Northern Ireland

Sacked professor considers leaving Presbyterian church

Union Theological College Image copyright Albert Bridge
Image caption Belfast's Union Theological College is run by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland

A professor who was dismissed from a Presbyterian-run college mainly due to a contribution he made to BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme, has said he is considering leaving the church.

A church disciplinary panel found the Rev Prof Laurence Kirkpatrick guilty of "gross misconduct" as a result.

He was "summarily dismissed" from his post at Union Theological College (UTC) after 22 years teaching there.

The Presbyterian Church said it would be "improper" to comment in detail.

Prof Kirkpatrick made the comments about potentially leaving the church during an interview aired on BBC Radio Ulster's Sunday Sequence.

A spokesperson for the church said it was aware of Dr Kirkpatrick's comments and "differed with them".

Earlier this month, Queen's University announced it was to formally end its link with the Presbyterian-run UTC.

In a statement on the "wider issues" relating to the UTC, a spokesperson for the church said: "We were naturally disappointed and deeply regret this week's decision by Queen's University, Belfast."

"In our understanding this was largely because there was only one remaining college teaching undergraduate courses in the Institute of Theology at Queen's, which was Union Theological College," said the statement.

"In the view of Queen's, this made the Institute no longer viable with regard to diversity."

It added that ""the College will continue to ensure that students from home and overseas will benefit from theological study in a warm and positive Christian environment, being taught by academic theologians of the highest standing, some of whom are indeed world leaders in their field."

'Leaving is an option'

Prof Kirkpatrick told BBC Radio Ulster's Sunday Sequence that if he left the church it would be with a "heavy heart".

"Leaving the Presbyterian Church is certainly an option for me, and it is one that I will consider and I will think about that," he said.

Image caption A church disciplinary panel found the Rev Prof Laurence Kirkpatrick guilty of 'gross misconduct'

"Why would I stay in an organisation that has sacked me?"

Prof Kirkpatrick said he was born into the church and felt he was "more being pushed out than deciding to leave".

Last month, when Prof Kirkpatrick was dismissed, the Presbyterian Church told BBC News NI it would not be appropriate to comment on an individual's employment.

Prof Kirkpatrick was a guest on a Talkback panel in June 2018 after the Presbyterian Church's decision to loosen its ties to the Church of Scotland.

That was mainly down to the Church of Scotland's more liberal attitude to same-sex relationships.

Prof Kirkpatrick was subsequently suspended by the Presbyterian Church from his lecturing post at Union Theological College for his comments on the programme.

He was dismissed following a disciplinary hearing.

Six charges against him were upheld but only the two relating to his appearance on Talkback were adjudged to constitute "gross misconduct," according to the letter which informed him of his dismissal.

The church's letter to Prof Kirkpatrick said he had taken part in the Talkback programme "at a time when there was considerable media comment, mostly of an adverse nature, about your employer, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland".

It said that he had failed to gain the church's approval for taking part and that his comments during the broadcast were "unacceptable".

'No role in staffing arrangements'

Queen's University suspended recruitment of new students to UTC in December 2018 following a review.

The University told the BBC it had "no role in the staffing arrangements at Union Theological College and is not in a position to comment on specific cases."

Earlier this month, Queen's University in Belfast (QUB) revealed it is to formally end its link with the Presbyterian-run Union Theological College (UTC).

Image copyright Man Vyi
Image caption Last year, Queen's University suspended admissions to UTC undergraduate courses

The university's governing body - the senate - approved the move.

UTC trains some students for the Presbyterian ministry but the majority of its students are studying theology degrees at Queen's.

The Presbyterian Church said it "deeply regrets" the university's decision.

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