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Priest declines Irish bishopric after press highlights his past

03 May 2013

Withdrawing from episcopal post: the Ven. Leslie Stevenson

Withdrawing from episcopal post: the Ven. Leslie Stevenson

THE Ven. Leslie Stevenson, who was to have been consecrated this week as Bishop of Meath & Kildare, in the Irish Republic, withdrew on Sunday after a press campaign against him.

His decision to step aside followed two newspaper articles. One in the Dublin-based Sunday Business Post noted that he would be the first divorced bishop in the history of the Church of Ireland, and that he had had a relationship after his first marriage failed.

The second appeared last Friday in the Belfast-based Nationalist daily Irish News, which suggested that Archdeacon Stevenson's consecration was in doubt. It named the woman with whom he had had a relationship, who is now a serving priest in the diocese of Connor.

Archdeacon Stevenson has said that, after the break-up of his first marriage, while serving as Rector of Donaghadee, in Northern Ireland, he had had an "inappropriate" relationship with an unmarried parishioner which, on reflection, should not have happened, and which represented a falling short of pastoral expectations.

He resigned from the parish in 1999, and undertook a period of personal discipline. He was subsequently appointed Rector of Portarlington, in the Irish Republic, where he intends to remain.

The Church of Ireland Electoral College chose Archdeacon Stevenson for the see of Meath & Kildare when it met in January this year. The appointment was subsequently ratified by the House of Bishops.

It is understood that on Saturday, after a rehearsal for the consecration in Christ Church Cathedral, where the consecration was to take place on Wednesday, Archdeacon Stevenson was met at his home by a delegation of three bishops, led by the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michael Jackson. It was after this meeting that the Bishop-elect announced his decision to withdraw.

In a statement on Sunday, Archdeacon Stevenson said: "I am honoured to have been elected Bishop of Meath & Kildare, and appreciate the support and goodwill offered to me by many people from the dioceses and the wider Church of Ireland over recent months.

"My positive concern for the Church, to which I remain loyal, now leads me to decline the appointment. I wish to broaden and deepen my ministry in the parish and diocese in which I have been called to serve."

The reaction among clergy and laity in the diocese has ranged from incredulity to annoyance at what is seen as outside interference in an episcopal selection. The relationship, from 14 years ago, was known to those who chose him, and there is anger that hostile publicity has been allowed to inform the direction of the Church of Ireland.

One serving cleric remarked: "Some people believe in forgiveness; others obviously do not."

A statement from the honorary clerical and lay secretaries of the dioceses, representing the diocesan synod and council membership, expressed dismay and regret at Archdeacon Stevenson's decision.

"Strenuous and adverse publicity, such as that shared in some of today's newspapers, led to Leslie's announcement of his intention to decline the appointment. Leslie generously withdrew his name to shield and protect the dioceses of Meath and Kildare, and for the general well-being of the Church.

"This is a hallmark of Leslie's vocation and loyalty to the Church he serves. While we regret his resignation as Bishop-elect, we accept and respect his decision."

Dr Jackson is expected to summon a new electoral college for the end of May. Meanwhile, he has appointed Canon John Clarke (Navan), as Commissary.

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