Episcopal Church Panel Recommends 3-Year Suspension for Calif. Bishop Who Tried to Sell Church

The Right Reverend J. Jon Bruno, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, is seen in a video from 2015. | (Photo: YouTube/Screengrab)

A disciplinary panel of The Episcopal Church has recommended that a California bishop be suspended for three years for trying to sell a congregation's property to a townhouse developer without its permission.

A hearing panel for the Disciplinary Board for Bishops ruled 4-1 last Friday that the Reverend J. Jon Bruno should be suspended for three years and that the property of St. James the Great Church of Newport Beach remain in the control of the congregation.

"It is the decision and sentence of the Hearing Panel that ... Bruno is 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," read a draft of the majority opinion.

Saint James Church of Newport Beach, California. | (Photo courtesy Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles)

"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."

The ruling went on to recommend that all efforts by the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles to sell St. James' property must be halted and that the congregation retain control of the church.

"St. James the Great is a casualty of Bishop Bruno's misconduct acting as Diocesan and Corp Sole," continued the draft copy of the ruling.

"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."

A native of Los Angeles, Bruno was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1978 and became the sixth bishop of the Los Angeles Diocese in 2002.

In May 2015, Bruno announced that he was selling the property of St. James the Great for $15 million to Legacy Partners Residential, which planned to build 22 townhouses on the real estate.

One reason for the sale was to cover the legal costs associated with keeping control of the property after the original congregation decided to leave The Episcopal Church over theological differences.

Later that year, parishioners of a new congregation that began to use the church building were locked out of the property by the diocese. A campaign was launched to save the sanctuary from being sold and demolished.

In March of this year, Bruno underwent a three-day hearing over his actions in Pasadena, California, and in June he was sanctioned by the Hearing Panel for trying to sell the property.

Panel member the Rt. Rev. Michael G. Smith argued in his lone dissent that Bruno had long planned to sell off the church building to cover the legal costs and that the new congregation was aware of this.

"It is not unreasonable, however, for St. James the Great or its Vicar to have believed that Bishop Bruno had changed his mind about that decision when he allowed them to use the property of the old congregation," wrote Rev. Smith.

"While one may question his reasoning or the quality of pastoral care provided, the Bishop appears to be within the scope of his rights and responsibilities according to the canons and traditions of the Diocese of Los Angeles."

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