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Closing arguments filed in Bishop Bruno hearing

Closing arguments filed in Bishop Bruno hearing

The LA Times reports on closing arguments filed last week at the end of Bishop Bruno’s disciplinary hearing, stemming from the 2015 closure of St James the Great Episcopal Church in Newport Beach.

In written closing arguments filed last week, church attorney Jerry Coughlan asked that the panel deliberating Bruno’s fate order the church reopened and reinstate its vicar, the Rev. Canon Cindy Voorhees, “without retribution” and that the bishop step aside from governing the congregation.

“But a stiff sentence by itself would not help the congregation, the diocese, or the church and likely would exacerbate the situation. It would invite an appeal, further delay and controversy,” Coughlan wrote. “It is in the best interest of everyone to bring about prompt reconciliation. Therefore, the church attorney recommends that the penalty be stayed if [Bruno] agrees to forgo any appeal.”

The disciplinary panel heard evidence in March, and is considering its verdict.

In their own brief, Bruno’s attorneys repeated his defenses: that the church was never actually sold, that he acted on the fiscal information he had at the time and that he never promised the church wasn’t subject to sale.

Bruno’s attorneys said the ecclesiastical complaint, plus a failed civil lawsuit, “political actions and social media campaign” strategically derailed the sale.

Ecclesiastical law “was not intended to be used as a weapon to challenge a diocesan bishop’s decisions regarding the administration and stewardship of his or her diocese,” wrote attorney Julie Dean Larsen. “[The law] requires that the church attorney meet certain standards to override the fundamental and moral concept that the accused is innocent until proven otherwise. He has failed on all accounts to meet the burden.”

Read more at the LA Times, and find more background on the case here.

Photo: St James the Great, Newport Beach


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Michael W. Murphy

As a lawyer, this is a case where the donor should have made his/her/their intentions clear and the documents should reflect the donor’s intentions. Sometimes this means that the property should be owned by a legal entity (usually a trustee) separate from the church and the local parish be allowed to use the property for free or for a nominal amount.

I know that this conflicts with the national canons. However, my experience is that when the terms of the donation are clear, the donation is usually accepted with the restrictions. If the church does not want the restrictions, then it can say “no thank you.”

Many donors want their donation to remain local. If that is the donor’s intent, the donor can not rely upon the church to carry out his/her/their intentions without a mechanism that requires the intentions to be enforced.

David Allen

In this case, the donor was a company that specified in the donation that the property was to be used for a church building or church related use.

The bishop went to the successor company and requested that the designation be lifted from the property. The bishop states that the company agreed to do so. However, later, during his attempt to sell the property, the bishop discovered that the company intentionally failed to file the paperwork to alter the donation’s restrictions.

David Allen

Ecclesiastical law “was not intended to be used as a weapon to challenge a diocesan bishop’s decisions regarding the administration and stewardship of his or her diocese.”

My sentiments as well.

Paul Powers

Bishops can, however, be disciplined for violating the canons in their administration of and stewardship over their dioceses. Whether this has happened in +Bruno’s case remains to be seen.

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