Belfast Telegraph

A powder-keg of dilemmas await in crucible of 2013

By Alf McCreary

This has been a significant year in the church life of these islands, with important changes in leadership, and the ongoing sexual controversies and scandals.

This week marks the end of the Episcopate of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and the succession of Dr Justin Welby who will be enthroned in March.

Dr Williams had a difficult time, and he failed to find a solution to the perennial problem of same-sex relationships. He is intellectually brilliant, and from my personal experience of him, a most gracious man, but he failed to communicate sufficiently well in this era of mass-media coverage.

The new Archbishop Welby has shown good communication skills, but it remains to be seen whether he has the political finesse to steer through the necessary measures to allow for the ordination of women Bishops.

Otherwise the Church of England will appear even more out of touch with modern society, and will seem even more isolated by having been exempted, in proposed legislation, from allowing same-sex marriages in churches.

This is another coalition Government mess. The Established Church of England and Wales should have been included with all the rest by allowing them to conduct same-sex marriages if they wish — though few will take up the option. This controversy will drag on interminably, and may yet be pulled into the European Courts, with no one satisfied in the long run. The Church of Ireland has also undergone a significant change in leadership, with Archbishop Richard Clarke taking over recently from the outgoing Archbishop Alan Harper.

It is too early to judge how the new Primate will fare, but he is regarded as a man of scholarship and of shrewd judgment, which he will need in spades if he is to steer his church through the same ecclesiastical rapids as the Church of England.

There will be no early solution here to the same, bitter same-sex controversy, but at least the Church of Ireland was well ahead of its English and Welsh counterparts in passing legislation for the ordination of women bishops some 20 years ago.

However, not a single woman here has been chosen as a bishop since then, and unless the Church of Ireland does so soon, it too will be in the dock of public opinion. Frankly, there is no point in having legislation for women bishops if you don't use it, and people are now seeing through the church's “Irish solution to an Irish problem”.

The Methodists have shown a clean pair of heels to the other main reformed denominations by appointing the Rev Dr Heather Morris as its first woman president-designate, and she will take over in June. I wish her well.

Meanwhile, the Presbyterians chug on as the main Protestant denomination which allows women to be ordained, but also allows some male clerics to ban them from preaching in their pulpits “on grounds of conscience”.

There is also little likelihood of the Presbyterians electing a woman Moderator in the near future.

The General Assembly and regional synods deal with the women's issue by deciding not to talk about it, and hoping that it will go away.

But it won't.

Finally, the Catholic Church in Ireland remains in deep, deep trouble, with a shortage of ordinations and the residue of the clerical child-sex scandals, with perhaps more to come.

The next year may also see the appointment of a senior figure to “ assist” Cardinal Brady, and possibly to succeed him. Whatever happens in church life in 2013, it is certainly not going to be dull…

Belfast Telegraph


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