Belfast Telegraph

Incoming Presbyterian Moderator wants to meet Pope during Ireland visit

By Cate McCurry

The new Moderator of the Presbyterian Church says he would "relish" an opportunity to meet the Pope during his visit to Ireland this year.

Reverend Charles McMullen confirmed he would accept an invitation to meet with the head of the Catholic Church.

Pope Francis is expected to visit the Republic in August for the 2018 World Meeting of Families.

Speaking at a conference hours after he was selected as the new Moderator, Rev McMullen (57) said he would welcome any invitation from the pontiff.

The current minister of West Church in Bangor said: "We don't know for certain if the Pope is coming and if he is there would need to be some sort of invitation extended to us.

"If an invitation was extended, our two churches would work out the basis on which that meeting would occur.

"As far as I am concerned, I would relish the opportunity to meet the Pope.

"I would hope that by meeting the Pope, it would be a small contribution on my part."

The father-of-three will be installed at the opening night of the General Assembly in June, when he will succeed the Rt Rev Dr Noble McNeely.

Rev McMullen received nine of the Church's 19 Presbytery votes on Tuesday night.

In one of his first interviews since being elected as the new Moderator, Rev McMullen addressed some of the controversial issues he will face in the role.

He referred to Presbyterians in Scotland who took a significant step in allowing ministers to conduct same-sex marriages last May.

"I find any divisions between the Churches very painful and I'd rather it not be the case," he said.

"We are very indebted to the Church of Scotland over the years of our Troubles here for all the prayerful support and encouragement.

"We have a very close working relationship with the Church of Scotland in all kinds of areas. We are trying to learn from them.

"But we support the traditional definition of marriage being between one man and one woman, a voluntary union for life. That is the tradition of the Church."

He said the Presbyterian Church in Ireland would again debate on the issue of same-sex marriage this year.

Rev McMullen further stated that while the church is "very strongly pro-life", it can't tell people how to vote in the Eighth Amendment referendum taking place in the Republic of Ireland.

He added that there is a "danger" of abortion becoming "more widespread" if the proposal to allow unrestricted abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy is ratified.

"Of course, there is a world of difference between sitting here and being alongside people in pastoral setting, which I find myself doing so often," he added.

"In those situations it's about giving people space to share, to talk. I would spend a lot of my time listening to people, praying and trying to care for them.

"In terms of the referendum, of course, we are a very strongly pro-life church, we can't tell people how to vote in the referendum but we can give people advice and some help.

"We are a church that has a voice for the marginalised and for the baby in the womb.

"We can talk about the different relationships that are involved, not just the foetus but the mother and father and wider family as well.

"I feel the pain and there are no easy answers. The real difficulty is if we allow ourselves to open abortion in that way, then there is the danger of it becoming much more widespread and maybe that has been the case in England and Wales when we look at the number of abortions that have occurred over the years.

"It's a difficult and complex issue. The difficulty of widening the legislation and allowing it to drift allows us to have widespread abortion as a result. Present legislation allows some loopholes. I am not speaking to you as someone who is heartless."

Having grown up in the congregation of Trinity Presbyterian in Omagh, Rev McMullen was called to the Legacurry Presbyterian Church near Lisburn and met his wife Barbara at a church event in Belfast.

He added: "We spotted each other at the 1990 General Assembly. Our eyes met across the room and she smiled at me, but I looked over my shoulder to see who she was looking at.

"We started going out and were engaged within six weeks and married six months later. I am usually a cautious person."

They have three children, Lydia, (23) Samuel (21) and David (20).

Belfast Telegraph

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