Thinking Anglicans

Los Angeles bishop Jon Bruno faces suspension

Updated again 2 August

The Los Angeles Times reports: Episcopal bishop faces suspension over efforts to sell Newport Beach church

An Episcopal Church disciplinary panel has recommended a three-year suspension for the bishop who locked worshippers out of St. James the Great church in Newport Beach after a failed sale attempt two years ago.

The panel also recommended that the shuttered church be restored to its displaced members.

The tentative ruling, which came down late Friday afternoon, determined that the Right Rev. J. Jon Bruno, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, was guilty of all allegations brought against him by the congregation during a hearing the panel conducted in March: that he attempted to sell consecrated property without consent of diocesan leadership, that he made several misrepresentations along the way and that he acted in a manner unbecoming of a clergyman.

The Living Church explains further in its report (do read all of it) Panel: Suspend Bruno, Save St. James:

…According to Title IV 14.5 of the church’s canons, the presiding bishop is charged with reviewing this sentence and then pronouncing it or lessening it.

In a 4-1 decision, the panel wrote that “the scope and severity of Bishop Bruno’s misconduct … have unjustly and unnecessarily disturbed the ministry of a mission of the Church. St. James the Great is a casualty of Bishop Bruno’s misconduct.”

Neva Rae Fox, public affairs officer for the Episcopal Church, said late that evening, “This document is marked as a draft, and that is what it is. We will offer no comments as the Hearing Panel’s work continues.”

Episcopal Café also has a report: Hearing Panel to recommend suspension of ministry for Bruno. Their report (also worth reading in full) includes this summary of the decisions:

A) Bishop Bruno is suspended for three years. During the period of his suspension Bishop Bruno will refrain from the exercise of the gifts of the ministry conferred by ordination (Canon IV.2, definition of “Sentence”) and not exercise any authority over the real or personal property or temporal affairs of the Church (Canon IV.19.7)

B) The Hearing panel declines to depose Bishop Bruno

C) The Hearing Panel is not aware of any evidence supporting a need for forensic accounting. IF the Church Attorney possesses such evidence he should present it to the appropriate authorities.

D) After thorough and detailed consideration of the facts, positions, contentions, testimony and documents, the Hearing Panel has concluded that the scope and severity of Bishop Bruno’s misconduct, as described above, have unjustly and unnecessarily disturbed the ministry of the Church. St James the Great is a casualty of Bishop Bruno’s misconduct acting as Diocesan and Corp Sole. While it is beyond the authority and ability of the Hearing Panel to fully assess what might have happened if St James the Great had been allowed to continue its ministry in its church facility, there is ample evidence of its viability and promise to convince the Hearing Panel that St James the Great was robbed of a reasonable chance to succeed as a sustainable community of faith.

The draft decision is a PDF document of 91 pages which can also be found here. There is a (much shorter) dissenting opinion which is also linked here.

Update
Episcopal News Service now has a report: Draft order calls for Bruno to be suspended from ministry for three years.

…The hearing panel did not publicly release its draft order. It apparently gave the draft to the complainants and the presiding bishop for comment. Title IV.14.7 (page 153 here) calls for those parties “to be heard on the proposed terms of the order.” Comments to the hearing panel are due by July 26.

Bruno is not allowed to comment on the draft to the hearing panel. The diocese released a statement July 21 saying in part that no one from the diocese would make any public statement on the draft, “continuing their commitment to respect the integrity of the Title IV process, a priority that Bishop Bruno has upheld through the duration of the two-year proceedings.”

Neva Rae Fox, Episcopal Church public affairs officer, said the church would not comment while the Title IV process continues.

Roger Bloom, a communications consultant working for St. James, released the draft late July 21, reportedly after consulting a lawyer who told him Episcopal Church canons did not prevent its release.

Forty days after the final order is issued, the Rt. Rev. Catherine Waynick, president of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops, has 20 days to sentence Bruno. He can appeal that sentence and, if he does, the sentence is not imposed while the appeal proceeds. Meanwhile, however, the draft order is clear that Curry’s partial restriction on Bruno remains in force.

2 August update

The Presiding Bishop has taken additional steps, see here: Presiding Bishop removes disputed Newport Beach congregation from Bruno’s authority

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry on Aug. 1 removed Diocese of Los Angeles Bishop J. Jon Bruno’s authority over St. James the Great in Newport Beach, California.

The presiding bishop’s action, which includes placing St. James in the jurisdiction of Los Angeles Bishop Coadjutor John Taylor, came as the Episcopal Church awaits the final order from the hearing panel considering disciplinary action against Bruno.

The Further Partial Restriction is intended to chart a way forward that clarifies and respects the appropriate role and authority of Taylor and the Standing Committee as well as the Title IV disciplinary process and the hearing panel, according to an Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs press release

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Anthony Archer
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Anthony Archer

Looks like this case has a long history. A lot of lawyers’ kids have gone to college on the back of this. See how these Christians love each other.

IT
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IT

This is awful all around. Bp Bruno has always been one of the Good Guys, with an amazing history (football player, policeman, priest, bishop). He has been a generous part of the greater Los Angeles Community–ask the Jewish Community Center how he arranged for the Episcopal Diocese to rescue their programs when they were going to lose their facility! This all seems so out of character and so very very sad for all concerned.

crs
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crs

This thing is a real mess. A conservative congregation seeks to leave with its “independent” property. +Bruno defeats that and provides seed money to keep the place alive after the main congregation leaves. He then seeks to sell the property and merge the remaining congregation with a church nearby. He is a corporate sole and his standing committee never opposed him. Enter “Title IV” which has no standing in CA law. They admit as much and rule against him as Bishop. Bishop Smith’s evaluation of the tragedy on all sides is generous but an accurate reading.

Father David
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Father David

I don’t believe that there is an “h” in the name Bishop Jon Bruno.

ED: You are quite right, and I have corrected this,

Simon Sarmiento
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Dr Seitz
Perhaps you could explain how any part of the internal rules of any religious body, e.g. TEC canons, can have any standing in the civil law of any state of the USA.

crs
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crs

Mr Sarmiento

The general sense in earlier accounts was the Title IV could forbid property conveyance by +Bruno. Title IV Hearing Panel has clarified that is beyond their remit. These were not my claims, needless to say.

It was further claimed in previous cases that the property of the dioceses of Springfield, or SC, or Ft Worth belonged to ‘the national church’ and those claims have not been upheld.

FrDavidH
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FrDavidH

It is sad a good bishop has fallen victim to a legal dispute between Christians It is a shame this case can’t set a precedent, enabling the bishop of Newcastle the right to sell Jesmond Parish Church to turn it into something more useful – like a car park.

Chris H
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Chris H

Wasn’t this property also given to the church with a clause in the contract that required it to remain a church in order for TEC to keep it? If not, previous owners got it. How did Bruno break that? As to whether TEC owns property or not, depends on the state. Some states ruled for “breakaway” conservatives and some didn’t when the national TEC became involved.

crs
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crs

Chris H — it is easy to forget the distinction between congregations seeking to keep their property vis-à-vis dioceses (since in these cases the dioceses are typically on side with the national church; pace LA) and dioceses as dioceses disputing claims the national church somehow owns its property; in the most recent cases this has failed.

FrDH — actually the analogy is broken almost completely in this case since the diocese prevented a single congregation from leaving and then subsequently the Bishop decided to sell the property.

Jeremy
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Jeremy

Anthony Archer, aside from sarcasm about lawyers, what is your theory of this situation?

If someone tried to sell my church home without the consent of the members I’d be hopping mad–and I would seek legal advice on how to prevent it.

Nothing about being a Christian requires one to tolerate unlawful behavior.

Pat O'Neill
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Pat O'Neill

The Episcopal Church is led by its bishops and governed by its diocesan and general assemblies (the equivalent to synods in other provinces). That being the case I am puzzled by the frequent congregationalist attitudes toward property ownership I see being presented.

crs
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crs

Who is speaking of congregationalism…Jesmond Parish?

This topic is about a Diocesan Bishop and the proper relationship between Title IV authority and his legal and canonical authority in LA.

Pat O'Neill
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Pat O'Neill

The attitude that the parish property belongs to the congregation and not the diocese or the national church is a very congregationalist approach, wouldn’t you say?

Laurie Roberts
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Laurie Roberts

Goodness and doing good is not always rewarded — on the contrary.

Dennis
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Dennis

The Episcopal Church is not “led by its bishops…” They have an important office of ministry but have not historically had great power until recent years. Their power has increased since the 1950s, but many people still believe that to be a mistake. (At the Revolution and in the early days of the Episcopal Church there was strong opposition to bishops as a holdover of hated royalist tradition.) (It has only in recent decades that the role of Presiding Bishop has changed from being the person who chaired meetings of the bishops to an actual leader of the church.) Dioceses… Read more »

Tobias Haller
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Church property issues are complex, in part because of the variance in state property law and state involvement in religious corporation law from one civil jurisdiction to another. Most parishes in most states own their property under civil law; that is, they hold title to the real estate. In some states, the civil law also requires that the congregation (through their vestry) hold this property as trustees; that is, they are not free simply to sell it and pocket the money for a trip to Bermuda. The church law (the canons) are clear that the parochial real property is held… Read more »

Andrew
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Andrew

I am a layman and communicant of the church four hundred miles north in San Francisco. I have no expertise in canon law,and my knowledge of civil law is limited to forensic medical expertise. I have followed this case with interest because it seemed at the beginning and still appears that Bishop Bruno violated the spirit and ethos of the Episcopal Church at this point in its history. There are no Prince Bishops in our church, and unlike in England there are no Lords Spiritual. While bishops sometimes make unpopular decisions, the general approach is cooperative, collegial, conciliatory, generous, honest… Read more »

Tom Downs
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Tom Downs

I’m left wondering. The property in question was exceedingly valuable and it cost the diocese a great deal of money to retake it from the break-away congregation. Could Bp Bruno, knowing that his episcopal ministry was coming to an end, have seen all this as a personal sacrifice to benefit his diocese? Is he sacrificing his own good name to make the diocese whole again? i.e.,the ignoble act (locking out a viable mission congregation) for the larger good. It might have seemed a wise choice before the mission proved it was viable. Now he hangs on, perhaps long enough to… Read more »