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Hearing Panel to recommend suspension of ministry for Bruno

Hearing Panel to recommend suspension of ministry for Bruno

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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Chris Rubel

An accounting and complete transparency must be made available to us to help with the restoration of the congregation to their church. This atrocious event has got to be corrected and the church should be in a renewed, healing spirit, given back to the congregation who are the church, even sans their property. I was ordained with Bishop Bruno and have loved him, but this catastrophe is a huge embarrassing saga. Where did love go in this fiasco real estate deal? Bishop Taylor, restore this congregation to their beloved place of service and worship and give special devotion to St. James the Great, recognizing how bravely they kept being the church inspite of our bishop’s animus.
To think of Bishop Bruno having Committee support for his manipulations also adds to the sad state of this blemish, this matter.

Tim Kruse

Brother David,

The draft order is accessible online at

of note, page 6 states “The Church Attorney has proven the following facts by clear and convincing

The following enumerated facts are from pages 8-10 of the draft order that should give you the evidence you want that there was a continuing congregation during the separatists’ usurpation of its property:

6. In 2004, part of the St. James congregation disaffiliated from the
Episcopal Church and affiliated itself with the Church of Uganda. Ex. 61 paras.

7. On August 22, 2004, Bishop Bruno wrote to the “members of St.
James’ Episcopal Church in Newport Beach” to let them know “how disheartened
I am by the decision of your Rector, Wardens, and Vestry to leave the Episcopal
Church.” Bishop Bruno stated that “the consecrated buildings of your Parish are
not the sole possession of the congregation. They belong to the whole Episcopal
Church and the Diocese of Los Angeles, where together we serve Christ in this
place. Soon we hope to return these properties to those faithful Episcopalians in
your community who will continue our common mission as a Diocese and a
Church.” Ex. 60.

8. On September 7, 2004, Bishop Bruno, on behalf of himself and the
“faithful congregants and true leadership of St. James Episcopal Parish in Newport
Beach,” filed suit against the Anglicans. Ex. 61 para 1. In the complaint, which
Bishop Bruno swore to under penalty of perjury, he stated that “each day
Defendants’ wrongful occupation of the Parish premises continues, Plaintiffs suffer
irreparable harm. ….. In the same complaint, Bishop Bruno stated that
the “faithful members of the Parish are in exile,” and that the Diocese is
“subordinate to the Constitution, Canons, and General Convention of the Episcopal
Church.” Ex. 61 paras 9-10, 14; Tr. 660-62.

9. Among those who remained “faithful” to the Episcopal church were
Dan and Betty Connolly and their daughter Kathi Liebermann. After the Anglican
“takeover” of St. James, the Connolly family worshipped at St. Michael & All
Angels Church. On the advice of Bishop Bruno, the Connolly family did not
change its registration from St. James. The Connolly family and others remained
members of the St. James Episcopal congregation. Tr. 444, 504 (“just leave your
name there. You don’t have to become a member of St. Michael and All Angels”).

David Allen

It appears then that there wasn’t a continuing congregation, meeting where it could find accommodation, but perhaps there may have been a St James Diaspora scattered among nearby parishes that still existed when the property was returned 10 years later.

That is a bit different reality than the stretch lauded by Ms Gordon above.

Prof Christopher Seitz

By all means enjoy your holiday, Mr Montgomery. TEC will shuttle about and face the struggles each challenge presents. As previously. God has so many gifts to give!

The real challenge will be settling on a common polity given the historical character of a mission field of dioceses agreeing to affiliate over time. This is an indigenous particularity that must be respected, as God was driving it, or so one hoped and prayed. So watch as dioceses and Diocesans evaluate their futures.
in pari
On top of this, when the dust settles we will find a church now with 1/2 its marriage and baptism rate as of 1980; one third drop in attendance and membership (only worsted by the PCUSA) since 1980; and an average age of late 50s per parish. This is not sustainable. So the present debates will soon be so much archival data.

God’s richest blessings.

Prof Christopher Seitz

“I can’t see any of the three bishops on the panel wishing that an entity could come into their dioceses and second guess them on dealing with properties and congregations.”

+Smith gets it.

It is also the case that TEC tried this via expensive litigation in several states and lost. Now +Bruno pushes back from a different end of the spectrum. There is nothing in the Constitution of TEC that grants the kind of authority some people want for the PB. +Curry may be more shrewdly advised and if so, he could provide such an anodyne ‘last word’ on this matter so as to quiet the matter down. Else the shudder you refer to could indeed reveberate.

I would not that the Panel ‘urged’ Bruno re: property. They did not order him. In that one sense, +Smith and the +three may be closer than one thinks. It is unwise to order if you cannot bring compliance, and in CA +Bruno can only be defeated if the sale falls through — a matter outside the Title IV ambit in any case.

You are right to wonder what Bishops will be contemplating in respect of all this. It strikes at the very heart of the historical character of TEC. There was a rush to bring conservative dioceses into line, and it has sputtered in court. Now “what is sauce for the goose…”. The conservative bishops and dioceses have been hedged about by other means and their ranks are dwindling. But in the wake is a struggle for TEC to understand what it means by dioceses with canons and bishops tout court.

Prof Christopher Seitz

“I am aware of national canons that dictate than any diocesan canon or local bylaw that is in conflict with the national C & C are void as a result of that very fact” — where is this, please; and how does it square with Title IV Panel’s own statement that they cannot order the Diocesan in LA to forfeit his role as corporate sole in respect of property conveyance.

In the Diocese of Dallas last convention a motion was brought forward saying something along your lines: the EDOD canons on marriage needing to be ‘brought in line’ with GC. It was defeated. The chancellor rightly pointed out that GC made no claim about diocesan canons on this topic, and so the motion was moot.

It has also been argued successfully that diocesan canons are a proper framework in respect of property precisely to the degree that TEC C/C do not have any explicit statement in the matter; the ‘dennis canon’ the courts have ruled do not have the force being claimed by TEC. The Illinois ruling is a very good place to train your eye on the matter.

Grace and peace.

Ian Montgomery

I’m enjoying the challenge of this conversation. Thank you. (On vacation actually–only time one can find for this sort of thing)

1) as regards your question re the national canons requiring accession or subordination by diocesan canons, I seem to have been wrong in memory but right in the practice. That is to say that Article II of many Dio constitutions including LA (pointedly) states that they acceed to the national C&C:


The Church in the Diocese accedes to the Constitution and Canons of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, known in law as the National Church otherwise known as the Episcopal Church (hereinafter called the “National Church), and recognizes the authority of the General Convention of the same.
(AMENDED February 6, 1976)

As to the Texan marriage canon question, I would suggest that it is consistent that a Diocese could have a marriage canon that was different than a national canon since the national canon leaves the discretion as to whom it to marry up to each priest and therefore it would not be inconsistent for local variation on this issue to exist.

I would agree with you completely that Title IV has no business telling a diocese what to do about property issues and that that the hearing was to adjudicate in the complaint which was about the manner in which the
Bishop acted. However, it is not unreasonable for them to urge appropriate restitution be made in the same way a confessor might assign penance that might include restitution. It does seem that Standing Committee were accessories after the fact in deceit and fraud and should receive a finger wag for claiming they knew if the
Bishops actions which they clearly did not at the time the Bishop said they did and they affirmed.

On a macro level I think our polity should expand for appeals above the Bishop for clerical discipline. If the Bishop Bruno affair demonstrates anything it is that investing absolute power and authority in one man is unwise as all men are flawed….and some men are more flawed than others.

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