The Deacon's Bench

For the third time this year, an Episcopal bishop is leaving his flock to join the Catholic Church.

The following comes from The Living Church Foundation, which serves the Episcopalian church:

The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey N. Steenson, Bishop of the Rio Grande, will resign from his position and become a Roman Catholic, The Living Church has learned.

In a letter to the clergy of his diocese, Bishop Steenson said a pastoral letter to all the people of the diocese would follow in a few days. He said he had invited Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to attend the Rio Grande clergy conference Sept. 26.

“I … 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,” he wrote.

Bishop Steenson was attending the House of Bishops’ meeting in New Orleans and plans to make an announcement concerning his decision on Monday.

In an interview with The Living Church to be published in a forthcoming issue, Bishop Steenson said the meeting of the House of Bishops at Camp Allen in the spring had a major effect on his decision.

“The spring meeting of the House of Bishops, when the majority said that The Episcopal Church was fundamentally autonomous and local,” he said. “This is not the Catholic doctrine of the Church, and it will lead to many unfortunate consequences.”

The bishop has been the diocesan in the Albuquerque-based diocese since 2005. He was canon to the ordinary under Bishop Terence Kelshaw for five years before being elected to the episcopate. Prior to that, he was rector of All Saints’ Church, Wynnewood, Pa., Good Shepherd, Rosemont, Pa., and St. Andrew’s, Fort Worth. He is a member of the Board of Trustees of Nashotah House and the Board of Directors of the Living Church Found

“My conscience is deeply troubled,” he said in a statement prepared for the House of Bishops, “because I sense that the obligations of my ministry in The Episcopal Church may lead me to a place apart from scripture and tradition. I am concerned that if I do not listen to and act in accordance with conscience now, it will become harder and harder to hear God’s voice.”

Bishop Steenson said he had spoken with the Presiding Bishop “for her counsel and prayers,” and said he would ask the House of Bishops for permission to resign as the ordinary of his diocese. He said he would do this by the end of the year, and added that he hoped then to be released from his ordination vows in The Episcopal Church.

He called the bishops’ meeting last March “a profoundly disturbing experience for me. I was more than a little surprised when such a substantial majority declared the polity of the Episcopal Church to be primarily that of an autonomous and independent local church relating to the wider Anglican Communion by voluntary association. This is not the Anglicanism in which I was formed, inspired by the Oxford Movement and the Catholic Revival in the Church of England … honestly, I did not recognize the church that this House described on that occasion.”

Regarding his move to the Roman Catholic Church, Bishop Steenson said, “I believe that the Lord now calls me in this direction. It amazes me, after all of these years, what a radical journey of faith this must necessarily be. To some it seems foolish; to others disloyal; to others an abandonment.”

Bishop Steenson will be the third bishop of The Episcopal Church to become a Roman Catholic this year. Bishop Dan Herzog of Albany moved shortly after his retirement in January. Bishop Clarence C. Pope, retired Bishop of Fort Worth, returned to Roman Catholicism in August.

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