08 December 2011

Judges’ service hears of shared values of justice and mercy

The current edition [December 2011] of the Church Review, the Dublin and Glendalough Diocesan Magazine, carries the following half-page news report and photograph on page 9:

Judges’ service hears of shared
values of justice and mercy

Canon Patrick Comerford (right) at the Judges’ Service in Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, with the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool, Dr Patrick Kelly, and the High Sheriff of Merseyside, Professor Helen Carty

Justice and mercy “are both demands for the Church and for the Law,” Canon Patrick Comerford told the Annual Judge’s Service in Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral. “They are not mutually exclusive, even though the Church tends to see mercy as our preserve and justice as the prerogative of the law.”

Canon Comerford, who is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, was preaching the cathedral service marking the beginning of the Legal Year in the Merseyside area.

“In truth,” he said, “the Church has not been good in the past in living up to its call and claim to exercise a ministry of mercy.” He gave examples from the opposition of Pope Innocent III to Magna Carta, and said “the Church was short on mercy throughout the Crusades, the Inquisitions and the Reformation, convinced it was giving its priority to justice.”

He pointed out that only one Church of England bishop had spoken in the House of Lords in favour of the abolition of the death penalty in 1948. “But mercy slowly began to win hearts, and by 1956 eight bishops voted for its abolition and one against; by 1969, 19 bishops voted for the abolition of the death penalty but, unbelievably, there was still one who voted against. By 1988, the Lambeth Conference called for the abolition of the death penalty.”

“Mercy and justice, justice and mercy, they go together as an inseparable couplet or pair,” he said. “When we serve both, we serve the God who reveals himself to us in the Law and in the Prophets, and who comes to be present among us in Christ Jesus.”

Earlier in his sermon, Canon Comerford said the Warrington bombers, who murdered Tim Parry and Johnathan Ball in 1993 “never faced justice.”

“This was a tragedy that struck me personally, for Johnathan’s mother was Marie Comerford,” he said. “In 2001, the parents of these two young boys met Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness. After the meeting, Martin McGuinness declined to say whether he had apologised to those parents on behalf of the IRA.”

“The Warrington bombers never faced justice, and no mercy was shown to their victims by a man who is now a presidential candidate in the Republic of Ireland.” And he asked: “Is it any wonder that Marie Comerford died of a broken heart two years ago?”

The service began with processions by people involved in the civic, academic and judicial life of Merseyside, including High Court and Crown Court judges, the High Sheriffs of Merseyside and Lancashire, the Assistant Chief Constable of Merseyside, and the Lord-Lieutenant of Merseyside.

The service was conducted by the Acting Dean of Liverpool and Canon Precentor, Canon Myles Davies. The attendance included the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool, Dr Patrick Kelly, and the Anglican Dean of Auckland, the Very Revd Jo Kelly-Moore.

Canon Comerford and Barbara Comerford were also guests of honour at the Judges’ Dinner in Liverpool the previous evening and at a lunch and reception hosted by the High Sheriff of Merseyside, Dr Helen Carty, the Irish-born former Professor of Paediatric Radiology at Liverpool University.

The same edition of the Church Review carries this photograph and caption on page 74:

Right Revd Chad Gandiya, Bishop of Harare, with Revd Dr John Bartlett (l) and Canon Patrick Comerford in Christ Church Cathedral

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