Episcopal Church expels San Joaquin diocese bishop
Leaders of the Episcopal Church formally ousted the bishop of California’s breakaway Diocese of San Joaquin on Wednesday, saying John-David Schofield had abandoned the communion of the church in a bitter, years-long struggle over homosexuality and the Bible.
In December, Schofield’s Fresno-based diocese became the first in the nation to secede from the Episcopal Church over the issues, placing itself under the authority of a theologically conservative Anglican archbishop in South America.
The decision by the Episcopal Church’s bishops to depose Schofield, made during a meeting in Texas, was the latest step in a long-playing conflict within the church and the global Anglican Communion over theology and the role of gays in religious life. The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the communion but has been at odds with much of that fellowship since 2003, when the U.S. church consecrated a partnered gay priest as bishop of New Hampshire.
Wednesday’s vote by the church’s House of Bishops removed Schofield as head of the diocese and affirmed an earlier action to bar him from carrying out religious duties for the church.
Schofield has “abandoned the communion of the church by . . . departing from the Episcopal Church and purporting to take his diocese with him into affiliation with the Province of the Southern Cone,” the bishops said in a statement.
Schofield, who has led his Central California diocese since 1988, said in a statement Wednesday that the disciplinary process of the Episcopal Church had been “misused.”
He also insisted, as he had in an earlier letter to the bishops, that although he had left the Episcopal Church, he remained both a bishop and the leader of his diocese.
Any attempt by the national church to seize “our property” would violate biblical teachings against taking fellow Christians to court, Schofield said. “It appears as though the real motivation behind all of this is the use of raw power and coveting property,” he said.
During a telephone news conference Wednesday from the bishops’ retreat center in Texas, Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori appeared to caution Schofield from trying to hold on to church property in the diocese, estimated to be worth millions of dollars.
“Since he is no longer the bishop of San Joaquin, it would be inappropriate for him to retain title,” she said.
Since the Dec. 8 secession vote, competing diocesan structures -- one Anglican, one Episcopal -- have emerged in the sprawling territory of San Joaquin, which stretches from Sacramento to Bakersfield. There are now two diocesan headquarters, two diocesan websites and a number of painfully divided congregations, including St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Visalia and St. Mark’s in Tracy.
Schofield has continued to work from his Fresno headquarters, celebrating the Eucharist, meeting with clergy and going about the business of the diocese, said his spokesman, the Rev. Van McCalister.
Wednesday’s action was “kind of meaningless from our perspective,” McCalister said. “Our feeling was let’s just be done with it and move forward.”
Although an overwhelming majority of delegates to San Joaquin’s convention in December approved the break with the Episcopal Church, at least 2,300 of an estimated 8,800 parishioners in the diocese have chosen to remain with the national church, said the Rev. Mark Hall, rector of St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Stockton.
Hall, who is acting as temporary administrator for the reconstituted Episcopal diocese from rented space in Stockton, said some or all members of 14 of the diocese’s parishes have decided to stay with the Episcopal Church and have been joined by three newly formed congregations.
Jefferts Schori said she planned to travel to California at the end of March for a special diocesan convention, at which a retired Northern California bishop, Jerry A. Lamb, will be appointed San Joaquin’s provisional bishop.
Lamb is expected to serve in the diocese for at least a year, Hall said.
Also Wednesday, Jefferts Schori said she expected most Episcopal bishops to attend a global gathering of Anglicans in England this summer, although V. Gene Robinson, the bishop from New Hampshire, will not be allowed to take part.
Robinson this week urged his fellow bishops to attend the Lambeth Conference, a once-a-decade gathering of leaders of the Anglican Communion, even though he said he had declined an offer that would not have allowed him to play any meaningful role. Instead, Robinson said he would travel to the event on his own and planned to be available to anyone interested in speaking with him.
Jefferts Schori said Robinson’s statement had encouraged the bishops “to go and speak for him.”
But on Wednesday, the group Integrity, a 30-year-old advocacy group for gay and lesbian Episcopalians, expressed its “profound disappointment and anger” that a way had not been found for Robinson to participate.
“Bishop Robinson’s marginalization is symbolic of the discrimination experienced by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender faithful daily throughout the Anglican Communion,” said the Rev. Susan Russell of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena and the president of Integrity.
The Lambeth Conference is scheduled to be held for three weeks in July and August at the University of Kent in England.