Episcopal Headquarters Takes Steps to Remove Conservative Bishops
Three conservative bishops of the Episcopal Church are under fire from the church's national leaders and are being threatened with dismissal for seeking to pull their dioceses out of the church in protest of its leftward drift.
The attempted purge of conservative bishops Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, Jack L. Iker of Fort Worth, and John-David Schofield of Fresno from Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori marks a new stage in the battle over church doctrine and discipline that has threatened to split the Episcopal Church since the hotly contested 2003 consecration of a non-celibate gay priest as bishop of New Hampshire.
On January 11, Bishop Jefferts Schori stated that a secret review panel had handed down an indictment against Bishop Schofield for "abandoning the Communion" of the Episcopal Church. In November delegates to his diocese's annual convention voted to pull out of the Episcopal Church and seek the oversight of an overseas archbishop from the Anglican Communion.
Bishop Schofield's support for the secession would result in a trial before the church's House of Bishops in March, Bishop Jefferts Schori said, and he was ordered to "cease from exercising" his ministry as bishop of the diocese of San Joaquin.
Four days later, Bishop Duncan was told that he had also been indicted by the secret church panel as a result of his diocese's having taken the first steps towards pulling out of the church last year, and would face trial this September. However, Bishop Duncan was not suspended from office as the Episcopal Church's three senior bishops declined to support the request for an "inhibition," or suspension from office pending trial.
Bishop Iker reported he too had received a "threatening" letter from Bishop Jefferts Schori on Jan 15, saying he would be liable for trial on "charges of violation of [his] ordination vows" for asserting that congregations or diocese could quit the Episcopal Church, but no charges were made against him.
Bishop Schofield's assistant, Canon William Gandenberger, told Christianity Today, "Bishop John-David will be performing his normal actions as bishop," and would not obey the suspension.
He "will labor on as he has been called and elected as bishop of the diocese of San Joaquin" and he and the diocese will "continue to build unity with the worldwide Anglican Communion based upon the Good News of Jesus Christ," Canon Gandenberger said.
If a majority of American bishops judge Bishop Schofield to be guilty, he will be removed from the House of Bishops. However, Southern Cone Primate Gregory Venables stated this was a moot point.
In November, the diocese of San Joaquin formally withdrew from the Episcopal Church and affiliated with the Buenos Aires-based Province of the Southern Cone of America. The plan to try Bishop Schofield was moot, the Bishop of Argentina Gregory Venables said on Jan 11 as Bishop Schofield "is not under the authority or jurisdiction of the Episcopal Church or the Presiding Bishop. He is, therefore, not answerable to their national canon law but is a member of the House of Bishops of the Southern Cone and under our authority," he said.
The San Joaquin diocese is further down the path that the Fort Worth and Pittsburgh dioceses are walking, Bishop Iker said.
"San Joaquin approved measures to separate from the Episcopal Church with a second, ratifying vote on December 8th, whereas the Pittsburgh Convention approved of their measures at the preliminary, first reading vote in November, an action which will need to be ratified at the 2008 Convention. Fort Worth is in the same position as Pittsburgh," he said.