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Episcopal Church ousts dissident bishop

The House of Bishops in the Episcopal Church USA voted Wednesday to depose the Rev. John-David Schofield, conservative bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin.

Schofield, who in December led his diocese to leave the national church over issues such as biblical interpretation and homosexuality, now is under the oversight of the Anglican Church's Southern Cone in South America.

The bishops' vote is a little like firing someone who has resigned. But it's no laughing matter to the ECUSA, which claims that the diocese can't simply leave with its multimillion-dollar property at its Fresno headquarters and church properties from Bakersfield to Stockton.

Schofield, in a statement released after the vote, said he was saddened but not surprised by the bishops' action at their weeklong meeting in Navasota, Texas.

"I have not abandoned the faith," Schofield said. "I resigned from the American House of Bishops and have been received into the House of Bishops of the Southern Cone. Both Houses are members of the Anglican Communion. They are not -- or should not be -- two separate churches.

"It is the leadership of the Episcopal Church that is treating itself as a separate and unique church. They may do so, but they ought not expect everyone to follow teaching that serves only to undermine the authority of the Bible and ultimately leads to lifestyles that are destructive."

The statement echoes comments in Schofield's March 1 letter to ECUSA Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori:

"I am a bishop in the House of Bishops of the Southern Cone and I am the Bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin. The Episcopal Church has no jurisdiction or authority to affect my status in any of these capacities."

The Rev. Gregory J. Venables, leader of the Southern Cone, sent his own greeting to Schofield on Wednesday after the vote, saying, "God has called us to faithfully represent Christ in a difficult time in history. ... We are deeply honored to have you as bishop and your diocese as full members of the Southern Cone. We will continue to proclaim the Gospel together as brother bishops."

And so the fight for the diocese, composed of 47 parishes and missions with about 8,500 members, continues.

After the vote Wednesday, Jefferts Schori asked the bishops to "continue to reach out" in pastoral care to Schofield. "Abandoning the communion of this church does not mean we abandon a person as a member of the body of Christ," she said.

Episcopal Church is U.S. branch of Anglicans

The bishops' vote was based on a Jan. 9 action of a review committee, which confirmed to Jefferts Schori that Schofield "has repudi- ated the doctrine, disciple and worship of the Episcopal Church and 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."

Their action means Schofield no longer can serve as a bishop or conduct rites, such as marriage and funerals, or preside over communion. However, Schofield claims that his authority no longer comes from the ECUSA and that he is free to continue to perform such duties under the Anglican Church.

The Anglicans are the worldwide body; the Episcopal Church is the name of the Anglicans in the United States, just as the Church of Eng-land is the Anglican name in Great Britain.

Meanwhile, the Diocese of San Joaquin -- the first diocese in the country to leave the national church -- continues its transition to the Anglicans.

Schofield repeatedly has said that parishes within the diocese can choose to remain in the Episcopal Church, if their debts to the diocese have been paid. Some parishes, including Christ the King in Riverbank, have expressed a desire to do so.

They will come under the authority of a new Episcopal bishop when one is appointed. It remains to be seen whether that bishop will head a parallel diocese or whether the national church will be successful in removing Schofield and installing an Episcopal bishop in his Fresno headquarters, which is the goal of a vocal lay and clergy group called Remain Episcopal.

"We've been waiting for this," said Ron Mil-ler, a former vestry member at St. Francis Episcopal Church in Turlock, which has split into two opposing camps. "Many of us have gone through very hurtful times and vilifications by Schofield supporters. This is the initial step leading us toward healing and reconciliation."

Other parishes, such at St. Matthias in Oakdale and St. James in Sonora, have expressed their intention to follow Schofield.

St. Paul's in Modesto still is considering its options. A preliminary decision by the church's vestry, or ruling council, indicated it will leave the national Episcopal church and switch to an Anglican oversight, but not follow Schofield to the Southern Cone. A vote by the congregation is due later this month.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at snowicki@modbee.com or 578-2012.

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