SOUTHWEST FLORIDA: Retired bishop announces plans to become Roman Catholic[Episcopal News Service] John B. Lipscomb, who recently retired as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida, has announced his intention to leave the Episcopal Church to join the Roman Catholic Church.
In a November 20 letter, Lipscomb told the members of the diocese that he had written to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori asking to be released from his ordination vows and "the obligations and responsibilities of a member of the House of Bishops."
Lipscomb wrote that he and his wife, Marcie, have been through "a long season of prayer and reflection" during which they "believe this is the leading of the Holy Spirit and God's call for us for the next chapter of our lives."
Lipscomb becomes the fourth Episcopal Church bishop this year to renounce his orders and become Roman Catholic. Rio Grande Bishop Jeffrey Steenson announced his intention in September; Clarence Pope, former bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth, announced his plans in August; and Daniel Herzog, former bishop of the Diocese of Albany, did so in late March.
In his statement, Lipscomb told the diocese that he and his wife had met with Robert N. Lynch, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg, whom he thanked for "his openness to our request and for his prayerful support."
Lynch said in a statement on his diocesan website that the Lipscombs "will be entered into full communion within the coming month and will reside within and worship at Nativity Church in Brandon where they currently live."
Lynch said that he and two of the diocese's "senior priests" have been in close contact with Lipscomb during his discernment. "It is my fervent hope and prayer that both he and his wife will find spiritual peace among us," Lynch wrote.
He offered Lipscomb's successor, Dabney Smith, "my continued expression of esteem for the Episcopal Church in the United States and my prayers for their local diocese" and he promised to "renew the close collaboration and mutual support which has marked my relationship with Bishop Lipscomb over the years."
Lipscomb told Smith about his actions November 20 at a meeting at the diocesan office in Sarasota. Smith said in a news story on the Southwest Florida website that he is pleased that the Lipscombs "have found their place of spiritual solace."
Lipscomb, whose health is declining due to Parkinson disease and malaria, had been on medical leave since three days after Smith was elected. He was diagnosed with Parkinson in 2002 and contracted malaria in Africa in 2004.
When Lipscomb announced that leave, he said that if his health permitted a return to work, he would attend the 2008 Lambeth Conference and "affect the transition of jurisdiction to the Fifth Bishop of Southwest Florida in 2009." However, he told the diocese on May 16, 2007 that that he needed to retire on or before November 1.
Lipscomb has been bishop since 1997. When he called for a bishop coadjutor in October 2004, he anticipated an election in January 2006. However, the House of Bishops agreed on March 15, 2005 to withhold consent to any episcopal election until the start of the 75th General Convention in June 2006, thus delaying election processes in Southwest Florida and some other dioceses.
Lipscomb and Virginia Bishop Peter Lee were the co-conveners of a group of bishops who met September 11-13, 2006 in New York City "to review the current landscape of the church in view of conflicts within the Episcopal Church" with then-Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, then-Presiding Bishop-elect Katharine Jefferts Schori and Canon Kenneth Kearon, the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion.
After that meeting Lipscomb said that the meeting spoke to "the deep woundedness in the life of our church and to the very deep fissures within it," and opined that "people have generally been in denial that things were as difficult as they are."
"That we weren't able to come to an agreement may not be necessarily the worst thing that could happen, now that we have at least a common acknowledgement that there are deep issues that divide the church," he added.
The Diocese of Southwest Florida comprises about 37,210 Episcopalians worshipping in 78 congregations.» Respond to this article