Panel: L.A. Bishop Guilty of Misconduct

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St. James the Great Episcopal Church on the Balboa Peninsula
— NB Indy file photo by Christopher Trela ©

The Los Angeles Bishop who attempted to sell a Newport Beach church property and locked the parish out two years ago was found guilty of misconduct last week.

In 2015, L.A. Diocesan Bishop J. Jon Bruno attempted to sell St James the Great Episcopal Church, located at Via Lido and 32nd Street on the Balboa Peninsula, to Legacy Partners for $15 million. The deal eventually fell through.

Bruno evicted the church members and locked them out of the Lido parish.

Regarding his conduct in the attempt to sale the church property, charges were brought against Bruno. An ecclesiastical trial was held in March in Pasadena. The hearing was investigating allegations against Bruno concerning conduct involving dishonest, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation, conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy, and failure to exercise his ministry in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of the Church.

Earlier this year, despite a sanction imposed upon him by the panel restricting him from acting in any capacity on behalf of St. James (a measure Bruno appealed and lost), Bruno secretly entered a contract of sale with Newport Beach-based developer Burnham Ward Properties, LLC. Church officials discovered the planned sale and prohibited it from closing.

In an order released Aug. 2 by the Episcopal Church hearing panel, they recommended three years suspension for Bruno from all ministry and removing all authority over the church property. The decision also immediately suspends any efforts to sell St. James, restores congregation and vicar to the church building, and reassigns St. James appropriate mission status.

“We are deeply honored by the commitment and consideration of all involved and continue to pray for the reopening of our doors and return to our beloved sanctuary,” church officials wrote on social media on Aug. 3.

Another notable comment in the report, is that the hearing panel declined to depose Bruno.

The panel concluded that he attempted to sell the property without the previous consent of the standing committee, and along the way he misrepresented certain matters, and that certain features of his conduct are unbecoming of a member of the clergy, the order explains.

Earlier in the week, Presiding Bishop and Primate Michael B. Curry issued “further partial restriction” on Bruno.

The Aug. 1 action removed Bruno’s jurisdiction “over all matters related to the St. James real and personal property, the congregation, and the vicar.”

“It is my hope that this action will help to facilitate positive steps toward resolution and reconciliation,” Curry said.

Acknowledging Bruno does not have pastoral oversight of St James, the action transfers it to the Bishop Coadjutor, with the Standing Committee functioning in its standard canonical capacity.

The community group, Save St. James the Great, thanked Curry and his “prayerful deliberation and profound wisdom.”

“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,’” officials wrote.

They “recognize the need for healing through honest reflection, humility and dialogue by all parties,” the statement reads.

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