Board upholds sanctions against J. Jon Bruno as panel weighs disciplinary case

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Church’s Disciplinary Board for Bishops has rejected an appeal by Los Angeles Bishop J. Jon Bruno objecting to sanctions levied against him by a Title IV hearing panel that is deliberating over its final ruling in Bruno’s disciplinary case.

The panel’s June 17 sanctions prohibited Bruno from pursuing the sale of St. James the Great Church in Newport Beach, California, while the disciplinary case progresses. Bruno’s initial failed attempt to sell the church property was the basis for the Title IV case against him.

Church Attorney Raymond “Jerry” Coughlan, left, shows Diocese of Los Angeles J. Jon Bruno documents during the bishop’s testimony March 29. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

The hearing panel’s sanctions were echoed June 29 by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who issued an order partly restricting Bruno’s ministry, specifically his ability to sell the church property. These restrictions were in response to news that Bruno again had tried to sell the church while disciplinary action was pending.

The original case against Bruno involves his unsuccessful 2015 attempt to sell the church property to a condominium developer for $15 million in cash. That effort prompted the members of St. James to bring misconduct allegations against Bruno, claiming he violated Episcopal Church law. Hearings on those allegations were held in March.

The Episcopal Church ecclesiastical disciplinary panel, which still is considering whether or how to discipline Bruno in that case, told Bruno on June 17 he is prohibited from “selling or conveying or contracting to sell or convey the St. James property until further order of the Hearing Panel.”

Bruno appealed that sanction, but the Disciplinary Board for Bishops rejected the appeal in an order released July 8 and posted online by the group Save St. James the Great.

“By contracting to sell the St. James property while the conflicts involving that property were still under review and consideration by the Hearing Panel, [Bruno] disrupted and interfered with the integrity of the process of the Title IV proceeding,” the order reads. Bruno’s “actions undermined what the canons intend to be a process of reconciliation.”

The order came as Bruno’s intended successor, Bishop Coadjutor John Taylor, was ordained and consecrated July 8 in Los Angeles.

Bruno turns 72, the Episcopal Church’s mandatory retirement age, in late 2018.

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.

Comments

  1. Dr Andrew Nadell says:

    Did Bishop Bruno obey the inhibition of the Presiding Bishop or did he sell the property on July 3, 2017? It is surprising that this fact has not yet been reported in the new media.

  2. Robert L. Mays says:

    With Bishop Coadjutor John Taylor now consecrated it is time for Bishop Bruno to resign, effectively immediately. To prolong this agony to the end will only further harm the Diocese of Los Angeles, and tarnish whatever good he did during his Episcopacy. Even though the circumstances are different, in many ways, this reminds me of the damage done to the Diocese of Pennsylvania under Bishop Charles E. Bennison. So sad.

  3. mike geibel says:

    On June 13th, an Orange County Superior Court judge ruled that Bishop Bruno has full authority to sell St. James the Great or otherwise use or dispose of the property as he sees fit. http://www.ocregister.com/2017/07/14/court-rules-episcopal-bishop-has-authority-over-disputed-newport-beach-property/

    We know for certain that Bishop Bruno signed the purchase agreement in April and that escrow was set to close July 3rd. I suspect the buyer is holding off recording the transfer deed until the Episcopal Panel issues its decision, so as to not influence the outcome. But regardless of the Panel’s final rulings on the ethical conduct of the Bishop, the property is gone and the beautiful sanctuary will be demolished–unless the TEC immediately files an action to rescind or stop the sale, or offers to buy the Church back from the developer.

    Let’s pray that my suspicions are unfounded.

    The Panel should have anticipated these events given the Bishop’s testimony, and they should have issued a preliminary order precluding him from selling the church before their decision was issued and final. The ink is dry on the purchase contract, and if the sale doesn’t happen, the developer can sue the Diocese for specific performance or damages, and maybe Bishop Curry, too, for attempted interference with contract. The Panel’s recourse now may be a meaningless slap on the wrist of the Bishop for not handling things “better” rather than challenging his actions with a lawsuit.

    The tragic story of St. James the Great should send a troubling message to all parishioners who faithfully attend and financially support a church owned by a Bishop as “corp. sole” in a Diocese that is more interested in funding its social justice agenda than in ministering to the loyal members in the pews.

  4. mike geibel says:

    The court ruling was actually issued on July 13th. The court ruled that the deed restriction allowing the donated property to only be used for religious purposes was unenforceable, removing any question that Bishop Bruno has the legal right to sell the Sanctuary. However, the Bishop’s lawsuit also included a bogus “quiet title” claim, and the Court awarded the Griffin Company $108,182.51 in legal costs as against the LA Diocese. Add to that, the Diocese has probably incurred twice that amount in paying its own lawyers to prosecute the action.

    The silence is deafening on whether the Bishop ignored the orders from the Panel and Bishop Curry admonishing him not to close escrow on the April 2017 sale of the Church. I would not be surprised if the good Bishop ignored the orders–his attorneys appealed the Panel’s Order, asserting the Panel had no power to prevent Bishop Bruno from consummating a sale and stating: “Further, there is nothing in the record (as acknowledged by the Church Attorney) that directed [the Bishop] not to sell the NPB Property during these proceedings.” https://www.episcopalcafe.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Bruno-appeal-final-1.pdf

    The legal brief of the attorney for the TEC / parishioners is an interesting read. https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/80a168_ab096555324a4af9a6f6a99df5868fa0.pdf

    Whatever the ultimate ruling by the Panel, this is damaging publicity for a Diocese which continues to bleed members and legal fees. The real tragedy is that the faithful parishioners of St. James have lost their beautiful church, and their loss of trust and disillusionment with the Episcopal Church and due process under Canon law would justify all 150+ members resigning in mass from the TEC forever. “Justice” and reconciliation would be for the TEC to buy the church property back from the developer, and then assess the LA Diocese with the costs.

  5. Ann Ladenberger says:

    I have only one question : why does the nation church (TEC) leadership let these types of appalling controversial matters drag on, allowing more mischief to occur in the interim?

    That review panel was doubtless full of overeducated Episcopal officials who were capable of making a decision on Bruno’s fate long before now. And if some arcane canon law prevented a speedier decision by the review board or Presiding Bishop, then that law needs amending!

    This is the kind of un-Christian,worldly, big money affrontery that keeps people from going to church, or ever doubt whether we need them1! Heaven help us.

  6. mike geibel says:

    On Friday, July 21st, the panel issued its ruling finding Bishop Bruno violated all of the Canonical charges, and recommended that he be suspended for three years and that St. James be restored to the congregation. Bishop Curry has 40 days to approve the ruling for it to be final and effective.

    If he has not already done so, this leaves time for Bishop Bruno to execute the transfer deed and closing documents resulting in an enforceable sale of the church. The TEC would have to sue to get it back, or purchase the property back from the developer/new owner. If the transfer was not consummated, Bishop Bruno still has time to complete the sale. Bishop Bruno can stall by appealing the ruling and could also file litigation seeking a court ruling that neither the Panel nor Bishop Curry had the power or jurisdiction to control the sale of the church during the time the Bishop Bruno was the “corp sole.”

    If history is any guide, this story is not over yet.

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