SAN JOAQUIN: Breakaway diocese asks California appeals court to review ruling

August 28, 2009

Representatives for the breakaway Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin have asked a California appellate court to review a July lower court decision affirming Bishop Jerry Lamb as the leader of the Episcopal Church in the Central California Valley diocese. Bishop Jerry Lamb of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin and the Episcopal Church will have until September 15 to respond to the petition filed by John-David Schofield and others. Mike Glass, chancellor for the Episcopal diocese, said he had just received notice that the petition had been filed with the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Fresno. After the diocese responds, Schofield will have until October 5 to submit a reply. The court will then decide whether or not to grant the review. "The Diocese believes that Judge Corona's ruling was well reasoned, solidly grounded in the undisputed facts, and guided by the recent decisions of the California Supreme Court," Glass said. The Rev. Canon Mark Hall, the canon to the ordinary for the Episcopal diocese, agreed, adding that Schofield has "a right to appeal the case. But we expect the case to be resolved on its merits and to prevail." Schofield, in December 2007 had realigned with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone but sought to retain diocesan property and assets. He could not be reached for comment. But on July 21, California Superior Court Judge Adolfo M. Corona affirmed Lamb as the diocesan leader and rejected the breakaway group's attempts to remove the diocese from The Episcopal Church. "It is beyond dispute that the Episcopal Church is a hierarchical church," concluded Judge Adolfo M. Corona when issuing his July 21 ruling. He rejected such arguments by defendants, including former bishop Schofield, that the hierarchical nature of the church is something to be determined on a "case by case basis." Corona also ruled void the attempts by the breakaway group, led by Schofield, to amend the diocesan constitution and canons to disaffiliate the diocese from the Episcopal Church and to reaffiliate with another province. An overwhelming majority of the diocese's congregations voted to realign with the Argentina-based Anglican Province of the Southern Cone in December 2007 and attempted to retain diocesan property and assets. "If the Constitution of the Diocese incorporates and accedes to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, which require accession, then the Constitution of the Diocese cannot be amended to remove such language," Corona wrote in the 21-page decision. The full text of Corona's ruling may be found here. "The judge was extraordinarily clear on the fact that we are the Episcopal diocese, that I am the Episcopal bishop and that we control all of the properties that are now part of The Episcopal Church or were part of The Episcopal Church before the separation occurred nearly two years ago," said Lamb at the time. He was elected provisional bishop of San Joaquin at a March 29, 2008 special convention. He said the ruling is a first step toward regaining disputed property worth "millions of dollars" including the diocesan offices in Fresno, at least 30 church facilities, and the diocesan camp and conference center. "We are going to be making efforts to have people sit down and start to talk to us about how to go forward," Lamb said. "More importantly, we're talking about people who want to worship as Episcopalians." Lamb retired as bishop of the Sacramento-based Diocese of Northern California in 2007 and served as an assisting bishop in the Diocese of Nevada prior to beginning his ministry in San Joaquin. The diocesan website currently lists 20 continuing Episcopal congregations, including St. Paul's, Modesto, which several years ago affiliated with the Anglican Mission in North America. The property was returned to the diocese July 1; Lamb said he currently maintains diocesan offices at St. Paul's but hopes to eventually return the diocesan headquarters to the Fresno location occupied by the disaffiliated group. Diocesan chancellor Glass said in a July 24 telephone interview that "the Court confirmed the integrity of our Church's polity, and unequivocally rejected the attempts of the defendants to remove the Diocese from the Episcopal Church. "With these issues clearly resolved in favor of the Church and the Diocese, it is the hope of the Diocese we can expedite the recovery assets of the Diocese to further its mission and work." The Presiding Bishop's Office also released a statement, noting that Corona ruled in favor of the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of San Joaquin on all issues presented to it and that the ruling resolved most of the legal issues in litigation involving the identity and property of the Diocese of San Joaquin. The court also concluded that "former Bishop John-David Schofield is no longer the Bishop and has no claim to any of the corporate offices," according to the statement. The court also ruled that the continuing Diocese of San Joaquin is "not a new organization" created after Schofield attempted to remove the Diocese from the Church, but that the Diocese "is the older organization from which (Schofield and the other) defendants removed themselves."? The Episcopal Church is a constituent member of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which encompasses more than 80 million worshippers in 44 regional and national member churches in over 160 countries across the globe.

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