California Episcopal Bishop suspended for trying to sell church's property dies at 74

The Right Rev. J. Jon Bruno, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, California, seen in a video from 2015. | YouTube

Former Episcopal Church Bishop J. Jon Bruno, who garnered controversy and a suspension when he unsuccessfully tried to sell a church property still being used by a congregation, has died at age 74.

Bruno, who served as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles from 2002 to 2017, died on April 23 of natural causes at his home in La Quinta, California, according to his wife, Mary.

“Our family and the many others who knew and loved Jon have been blessed with his magnificent life,” said Mary Bruno, as reported by the L.A. Diocese.

“We are gladdened to know that he has been greeted by St. Peter and is in the loving hands of God. We ask that our family is included in your prayers and our privacy respected in this time of grief.”

LA Diocese Bishop John Harvey Taylor also gave his condolences in a statement published by the diocese, saying that Bruno was a positive influence over the lives of many.

“I know I speak for hundreds of lay and ordained folk all over our diocese when I say that the sudden loss of our friend, mentor, counselor, teacher, and advocate triggers a grief too deep for words,” Taylor said.

“Most of all, I remember Jon’s encouragement, his love, his smile, his twinkle, and his everlasting ‘yes.’ His legacy will continue to light us along the way. These early days and weeks, I know we’ll pray hardest for Mary and their family, who feel this loss most of all.”

President of the House of Deputies Bonnie Anderson, Neva Rae Fox, The Episcopal Church's Program Officer for Public Affairs, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, and Diocese of Los Angeles Jon Bruno respond to questions at the final media briefing of the 2009 General Convention, July 17, 2009. | (Photo: Episcopal News Service / Matthew Davies)

Raised in a Roman Catholic family, Bruno was born on Nov. 17, 1946, in Los Angeles and grew up in the area, eventually becoming an Episcopalian and being ordained in the Church in 1978.

He was elected the sixth bishop of the Diocese of Los Angeles in 2002, and was known for his support of immigration reform, LGBT activism, international ministries, and interfaith dialogue.

In 2003, when the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire garnered controversy for electing the denomination’s first openly gay bishop, Bruno released a statement stressing unity.

“I will proactively live into the Gospel — and it’s really simple when you think about the fact that the summary of the Law tells us to love the Lord our God with our whole heart, mind and soul, and our neighbor as ourselves,” Bruno said at the time.

“It doesn’t say anything about agreeing with my brothers and sisters about the presence of Jesus in their lives, or the way they interpret the scriptures, but I will uphold their right to be who they are, and I will continue to be the person God intends me to be.”

When St. James Anglican of Newport Beach tried to leave the Episcopal Church over theological disagreements, the diocese under Bruno successfully sued to keep the disputed property.

In May 2015, Bruno announced that he was selling the property to Legacy Partners Residential, which planned to build 22 townhouses on the land, even though a new Episcopal congregation had begun meeting there.

Known as St. James the Great, the congregation found themselves locked out of the property in July 2015, per Bruno's orders as he tried to finalize the property sale.

"We were blindsided," explained one St. James member to the Orange County Register in 2015. "I am stunned the leadership of the diocese is so eager for condos instead of this congregation."

The congregation protested and Bruno was brought before a hearing panel for the Disciplinary Board for Bishops, which recommended in 2017 that he be suspended for three years.

“During the period of his suspension Bishop Bruno shall refrain from the exercise of the gifts of the ministry conferred by ordination ... and not exercise any authority over the real or personal property or temporal affairs of the Church," concluded the board in a 4-1 decision.

“After thorough and detailed consideration of facts, positions, contentions, testimony and documents, 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.”

In December 2017, Bruno resigned as bishop and in April 2018, St. James the Great Episcopal Church of Newport Beach returned to worshiping at the property.  

In addition to his wife of 35 years, Bruno is survived by a daughter, a son, a step-son, and nine grandchildren; he is predeceased in death by his sister, Toni Rae Bruno Taix. 

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