updated 2/14/2006 11:23:07 AM ET 2006-02-14T16:23:07

The Episcopal Church’s first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson, has started a month-long treatment for alcoholism.

In a letter to New Hampshire Episcopalians posted on the church's Web site, he said that “I am writing to you from an alcohol treatment center where on February 1, with the encouragement and support of my partner, daughters and colleagues, I checked myself in to deal with my increasing dependence on alcohol.”

“I will be dealing with the disease of alcoholism — which, for years, I have thought of as a failure of will or discipline on my part, rather than a disease over which my particular body simply has no control, except to stop drinking altogether,” he added.

Robinson's assistant at the Diocese of New Hampshire, the Rev. Tim Rich, said Tuesday there was no crisis that led to Robinson's decision to seek treatment but rather a growing awareness of his problem.

Rich said the news surprised him and to many other clergy. "We did not see it in any way impact his ministry in the diocese," Rich said.

Robinson was elected bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 and confirmed by the national church, causing an upheaval not only in the Episcopal Church, but the worldwide Anglican Communion of which it is part.

In addition to touching off protests and struggles for control and property in the Episcopal and other Anglican churches, Robinson has found himself a celebrity whose every move and statement is closely watched and commented on.

At New York's gay pride parade last spring, marchers and spectators crowded around him for more than three hours, reaching out to touch his hand, crying and thanking him.

"It sounds soap-operaish to say, but I'm the son of a tobacco sharecropper who didn't live in a house with running water until I was 10 years old. I can't believe I'm here, you know. So I find it very difficult to be anything but grateful," he told The Associated Press in an interview late last year.

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