The case of the disappearing bishop

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Jeffrey Steenson

\ Having lived in New Mexico just before moving here, I have been following Bishop Steenson ever since he was elected in October 2004. A candidate from Fairfax, then-Truro rector Martyn Minns, was positioned to win the election when then-Canon Steenson’s name was submitted. He won on the third ballot and Martyn Minns, who came in second, went on to become bishop of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America — a break-away group — in 2006.\

\ Bishop Steenson was obviously getting more and more disturbed by liberal trends in the Episcopal Church, as he unexpectedly announced in September that, after less than three years in the episcopate, he was becoming a Roman Catholic. sttenson.jpg\

\ “The reason for this decision is 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,” he wrote in a September letter to his diocese. \

\ OK. In what’s becoming an increasing embarrassment for the Episcopal Church, Bishop Steenson was one of four bishops to go Catholic in 2007 alone. Former Fort Worth Bishop Clarence Pope, Albany, N.Y., Bishop David Herzog and Southwest, Fla., Bishop John Lipscomb were the other three. But those men had left their positions before swimming the Tiber; Bishop Steenson was still a sitting bishop. \

\ And in the letter, he promised “not to lose sight of my responsibility to help lay a good foundation for the transition that you must now lead.” In the Episcopal Church, it takes up to two years to search for, elect and install a new bishop.\

\ Instead, he walked out a bit early. At the beginning of this week, various Catholic web sites were announcing he had shown up at St. Mary Major in Rome for the official ceremony, presided over by the disgraced former Boston Cardinal Bernard Law. \

\ Suddenly — whammo — his bishop’s see in Albuquerque was vacant.\ The folks left behind in the Diocese of the Rio Grande were in disarray, as he had not told them. \

\ “Presumably he told our presiding bishop,” his administrative assistant, Mary Jewell, told me. “We don’t really know.”\

\ I called up to church headquarters in New York to find out what Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefforts Schori knew of the sudden exit but no one there could tell me either. Bishop Steenson comes back next week to clean out his desk. \

\ The diocesan standing committee is in charge of things now but affairs are in an uproar. Right now they are scrambling to find a bishop to preside over the many events happening around Christmas, some of them things only a bishop can do.\

\ I can’t help but thinking a few “what ifs.” What if Jeffrey Steenson’s name had not been submitted late in the game? What if Martyn Minns had won the election and moved to New Mexico? Without him, I doubt there would have been a CANA. Without the force of his personality, I even wonder if 11 Episcopal churches would have voted a year ago to leave the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, setting off the denomination’s biggest property lawsuit ever. \

\ Little decisions have big consequences, folks.\

\ Julia Duin, assistant national editor/religion, The Washington Times

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