Hearing Panel to recommend suspension of ministry for Bruno

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A Draft decision from the Hearing Panel reviewing complaints of Bishop J. Jon Bruno of Los Angeles handling of the sale of church property in Newport Beach suggests that Bishop Bruno will have his ministry suspended for three years, but stops short of deposition.

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 panel essentially affirmed that Diocesan bishops do hold authority over property but also affirmed that the Standing Committee has a crucial role in all issues of property.

“While Canon IV.14.6 would allow the Hearing Panel to take action for the benefit of St James the Great, the Hearing Panel has concluded that Title IV disciplinary actions are not designed to address the complexities of the specific diocesan property issues that are before it.  The Hearing Panel believes that bishops do and should have authority over mission property and that Standing Committee review and approval is a crucial part of the fabric and polity of the church.  But more importantly, the Hearing Panel is convinced that the Diocese of Los Angeles, particularly its Standing Committee with the supportive leadership of its newly ordained Coadjutor, must consciously choose to take part in a process of self-examination and truth-telling around these unfortunate and tragic events.”

Though the panel, however, stopped short of directing the diocese to restore St James the Great congregation to the disputed property.  Believing that true reconciliation could not be achieved that way.  It did strongly recommend that it do so.

“The Hearing Panel strongly recommends to the Diocese of Los Angeles that as a matter of justice it immediately suspend its efforts to sell the St James property, that it restore the congregation and vicar to the church building and that it reassign St James the Great appropriate mission status” [bolded in original].

Though unsigned, the Draft has the names of four members of the panel; The Rt Rev Herman Hollerith, IV, The Rt Rev Nicholas Knisely, The Rev Erik Larsen, and Ms. Deborah Stokes.

Bishop Smith of North Dakota, the fifth member of the panel has offered a dissent.  In that dissent, while recognizing the shortcomings of using a Corp Sole, the Standing Committee’s neglect of its canonical duties, and Bishop Bruno’s mixed signals to the congregation; Smith holds to the belief that Bruno acted wholly within his rights as Bishop Diocesan and that adjudication of property disputes belongs solely within the authority of the diocese.

“It is my understanding that in the Episcopal Church, resolution of property disputes properly resides within local diocesan entities, notably the Bishop and Standing Committee, and should not be adjudicated through the disciplinary process.”

One of his most significant complaints is that both Bishop Bruno and Save St James the Great resorted to the secular courts in this dispute.  Suggesting even that the effort to reclaim the property from the breakaway group in the first place was inappropriate.  After quoting 1Corinthians 6:1, 7-8; he writes;

“Both parties have ignored this scriptural wisdom: the Bishop, when he resorted to the secular court against the
Anglicans who attempted to depart with the property; and the congregation of St. James the Great, under the guise of “Save St. James the Great,” when it filed a civil complaint against the Bishop to stop the sale of the property. Christian reconciliation becomes an elusive goal under these circumstances.”

It should be noted that Bishop Smith is a member of the Communion Partners, which has largely sought to put forth the minority opinion that the church is a confederation of otherwise independent dioceses rather than a single unity organized into separate diocesan jurisdictions.

 


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Prof Christopher Seitz
Guest
Prof Christopher Seitz

"you appear to assume that the Standing Committee was both informed of the Bishop's actions" etc, etc.

I assume nothing of the kind. My point is in agreement with the majority on the Hearing Panel and also Bishop Smith who dissented. Title IV does not have the remit many people are assuming, and now Panel members themselves acknowledge it. If TEC wants that kind of hierarchy they will need something stronger than Title IV and they will need to get Bishops to vote it into place.

As for the situation on the ground in LA, it sounds like a real mess. You have my condolences.

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John Chilton
Editor

R.E. Seitz above, it's clear The Episcopal Church has no interest in that kind of hierarchy, a Roman magisterium.

What it does have is a hierarchy where, among other things, churches cannot leave dioceses, dioceses cannot leave The Episcopal Church and missions do not have the same standing as parishes.

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Ellen K Gordon
Guest
Ellen K Gordon

"The Hearing Panel is not aware of any evidence supporting a need for forensic accounting." There is no evidence because Mr. Bruno has never turned over any books and records. Mr. Bruno promised to open up the books to auditors at the December 2015 convention, but then immediately changed his mind. Hopefully, the new bishop will request an audit.

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Ellen K Gordon
Guest
Ellen K Gordon

Professor Seitz, while I understand your legal analysis, you appear to assume that the Standing Committee was both informed of the Bishop's actions to sell church property and that it both "reviewed and approved" Jon Bruno's plans. None of those assumptions were confirmed during the 3 day hearing nor any of the many attempts at mediation and reconciliation prior to that hearing. The Standing Committee is made up of people hand-selected by Mr. Bruno, who were intimidated by him and kept in the dark. Moreover, the only reason St. James the Great is considered as a "mission church" is because after the Anglican's lost their battle to keep the church, and it was returned to the Episcopal church, Mr. Bruno re-opened it and recruited Rev. Voorhies to re-build the congregation. St. James Episcopal Church has been around since the 1940s. My parents jointed the church in 1956 when they first moved to Newport Beach. My siblings and I were all baptized their in the 1950s and 60s and our parents were both very active members. My grandparents moved from Boston to Newport Beach in the 60s and also became active members. My sister and I were married there. My grandparents' memorial services were held at St. James. St. James actively supported St. Michael's Episcopal Church in CDM when it was first opened as a mission church. At that time, my dad was on the vestry at St. James, and very involved in the formation of St. Michael's. I remember going to a church picnic there when I was a child. So to call St. James, with it's long history in Newport Beach, while accurate, is very misleading. I'm just grateful that it finally appears that our congregation will finally be able to move back into our church -- which has sat vacant for 2 years -- and my mom's remains can be interred in the columbarium which she helped design.

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Rev. David Justin Lynch
Guest

This decision represents some semblance of, but not complete, justice. I expect that ++Michael will adopt its ruling and pronounce sentence accordingly. Justice will NOT be complete, however, until Saint James is restored to its building. In this situation, healing=justice.

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Prof Christopher Seitz
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Prof Christopher Seitz

"Title IV disciplinary actions are not designed to address the complexities of the specific diocesan property issues that are before it. The Hearing Panel believes that bishops do and should have authority over mission property and that Standing Committee review and approval is a crucial part of the fabric and polity of the church."

A prudent conclusion.

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