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August 31, 1995 Former Bishop of Ft. Worth Changes His Mind About Joining Roman Catholic Church 95-1206

Episcopal News Service

(ENS) In a letter to the church's bishops, Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning announced August 18 that former bishop of Ft. Worth Clarence Pope "has made the decision to return to the Episcopal Church."

Browning said that he had been in conversation with Pope, who with his wife joined the Roman Catholic Church last February, "for several months about this and I am delighted at his decision. This church is his home, his family, and with joy we welcome him home."

A notice by Bishop Jack Iker, Pope's successor, said, "As the date drew near for his re-ordination [as a Roman Catholic priest], Bishop Pope began to have serious concerns about this, and this eventually led to his decision to return to the Episcopal Church." According to Iker, Pope has "withdrawn his letter of resignation from the House of Bishops, which was to have acted upon at our next meeting in Portland, Oregon, in late September."

In his announcement, Browning said, "The question of his status was to have been on the agenda for the Interim House of Bishops meeting in September and we will no longer need to discuss it."

Abandoning a constituency

"I felt like it would be going back on all that I have been," Pope said in an interview with the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram. "I also felt I had abandoned a [traditionalist] constituency that needed me. I felt very guilty about that. It became very clear I needed to reverse course," he said.

"I was finding myself more and more compromised in my thinking and I simply had to come back home to where I belong," Pope said. He told the Dallas Morning News that he "felt very keenly about the holy orders that I had taken and I didn't feel I could undergo another ordination." He told another reporter, "I firmly believe myself to be a Catholic priest and bishop," adding that he believed it would be "a sacrilege" for him to be ordained again.

Pope said that Cardinal Bernard Law, who had welcomed him to the Roman Catholic Church in a ceremony last February, was "saddened" by his decision but was aware of his uncertainty as he approached the date for his re-ordination. "The cardinal appreciates my position," he told a reporter.

Reactions vary

Iker said that "some will respond with a degree of surprise, others with a degree of cynicism, and some are likely to question his judgment at having reneged so quickly."

"I think it was a mistake for him to go, and I think it was a mistake for him to come back," said Dr. Ed Luke, vice president of the Council of the Laity, a group in the diocese formed to counteract the conservative policies of Pope and Iker. "I hope he realizes that the Episcopal Church has continued to move forward in his absence," said the Rev. Cynthia Black, a priest in Michigan who is president of the Episcopal Women's Caucus. "It won't be long before women will be able to be ordained in all dioceses in this country," she said in reference to recent proposals that could open the ordination process in the four dioceses -- including Fort Worth -- that still do not ordain women to the priesthood.