The Diocese of San Bernardino has formally excommunicated a Coachella Valley priest for heresy.
In a move that church officials called rare, a tribunal of three Inland Empire Roman Catholic priests found Father Ned Reidy, 69, guilty of heresy and schism after a trial in December.
Reidy left the Roman Catholic Church in 1999 after nearly two decades as a parish priest in Palm Desert.
He founded a new parish in a new denomination, the Catholic Ecumenical Communion, in Bermuda Dunes.
The group, based in Orange, has nearly two dozen parishes nationwide, holds services similar to the Roman Catholic Church but differs on fundamental belief.
The Catholic Ecumenical Communion ordains women, recognizes same-sex unions, permits divorce and contraception, allows priests to marry and does not recognize the Vatican as the church's ultimate authority.
"Whatever the [Roman Catholic] Church can't control, it'll try to destroy," Reidy said Friday.
Roman Catholic Church leaders mailed the document to Reidy Jan. 10.
Reidy automatically excommunicated himself when he broke with the church in 1999, but the tribunal's action formally finds him guilty, said Father Howard Lincoln, spokesman for the Diocese of San Bernardino, which also includes Riverside County.
"We felt it was necessary to use this process to ... officially recognize his removal from the clerical state in the Roman Catholic Church," Lincoln said.
Heresy is the rejection of fundamental matters of faith, namely the infallibility of the pope, Lincoln said.
Schism is breaking with the church over matters of doctrine.
"The letter was not meant to be vindictive," Lincoln said.
Reidy rejected the church's ruling, which he called "very cold, very harsh," and mailed it back.
"What they sent me was a 30-page document -- and not once did they ever quote the words of Jesus," said Reidy, ordained in Illinois in 1962.
Reidy said Friday that he had invited Bishop Gerald R. Barnes, who heads the San Bernardino Diocese, to a theological debate.
Although the diocese excommunicated a priest under similar circumstances in 2002, according to Lincoln, experts called the move rare.
"I haven't heard of it being done anywhere in the country in recent times," said Father Robert McCann, a canon lawyer with the Diocese of Oakland.