Bishop John David Schofield has been in denial for so long that it's a wonder he hasn't gone crazy. Elected as bishop of the diocese of San Joaquin twenty years ago in 1988, he continues in denial about the fact that this church (The Episcopal Church) had collectively decided to ordain women and that one day that reality would come to the Diocese of San Joaquin. He still somehow believes that his theological viewpoint – that women cannot be ordained – can be maintained as a guaranteed minority viewpoint in The Episcopal Church. The election of a woman as Presiding Bishop must have been difficult for him, having somehow thought that the ordination of women need not directly affect his own world.
He has been in denial concerning the reality that he belongs to a church that has increasingly welcomed gay and lesbian persons into all that the church is, including the possibilities of holy commitments and holy ministry.
He has been in denial concerning the reality of the effects of his actions in the past year regarding the life of the Diocese of San Joaquin.
In his letter to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of December 21st, responding to her request of December 14th for clarification concerning his status in the Episcopal Church, his denial continues unabated. The decisions made by the San Joaquin Diocesan Convention are all due to the failings of the Episcopal Church leadership. The confrontations those decisions provoke and the consequences they engender are downplayed. The fact of the Bishop's leaving the Episcopal Church is left unexamined.
The letter is a rambling hodge-podge of material. As Fr. Jake points out, only once in the letter does Bishop Schofield get close to stating his understanding of his status. The bishop says, "...I understood the Convention's actions as a request that I provide episcopal oversight of the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin under the Province of the Southern Cone of South America..." That makes him a bishop in the Province of the Southern Cone and a bishop who has abandoned the ministry of this Church. It may take some time to sort the whole matter out, but the House of Bishops will have to determine that he has indeed left and then he will, officially, be out. Oddly, the bishop takes no personal responsibility for having done anything. Rather it was "the Convention's actions" that were the source of the unfolding story of the Diocese of San Joaquin.
The website for the diocese already reflects the new order: The "Staff" page begins with Bishop Venables of Argentina, listed as "Archbishop of the Southern Cone." (Bishop Venables is not an archbishop and he is Primate of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, shortened on the Anglican Communion website as "Primate of the Southern Cone.") Still, with all the changes – including changing the name of the Cathedral to "The Anglican Cathedral" and the change in the masthead to "The Diocese of San Joaquin, an Anglican Diocese of the Province of the Southern Cone" the bishop can't straightforwardly respond to the Presiding Bishop and say that that he has abandoned the communion of this Church (the formal language of the canons) or less formally that he has quit the Episcopal Church and joined the Province of the Southern Cone.
But the answer to the Presiding Bishop's question as to his status is this: He has left the Episcopal Church.
One can't tell that too clearly from his letter, however. The letter gives every indication that Bishop Schofield continues in denial.
The whole letter can be read HERE. Fr. Jake has been following the whole unfolding of the Bishop's actions on his site. The most recent of his postings regarding the fallout of the December Diocesan Convention is HERE.
Looking at Bishop Schofield's response to the Presiding Bishop, the level of his denial is fairly clear:
Bishop Schofield writes:
"….This year the delegates to the Annual Convention came fully cognizant of what has taken place in Virginia and Southern California where litigation has been pursued vigorously against those who oppose the innovations of The Episcopal Church and who, consequently, have stood up for their faith and remain protective of the property they have built, purchased and maintained with no help either from The Episcopal Church on a national level nor –in most instances– from the local diocese either."
He thinks the Episcopal Church is punishing people for being in opposition. It is not. The legal proceedings are not against "those who oppose the innovations" but against those who no longer oppose but have left, taking the keys with them. This is not a conflict between opposing parties, but between The Episcopal Church and those who have left.
He wrote, "Their (the Province of the Southern Cone's) offer, as you know, was conditional until such time as The Episcopal Church repents of those decisions and actions that have caused a rift in the wider Anglican Communion."
The Bishop is either spreading a falsehood or in denial. The Episcopal Church will not repent of the decision to ordain women, the long standing divide between the bishop and the Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church will not repent of the efforts to be more inclusive. Therefore the move to the Province of the Southern Cone is perhaps temporary, but only until such time as there is a new Province in North America more to his liking. His leaving the Episcopal Church is not temporary, awaiting a time of better conditions.
He continues in deceiving himself and others in what follows: "Furthermore, I understood the Convention's actions as a request that I provide episcopal oversight of the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin under the Province of the Southern Cone of South America. Accepting such an invitation to be a part of the Southern Cone's House of Bishops may not necessarily define my relationship with The Episcopal Church particularly since this may only be a temporary arrangement." The arrangement may be temporary but the exit will be permanent. Becoming part of the Province of the Southern Cone's House of Bishops without a special arrangement worked out by both churches and while exiting any engagement with the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church is simply what it is – abandonment of the communion of this Church. More, the actions of Convention did not happen without his active promotion of the idea of leaving. Yet his letter never acknowledges his own responsibility for what is going on.
Amazingly, the Bishop concludes this portion of his letter by writing, "The purpose of December 8th's vote, then, was not to change anything within the Diocese but quite to the contrary. With the status of The Episcopal Church's membership in the Anglican Communion looking more and more precarious, the people of San Joaquin simply wanted to remain what we have always been, namely Anglican." His argument rests on the desire to remain Anglican, a desire which he proposes to further by complete distancing of himself from the Episcopal Church. To then turn around and claim he has not necessarily left the Episcopal Church borders on absurdity or mental unbalance.
The bishop states, "Ultimately, then, it is the Archbishop's proposal for a course of action in the months ahead that may affect my status. Since everything that the Diocese of San Joaquin has done, it has done with an eye toward remaining Anglican and in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, his proposal should naturally take precedence."
Bishop Schofield wants to embrace the Archbishop of Canterbury's proposal as a way of putting off the matter of his status in the Episcopal Church. "Despite the dismal failure of meetings with the leadership of The Episcopal Church over the past two decades, I will remain open to the Archbishop's proposal and not close the door on anything that the Holy Spirit may accomplish through these efforts. It may well be that in these facilitated conversations my own status and even that of The Episcopal Church vis-à-vis its membership in the Anglican Communion will be clarified."
The Archbishop of Canterbury may indeed determine who he invites to Lambeth and who will be included in the Primates meetings. But by the time the Archbishop and his panel meet, facilitate conversation and so forth, it will have already been determined by the Episcopal Church whether or not Bishop Schofield is still a member of the House of Bishops of this Church. That matter is entirely in the purview of the Episcopal Church. His denial of the reality of his status is at very least ingenious. It may be a sign of his being in denial.
Bishop Schofield is not speaking plainly. He has not been clear with his people, the wider church or himself about the meaning of his actions. It may be because these are uncharted waters. But it may be because he is so far off course that he is lost and cannot admit it, or worse that he knows where he is going but doesn't want to admit it. Either way he is in denial.