The Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin has prevailed in its initial lawsuit against Anglican Bishop John-David Schofield, who was the first in the nation to lead his diocese away from the Episcopal Church over the interpretation of Scripture and the 2004 ordination of an openly gay bishop.
Thursday, Fresno County Superior Court Judge Adolfo Corona ruled that Bishop Jerry Lamb, not Schofield, is the one true Episcopal bishop of the diocese.
In his ruling, Corona said the 2008 changes made to the diocesan constitution to switch allegiance from the Episcopal Church to the Anglican province of the Southern Cone were "void." He also said the diocesan documents are clear: All property in the diocese belongs to the Episcopal bishop, which in this case is Lamb.
Monday, Lamb called the court's decision "a pretty good ruling."
He recently moved the Episcopal diocesan office from Stockton to St. Paul's Church in Modesto after the Anglican majority of that church's congregation relinquished its property, partly to avoid a lawsuit.
"The court was very clear, at least in my reading of it," Lamb said. "They found that I am the Episcopal bishop, that I have charge -- I mean that the Episcopal Church has charge -- of all property and assets."
Schofield could not be reached for comment.
This was "the major" lawsuit among five filed by the Episcopal church and diocese, Lamb said. The lawsuit did not specifically name the 40 parish properties that have remained aligned with Schofield, so the diocese must take further action to claim them.
Lamb said he would issue another "invitation" this week, hoping to find more parishes that will follow the path that St. Paul's took and voluntarily give up their property. If that doesn't work, he said, lawsuits against the individual properties will follow.
The 40 Anglican parishes include St. Francis in Turlock, St. Matthias in Oakdale, St. James (the historic Red Church) in Sonora and St. Luke's in Merced. The property includes the diocesan headquarters in Fresno.
Lamb acknowledged that he doesn't expect Schofield or priests in those 40 parishes to give up their properties soon. But he's confident about the future.
"We will ultimately prevail," he said. "The earlier (California) Supreme Court ruling and now this ruling by the Superior Court judge give us the clear rights to the property and assets of this diocese."