[Episcopal News Service] Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, citing behavior that “may threaten the good order and welfare of the Church,” has taken disciplinary action against Los Angeles Bishop J. Jon Bruno while a disciplinary panel weighs whether to punish Bruno further over his role in a failed land sale.
“I am deeply concerned that his act of entering into a new contract for sale of the same property, while his approach to the earlier sale is still under review, has the potential to undermine the integrity of the Church’s disciplinary process,” Curry said in a statement released June 29. “The secrecy with which the recent sales contract was undertaken adds to the potential for undermining the integrity of the Church’s disciplinary process.”
Curry placed a “partial restriction on the ministry of a bishop,” meaning the Los Angeles bishop is forbidden from taking any action related to the property of the congregation in question, St. James the Great Episcopal Church in Newport Beach, California.
Curry also noted that the restriction doesn’t “express any opinion about the merits of the pending Title IV proceeding.”
The presiding bishop’s action against Bruno comes as the lead attorney in the pending disciplinary case filed a brief calling for the bishop to be deposed from his ministry and for a more thorough investigation into potential misconduct.
“His conduct demonstrates a contempt for the Title IV process, this Panel, and the Episcopal Church,” the church attorney, Jerry Coughlan, said in the brief, as posted online by the group Save St. James the Great. “It is hard now not to suspect some other serious misconduct.”
The original case against Bruno involves his unsuccessful 2015 attempt to sell the Newport Beach church to a condominium developer for $15 million in cash. That effort prompted the members of St. James to bring misconduct allegations against Bruno, alleging he violated Church law. Hearings on those allegations where held in March.
The Episcopal Church ecclesiastical disciplinary panel, still considering whether or how to discipline Bruno in that case, chose to sanction the bishop this month for again trying to sell the church. The panel told Bruno on June 17 he is prohibited from “selling or conveying or contracting to sell or convey the St. James property until further order of the Hearing Panel.”
Curry now has added his own prohibition on such actions by Bruno. The news release announcing Curry’s partial restriction notes it is “a temporary measure only, to protect the integrity of the Church’s disciplinary process, until it is concluded.”
“In recent days, I have learned of actions that, in my view, may threaten the good order and welfare of the Church,” Curry said, adding the restriction on Bruno is effective immediately.
St. James was one of four properties that the diocese spent close to $10 million in litigation to recover from disaffiliated Episcopalians who broke with the Episcopal Church over its policies on women’s ordination and the full inclusion of LGBTQ members in the life of the Church, including ordained ministry.
Diocese of Los Angeles Chancellor Richard Zevnik and Vice Chancellor Julie Dean Larsen have asked the panel to dismiss the entire case against Bruno. They have said that a “civil lawsuit, political actions and social media campaign” mounted by members of St. James the Great were “wrongfully, but successfully and strategically, designed to stop the sale of [the] 40,000-square foot church property” on what is known as Lido Island, a prosperous housing development sporting a yacht club.
The church’s clergy disciplinary canon, the chancellors argue, is “not intended to be used as a weapon to challenge a diocesan bishop’s decisions regarding the administration and stewardship of his or her diocese.”
But Coughlan argued that Bruno was guilty of “failing to exercise his ministry in accordance with applicable church canons,” “conduct involving dishonesty, deceit or misrepresentation” and “conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy.” He said in his closing brief that the panel must conclude that Bruno’s conduct was “calculated, pervasive and long-running.”
Bruno turns 72, the Episcopal Church’s mandatory retirement age, in late 2018. Incoming Bishop Coadjutor John Taylor, his successor, is scheduled to be ordained and consecrated on July 8.
– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Episcopal News Service’s Mary Frances Schjonberg contributed to this report.