c. 2006 Religion News Service
(UNDATED) New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, is undergoing treatment for his “increasing dependence on alcohol,” Robinson said in a letter to the 49 churches in his diocese.
Robinson, 58, voluntarily checked himself into an undisclosed facility on Feb. 1 for a four-week stay. Robinson said in the letter, dated Monday (Feb. 13), that he had the support of his partner, Mark Andrew, and his two daughters.
“Over the 28 days I will be here, I will be dealing with the disease of alcoholism _ which, for years, I have thought of 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,” Robinson wrote.
Robinson was elected as the church’s first openly gay bishop in 2003, a move that has threatened to split the U.S. Episcopal Church and permanently alienate it from sister churches in the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Robinson’s letter was first posted Monday on a blog run by the Rev. Kendall Harmon, a conservative church leader from South Carolina. Mike Barwell, Robinson’s spokesman, confirmed the contents of the letter.
Barwell said the bishop “absolutely” intends to return to work after his treatment, and a statement from the diocese’s elected standing committee voiced support for Robinson.
“We commend him for his courageous example to us all, as we pray daily for him and for his ministry among us,” said Randolph K. Dales, president of the diocesan standing committee.
Barwell said Robinson chose not to publicly disclose his treatment because it would be “inappropriate” to make it a media event. Barwell said Robinson’s flock is standing behind him.
“There’s no sense of dismay or disappointment,” Barwell said. “Hurrah for him for being courageous enough to stand up and say `I’m going to face this,”’ Barwell said.
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David Virtue, one of Robinson’s most outspoken critics, late Monday posted a “See, I Told You So” entry on his widely red Web site, and faulted Robinson for not conveying his disease as a “personal failure.”
“There would be more shame in declaring you were an alcoholic if you were a Baptist than an Episcopalian,” Virtue wrote. “Baptists have a `no drinking’ policy, which for the most part holds up pretty well. Episcopalians, by comparison, drink like fish.”
Prior to his election as bishop, Robinson specialized in working with clergy on health and wellness issues, and led clergy wellness conferences in more than 20 dioceses in the U.S. and Canada.
In 2003, Robinson survived 11th-hour allegations that he promoted a Web site for teenagers that contained links to pornography. An investigation by church officials found the allegations had no merit.
It is not the first time an Episcopal bishop has sought treatment for alcoholism. In 1999, Bishop Carolyn Tanner Irish of Utah took a leave of absence for alcoholism after a rocky tenure as bishop exacerbated her disease.
In 1993, Bishop Frank Vest of the Diocese of Southern Virginia also sought treatment for alcoholism. The man who succeeded him in 1998, Bishop David Bane Jr., was also a recovering alcoholic.
In 1985, the church’s General Convention approved a resolution calling alcoholism a “three-fold impairment of body, mind and spirit,” and said church employees suffering from the disease should “be treated with pastoral love and concern.”
Robinson said in the letter that he has “learned so much” during his first weeks of treatment and said the experience would “inform my ministry for years to come.”
“Once again, God is proving his desire and ability to bring an Easter out of Good Friday,” Robinson said. “Please keep me in your prayers and know that you are in mine.”
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