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 on Thursday in Fresno County Superior Court, that John-David Schofield breached his duties to the church – the US branch of the Anglican Church.
National church leaders removed Bishop 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 US church, was elected to head the San Joaquin diocese.
Bishop Schofield, however, maintains he is an Anglican bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin under the worldwide church.
The US 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.
Bishop Lamb said in a statement 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,” Bishop Lamb said in the statement.
The Reverend Van McCalister, a spokesman for the secessionist diocese Bishop Schofield leads, said 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 Bishop Schofield to comply with Bishop 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.”