In a letter to the people of the Church of Ireland dioceses of Cork, Cloyne, and Ross, to be published in the diocesan magazine next weekend, Bishop Paul Colton will encourage lesbian and gay people and their friends and families, to advise him on how best to put in place “a listening process” in the diocese.
The process is a key part of a national approach, adopted by the Standing Committee of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland, to the sexuality debate within the Church.
Ahead of a series of regional conferences involving groups of three dioceses, each bishop has been asked to set up a dialogue process in his or her diocese.
Dr Colton said the stories and views of a spectrum of gay and lesbian people and their families should be heard in this process.
“We have to confess that the church has been complicit for centuries in making life intolerable for many lesbian and gay people, even their persecution and victimisation,” he said.
“Careless words have fed homophobia.
“Many, understandably, as a result have turned their backs on official religion.
“Even in more recent times, it seems that so much of the debate has been happening without lesbian and gay people being involved; talking about people rather than with them.”
Dr Colton said the Church of Ireland hopes to set up a respectful dialogue process in each diocese, made up of small groups to ensure “a safe space”.’
The issues raised will lead to a set of priorities for each diocese that will feed into the inter-diocesan summit.
“There has been a wide diversity of responses to this debate — some feel vulnerable and targeted, others angry and concerned, and still others have moved on,” said Dr Colton.
“I know well that many gay and lesbian people, and their families, have been wounded by the church and, in my Christmas sermon in 2003, I asked forgiveness for that.
“I do hope, nonetheless, that advice and assistance will be forthcoming about how this listening is best to happen here in Cork, Cloyne, and Ross.”
His letter will be published this weekend, just days after the Catholic Bishop of Cork and Ross, John Buckley, said gay people deserve nothing but respect and love from Catholics, and should never be condemned or rejected.
“I am talking about every category of people, including LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] people,” said Dr Buckley. “From the Lord, they will only hear words of understanding, words of encouragement and words of love.”
Dr Buckley said Pope Francis had changed the compassionate face of the Church since his appointment.