters are in Ballycastle and it has an office in Belfast.
One of its former leaders was the Rev Dr John Morrow, the father of Alison Morrow, the Presbyterian woman who attended last week's equal marriage rally and has called for more openness on this subject.
Mr O'Tuama was one of the speakers at the demonstration, where he told the crowd: "When I was 12, I heard someone say that gay people couldn't love each other and would be the breakdown of society. So I kept secrets because I was too frightened to tell the truth. We know that LGBT people can and do love each other. Let's tell that truth. Let's honour the word marriage with another word 'equal'. We need nobody's permission to live and show and share our love."
Mr O'Tuama told the Belfast Telegraph that he also backed the stance of Ms Morrow, a Presbyterian who also took part in the rally last Saturday, and who later spoke to this newspaper about the need for a more open debate. Mr O'Tuama emphasised that the policy of Corrymeela was to embrace openness and diversity.
He said that the first lesbian/gay retreat at Corrymeela had taken place in 1983, and added: "I have learned through Corrymeela how to meet hostility with hospitality."
He posed the question: "How do we find a way to tend to our disagreements, but in a way that deepens our virtues as human beings?
"We need to ask ourselves 'what is a Christian tone of disagreement, and can we recognise our Christianity in the process of dealing with difference?'"
He said that disagreement had always been at the heart of faith.
"Church councils have disagreed on many things, including the nature of the Trinity, the role of women and other issues such as money and property.
"The big question is not what we think about gay and lesbian issues, but rather how we handle difference.
"There will be a different 'difference' in 10 years time, and the challenge is the quality of that difference, and how to handle it in a way where in the process a person does not feel dehumanised."
Born in Cork, Padraig O’Tuama is a poet who came to Belfast in 2003 and joined the Corrymeela Community, where he was for a period the Poet in Residence.
At one time he studied theology with a view to becoming a priest, but he withdrew from this path when Pope Benedict forbade gay men from joining the priesthood.