Rio Grande bishop announces intention to resign
In a September 21 letter to the clergy of the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande, Bishop Jeffrey Steenson said he intends to ask the House of Bishops meeting currently underway in New Orleans for permission to resign as the diocese’s bishop.
Steenson was elected the eighth bishop of the diocese on October 24, 2004. He was consecrated as the 1000th bishop in the Episcopal Church on January 16, 2005, and installed on October 8, 2005 at the Cathedral Church of St. John in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Calling it a “very difficult letter to write as your bishop and colleague in the ordained ministry,” Steenson wrote that “my conscience is deeply troubled about where the Episcopal Church is heading, and this has become a crisis for me because of my ordination vow to uphold its doctrine, discipline, and worship.”
“An effective leader cannot be so conflicted about the guiding principles of the Church he serves,” Steenson continued. “It concerns me that this has affected my ability to lead this diocese with a clear and hopeful vision for its mission. I also have sensed how important it is for those of us in this position to model a gracious way to leave the Episcopal Church in a manner respectful of its laws.”
Just days before his letter, Steenson helped broker a deal that allowed a majority of the members of the diocese’s Pro Cathedral Episcopal Church of St. Clement in El Paso, Texas, to sever ties with the diocese and the Episcopal Church and buy the cathedral property for $2 million.
Steenson told the St. Clement’s members in a letter prior to the September 16 parish vote that he “personally agree[d] with the leadership of St. Clement’s about where the Episcopal Church seems to be heading.”
“But as a bishop under the authority of this Church there are certain obligations and responsibilities to be observed,” he added, going on to summarize what he called “the perspective of the Episcopal Church” which holds “that all real and personal property of a congregation is owned not by the local congregation but by the Diocese and Episcopal Church” and that parishes cannot be dissolved by congregational votes.
Steenson said in that letter that, being bound by those rules, he, the trustees of the diocese, the standing committee and the diocese were “willing to try to find a negotiated settlement that may allow St. Clement’s to become an independent congregation with its existing facilities.”
Steenson’s resignation had been rumored for weeks, with speculation that he would join the Roman Catholic Church. He did not spell out his intention in the September 21 letter, except to say that “many of you already know of my love for the Catholic Church and my conviction that this is the true home of Anglicanism.”
“I will not dwell on this, however, so as not to lose sight of my responsibility to help lay a good foundation for the transition that you must now lead,” he wrote.
The Episcopal Church’s Constitution and Canons require that a majority of the House of Bishops consent to the resignation of any diocesan bishop was has not reached the mandatory retirement age of 72 years of been declared incapacitated (Title III, Canon 22.1-3).
Steenson wrote that he was grateful for “pastoral support I have received from the Presiding Bishop and her office during this time.”
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is due to travel from New Orleans at the close of the House of Bishops meeting to attend Rio Grande’s annual clergy conference on the afternoon of September 25.
“This has been an extraordinarily difficult decision to make because of the bonds I share with you and the people of this diocese.” Steenson concluded. “It has indeed been a privilege to serve alongside you these past seven years. With deep feelings I write, with regret for how this may complicate your own ministry, with profound gratitude for your prayers and support, and with much love for you. I pledge to you my prayers and friendship in these days to come.”
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