Sunday, January 28, 2007

The wild, wild west :: LA Times

Schofield is leading his San Joaquin Diocese in an unprecedented effort to pull away from the Episcopal Church.

Although parishes have left the national church, primarily over the ordination of gays and lesbians, this is the first time that an entire diocese has sought to align itself with more conservative members of the Anglican Communion overseas.
Schofield's goal is to place the diocese under the jurisdiction of a conservative prelate, possibly one in South America or Africa.

"When you hear that we're some little Fresno fringe group, think of this," he said. "We identify with the worldwide Anglican Communion of 77 million members. Compared to that religious body, the American Episcopal Church of about 780,000 members is a tiny drop in the bucket."

Schofield, 69, has been bishop for 19 years. He strikes friends as jovial and cheery but has little patience for detractors, who have been banned from publishing articles in the diocese's newsletter, the San Joaquin Star, which serves as a forum for his own messages — often lengthy.
Four bishops, including the one from Los Angeles, have said Schofield should be tried in a church court for defying national church doctrine. Three liberal parishes in his diocese, organized as Remain Episcopal USA, predict that the national church will fight Schofield in civil court for control of diocesan property.
Now, the diocese is preparing for a showdown in civil court with national church leaders over control of property, including its wood-paneled headquarters in the heart of Central California's farm country.

In previous property disputes hundreds of miles to the south, a Superior Court judge dismissed lawsuits filed by the Los Angeles Episcopal Diocese against three conservative breakaway parishes in Long Beach and Newport Beach claiming to be the owners of their churches. The diocese has appealed those rulings.

However, late last year a different Superior Court judge allowed the diocese to proceed with a lawsuit filed against a breakaway Episcopal church in La Crescenta. That suit also seeks a declaration that the property is owned by the diocese.

"It's the Wild West out there," Jan Nunley, spokeswoman for the Episcopal Church headquarters in New York, said of California. "If the leadership of the [San Joaquin] diocese declares it is no longer part of the national organization, the question is this: Does that leadership stay or have its positions replaced by others?"

Schofield said he plans to stay in his post. He also would allow dissenting congregations to keep their churches, provided that they do not leave the diocese saddled with debt.

"Let them have their freedom, and a bishop more in harmony with their theology," Schofield said. "If someone wants to go their own way, God bless them."

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