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Archdeacon 'not pressured' to reject post

THE Church of Ireland primate has moved to dampen speculation surrounding a cleric who admitted to an inappropriate relationship with a female parishioner.

The Archbishop of Armagh Dr Richard Clarke said pressure had not been put on Archdeacon Leslie Stevenson (53) to decline the post of Bishop of Meath and Kildare.

He said that details of Archdeacon Stevenson's relationship with the woman had been known to the church hierarchy 15 years ago and were not considered an impediment to his appointment.

Archdeacon Stevenson, the rector of Portarlington, Co Laois, had accepted the Bishop of Meath and Kildare appointment but bowed out days before an elaborate ceremony was due to take place at Dublin's Christ Church Cathedral.

Archdeacon Stevenson turned down the appointment due to "concern" for the Church, as a previous relationship with a female parishioner appeared in media articles.

He had publicly said he was wrong to have had a relationship with a female parishioner, who has since been ordained a Church of Ireland minister.

The relationship occurred when the divorced archdeacon was rector of Donaghadee, Co Down. It is understood to have ended shortly before his second marriage in 1998.

He resigned from Donaghadee parish in 1999 and after a period of "personal discipline" was appointed as rector of Portarlington, Co Laois.

Dr Clarke said the archdeacon's decision to decline the appointment had aroused "speculation" and had caused "hurt and distress".

However, he said the senior church clerics behind the appointment had been "informed of the circumstances in 1998", which led to him then resigning his office.

Dr Clarke said the House of Bishops had "reflected on events from the past" before accepting the decision to appoint him as bishop.

He said three bishops met with the senior cleric on Saturday evening in an "individual capacity to offer pastoral support" as the events surrounding his resignation in the '90s came in for "further scrutiny". The following day the archdeacon turned down the appointment.

Archbishop of Dublin Rev Dr Michael Jackson said the bishops were merely expressing "their personal concern" for the archdeacon as a result of "intense" media scrutiny.

"The bishops were not representing the House of Bishops, nor were they seeking to revoke the decision of the House of Bishops who had previously confirmed his election," he said.

Irish Independent