Northern Ireland

Dr Richard Clarke: Church of Ireland primate defends decision on US Episcopal Church

Dr Richard Clarke Image copyright Pacemaker

The Church of Ireland Primate has defended a decision by senior bishops in the Anglican church to restrict the US Episcopal branch for allowing same-sex marriage.

The move means it will be suspended from participating in the life and work of the Anglican communion.

Archbishop Dr Richard Clarke was at the meeting when the decision was taken.

Speaking on Radio Ulster's Sunday Sequence, he said the news had been exploited for political reasons.

"People do need to read (the statement) very carefully rather than the headlines that have been put on it," he said.

"Those who wanted to push - as they're entitled to do - an agenda about gay marriage, wanted to say say 'look the Americans have been sanctioned, they're being humiliated'," he said.

"The reality is they haven't.

"The first decision the primates made was we wanted to stay together, we wanted to walk together, while leaving enough breathing space, or faith space, so that hopefully we can grow together."

He added that he was "always open to changing (his) mind" on the issue of same sex marriage.

"My own view is that I believe in equality absolutely and completely and I don't believe that God is homophobic," he said.

"It's a difficult one to call. I would hope that we'll work at ways in which we might find some form of pastoral accommodation that would be true to the scriptures and to our understanding that every human person is made in the image and likeness of God and is equally loved by him and must be equally loved by us."

Anglicans have been divided on the issue since the US Episcopal Church ordained an openly gay bishop in 2003.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The ordination of Gene Robinson as a bishop in 2003 angered many in the global Anglican community

Leaders said the church's stance was a "fundamental departure" from the faith of the majority in what is the world's third largest Christian denomination.

But Episcopal leaders said the three-year bar, which aims to prevent a formal schism, "will bring real pain".

The decision - made at a four-day meeting of 39 Anglican primates in Canterbury - means the church will be suspended from participating in the life and work of the Anglican communion, the BBC's religious correspondent Carol Wyatt said.

A statement from the primates at the meeting says that the church should "no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity".

More than 100 senior Anglicans had urged the Church of England to repent for "discriminating" against lesbian and gay Christians in an open letter.

However, the Anglican leaders in Canterbury said the Episcopal Church's approval of gay marriage was "a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching" of the majority of Anglicans.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The meeting of the Anglican Church was organised by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby

The rift over the US Episcopal Church's stance on same-sex marriage and homosexuality dates back to the ordination of openly gay Canon Gene Robinson.

He was made a bishop of the Episcopal Church's New Hampshire diocese in 2003.

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