Episcopal Church Suspends Calif. Bishop for Pushing Secession

The Episcopal Church banned a California bishop from practicing his religious duties until March after he led his congregants to secede from the national church.

Bishop John-David Schofield drew sharp criticism from the U.S.-based denomination when he urged his conservative diocese to sever its ties to the church last month in a fight over the Bible and homosexuality.

Clergy and lay members of the Diocese of San Joaquin became the first full diocese to break from the U.S. wing of the 77 million-member worldwide Anglican family when they voted to secede Dec. 6.

Schofield cannot give sermons, do confirmations or perform any religious rites until the national denomination's leaders meet to determine a final judgment by March 13, the Rev. Canon Charles Robertson, canon to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, said Friday.

"He was aware of the consequences of his action, warned repeatedly, and there comes a time when it is important for the church to hold its own leadership accountable," Robertson said.

"This allows him time to recant and to steer off this course," he said.

The bishop gave no signs of changing direction in a statement issued late Friday by the diocese.

"It is the primary duty of bishops to guard the faith and Bishop Schofield has been continually discriminated against for having done so," the statement read. "How is it that over 60 million Anglicans worldwide can be wrong and a few hundred thousand in the American Church can claim to be right?"

Despite the secession vote, the national church considers the diocese and its property to still be a part of the U.S. denomination, a claim Fresno leaders reject.

"The holdings of the diocese are still holdings of the diocese unless the court rules something differently," said the Rev. Van McCalister, a diocesan spokesman, in an interview Thursday. "There isn't any law to deal with this because nobody foresaw that such a thing would happen."

The San Joaquin diocese's decision to affiliate with the like-minded Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, will likely kick off a legal brawl over the diocese's multimillion dollar estate.

The Fresno-based congregation had explored breaking ties with the American church since 2003, the year Episcopalians consecrated the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

Schofield and other conservatives believe Scripture bars same-sex relationships, and the Fresno bishop counseled his flock that they risked moral decay by staying within the church.

The diocese serves about 8,500 parishioners in 47 congregations in central California.