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Church of Ireland defends itself after cleric turns down post

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Archdeacon Leslie Stevenson

Archdeacon Leslie Stevenson

Archdeacon Leslie Stevenson

The leader of the Church of Ireland has broken his silence after a senior cleric caused shockwaves when he turned down his role as a bishop just three days before his appointment.

The Archbishop of Armagh also defended the Church's decision to appoint Archdeacon Leslie Stevenson – who had admitted to having had an inappropriate relationship with a parishioner while a rector in Northern Ireland – as a bishop.

Mr Stevenson (53) initially accepted the appointment as Bishop of Meath and Kildare.

He was due to be ordained on Wednesday, but in a surprise statement last Sunday Mr Stevenson – now based in the Republic – said he would not accept the appointment.

Mr Stevenson was divorced from his first wife at the time of the relationship.

However, it is believed the Belfast man's relationship with Donaghadee parishioner Tracey McRoberts – now a Church of Ireland minister herself – continued right up until shortly before his second marriage.

The Church faced criticism for appointing Mr Stevenson as a bishop despite knowing about his past.

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In a statement, Archbishop of Armagh Dr Richard Clarke said the decision by the Church's electoral college came before the House of Bishops for ratification.

"This meeting was informed of circumstances in 1998 which led to the archdeacon, then incumbent of the Parish of Donaghadee, resigning his office," he said.

"The archdeacon has publicly referred to his relationship with a female parishioner, which he acknowledged he should not have allowed."

The Primate said that the House of Bishops "reflected on events from the past" but decided that it was "appropriate" to accept the decision of the electoral college".

It has emerged that three bishops met Mr Stevenson just before his announcement. But rather than exert pressure on him to stand aside, Dr Clarke said they were there in an individual capacity to offer pastoral support.

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Archdeacon Leslie Stevenson remarried in 1998 and has one daughter. He resigned from Donaghadee Parish in 1999, and after a period of "personal discipline" was appointed rector of Portarlington, Co Laois.


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