A Sustained, Meticulous, Devastating Picture

Mary Frances Schjonberg | ENS | bit.ly/2sBX9k3

News Analysis

The blistering 91-page order of the Hearing Panel that voted to suspend Bishop J. Jon Bruno is watermarked Draft on every page, so it’s clearly not final. In fact, further Title IV disciplinary steps could continue for months.

But while the order is not final, it’s public, available to anyone with a browser. Changes may be made, but there’s no way to unring a bell. And in page after carefully documented page, the order paints a sustained, meticulous, and devastating picture of the sixth bishop of Los Angeles.

Regardless of any potential appeal, the order raises serious questions about Bruno’s ability to continue functioning effectively as head of the church’s fourth-largest diocese. His eventual successor as Bishop of Los Angeles, the Rt. Rev. John Harvey Taylor, was consecrated as the diocese’s bishop coadjutor on July 8.

The panel voted 4-1 to suspend Bruno as a member of Episcopal clergy for three years. The draft order became public Friday because under the canons of the Episcopal Church (IV.14.7), the complainants at Save St. James the Great of Newport Beach and the Presiding Bishop — but not Bishop Bruno — must have “an opportunity to be heard on the proposed terms of the Order.”

Roger Bloom, the congregation’s public relations consultant, said he distributed the draft order to the media after being told by legal counsel that there was no bar to doing so. A deadline of July 26 has been set for comments.

Bishop Bruno’s opportunity to appeal will begin after the comment period, when the Hearing Panel issues the final order.  But Bruno’s three-year suspension would not begin until sentence is pronounced by the president of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops, the Rt. Rev. Catherine M. Waynick, retired Bishop of Indianapolis. The canons (IV.17.6) specify that sentence must be pronounced not less than 40 and not more than 60 days after the order is issued, but that clock will stop if Bruno appeals.

Any appeal would be heard by a Court of Review (Canon IV.17.8) of nine bishops who have not yet been involved in the case. The process conceivably could stretch on until after Bruno’s mandatory retirement date of Nov. 17, 2018, when he will turn 72.

While the appeal is pending, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry may “place restrictions upon the exercise of the Respondent’s ministry, or place the Respondent on Administrative Leave.” Bruno already has been ordered by both Bishop Curry and the Hearing Panel to refrain from selling St. James the Great Church, which has been sitting empty since Bruno had the locks changed on June 29, 2015. The congregation, led by the Rev. Canon Cindy Voorhees, has continued to worship in temporary quarters for two years.

Few people may read the entire 91-page order, but several extended excerpts convey the severity of the rebuke by the Hearing Panel, which heard 20 hours of testimony for three days in March:

  • “In attempting to explain his decision to sell the property, Bishop Bruno repeatedly referred to the parking problem. However, that issue had been resolved months before and the resolution was sitting on someone’s desk in the Diocesan Office. [The number of parking spaces on the property were insufficient under city regulations, and a deal to rent nearby parking had been negotiated.] Bishop Bruno and his staff did not want the problem resolved, so they let the resolution languish, without telling Canon Voorhees or anyone else why” (p. 54).
  • “Beginning at the latest in the fall of 2014, Bishop Bruno and his key aides were secretly planning the sale of St. James the Great, if they got the right price. Bishop Bruno insists that Canon Voorhees ‘knew of the consistent interest and offers … [and of the] Bishop’s willingness to consider them.’ Other than his own testimony, Bishop Bruno presented no credible evidence to support that assertion at trial. The evidence is simply overwhelming that … he did the opposite — encouraging [Voorhees] while keeping his intention to sell secret — including not responding to her when possible clues arose” (p. 65).
  • “This is not a situation, then, in which Bishop Bruno was simply silent about his plans, while encouraging the congregation to believe their church would be permanent. To the contrary, Bishop Bruno made misrepresentations to Canon Voorhees, such as his statement that St. James would not be sold, even as his staff was working toward the sale. … He had a duty to speak, to tell her the true state of affairs. Silence when there is a duty to speak is misrepresentation” (pp. 66-67).
  • “Bishop Bruno claimed that one reason he had to sell St. James the Great was that the congregation was not financially sustainable. The Hearing Panel heard extensive testimony …  [that the church] was on track to achieve financial independence by the end of 2015 or 2016. None of the documents from 2014 or early 2015, before the Purchase and Sale agreement was signed, suggests that Bishop Bruno or his staff was concerned about the finances of St. James the Great” (pp. 70-71).
  • “The question in this Title IV case is not whether Bishop Bruno was within his rights to terminate Canon Voorhees as his vicar (although he did not follow the proper procedures). The question is whether, when Bishop Bruno told … others that Canon Voorhees had resigned, he was misrepresenting the facts. He was. And he has now admitted she was terminated” (page 75).
  • “Bishop Bruno also engaged in Conduct Unbecoming when he locked St. James the Great and has kept the doors locked for nearly two years” (p. 76).
  • “Although the building is an asset, Bishop Bruno is not the CEO of a commercial, for-profit company. The ‘asset’ is a consecrated church that should be used for the glory of God and worship by a congregation, rather than sold to build condos and then left idle and useless after the sale fell through, almost two years ago. To keep a consecrated church building locked for no reason is to engage in Conduct Unbecoming” (p. 77).
  • “It is hard for anyone to understand why a Bishop would lock a congregation out of a church. The Hearing Panel concludes that one of the reasons Bishop Bruno keeps the doors locked is to punish Canon Voorhees and the St. James congregation for what he views as their defiance of him” (pp. 78-79).
  • “Bishop Bruno kept his most recent effort to sell the property secret from the Hearing Panel. … The Hearing Panel gave Bishop Bruno an opportunity to explain. He objected. He obfuscated. He did not respond on the merits. … he hid behind an alleged confidentiality agreement, which he would not disclose. … Bishop Bruno’s actions are contemptuous of the Hearing Panel, Title IV and the Canons of the Church. They are disruptive. They are dilatory. They infringe on the integrity of the Church. … They are Conduct Unbecoming a Member of the Clergy” (pp. 85-86).
  • “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 a mission of the Church. St. James the Great is a casualty of Bishop Bruno’s misconduct acting as Diocesan and Corp Sole. … 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” (p. 89).

In addition to imposing a three-year suspension of Bruno, 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.”

The canons at least arguably empower the Hearing Panel to order the reopening, under language introduced in 2009. The Hearing Panel noted this authority but declined to set a precedent by ordering that the church be reopened. The Hearing Panel “concluded that Title IV disciplinary actions are not designed to address the complexities of the specific diocesan property issues that are before it.”  It declared that the diocese, its Standing Committee, and its recently consecrated Bishop Coadjutor “must consciously choose to take part in a process of self-examination and truth telling around these unfortunate and tragic events.”

The Hearing Panel is trying to strike a delicate balance, urging reversal of the bishop’s decision on a church sale while simultaneously affirming that bishops have broad authority in their dioceses.

Diane Sammons, chancellor of the Diocese of Newark and former chair of the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons, was on the task force that recommended the revisions adopted at the 2009 General Convention.

Sammons is not involved in the Bruno case and did not take a position on whether the Hearing Panel reached an appropriate decision, but spoke more generally about the intent of the canons.

Canon IV.14.6 now specifies that the Hearing Panel’s order may “provide any terms which promote healing, repentance, forgiveness, restitution, justice, amendment of life and reconciliation.”

“The 2009 revisions to canons were specifically geared to move away from a criminal justice model, with Miranda rights, etc.,” she said. “It’s not supposed to just be punitive in nature. It’s supposed to be looking at these seven factors and weighing them.” She added that the revisions were modeled on the disciplinary codes of other professions such as lawyers, social workers, and doctors.

Kirk Petersen

Bruno Draft Order 2017-07-21 by TheLivingChurchdocs on Scribd


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