The Episcopal Church Welcomes You
» Site Map   » Questions    

« Return
San Joaquin bishop's actions do not constitute abandonment of communion, review committee says
California bishops had filed charges

By Mary Frances Schjonberg

The Rt. Rev. John-David Schofield  

[Episcopal News Service]  Responding to a unanimous opinion of the Title IV Review Committee, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold on September 28 notified San Joaquin Bishop John-David Schofield of the committee's finding that actions of Schofield "do not constitute abandonment" of communion as defined by the Canons of the Episcopal Church.

The Episcopal Church's Title IV Review Committee met via conference call September 26 to deal with accusations that Schofield had abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church. The charges had been filed by four California bishops.

"We did have a lengthy discussion but it was unanimous," said the Review Committee's president, Bishop Dorsey Henderson of Upper South Carolina, adding that one member of the committee was not able to join the conference call.

Griswold notified Schofield by telephone of the committee's opinion.

Schofield was not immediately available for comment, but a notice was posted on the diocesan website.

Henderson's letter to Griswold reads in full:

"This is respectfully to inform you that the Title IV Review Committee has prayerfully and diligently studied and considered the question raised by the Right Rev'd Bishops of the Dioceses of California, Los Angeles, Northern California, and San Diego -- to wit, whether specific actions which they designate in their correspondence, dated June 29, 2006, together with supporting documents, constitute abandonment of the communion by the Right Rev'd John-David Schofield, Bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin.

"It is the unanimous opinion of the Committee (with one member not participating) that the actions of Bishop Schofield do not constitute abandonment of the communion as defined in Title IV, Canon 9, Section 1, of the Canons of the Episcopal Church."

Bishops J. Jon Bruno of Los Angeles, Jerry A. Lamb of Northern California, James R. Mathes of San Diego and then-diocesan William E. Swing of California sent a letter to Henderson in mid-July.

The letter, titled "Of Abandonment of the Communion of This Church by a Bishop," cited Canon 9 of Title IV of the church's canons.

Title IV, Canon 9 says that a bishop abandons the communion of the Episcopal Church if he or she takes one of the following actions:

  • open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship of the Church;
  • formal admission into any religious body not in communion with the same; or
  • exercising episcopal acts [Holy Orders and Confirmation] in and for a religious body other than the Episcopal Church or another Church in communion with the Church...without the express consent and commission of the proper authority in the Church.

The full text of Title IV Canon 9 is available here

Henderson said September 28 that it was immediately clear that the second two actions outlined in the canon did not apply.

He said the committee agreed that the actions of the bishop "did not constitute abandonment of the communion, as it is defined in the canon."

The bishops claimed evidence of abandonment in San Joaquin's action at its last diocesan convention, when it changed its constitution to qualify its agreement to submit to the Episcopal Church's Constitution and Canons. Article V, Section 1, of the Constitution says that a diocese's constitution must accede to that of the Episcopal Church.

At its last convention, the diocese changed its constitution to read that the diocese would accede "to the extent that such terms and provisions, and any amendments thereto, adopted by the authority of the General Convention, are not inconsistent with the terms and provisions of the Constitution and Canons of the Diocese of San Joaquin..."

In a June 22 letter to Schofield, Swing asked him to reverse the constitutional change and changed that had been made to the diocese's articles of incorporation.

"You have led your diocese to take actions that put all Episcopal dioceses in the State of California in jeopardy," Swing wrote. "I am not talking about interpretation of Scripture or theological points of view. I am specifically talking about your legal language ... You have taken unilateral actions that destroy any chance that the rest of the Episcopal dioceses in California could ever argue that we are a hierarchical church. That will create chaos for all of us all of the time."

A July 21 news release on the San Joaquin diocese's website said that "the [diocese's] Chancellors have already responded to the initial allegations by challenging the appropriateness of the specific Canon Law [IV.9] being used to bring charges."

"In short, these allegations are neither relevant nor justified," the short statement concludes.

Other canons in Title IV deal with other misconduct on the part of bishops, such as crime, immorality, holding or teaching doctrine contrary to that of the Church, violating the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer, violating the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church or of a bishop's diocese and violating one's ordination vows.

There was speculation during July about the investigation and what it might entail, up to and including a presentment and ecclesiastical trial.

"It is not a presentment," Henderson told ENS on July 31. "It is not dealt with in the same sense that other misconduct would be dealt with."

If the committee had determined by a majority vote that Schofield had abandoned the Communion of the Church under the terms of Canon 9, its decision would have begun a process that could have resulted in Schofield being liable to deposition, or removal from office.

Appointed to the 2007-2009 Title IV Review Committee were Bishop Suffragan Bavi E. Rivera of Olympia, Bishop Suffragan David C. Jones of Virginia, Bishop C. Wallis Ohl Jr. of Northwest Texas, the Rev. Carolyn Kuhr of Montana, the Very Rev. Scott Kirby of Eau Claire, J.P. Causey Jr. of Virginia and Deborah J. Stokes of Southern Ohio. Causey, Kirby, Kuhr and Stokes served on the 2003-2006 Review Committee.