The disciplinary panel which has been hearing charges against Bishop J. Jon Bruno, Los Angeles Diocesan, has issued its final decision. This final report, same as the draft we reported on earlier, offers a damning account of Bishop Bruno’s actions document obfuscation, misdirection, and outright lying on the part of the bishop. It also documents what comes across as a shocking disregard for the spiritual care of the people under his authority. You can download the document here (pdf).
The evidence shows that Bishop Bruno first began to consider selling the property in 2008, before the property was recovered from the breakaway group which had occupied it.
- Bishop Bruno testified that as early as November, 2008, while the Anglican litigation was still active, he told Richard Zevnik (his counsel in this case) of his intention to put the properties at issue, including the St. James property, “on the market” after the litigation concluded. Tr. 491-92, 494.
It shows that the figures for the “cost” of the litigation were padded.
- At about that time, Ted Forbath, Chief Financial Officer of the Diocese, prepared a one-page “legal expense summary” of the Anglican litigation as of July 1, 2013. Mr. Forbath included not only actual legal expenses of $4,486,280, but added to these expenses three other items, totaling $5,066,544. First, Mr. Forbath added an “MSF Pledge Recoup,” his estimate of the revenue the diocese did not receive because the four congregations ceased to make contributions to the diocese. Ex. 45; Tr. 850-51. Second, Mr. Forbath added an estimate of the “cost” to the diocese of the staff work on the Anglican litigation, although the diocese did not hire any additional employees to handle the Anglican litigation, and there were no time sheets or other documents to support this estimate. Mr. Forbath testified that this was “an approximation and a best guess.” Tr. 853. Third, Mr. Forbath added an estimate of the income the diocese would have obtained if it had not incurred the legal expenses or lost the donations. Tr. 837-38. In June 2015, Bishop Bruno told the Mayor Pro Tempore of the City of Newport Beach that one reason he had to sell St. James was to help recover “the $9 million in legal costs” incurred in the Anglican litigation. Ex. 29.
It shows that the growth of the parish was remarkable and that Bishop Bruno’s statements concerning its lack of viability were false.
- In September 2014, Canon Voorhees delivered a PowerPoint presentation to Bishop Bruno, Mr. Tumilty and the Board of the Corporation of the Diocese, in which she discussed in detail the progress of St. James the Great. Canon Voorhees described some of the innovative ministries of St. James the Great: the kitchen and cooking classes, Holy Coding classes, and the “team structure.” She noted that St. James would receive “decreased diocesan support” in the next year and hoped by the end of the next year to be “independent” of diocesan support. Ex. 46. The Board, according to Canon Voorhees, was “very, very excited” about the progress of St. James the Great, “thought it was amazing,” and she “got a long clap at the end.” Bishop Bruno told her “very good. Great job.” Tr. 257-58.
And it shows that the sale of the St James property and the dissolution of a fast growing mission congregation, on track to be financially viable within another year, was done to fund a real estate speculation on the part of the Corp Sole, controlled unilaterally by Bishop Bruno.
- On February 4, 2015, Mr. Forbath emailed Mr. Tumilty a draft email to the Layne Foundation, seeking a loan of $6.3 million to purchase an additional interest in the Anaheim property [this was an investment property and this purchase would increase the Corp sole’s share from a 25% interest to 100%]. The draft email offered, as security, the St. James property and explained that, “Confidentially speaking, the Bishop’s Office is putting in place a 1-2 year plan that will involve consolidating our two churches in the area: St. James the Great (Newport Beach) and St. Michael & All Angels (Corona del Mar). The outcome of that consolidation will involve selling one of the two churches and realizing substantial proceeds . . . . At this point, the preference is to sell the Newport Beach site.” Mr. Forbath wrote: “my sense is that it would be best to simply state that the NPB church [St. James] will be sold … and not be fuzzy about which church will be sold…” Ex. 55. The St. James congregation had no idea at this time that the “Bishop’s Office” had decided to sell St. James or to consolidate the two congregations.
The panel’s finding was that Bishop Bruno had acted not like a bishop, but as real estate speculator;
“Although the building is an asset, Bishop Bruno is not the CEO of a commercial, for-profit company. The “asset” is a consecrated church that should be used for the glory of God and worship by a congregation, rather than sold to build condos and then left idle and useless after the sale fell through, almost two years ago. To keep a consecrated church building locked for no reason is to engage in Conduct Unbecoming. Bishop Bruno’s conduct has created immense public outcry, town hall meetings, city council meetings, neighborhood surveys, breaking of contracts, lawsuits and media attention. F.67-68, F.70-71, F.73, F.75-77, F.79-82, F.85, F.90, F.92, F.99. Having the church locked has created disorder and prejudiced the reputation of the Episcopal Church.”
As in the draft, the primary remedy is a suspension of the ministry of Bishop Bruno for three years. This seemingly ends his career on a very down beat. The panel also strongly recommended the diocese restore the congregation to the disputed property, though stopping short of ordering the same.
In a statement, Save St James, the group of parishioners who organized to save the parish said;
“We believe the reconciliation process begins now, and we look forward to a time – in the near future, we hope and believe – when we are back in our holy church and the Diocese of Los Angeles is once again a strong, united and joyful community in Christ, dedicated to spreading God’s word and doing His work on earth.”