Belfast Telegraph: Homophobia is new sectarianism in Northern Ireland

By Liam Clarke

A veteran Church of Ireland cleric has backed David Cameron’s calls for same sex marriage – saying homophobia has become Northern Ireland’s “new sectarianism”.

Canon Charles Kenny has spoken out about the attitude to the gay community from within his own Church, claiming that bias was distorting the Christian message.

Canon Kenny, who retired from Belfast’s St Anne’s Cathedral in 2000, told the Belfast Telegraph: “The same failings of the Christian Church, and the presentation of the Gospel, which led to sectarianism in the past are playing again now in relation to homophobia.”

In the interview, he said many bishops within the Church of Ireland were privately “on the pro gay lobby side”.

“They know that theologically speaking the people who oppose it are absolutely bonkers and ill-informed but they won’t say this in public because they don’t want to rock the boat,” he added.

He said that two Northern Ireland bishops who genuinely held conservative views on the issue were Ken Good, the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, and Harold Miller of Down and Dromore.

Canon Kenny is the Secretary of Changing Attitudes Ireland, a Church of Ireland organisation with the stated aim of “working for the full affirmation of lesbian and gay persons within the Church”.

He was moved to speak out after David Cameron accused the Church of England, the Church of Ireland’s sister denomination in the Anglican Communion, of excluding homosexuals as Mr Cameron’s own Tory party once did.

The Prime Minister called on the English Church to stop “locking out people who are gay, or are bisexual or are transgender from being full members of that Church, because many people with deeply-held Christian views are also gay.”

Canon Kenny praised this stance as “tolerant and sensitive” in a statement which dominates the front page of the current edition of the Church of Ireland Gazette.

He argued that many people “find it hard to understand the reaction of the mainstream churches” to Mr Cameron’s comments and regard church attitudes as medieval.

His statement to the Gazette says: “Once again the church is behaving as it did when the issue was slavery, or racialism, the cruel treatment of children born out of wedlock or what amounted to denial of full humanity to the female half of homo sapiens, lack of sympathy for the lower orders, a suspicion of the new ideas of science, and so forth.

“People are puzzled that all this was done in the name of Christ; but many suspect it was more to do with earthly power and control.”

He commended the approach of Jurgen Moltman, a German Lutheran theologian, who said: “Christianity is about the Gospel and not about sex …Christians believe in justification of human beings by faith alone not by faith and heterosexuality.”

Canon Kenny deplored the fact that homosexual clergy often had to keep their orientation secret for fear of losing their jobs.

He wrote “the position of the gay ordained is even worse [than that of the laity].

“Living daily in denial of what is one part of your essence is a barely tolerable cross.

“In most church fellowship such things are simply unmentionable and when the subject does arise the atmosphere is more of pub-talk than rational and sympathetic.”

In his interview with the Belfast Telegraph, he dismissed arguments that the bible condemned homosexuality as “naive.”

He added: “People quoted the bible against Darwin’s theories and the suggestion that women should do the same jobs as men. They quoted the bible against the abolition of slavery.

“The bible says that we shouldn’t eat prawn cocktails but that we should stone adulterers to death.”


When he was in the active Ministry Canon Kenny, a 73-year-old married man from east Belfast, was known for speaking out against sectarianism. He sees gay rights as the new challenge for Christians. It is certainly a hot potato for the Church of Ireland where there is only one openly gay cleric, Dean Tom Gordon who is from Portadown but works in Cashel with the support of his Bishop Michael Burrows.

The Church of Ireland synod in May adopted a motion opposing gay marriage and saying same sex partnerships were not “normative.”