Episcopal church battle over Fresno real estate, gay clergy leads to trial

A national church is suing its former followers in Fresno in a real estate battle launched by the church's decision to accept gay and female clergy members.

Attorneys delivered opening arguments Monday in the case pitting The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of San Joaquin against St. Columba Church and its congregants who split away from the religion.

The Episcopal Church says the administration at St. Columba and its pastor, Rev. James Snell, illegally took possession of the church on Palm and Shaw in 2008.

The diocese's former bishop, John-David Schofield, tried to remove the diocese from the greater Episcopal Church starting in 2006, not long after the national church elected its first gay bishop, Gene Robinson. Schofield handed over control of the property itself to St. Columba before the Episcopal Church removed him in 2008, and he helped move St. Columba into the Anglican Church in North America.

The Episcopal Church says Schofield didn't have a right to give away the property, but St. Columba says Schofield was still bishop when he did the transfer in 2007, and bishops routinely transfer property.

Judge Rosie McGuire will have to decide.

Schofield passed away in 2013, but the judge could hear from him. Judge McGuire approved the Episcopal Church's request to use his videotaped deposition.
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