FRESNO, Calif. – National leaders of the Episcopal Church have ousted 61 clergy who aligned with a former bishop in California when he broke with the national church in a dispute over the Bible and homosexuality.
Former Bishop John-David Schofield led the Diocese of San Joaquin to become the first full diocese to secede from the U.S. denomination in 2007. Four years earlier, Episcopalians consecrated their first openly gay bishop, setting off a wide-ranging debate within the church and upsetting conservative congregations.
Schofield ultimately was removed as head of the diocese and barred from performing any religious rites. He maintains he is an Anglican bishop under the worldwide church.
Episcopal leaders said Wednesday they were deposing all clergy who severed their ties and joined Schofield in affiliating with an Anglican archdiocese in Argentina.
Jerry Lamb, the new Episcopal Bishop of San Joaquin, called the decision to oust the clergy "heartbreaking."
"But, the fact is, they chose to abandon their relationship with the Episcopal Church," he said.
Schofield said in a statement Wednesday that Anglican leaders across the globe recognized the deposed clergy as priests and deacons in good standing.
"Clearly, the traditional understanding of what it means to be a member of this historic Communion has been tragically altered by this action," he said. "The Episcopal Church needlessly isolates itself from their brothers and sisters around the world."
In December, the breakaway diocese joined with three others and dozens of individual parishes in the U.S. and Canada to announce that they were forming a North American Anglican province to rival the Episcopal Church. Schofield said Wednesday that 23 dioceses now plan to affiliate with the new province.
Its future status in the worldwide Anglican Communion is unclear. It's unprecedented for an Anglican national province to be created where a national church already exists.