Presbyterian minister faces sanctions over gay couple support

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Christ Church Sandymoun
Image caption,
Steven Smyrl had been an elder at Christ Church, Sandymount, in Dublin since 2007

A Presbyterian minister and a church council are facing disciplinary sanctions for "endorsing a homosexual relationship".

The Rev Katherine Meyer and the Christ Church, Sandymount church council, were found to have justified "approval for that which in scripture God condemns".

Steven Smyrl was sacked as an elder at the Dublin church in October 2019.

But the Presbyterian Church decided to investigate the leadership which allowed Mr Smyrl - who is in a same-sex marriage - to be an elder.

A judicial commission of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) in Belfast ruled that the Dublin and Munster Presbytery could set up what is known as a "Par 161 commission" to investigate Dr Meyer and the church council of Christ Church, Sandymount.

BBC News NI has seen the findings of the Presbytery's investigation.

It found that the "words and actions of both minister and church council demonstrate their persistent deviation from the confessional standards of the Presbyterian Church".

'Sexually immoral people'

It said that this was "to the extent of justifying approval for that which in scripture God condemns".

The Presbytery said that in 1 Corinthians "Paul instructs the church in Corinth not to associate with sexually immoral people if they bear the name of brother".

"In contrast, however, both the minister and church council of Christ Church, Sandymount, have supported the homosexual relationship of two of its members over many years.

"The minister and church council have caused scandal injurious to the purity and peace of the Church."

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

Christ Church, Sandymount, is a shared church run by PCI and the Methodist Church in Ireland, but Dr Meyer is a Presbyterian minister.

The PCI's Dublin and Munster Presbytery found that Mr Smyrl had been co-opted to the church council - which represents and has members from the Presbyterian and Methodist churches - after the PCI had sacked him as an elder.

The Presbytery instructed the church council to reverse that decision, and said that if Dr Meyer did not accept their findings, the presbytery would "initiate disciplinary proceedings" against her.

However, Dr Meyer appealed the decision of the Presbytery investigation to a judicial commission of the church.

A PCI judicial commission is set up at Church House in Belfast and can hear appeals against decisions taken by Presbyteries.

BBC News NI has also seen the findings of the judicial commission.

The judicial commission met on Friday 19 November and rejected Dr Meyer's appeal against the Presbytery's investigation.

As a result, the judicial commission also said that the church council should remove Mr Smyrl from the council.

The commission also ruled that Dr Meyer and the church council should accept the findings of the Presbytery investigation by Monday, 20 December 2021, or the Presbytery could initiate "disciplinary proceedings" against her and the council.

When contacted by BBC News NI, Dr Meyer declined to comment.

'Highly disappointing'

In a statement, the Methodist Church said it would not be appropriate to comment on what is a matter of Presbyterian Church discipline.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland said it was "highly disappointing that an individual, or individuals, has sought to go out of their way to comment to a journalist on a sensitive internal church matter and, we are led to believe, even pass on papers that are private to that process".

"While some issues have been considered, matters are still ongoing and further decisions are still to be made," they said.

"Therefore, it would be inappropriate to comment further and trust that the BBC will respect the sensitivity of an ongoing internal process."

'Grave injustice'

When contacted by BBC News NI, Mr Smyrl claimed that the charges were "aimed only at publicly diminishing the lives of gay Presbyterians".

"The Dublin presbytery has charged our minister, Rev Katherine Meyer, with supporting and endorsing me in a 'sexually immoral' relationship," he said.

"Yet despite being challenged they have failed to produce even a shred of evidence that I have been involved in any form of sexual immorality or indeed sexual activity of any kind.

"Their aim is to squash dissent and to attack and remove anyone who voices even a modicum of support or empathy.

"Unless reason and fairness prevail, this sorry affair can only end in a grave injustice against a blameless pastor and teacher."

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