Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Gay Bishop Enters Treatment for Alcoholism

By ANNE SAUNDERS (Associated Press Writer)

From Associated Press
February 14, 2006 6:25 PM EST

CONCORD, N.H. - The Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson, is being treated for alcoholism, a step that surprised friends and colleagues but seemed unlikely to threaten his position in the church. A key administrative committee said it stood by Robinson, whose 2003 election as bishop of New Hampshire caused a furor in worldwide Anglicanism because he lives with a same-sex partner. "I am writing to you from an alcohol treatment center where on Feb. 1, with the encouragement and support of my partner, daughters and colleagues, I checked myself in to deal with my increasing dependence on alcohol," Robinson wrote in an e-mail to clergy Monday.

Robinson's assistant at the Diocese of New Hampshire, the Rev. Tim Rich, said Tuesday that a growing awareness of his problem - rather than a crisis - led to Robinson's decision. In his letter, Robinson, 58, said he has been dealing with alcoholism for years and had considered it "as a failure of will or discipline on my part, rather than a disease over which my particular body simply has no control, except to stop drinking altogether." The Episcopal Church, based in New York City, lets dioceses handle such matters and referred calls about Robinson to New Hampshire. Between diocesan conventions, an elected "standing committee" of priests and parishioners usually decides administrative questions, including handling a bishop's absence.

The standing committee said it "fully" supports Robinson. "We commend him for his courageous example to us all, as we pray daily for him and for his ministry among us," the committee said in a statement. The Rev. David Jones, rector of Robinson's home church, St. Paul's in Concord, said he had not seen any signs, even in retrospect, that Robinson had a problem with alcohol.

Robinson was Bishop Douglas Theuner's top assistant for years and was elected to replace the retiring Theuner in 2003 by clergy and lay people in the diocese. He was confirmed by the national church, causing an upheaval not only in the Episcopal Church, but the worldwide Anglican Communion of which it is part. U.S. conservatives formed a national network to rally dissenters and many Anglican churches overseas broke normal ties with the American denomination.

"Why now? Why didn't we know this (then)? What happened to the discernment process?" said David Virtue, who fervently opposed Robinson's election. Virtue runs an online news service he describes as a global voice for orthodox Anglicans. Jones, who co-chaired the search committee for bishop in 2003, said thorough background checks were performed on all the candidates for bishop, including criminal checks and interviews with former employers and others. Finalists were asked if there was anything in their past that would embarrass them or the diocese if it came to light. Jones said Robinson did not say he was an alcoholic then. "For all I know, at that point, he didn't have a problem," Jones said. Virtue didn't buy it. "Everything about this man that we learn shows him to be fraudulent," he said.

Not all critics reacted the same way. "I'm glad he's getting help. None of us are perfect," said Lisa Ball, who opposed Robinson's selection and was part of a group in Rochester that broke away from the diocese and started a new church. Rich said Robinson told him his treatment, at an undisclosed location, is going well. "This is hard, hard work but he's in good spirits," Rich said. Robinson's health insurance through the diocese covers treatment for alcoholism, Rich said, though he did not know the details. Robinson indicated he plans to return to work soon. "I eagerly look forward to continuing my recovery in your midst," he wrote. "Once again, God is proving his desire and ability to bring an Easter out of Good Friday." Rich said Robinson knew his decision to seek treatment would draw public attention and "was the first person to say `I want it to be totally public.'"

No comment. I mean, really no comment...

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