National leaders of the Episcopal Church have ousted 61 clergy who aligned with a former bishop in California when he broke with the national church in a dispute over the Bible and homosexuality.
Former Bishop John-David Schofield led his congregation in San Joaquin to become the first full diocese to secede from the U.S. denomination in 2007. Four years earlier, Episcopalians consecrated their first openly gay bishop, setting off a wide-ranging debate within the church and upsetting conservative congregations.
Schofield ultimately was removed as head of the diocese and barred from performing any religious rites. He maintains he is an Anglican bishop under the worldwide church.
Episcopal leaders said Wednesday they were deposing all clergy who severed their ties and joined Schofield in affiliating with an Anglican archdiocese in Argentina.
Jerry Lamb, the new Episcopal Bishop of San Joaquin, called the decision to oust the clergy "heartbreaking."
"But, the fact is, they chose to abandon their relationship with the Episcopal Church," he said.
A spokesman for Schofield and his Anglican diocese did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
In December, the breakaway diocese joined with three others and dozens of individual parishes in the U.S. and Canada to announce they were forming a North American Anglican province to rival the Episcopal Church. Its future status in the worldwide Anglican Communion is unclear.