frgavin on January 18th, 2012

The Rev. Michael Vono, Steenson’s successor as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande, said that sense of betrayal is particularly strong among gay and female priests in the diocese.Perhaps part of the whole issue, no?

By Olivier Uyttebrouck,
Journal Staff Writer

The Rev. Jeffrey Steenson’s announcement three years ago to step down as the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande to become a Catholic priest shocked and saddened many New Mexican Episcopalians.

Now many of those same people feel “betrayed” by Pope Benedict XVI’s recent appointment of Steenson to head a special Roman Catholic diocese for disaffected Episcopalians.

Church leaders say the announcement reopened old wounds and created new ones among Episcopalians here.

“When he left (in 2007), it was painful, but we respected his decision,” said the Rev. Daniel Gutierrez, canon to the ordinary for the 18,000-member Diocese of the Rio Grande. “But then for him to turn around and take this position and try to lure other priests is a betrayal.”

The Rev. Michael Vono, Steenson’s successor as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande, said that sense of betrayal is particularly strong among gay and female priests in the diocese.

Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, which bars women from the clergy, women can be ordained as Episcopal priests. Women comprise a “sizable” minority of the 180-member clergy in the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande, he said.

Steenson “seemed to have no trouble working with women priests” during his three years as bishop, Vono said. “He was celebrating with women at the altars.”

Steenson did not respond to messages left at his office at Our Lady of Walsingham Catholic Church Monday in Houston.

The Pope’s Jan. 2 announcement made Steenson the head of a new nationwide ordinariate, called the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, to serve former Episcopal groups and clergy in the United States who wish to become Roman Catholic. It wasn’t clear from the announcement how the new office, which is similar to a diocese, would operate.

According to the Catholic Church, more than 100 clergy have applied to be ordained Catholic for the ordinariate.

Steenson, 59, a married priest with three adult children, was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in February 2009 at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Rio Rancho.

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. 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 in 2007 that those conflicts made it impossible for him to pursue his ultimate goal of helping the Anglican Communion unite with the Roman Catholic Church.

New Mexico Episcopalians at the time were publicly muted in their response to Steenson’s conversion.

Vono said this month that Steenson’s decision to step down just three years after taking his vows as bishop left Episcopalians “saddened” and “disillusioned.”

“He took vows, as we all do, in front of the whole church,” Vono said of Steenson’s choice to become a bishop. “It isn’t as though Jeffrey didn’t know what he was doing when he made those vows.”

Vono wrote a pastoral letter this month to members of the diocese expressing his thoughts about Steenson’s appointment to lead the new Roman Catholic diocese.

The announcement “has evoked in some a sense of disillusionment, betrayal, sadness and confusion,” Vono wrote in the Jan. 4 letter.

Vono described the new Roman Catholic diocese as “a gracious pastoral gesture” by the Pope to those uncomfortable with the Episcopal Church’s decision to ordain women and gays as priests and bishops and to bless same-gender unions.

But the history of Christianity shows that “ours is neither the first nor the last age to experience disaffection among Christians over evolving contemporary controversial issues,” Vono wrote.

Rather than becoming disillusioned, “we can learn from others and continue to love, respect and live with our neighbors,” despite our differences, he wrote.

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