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LA Bishop Jon Bruno stripped of authority over Newport Beach church sale row

04 August 2017


Attempted sale: St James the Great, Newport Beach

Attempted sale: St James the Great, Newport Beach

A BISHOP who locked a congregation out of their church for two years after he failed to sell it has been stripped of all authority over them or the building.

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the US, the Most Revd Michael Curry, issued the restriction on Tuesday. It states that the Bishop of Los Angeles, the Rt Revd J. Jon Bruno, is forbidden from exercising any episcopal authority over St James the Great, Newport Beach.

It follows the publication of the draft order of the ecclesiastical disciplinary hearing panel considering Bishop Bruno’s actions (News, 28 July), which calls for him to be suspended from ordained ministry because of misconduct. It finds that he tried to sell St James without the consent of the Standing Committee, that he “mispresented” matters in the process, and that he is guilty of conduct “unbecoming of a member of the clergy”.

The final order, published on Wednesday, says that Bishop Bruno and aides planned the sale of St James “secretly”, having considered it a possibility since 2008. There was “no credible evidence” that he told anyone at St James of his intentions, until April 2015. In the meantime, the priest-in-charge, Canon Cindy Voorhees, had made “several changes to her life” to serve the congregation there, including moving house, while the congregation was contributing time and money. “The conclusion is inescapable that Bishop Bruno was considering a sale, and he did not want Canon Voorhees to know.”

The order says that the Bishop’s justifications for the sale were misrepresentations, including a “gross exaggeration” of the cost of securing the church during a litigation process. The claim that St James was costing the diocese too much money and was unsustainable was “substantially refuted by credible evidence”. Furthermore, the Bishop’s claim that Canon Voorhees had resigned was inaccurate: she had been “terminated”.

In finding the Bishop guilty of misconduct, the order also cites his locking of St James for two years: “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.” His conduct had created “immense public outcry . . . disorder and prejudiced the reputation of the Episcopal Church”.

The Bishop’s actions during the disciplinary process are also criticised, including keeping his most recent effort to sell the property secret from the panel (News, 23 June). His actions were “contemptuous . . . disruptive. . . 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.”

The order reads: “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. 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.”

It recommends that the Diocese of Lost Angeles immediately suspend its efforts to sell the property, restore the congregation and Canon Voorhees to the building, and reassign its mission status.

It also says that the 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. Otherwise, justice, healing, restitution and reconciliation . . . will not be possible in the long run in the Diocese of Los Angeles, no matter what might be imposed from the outside by force of canon.” 

Responding to the order, a statement from St James the Great said:  “We believe the reconciliation process begins now, and we look forward to a time — in the near future, we hope and believe  when we are back in our holy church and the Diocese of Los Angeles is once again a strong, united and joyful community in Christ, dedicated to spreading God’s word and doing His work on earth.”

The President of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops, the Rt Revd Catherine Waynick, must now sentence Bishop Bruno, who can appeal. A three-year suspension would take him beyond his mandatory retirement date in November 2018. Bishop Curry’s restriction transferred oversight of St James to the Bishop Coadjutor of the diocese of Los Angeles, the Rt Revd John Taylor. 

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