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Diocese, church near a split

Fresno-based Episcopal group could decide Saturday to leave the national organization.

December 07, 2007|Rebecca Trounson | Times Staff Writer

The bishop of a Central California diocese that is poised to become the first in the country to secede from the Episcopal Church has brushed aside a warning from the national church's leader and likened the church to an "apostate institution."

Bishop John-David M. Schofield, whose Fresno-based Diocese of San Joaquin is expected to decide Saturday whether to finalize a split with the national church over gay-related issues, complained in a letter released Wednesday that his conservative views had been ignored by church leaders for two decades.

In his letter to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, Schofield also stated that he had long sought to shield his diocese of about 9,000 members from what he called the "false teaching" of the Episcopal Church. He said the vote expected at the diocese's annual convention, which begins today, was the result of the national church's failure to heed repeated calls by Anglican leaders that it repent for its actions.

"For years, I have tried in vain . . . to protect the diocese from an apostate institution that has minted a new religion irreconcilable with the Anglican faith," Schofield wrote.

The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion, the world's third-largest Christian denomination. Theological conservatives such as Schofield and his supporters are a minority within the Episcopal Church but a growing majority among Anglicans worldwide.

In recent years, the Episcopal Church has been at odds with much of the Anglican Communion over the American church's relatively liberal views on homosexuality and scriptural interpretation. Tensions rose in 2003 when the Episcopal Church consecrated a gay priest as bishop of New Hampshire.

A year ago, the San Joaquin diocese, which includes about 50 parishes, became the first in the country to begin the process of leaving the Episcopal Church, and it has since been followed by others in Pittsburgh and Fort Worth. With this week's vote, it could become the first diocese to confirm that initial action and align itself with an overseas Anglican leader.

Schofield has said he "welcomes" a recent invitation to align the diocese with a Latin American province and its conservative primate.

In a letter Monday, Jefferts Schori urged Schofield to reconsider. "The church will never change if dissenters withdraw from the table," she wrote. "There is an ancient and honored tradition of loyal opposition, and many would welcome your participation."

But she also warned that if Schofield did not reconsider, he might face church discipline, including a process in which the church could declare his office vacant and appoint a new bishop.

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