PB to Bruno: Hands Off St. James

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

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has stripped Bishop J. Jon Bruno of any remaining authority over the people and property of St. James the Great, the Newport Beach congregation that has been locked out of its building for more than two years.

He called on Bishop Coadjutor John Taylor and the standing committee of the Diocese of Los Angeles to “a) exercise their respective ministries of healing and reconciliation within the diocese, and, b) seek to resolve the conflict over and determine the disposition of all matters related to the property, congregation and Vicar,” the Rev. Canon Cindy Voorhees.  He urged the bishop and standing committee to “press forward vigorously.”

The order left unresolved the issue of when, or if, the congregation will move back into the church, a 40,000-square-foot facility that currently sits gated and empty.

The congregation, which has been holding Sunday services in the Newport Beach City Hall, issued a statement Aug. 1 through its spokesman, Roger Bloom.

It said, in part: “While we hope and pray that this decision will soon open the doors of St. James the Great and restore us to that holy space, we are also mindful that the overriding objective of the Title IV process, and of the Presiding Bishop, is to ‘promote healing, repentance, forgiveness, restitution, justice, amendment of life, and reconciliation.’

“We recognize the need for healing through honest reflection, humility, and dialogue by all parties, guided by the Holy Spirit. We stand ready to discuss a path forward with Bishop John Taylor, the standing committee of the Diocese of Los Angeles, and all of our brothers and sisters in Christ in the diocese, aimed at restoring us to our house of worship and the diocese to a peaceful, loving, and united community in God’s service.”

Taylor, who was consecrated as Bruno’s successor on July 8, issued this statement: “The Presiding Bishop’s action enables the Rev. Dr. Rachel Anne Nyback, president of the Standing Committee, her fellow committee members, and me to move ahead prayerfully to promote truth, open dialogue, and reconciliation in matters that have distracted our diocese for many months and to do so without awaiting a final resolution of the charges against our Bishop, J. Jon Bruno. We pledge to do all we can to use this opportunity to achieve a just outcome for the sake of our entire diocesan community.”

Curry said the restriction will remain in place “until the Title IV proceeding is finally resolved,” including “a likely prolonged appeal process.” Title IV is the disciplinary canon [PDF] of the Episcopal Church, under which the congregation filed charges against Bruno in July 2015.

After what amounts to a church trial, a hearing panel in July issued a 91-page order that concluded he was guilty of misrepresentation and of conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy.

The hearing panel suspended Bruno for three years, with the suspension automatically stayed during appeal. The panel urged that the congregation be restored to the building, although it specifically declined to order that action, saying that Title IV is the wrong forum for property disputes.

Bruno, 70, will reach the mandatory retirement age of 72 on Nov. 17, 2018.

Efforts to reach Nyback were unsuccessful. Bruno and his staff have consistently declined to comment, as has Voorhees. Neva Rae Fox, the church’s officer for public affairs, declined to comment beyond the announcement.

Kirk Petersen

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Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s announcement of the further restriction on the ministry of Bishop Bruno:

On June 28, 2017, I issued a Partial Restriction on the Ministry of the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, Bishop of the Diocese of Los Angeles, arising out of actions by Bishop Bruno that in my view may threaten the good order and welfare of the Church. As explained in that order, I had learned that, earlier this year, Bishop Bruno entered into a contract for sale of property (the “St. James property”), that has an important role in a disciplinary matter now pending under the Title IV of the Canons of The Episcopal Church, in which Bishop Bruno is the Respondent. According to Bishop Bruno’s submissions in that disciplinary matter, the contract for sale of the St. James property set the closing date as July 3, 2017.

Bishop Bruno’s actions and intentions regarding an earlier attempted sale of the St. James property are currently under review in the pending disciplinary matter. I continue to be deeply concerned that his act of entering into a new contract for sale of the same property, while his approach to the earlier sale is still under review, continues to have the potential to undermine the integrity of the Church’s disciplinary process. I noted that the secrecy with which the recent sales contract was undertaken has added to the potential for undermining the integrity of the Church’s disciplinary process.

The Title IV Hearing Panel with jurisdiction over this matter has now issued its proposed Order. My review of the order and the factual findings that undergird it, as well as my independent understanding of the deeply impaired relationships among the respective parties, have led me to have additional concerns about Bishop Bruno’s exercising any aspect of his episcopal authority over the St. James congregation, its “Vicar,” or St. James’ real and personal property, during the pendency of this matter in the Title IV process. In my opinion, any exercise of more general authority by Bishop Bruno over the St. James congregation while the Title IV matter is pending, including through a likely prolonged appeal process when any suspension or other disciplinary order would not be in effect, may threaten the good order and welfare of the Church.

Therefore, as set out more specifically below, I have determined to restrict Bishop Bruno’s entire authority over the St. James congregation until the Title IV proceeding is finally resolved, thereby removing him from all diocesan processes and decisions involving St. James. The purpose of this is to create space for the Bishop Coadjutor and the Standing Committee to, a) exercise their respective ministries of healing and reconciliation within the diocese, and, b) seek to resolve the conflict over and determine the disposition of all matters related to the property, congregation and Vicar, which is the proper domain of their respective authority and responsibility as leaders of the Diocese. With this restriction in place, I urge the diocesan leadership to press forward vigorously toward reconciliation for the sake of the ministry of the Gospel.

Accordingly, in order to further protect the integrity of the Church’s disciplinary process and the ministry of the Diocese regarding all persons with a genuine interest in the pending disciplinary matter, and thereby continue to protect the good order and welfare of the Church, I hereby, pursuant to Canons IV.7(3), (4), and IV.17(2), place the following additional partial restriction on the exercise of Bishop Bruno’s ministry until the pending Title IV matter has been finally resolved:

During the period of the restriction, Bishop Bruno, acting individually, or as Bishop Diocesan, or as Corporate Sole, or in any other capacity, is forbidden from exercising any episcopal authority or jurisdiction, secular, temporal, pastoral, or ecclesiastical, regarding in any manner any of the St. James real or personal property, the congregation that formerly worshipped in that property, as well as those who have since joined as members, and the Rev. Cynthia E. Voorhees, commonly referred to as the “Vicar” of the congregation.

This restriction is effective immediately. This document shall be served upon Bishop Bruno today [Aug. 1] and shall inform him of his right to have any objections to this restriction heard pursuant to Canon IV.7.

Adapted from the Office of Public Affairs


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