Moderator's meeting with Pope comes under attack
A Presbyterian minister has spoken out against the Moderator's decision to meet the Pope during his visit to Ireland next weekend.
The Rev William Moody, from Brookside Church in Ahoghill, said he believed Dr Charles McMullen's attendance at the Dublin event would create "confusion" about church teachings.
The Moderator will meet Pope Francis at Dublin Castle on August 25 along with other religious and civic leaders, before attending the Festival of Families event at Croke Park in the city.
The Rev Moody said he took exception to the Pope's intention to grant indulgences (an official forgiveness of sin) to those attending the event.
He said: "Confusion over how people get right with God is my chief concern. As a church we differ on the matter of indulgences.
"In other contexts, we do meet with other representatives from the Roman Catholic Church and there is value in that, but that's not what we're talking about.
"Indulgences are totally contrary to the teachings of the (Presbyterian) Church."
Asked if he would object to the Moderator meeting the Pope in a different type of event he said: "My concern is that it adds confusion that somehow we are agreeing on how people get right with God.
"I think the Moderator has to be true to the teaching of our Church."
Rev Moody said that the church always understood that it would "go against popular opinion and stay true to the teachings of Christ".
Asked if the Moderator's attendance should simply be seen as being neighbourly, he said:"I think being a good neighbour is sharing the truth.
"I'm originally a Newry man, a predominantly Roman Catholic city, I've always had a great love for my Roman Catholic neighbours and I want them to be clear as to how they can be right with God."
A spokesman for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland said that as a church that values debate and discussion, members have every right to take a principled view on the Moderator attending events for Pope Francis in Dublin.
But he said that an overwhelming majority of the Church's General Assembly and General Council approved.
On the matter of indulgences, the spokesperson said that as a reformed church "there is no need for indulgences, or anything similar".
"While we are theologically very different from the Roman Catholic Church, as we stress salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, we felt that it was appropriate for the Moderator to attend the State reception for Pope Francis and the Festival of Families."
He added: "The main reason for this is to give a lead in building good relations as we seek to develop a more reconciled society.
"Leaders, including church leaders, need on occasion to step out of their comfort zones and reach out the hand of friendship."
During the last Papal visit to Ireland in 1979, the Presbyterian Church declined to send its Moderator to meet Pope John Paul II, but the Assembly Clerk Dr Jack Weir attended a Papal reception in Dublin in a personal capacity.
When Pope Benedict visited the UK in 2010, the moderator Dr Norman Hamilton attended an ecumenical service involving the Pope in Westminster Abbey.
However, he did not attend a reception afterwards to meet the Pontiff.