Lutheran Bishop Resigns after Admitting Sexual Misconduct

By Michael Clancy
The Arizona Republic
January 28, 2006

Arizona's Lutheran bishop has resigned after admitting he engaged in sexual misconduct with a woman.

Since 2001, Michael Neils, 56, had served as bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America-Grand Canyon Synod. It covers Arizona and Las Vegas.

Neils also resigned as an ordained minister.

He is the second Lutheran bishop to resign after admitting sexual misconduct. In 1996, the bishop in North Carolina quit after he admitted to sexual misconduct with a woman.

The resignation was announced late Thursday by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's offices in Chicago.

Neils informed synod leaders of his resignation Tuesday.

Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, who oversees the bishops, said Neils reported the misconduct Monday, and he recommended that Neils step down.

Neils, in a statement released by the church, also said his 35-year marriage is ending.

"Part of the reason for the divorce is my own conduct unbecoming the office of an ordained minister of this church," Neils said. "I am guilty of sexual misconduct with an adult woman."

"I confess my betrayal of your confidence and God's call. God already knows my sorrow. Please accept my heartfelt apology," Neils said in the statement.

Members of the Synod Council said they did not know details of the sexual misconduct or the steps that led to the resignation.

Neils was unavailable for comment.

"The only words that come to mind are disappointment and sadness," said the Rev. Stephen Hammer, pastor of Esperanza Lutheran Church in Phoenix and a member of the Synod Council. The council advises the bishop and will pick a temporary successor.

Curt Hahn, a layman who serves on the council, said his reaction also was one of sadness.

Hanson, the presiding bishop, is expected in town Feb. 5-6 to confer with church leaders.

The Grand Canyon Synod has 75,096 baptized members in 101 congregations.

John Brooks, director of the ELCA News Service, said sexual misconduct among Lutheran clergy is very rare.

"When we become aware of it, we deal with it immediately," he said. "We do not tolerate any sexual impropriety."


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