Lawsuit demands deposed bishop vacate his office, return control of financial accounts to diocese following vote on secession last year
SAN FRANCISCO — The Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin in California has sued a deposed bishop, demanding he vacate his offices and turn over financial accounts for leading a secession last year prompted by the church’s ordination of women and gays.
The diocese said in its lawsuit, filed April 24 in Fresno County Superior Court, that John-David Schofield breached his duties to the church.
National church leaders removed Schofield as the head of the Fresno-based diocese after he led parishioners to align themselves with the conservative Province of the Southern Cone, an Argentina-based member of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Last month, Jerry Lamb, a bishop loyal to the U.S. church, was elected to head the San Joaquin diocese. Schofield, however, maintains he is an Anglican bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin under the worldwide church.
The U.S. Episcopal Church is also part of the 77 million-member Anglican Communion, a global fellowship of churches that trace their roots to the Church of England, but the national denomination has faced increasing scrutiny for its liberal-leaning stance. Most Anglicans are traditionalists who believe Scripture bars gay relationships.
Lamb said in a statement April 25 that there was no other viable way to recover church property but to seek court intervention.
"Regardless of the necessity of proceeding with the litigation, the diocesan leadership and I remain committed to reconciliation with clergy and parishes that are still trying to understand their relationship with the Episcopal Church," Lamb said in the statement.
The Rev. Van McCalister, a spokesman for the secessionist diocese Schofield leads, said April 25 that the deposed bishop’s parishioners are the rightful owners of the properties Bishop Lamb is seeking. As such, he said, there is no reason for Schofield to comply with Lamb’s demands.
"The people of the diocese, their elected representatives, voted to move from the Episcopal Church to the Anglican Province. It wasn’t a unilateral decision by the bishop," he said. "They are the ones who paid for the properties, through their forebears, so of course we are going to defend them."
McCalister said he assumed the lawsuit applies to the 40 parish churches and missions within the diocese, as well as other assets. He said an eviction order had not been served on the Fresno offices Schofield continues to occupy as head of the Anglican diocese.
The complaint demands that Schofield leave those offices, return control of a church investment trust and foundation and return bank and brokerage accounts, money, and financial, historical and property records.
"Defendant Schofield’s attempt to divert the Diocese of San Joaquin itself and its property for the use and benefit of another church in violation of the Episcopal Church’s Constitution and Canons breached his fiduciary duties as the Bishop and ecclesiastical authority of the Diocese of San Joaquin," the complaint said.
Associated Press writer Lisa Leff contributed to this story.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 2, 2008.