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Bruno Hearings: Day Two

Bruno Hearings: Day Two

In Pasadena, California, March 29 continued hearings regarding St. James the Great Episcopal Church in Newport Beach. From the Episcopal News Service:

The second day of a March 28-30 ecclesiastical disciplinary hearing for Diocese of Los Angeles Bishop J. Jon Bruno included the bishop’s explanation of his behavior during the events in question as well as more testimony from a vicar who said she became uncomfortable talking to him alone about the situation.

Bruno responded to the list of allegations against him, detailed by the ENS in the above link:

Bruno says in his response brief to the hearing panel that five of the allegations must be decided in his favor because “undisputed evidence establishes no canonical violation.” He says the sixth allegation concerning alleged misrepresentations to Voorhees presents conflicting evidence for the panel to weigh. However, he calls it a “she said (he told me he wouldn’t sell the property), he said (I never said I wouldn’t sell the property) dichotomy.”

Diocese of Los Angeles Vice Chancellor Julie Dean Larsen questioned St. James’ vicar, the Rev. Canon Cindy Evans Voorhees, for more than two hours.

Diocese Chancellor Richard Zevnik led Bruno through nearly 4.5 hours of detailed questions about his authority, the diocese’s finances, the lengthy litigation to recover the property of four parishes that had voted in 2003 to disaffiliate with the diocese and the sequence of events connected with the attempted sale of St. James.

Bruno said that he went to court over those properties because of the precedent it would have set had he not. The bishop said that as early as 2008 he intended to sell the properties once they were recovered to cover the litigation costs and because the four parishes were “redundant” because there were other nearby parishes where Episcopalians could worship. He has since sold two of the four and reopened a third.

In 2013, Bruno had reconsecrated the church:

Bruno said he allowed Voorhees to attempt to restart St. James, one of the properties involved in the litigation, because she was passionate about the congregation and he hoped she could make a go of it. He said he promised to give her “as much help as I could.”

When he reconsecrated the church property in the fall of 2013 as St. James the Great Episcopal Church, Bruno said he gave the small congregation a pep talk of sorts. “I was trying to convince the congregation to make a miracle,” he told the Hearing Panel.

“And we did,” some members of the audience replied, drawing a caution from Hollerith to remain silent.

The church’s sustainability was a matter of debate.

Church Attorney Raymond “Jerry” Coughlan, appointed to represent the Episcopal Church in the case, sharply questioned the bishop about using scant financial information from St. James as he decided whether to accept the $15 million offer for the property. Bruno admitted that he used a 2013 parochial report that only included statistics from the three months of the new congregation’s existence and a budget included in a July 2014 application for a diocesan grant.

The latter showed that the congregation had taken in $156,046 in the first three months of the year, more than one-third of projected annual income of $349,680. The document projected 2015 income of $386,900. The document showed that such revenue would cover the congregation’s expenses. However, Bruno told people including Newport Beach City Council member Diane B. Dixon, who was then Newport Beach mayor pro tempore, that the congregation was unsustainable.

Coughlan also challenged Bruno’s contention that the $15 million offer was unsolicited, attempting to show that the bishop had instructed staff members to look at offers higher than two earlier unsolicited offers that he rejected.

He sharply questioned Bruno about his explanation to St. James members on May 17, 2015, that $6.3 million of the possible sale would go into the diocese’s Poor and Needy Fund, $1 million would go to St. James to help it establish what he called “a church without walls” and the rest would be invested in a trust fund, named in honor of the congregation, to fund other mission and ministry in the diocese.

Under Coughlan’s questioning, Bruno denied that he had accepted the $15 million offer to gain $6.3 million to buy the remaining interest in some commercial properties in Anaheim, California, that had been donated to the diocese. The bishop said using part of the St. James proceeds was only one option for financing that purchase, which would allow the diocese to use the properties to produce more income for ministry. Another option was a bank loan, which the diocese has since obtained and used to purchase the remaining interest in the Anaheim properties, according to the bishop.

The Cafe’s post on day one can be found here.

The coalition of parishioners from St James, Newport, CA known as Save St James the Great are streaming the proceedings on Youtube

the days are split up into morning and afternoon video feeds; the morning ones will start before or at 9 a.m., and the afternoon feed will start after the lunch break, which will probably be after 1 p.m. or so.

Episcopal News Service has an overview of the first days events here.

Images:

(Above) Diocese of Los Angeles Bishop J. Jon Bruno, right, talks with Hawaii Bishop Robert Fitzpatrick, appointed as Bruno’s advisor, before the March 28 session opened in a meeting room of the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel in Pasadena. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

(Below) The Rev. Canon Cindy Evans Voorhees, vicar of St. James the Great Episcopal Church, spent more than three hours testifying to the Hearing Panel March 28 and will be cross examined when the hearing resumes March 29. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

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leslie marshall

Rev Mary. thank you for sharing your experience, I appreciate your honesty.

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the Rev. Canon Mary Goshert

You are welcome, Leslie. Writing those words did not give me any pleasure: I'd far rather have been able to write about Bishop Jon and a congregation coming together in grace and conciliation and choosing to grow together. Since that is not yet a choice that's been made, that's not yet possible. Perhaps in God's good time and holding all the people involved in prayer, such a time of reconciliation will come.

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the Rev. Canon Mary Goshert

I was an elected member of Diocesan Council in the Diocese of Los Angeles for all the time that the Diocese was in legal negotiations to regain clear title to the church property that dissidents attempted to take when they left the Episcopal Church. I was also rector (successively) to two healthy congregations in the Diocese. I was in full and enthusiastic agreement with Bishop Bruno for leading those negotiations: he was correct that his fiduciary responsibility mandated that action. The experience of the Diocese with a previous dissident action in which the parish property was ceded to dissidents was no help to the diocese. At no time in all the many meetings of Diocesan Council was it ever said by Bishop Bruno or his staff that the end purpose of this bitter negotiation would be to sell the properties when they were recovered: the end purpose was always described as returning the properties to parish use. When the properties were returned, and All Saints, Long Beach asked to purchase the parish property there, that seemed reasonable: there are four Episcopal churches within about a 5 mile radius, and All Saints had not participated fully in the life of the Diocese for many years. The situation with St. James is diametrically different. St. James was a powerhouse parish in Orange County: it was a charismatic worship center (which I respected even though that worship style is not my preference.) It opened much of its property to community needs. It was a deep tragedy for the Episcopal Church when the rector led the parish out of the Church, after maneuvering for years to mute those who disagreed with him, and who then was assured by Howard Ahmanson,Jr., and others that he could indeed take the property with him and the remnant of the congregation who followed him out. Mr. Ahmanson's wealth provided a very large proportion of the funds these dissidents used to argue their desires in court. When at last the property was returned to the Diocese, Bishop Bruno re-opened the church in a great celebration of faith and hope. He did NOT 'deliver a little pep talk' to the congregation and the diocese: he spoke in ringing prophecy and great energy about how the congregation could and would rise again, he referred to the Rev. Canon Cindy Voorhees as the priest and pastor whose skills would facilitate that new rise, and he promised diocesan support for that renewal. Those words are available to anyone who wants to see a video and listen to that service of renewal. The congregation -- and many in the diocese -- took Bishop Bruno at his very word. It has been utterly shocking to hear Bishop Bruno say that he never intended to renew congregations in any of the four properties: that he ever intended to sell the properties. It's been demoralizing to have Bishop Bruno disclaim the actual words he spoke to St. James. And it's been a tragedy to see this man whom I've known and deeply cared for and respected for forty years descend to clawing on to the shreds of legal details, throwing his faithful cleric Cindy Voorhees under the bus, and acting the bully profiteer. I hope and pray for diocesan reconciliation, and for the national Church to call Bishop Bruno to account and give St. James its opportunity to thrive.

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