Ireland's senior Protestant clerics met yesterday to investigate the case of a church leader who does not believe Jesus is the son of God.
The heresy trial marks a rare departure for the Church of Ireland Court of the General Synod which has sat only twice in its 130-year existence on questions of doctrine and only 39 times in total. Yesterday's hearing was first of its kind in more than a century.
The Dean of Clonmacnoise, the Very Rev Andrew Furlong, sent a ripple through the church when he published essays propounding his belief that Jesus was not the incarnation of God. Dean Furlong, 54, a Cambridge graduate and former missionary in Zimbabwe wrote: "With the deepest respect for others and theirbeliefs, to my mind, Jesus, and John the Baptist also, were mistaken and misguided 'end-time' prophets; Jesus was neither a mediator nor a saviour, neither super-human nor divine; we need to leave him to his place in history and move on."
The church stripped him of his episcopal authority in December, giving him three months to reflect. Last month, despite pressure from his bishop, he refused to resign. He was charged with heresy by the Bishop of Meath and Kildare, the Right Rev Richard Lionel Clarke.
Ireland's tiny Protestant community, just 3 per cent of the population, has been outraged by Dean Furlong's stance and many parishioners called for his immediate resignation or dismissal.
In a letter to The Irish Times, one of them, Fred Revington, said the dean's views had "caused more hurt to his parishioners than he will ever know".
Others have described his services as uplifting and encouraged him to continue searching in dialogue with the Church.
Yesterday's hearing, presided over by three clerical judges and four lay judges, was open to the press and the public. The judges' decision will be announced later.
In the meantime, Dean Furlong will continue to preach.