Bishop J. Jon Bruno of the Los Angeles Diocese for the Episcopal Church, who sold the St. James the Great Episcopal Church in Newport Beach to a developer and locked out the congregation, is now under review by a panel of three bishops referred by the Rt. Reverend F. Clayton Matthews, Bishop of Pastoral Development, for alleged canonical violations, according to a letter sent on July 23 to William F. Kroener III, member of St. James the Great. This was in response to Kroener’s letter notifying Bishop Matthews of the violations.
“I have been conducting interviews and reviewing correspondence with persons relevant to the matters you have raised,” wrote Bishop Matthews in his letter to Kroener. “I have determined that if the allegations presented are true, canonical violations may have occurred.”
The charges were brought by the members of St. James the Great and other clergy and lay member of the Los Angeles Diocese after the surprising news of the sale of their church by Bishop Bruno to developer Legacy Partners Residential, Inc. for approximately $15 million. The developer plans to build luxury condos on the site.
Bishop Bruno also locked out the St. James congregation, which currently conducts Sunday services outside in a park across the street from the church while waiting for everything to be resolved.
According to the letter, the alleged violations listed are conduct “involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation;” as well as behavior “unbecoming a member of the clergy” and “not abiding by the promises and vows made when ordained.”
It was no coincidence when Rev. Canon Cindy Evans Voorhees, vicar of St. James the Great, gave an invocation at the city council last Tuesday that pointed out “leadership has its strength and humility in reason,” and “let us govern with pure hearts and minds. Leadership seeks truth and justice for everyone; let us respect the dignity of every human being.”
The panel of bishops has broad powers to review the charges and take action. It consists of Bishop Matthews, the presiding bishop Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, and the head of the church’s disciplinary board, Rt. Rev. Catharine Waynick.
If the allegations are found to be true, the panel has a range of options available, from mediation to sanctions against Bishop Bruno that would cause his removal.
“I hope this can quickly bring some sanity to the current situation where the [L.A.] Diocese has locked out the congregation from the building, has claimed that I have resigned and is otherwise completely unresponsive,” said Rev. Voorhees in a news release sent out Wednesday.
A letter sent to Bishop Bruno by Bishop Matthews on July 15, stated even if the allegations are true, the panel could determine the allegations do not constitute an offense where “the matter could be dismissed and the complainants will have 30 days for an appeal to the president of the Disciplinary Board who will decide to affirm or overturn the dismissal.”
The last bishop to be removed from the Episcopal Church was Bishop Charles Bennison of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania in 2008 for a variety of misconducts that included financial mismanagement and failure to respond properly to charges of a priest’s sexual misconduct.
Meanwhile the St. James property is still in escrow pending a “slander of title” lawsuit filed by Bishop Bruno stating the Griffith Company, who donated the land to St. James.
The Griffith Company released reversionary interest in the property in 1984 after allowing three of the four original St. James parcels to become parking lots.
The Griffith Company made provisions in the original deed that placed certain conditions on the property, which has currently suspended the sales transaction of St. James the Great Episcopal Church.