Monday, February 23, 2009

Conservative Episcopal bishop resigned to become Roman Catholic priest

By Olivier Uyttebrouck

The Albuquerque Journal - As bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande, the Rev. Jeffrey Steenson came down on the conservative side of many issues.

He opposed the election of the first openly gay bishop, and he did not allow the blessing of same-sex unions in his diocese.

Steenson said those conflicts made it impossible for him to pursue his ultimate goal of helping the Anglican Communion unite with the Roman Catholic Church.

On Saturday, both Catholics and Episcopalians celebrated Steenson's ordination as a Roman Catholic priest. Steenson, a married father of three, said he is the first sitting Episcopal bishop since 1852 to resign to become a Roman Catholic.

"Jeffrey and I have been in conversation for a number of years," Archbishop Michael Sheehan told several hundred who attended the ordination ceremony at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Rio Rancho.

"Of course, I have to say, that he has the greatest respect for his Episcopal and theological roots."

Steenson served as bishop of the Rio Grande diocese from 2004 to 2007 at a divisive time for Episcopalians, both in New Mexico and nationally.


Steenson said his decision to choose Catholicism while serving as a sitting Episcopal bishop was "extremely difficult."

"I would say it was an agonizing decision, because of the pastoral responsibilities I think I had," he said.

But the "democratic" nature of the Episcopal Church led him to sever ties with the protestant denomination, he said.

"The Episcopal Church is purely a democratic organization," Steenson said. "It governs itself democratically, and it doesn't have to answer to anyone for the decisions it makes. I just felt that I didn't believe in that view of the church."

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