In a scathing rebuke of the Bishop of Los Angeles, a disciplinary hearing panel of the Episcopal Church has voted to suspend the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno from ministry for three years. The draft order was circulated to the complainants on July 21 and obtained by TLC.
The panel also voted to urge the Diocese of Los Angeles to restore St. James the Great to its former church building in Newport Beach, which has been locked and empty for more than two years.
In a 4-1 decision, the panel wrote that “the scope and severity of Bishop Bruno’s misconduct … have unjustly and unnecessarily disturbed the ministry of a mission of the Church. St. James the Great is a casualty of Bishop Bruno’s misconduct.”
Neva Rae Fox, public affairs officer for the Episcopal Church, said late that evening, “This document is marked as a draft, and that is what it is. We will offer no comments as the Hearing Panel’s work continues.”
Since June 2015 members of the congregation, led by the Rev. Canon Cindy Voorhees, have continued to worship despite being locked out of the 40,000-square-foot church property. Most recently they have been worshiping in a community room at Newport Beach City Hall.
The panel specifically declined to impose the most severe available penalty: a permanent deposition from ordained ministry.
Bruno, 70, faces mandatory retirement in late 2018. His successor, the Rt. Rev. John Harvey Taylor, was consecrated as bishop coadjutor on July 8.
The hearing panel, consisting of three bishops, a priest, and a lay person, heard more than 20 hours of public testimony in March 2017. The three-day hearing strongly resembled a civil trial, except that each day opened and closed with prayer.
Based on that hearing and on thousands of pages of documents, the hearing panel found that Bruno, who was consecrated as the sixth Bishop of Los Angeles in 2002, violated the canons of the church in three ways:
- He agreed to sell a consecrated church without the prior approval of the diocesan Standing Committee;
- He misrepresented himself in several ways, including claiming falsely that the congregation was financially unsustainable and that Voorhees had resigned;
- He engaged in conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy, by having the locks changed and keeping the building locked for the past two years.
“Bishop Bruno’s actions are contemptuous of the Hearing Panel, Title IV and the Canons of the Church,” the draft order said. “They are disruptive. They are dilatory. They infringe on the integrity of these proceedings. They prejudice the good order and discipline of the Church. They bring material discredit upon the Church and the Holy Orders conferred by the Church. They are material and substantial and of clear and weighty importance to the ministry of the Church. They are Conduct Unbecoming a Member of the Clergy.”
Remarkably, during the hearing panel’s deliberations Bruno made a second attempt to sell the property, leading both the panel and Presiding Bishop Michael Curry to order that the property not be sold.
The panel’s 91-page decision was circulated to the complainants and the Presiding Bishop for comment on July 21. Roger Bloom, spokesman for the congregation, said his understanding is that comments will be collected until Wednesday, July 26. Bloom provided the draft decision to TLC.
Bloom also provided a two-page dissent by the Rt. Rev. Michael G. Smith, Bishop of North Dakota, who voted to dismiss the charges against Bruno.
Bishop Smith cited St. Paul’s warning (1 Cor. 6) against trying to resolve Church disputes through civil courts. “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.”
He added: “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.”