Northern Ireland

Presbyterian Church investigating leaders over elder in same-sex marriage

Steve Smyrl
Image caption Steve Smyrl married his partner of 20 years in 2018

The Presbyterian Church is to investigate the leadership of a church that allowed a man in a same-sex marriage to be an elder.

Steven Smyrl was sacked from Christ Church, Sandymount, in Dublin in October 2019.

A judicial commission in Belfast has sanctioned an enquiry into the minister and church council of Sandymount.

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) said "a number of questions remain" for the leadership.

BBC News NI understands that some of those questions relate to the decision to allow Mr Smyrl to continue in his role as elder after his marriage in 2018.

Minutes of a meeting of the Dublin and Munster Presbytery, seen by BBC News NI, show a majority of clergy initially voted against taking any further action over Rev Katherine Meyer and the Sandymount church council.

Image caption Mr Smyrl had been an elder at Christ Church Sandymount since 2007

The minutes, from 3 December last year, indicated that no further action would be taken after "due consideration" was given to "the potential impact on the minister, church council and congregation at Sandymount".

At the meeting, 16 members of the presbytery voted in favour of no further action being taken, while 13 voted against.

However, four members of the presbytery subsequently took an appeal against that decision to the PCI's judicial commission - effectively the church's high court.

The commission met on 7 February and overturned the decision to take no further action.

It ruled that what is known as a "Par 161 commission" should be set up.

It conducts an enquiry and can make a decision based on its findings.

The commission is made up of a number of ministers and elders.

'Seriously impaired'

According to the PCI's own guidelines on its judicial process, the commission has the power to remove an elder or other office holder in a congregation.

It can also find that a minister is "in a position where it is impossible for him satisfactorily to discharge [his] duties," or that "his usefulness has been seriously impaired".

However, a Par 161 commission can also recommend no further action be taken, following its enquiry.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the PCI said: "Following consideration of matters connected with the congregation of Christ Church Sandymount in Dublin a number of questions remain.

"The Presbytery of Dublin and Munster, the body responsible for overseeing congregations in that area, will be putting those questions to the leadership of the congregation.

"A representative small group will review the answers provided and then report to the full presbytery for detailed consideration and any necessary decisions."

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