Sunday, May 19, 2024

Bishop describes as ‘shameful’ Church of Ireland rejection of motion on Baptism for children of unmarried mothers

A Church of Ireland General Synod member who proposed a motion which called for infants to be baptised “irrespective of the marital status of the parents” said she is disappointed that it was rejected and that it sends the message that we are going back to a time “when clergy could judge a woman”.

The motion which was defeated sought to ensure that the child of an unmarried mother must not be refused Baptism.

It is at the discretion of clergy in the church whether they baptise such a child.

The motion, proposed Prof Patricia Barker of Dublin and Glendalough diocese and seconded by Lynn Wright of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh diocese, called for infants to be baptised “irrespective of the marital status of the parents”.

It was Prof Barker’s second attempt to bring the motion to General Synod. “I tried last year but it was deferred to this year,” she said. “This year we had all our ducks in a row, legals etc,” she added. She repeated, and as she told the General Synod in Armagh last week, that “a number of accounts of this practice had emerged in the intervening year” in addition to others she became aware of previously.

However, before her proposal was heard at General Synod this year, a petition was presented in advance by seven clergy which meant that, instead of the motion being put to a general vote, it would be “by orders”, with laity and clergy voting separately and requiring a majority of each for it to be passed.

Prof Barker felt it was “so sad that we are going back to a time when clergy could judge a woman in this way”.

She thought it would be “a wonderful question” to ask relevant clergy what they would do if confronted with Mary, the unmarried mother of Jesus whose father was not even her betrothed, Joseph.

Bishop Michael Burrows told his congregation at St Mary’s Church of Ireland Cathedral in Limerick that he was “cross” following the vote and wondered “whether the Church of Ireland is still the place I thought I knew and loved”.

The motion presented to General Synod “was simply a statement that the marital status of parents alone should be affirmed as not being an impediment to the grace of Baptism”, Bishop Borrows told his Limerick congregation.

In the General Synod vote, 69 clergy were in favour with 72 against, while of lay delegates 144 were in favour with 83 against. Due to clergy rejection, the motion fell.

“The optics of such an event are appalling and shameful and we have sent out a message to the world in an Ireland which should know, God knows, enough about the awful treatment of single mothers in the past,” said Bishop Burrows.

Among those who opposed the motion was Archdeacon of Derry Robert Miller who said he believed the motion was “unnecessary since the Church of Ireland’s generous orthodoxy around the sacrament of Baptism is already enshrined in the Canons [rules]”.

For his part “in almost 30 years of ordained ministry I have never denied Baptism but rather embraced it as an opportunity to welcome, engage and disciple”. 

The motion “to instruct a minister that they ‘must’ baptise would only, I believe, have impaired this engagement between minister and parishioner — an engagement built on trust.”