Meeting in Chicago, a Hearing Panel consisting of three bishops, a priest and a layperson have determined that the bishop of Los Angeles, the Rt Rev Jon Bruno will face a disciplinary hearing in March on charges related to the closure and attempted sale of property once occupied by St James the Great Episcopal Church in Newport Beach. Members of the panel were Right Rev. Herman Hollerith IV, the Right Rev. Nicholas Knisely, the Right Rev. Michael Smith, Rev. Erik Larsen, and Ms. Deborah Stokes.
The Panel denied a motion by Bruno to dismiss the charges, but also denied a motion presented by Jerry Coughlan, the Church Attorney for The Episcopal Church prosecuting the charges against Bruno, that it order the church reopened to the congregation immediately. The panel members’ questions to Coughlan during the oral arguments indicated they were unsure whether they had the authority to issue such an order at this stage of the process.
Bruno locked the congregation out of the church in June 2015, after the congregation questioned his surprise agreement to sell the church to a condominium developer. The sale was terminated in escrow the next month, but Bruno has refused to allow the congregation to return to the building and grounds.
The charges against Bruno include entering the sale agreement without the proper authorization and making false statements to the congregation and Newport Beach city officials about his intentions for the property. The charges also allege that locking the congregation out was “conduct unbecoming” for a bishop.
According to a story in the Orange County Register;
“The 71-year-old St. James the Great congregation has been locked out of the property since July 2015, even after the planned sale to the developer, who wanted to build 22 luxury townhomes where the 40,000-square-foot church building stands on Via Lido, fell through.
Buried in the church’s rose garden are the cremated remains of 12 former parishioners and some family members have expressed concern about not being able to go into the property to visit their loved one’s resting place. The diocese has promised to move the cremated remains respectfully, at no cost, to another location of the families’ choice.
Bruno has since refused to allow the congregation to return to the building. Members have been gathering for Sunday services at a meeting room in Newport Beach Civic Center, with Sunday school held in the outdoor plaza.”
Another factor in the ongoing conflict is a clause of the original gift of the property of the diocese that stipulated the property could only be used for a church. At conflict is whether or not the original donors had agreed to remove the clause in the 1980’s or not. The Griffith Co (the descendants of the original donor) say the deed doesn’t allow the diocese to sell the property. The diocesan Corporation Sole, which is controlled solely by Bp Bruno, countered with a legal complaint arguing that the restriction was lifted about 30 years ago. In May, the court ruled in favor of the bishop and the diocese. That decision is being appealed as well.