There is “little appetite” in parishes to continue discussing human sexuality, the House of Bishops of the Church of Ireland has said in a statement in which they stress that the province’s marriage service “remains unchanged and marriage may be solemnised only between a man and a woman.”
In a separate statement, the House of Bishops of the Church of Australia said that the doctrine of their church was that “marriage is a lifelong union between a man and a woman.” They said that in light of the church’s doctrine, it was “not appropriate for church buildings and halls, and chapels owned by Anglican schools and other Anglican organisations to be used as venues for same-sex marriages.”
The statement from the Church of Ireland bishops was presented to the province’s General Synod last week by the Bishop of Meath and Kildare, Pat Storey. It follows the work of a Select Committee on Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian Belief, which was established by the General Synod in 2012, and which reported to the synod last year. The committee produced a guide to human sexuality for parish use.
“It was noted that following the production of the Guide to Human Sexuality, there was little appetite to discuss further these issues in the parishes,” the bishops said in their statement. “It would seem that there is no consensus in General Synod, the House of Bishops, or in the church island-wide to change the Canons of the Church of Ireland on the matter of marriage. This, the Church of Ireland marriage service remains unchanged and marriage may be solemnised only between a man and a woman. No liturgy or authorised service is provided therefore for any other situation.”
The Australian bishops’ statement was made in the context of the legalization of same-sex marriage in Australia. It said that any change to the province’s doctrines would need to be done through the framework of its constitution and canons. “Bishops should give leadership in demonstrating trust in this framework as the way to move forward together, recognising that this will require care, persistence and generosity. The bishops commit to working together to manifest and maintain unity, as we together discern the truth.
“The bishops commit to act within the framework of the Constitution and Canons of this Church, and to encourage those under their episcopal oversight to do so.”
Both provinces expressed concern for the pastoral implications of their statements. The Australian bishops said: “We affirm the need for humility and graciousness in discerning the way forward on these issues, recognising that there are complex interactions among the theological, pastoral and missional dimensions to these questions.”
They added: “All people are made in the image of God, loved by God and welcome in the community of God’s people. We earnestly desire that all people hear and respond to God’s word and receive the grace of the sacraments.
“We affirm the responsibility of ministers to pray with and care for same-sex couples in informal settings. Bishops trust that ministers will exercise discretion in their pastoral care for same-sex couples, acting in accordance with the doctrines and discipline of this Church.”
The Church of Ireland bishops said: “As the archbishops and bishops have already made clear to the clergy of the church of Ireland, it is not possible to proscribe the saying of prayers in personal and pastoral situations, but if clergy are invited to offer prayer after a same sex marriage, any such prayer must remain consonant with the spirit and teaching of the Church of Ireland.”
They added: “It is widely recognised that there is no simple solution for these and other issues of human sexuality; but with compassion, humility and concern, we offer our continued commitment to attentive listening and to respectful discussion.
“We ask that all members of Synod who continue to hold strong opinions do so with integrity and compassion, and to also hold in prayer before God the challenging diversity that exists within the Church of Ireland.”