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LOS ANGELES: Episcopal Church panel prohibits local bishop from selling Newport Beach church

LOS ANGELES: Episcopal Church panel prohibits local bishop from selling Newport Beach church
A hearing panel that is deliberating over misconduct charges for the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles has ordered Bishop Jon Bruno to stop the sale of the St. James the Great property

Deepa Bharath
Orange County Register
http://www.ocregister.com/
June 17, 2017

NEWPORT BEACH, CALIFORNIA -- A panel of officials from the national Episcopal Church issued an emergency order Saturday, June 17, prohibiting J. Jon Bruno, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, from selling a piece of prime real estate on Lido Isle, previously occupied by congregants of St. James the Great Episcopal Church.

The sanction came after members of the hearing panel, who presided over misconduct charges against Bruno in March, said they have not received a clear response from the diocese regarding whether the property at 3209 Via Lido has been sold or if the diocese has entered into a sales agreement for the property.

A spokesman for the diocese could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Trish Norman of Newport Beach, whose mother is buried in the rose garden, right, of St. James the Great Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Diocise of Los Angeles has shut down the church with plans to sell the property to a developer to build luxury townhomes. The Diocese has said the remains will be moved to a location in Los Angeles. However, a hearing panel that is deliberating over misconduct charges for the Bishop (of the Episcopal Diocese of LA) has ordered said Bishop to stop the sale of the NB St. James the Great property. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Orange County Register/SCNG)

The hearing panel has not yet made a determination regarding the St. James congregation's allegations that Bruno acted in a manner "that was unbecoming of a bishop" when he evicted congregants from the building back in June 2015 and entered into a contract with a developer to build condominiums on the church property.

That sale fell through, but the congregation has remained locked out for two years, and still meets every Sunday in a community room at the Newport Beach Civic Center.

In his statement, the president of the hearing panel, the Rt. Rev. Herman Hollerith IV, said someone made what appeared to be a valid claim that the diocese or Bruno may have entered into an agreement to sell the Newport Beach property.

The panel sent an email to the attorney for the diocese asking for an "exact status and related documentation of the alleged sales contract," according to their statement Saturday. But, officials said, the diocese's attorney who responded Friday to the panel, did not provide the answers or documentation they had requested.

An attorney for St. James argued that the diocese's attorney could have easily found out from diocesan officials if there is a sales agreement.

The panel had strong words for the diocese and bishop stating that if they have entered into such a contract before a decision from the panel, such conduct "is disruptive, dilatory and otherwise contrary to the integrity of this proceeding."

The diocese and bishop are "prohibited from selling or conveying or contracting to sell or convey the St. James property until further order" of the panel, the statement said.

Bill Kroener, the congregant who made the complaint, said he is pleased with the panel's swift action.

"It represents a positive step forward for the St. James congregants, and it's the first step for us to get the church back for Episcopal worship," he said.

An attorney for the congregation had filed a brief with the panel immediately after the misconduct hearing in March asking that the church building be reopened to the congregation.

"This order from the panel leaves that option open and gives us hope that we might be able to worship there again," Kroener said.

*****

CONGREGATION RESPONDS

Dear members of the L.A. Diocese, bishops, and friends:

We are grateful to the Hearing Panel for sanctioning Bishop Jon Bruno for apparently attempting to sell our beloved church as we await the outcome of the Title IV disciplinary hearing held this past March. In a stunning move, it seems Bishop Bruno recently entered into an escrow agreement with another local developer and has tried to sell our church again while under the disciplinary process by the Episcopal Church (TEC), showing little regard for the Title IV process. Thankfully the Hearing Panel has issued an Order [printed below] saying "that (Bishop Bruno's) conduct is disruptive, dilatory and otherwise contrary to the integrity of this proceeding" and that "Respondent (Bishop Bruno) is prohibited from selling or conveying or contracting to sell or convey the St. James property until further order of the Hearing Panel."

We have further reason to believe he has entered into escrow on the church's rectory, which is also extremely disconcerting and of grave concern to us.

As we patiently await an answer from the Hearing Panel, we appreciate the immense amount of support from all of you via emails, texts, and calls, and want to thank you for your continued prayers throughout this long process.

Yours In Christ,
The congregation of St. James the Great Episcopal Church
Newport Beach, California

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