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Clergy told: watch what you say on gay unions

Church of Ireland bishops have urged their members to refrain from actions or language which could deepen the controversy of same-sex relationships within the Church.

In their Pastoral letter issued yesterday, the 12 bishops from all over Ireland also confirmed that there will be a major conference next spring on the issue, and also committed themselves to additional meetings, including a retreat where they will study and pray together.

They ask people of 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.

The letter states: “Such restraint will greatly facilitate the work ahead.”

Their letter to the clergy, who will officially update their congregations all over Ireland this weekend, comes after a three-day meeting by the bishops this week at a conference centre north of Dublin.

Its contents emphasise that the Church's teaching on marriage does not recognise civil partnerships.

The latest moves result from the intense controversy within the Church following the revelation that the Dean of Leighlin, the Very Reverend Tom Gordon, entered into a civil partnership in July with his male companion of 20 years.

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This is causing considerable concern to conservative evangelicals, particularly as they claim that the Bishop of Cashel, the Rt Revd Michael Burrows, appointed the Dean with the knowledge of his same-sex relationship.

No date or location for the spring conference is available as yet, but its outcome could prove significant for the future of the Church of Ireland as it strives to avoid a split over the topic of same-sex relationships, which has already caused deep division within the worldwide Anglican Communion.

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