Schori lifts the lid on the Primates' Meeting
Katherine Jefferts Schori, the presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church, briefing some New York church officials on Friday about the Primates' Meeting in Tanzania, said the low point of the meeting was when one primate compared homosexuality to paedophilia and another questioned whether the church even needed to study homosexuality "if it doesn't need to study murder".
On today's Sunday Sequence, I asked the new Archbishop of Armagh, Alan Harper, if that was the low point of the meeting for him too. He replied, "It wasn't one of the high points", then remarked that those views were not shared by many other primates at the meeting. When I suggested that the comments were "disgraceful comparisons", he repeated the claim that they weren't widely shared in the meeting.
I had the impression that Archbishop Harper was surprised that I was able to quote comments made in a private session. Frankly, I'm a little surprised myself; but our source was also in the room. Perhaps Bishop Jefferts Schori will now face some criticism for speaking in public about conversations that took place in confidence.
Alan Harper wouldn't identify the primates making these comments, but the extreme views expressed would not be out of step with the public stance of Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria. The Nigerian government is planning to outlaw same-sex relationships. They propose a prison sentence of up to five years for open displays of same-sex affection; and their plan is being supported by the Christian Association of Nigeria. I know there is some debate abroad about the definition of homophobia, but presumably few would deny that legislation removing a gay couple's freedom to express affection for one another is as clear an example of homophobia as one could hope to find.
Northern Ireland decriminalised homosexuality twenty-five years ago. It will be interesting to see how many Irish churches take the trouble, in this anniversary year, to add their voice to the many others now being raised in opposition to the Nigerian government's proposal. Might we even expect the Archbishop of Canterbury to assert his moral authority and call on his Nigerian brother bishops to prophetically challenge their government's plans rather than offering the state religious support for an abuse of human rights?