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It's official! Bishop Bruno's wings have been clipped

It's official! Bishop Bruno's wings have been clipped
As a matter of justice the Diocese of Los Angeles urged by Hearing Panel not to sell St. James

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
August 3, 2017

On August 2, the Title IV Hearing Panel looking into the "unfortunate case" of beleaguered Los Angeles Bishop J. Jon Bruno issued its final recommendation in the matter of "Conduct Unbecoming a Member of the Clergy."

The crux of the 91-page document was highlighted in bold lettering.

"After hearing this entire unfortunate case and after prayerful deliberation the Hearing Panel reaches a definite and clear conclusion," the crucial paragraph on Page 90 began. "The Hearing Panel strongly recommends to the Diocese of Los Angeles that as a matter of justice it immediately suspend its efforts to sell the St. James property, that it restore the congregation and vicar to the church building and that it reassign St. James the Great appropriate mission status."

There is it in black and white. The Diocese of Los Angeles is to stop all attempts to sell St. James the Great and restore its displaced congregation to its long-empty church. Canon Cindy Voorhees is also to be restored as vicar and the congregation is to be given official mission status by the diocese.

Bishop Bruno announced in May 2015 that he had plans to sell the church because he wanted the money from the sale of the valuable Newport Beach property to replenish his depleted diocesan coffers. Then in June he tossed the viable and growing Episcopal congregation and its vicar out of the church and locked the doors behind them.

The Hearing Panel determined that Bishop Bruno's "secret efforts" to sell St. James have been the "heart of this case from the beginning."

It is the displaced congregation which first brought legal action against their bishop in June 2015 to keep him from completing the sale of their property to Legacy Partners and turning it into upscale townhomes and then church brought Title IV charges against its him in July.

"The details, and particularly the connection with the Anaheim property, were revealed only through discovery," the Hearing Panel explained."Bishop Bruno kept his most recent effort to sell the property secret from the Hearing Panel."

The Hearing Panel saw through Bishop Bruno's deceptions.

"The Hearing Panel gave Bishop Bruno an opportunity to explain. He objected. He obfuscated. He did not respond on the merits," the Panel explained. "The Hearing Panel thus imposed sanctions, but also gave him another chance."

The Panel also explained that the Los Angeles bishop tried to continue to bamboozle them. The Trial of a Bishop was held in late March where for three grueling days both Bishop Bruno and Canon Voorhees laid out their cases before the five-member Hearing Panel for the entire church to see.

Bruno then sought to put the Hearing Panel on terms: 'agree to confidentiality or you do not get the information you want', he threatened the Hearing Panel.

The Hearing Panel was not pleased. It had strong words for Bishop Bruno and his underhanded, sleight-of-hand tactics. The members of the Panel called Bishop Bruno's actions "disruptive" ... "dilatory" ... prejudicial to good order and discipline ... discrediting the church and the bishopric ... In short, they are "conduct unbecoming of a member of the clergy, in clear violation of Title IV canons.

"Bishop Bruno's actions are contemptuous of the Hearing Panel, Title IV and the Canons of the Church. They are disruptive. They are dilatory. They infringe on the integrity of these proceedings. They prejudice the good order and discipline of the Church. They bring material discredit upon the Church and the Holy Orders conferred by the Church," the Panel decreed. "They are material and substantial and of clear and weighty importance to the ministry of the Church. They are Conduct Unbecoming a Member of the Clergy. Canons IV.2; IV.3; IV.13.9."

The Panel found Bishop Bruno guilty as charged.

"The Hearing Panel finds that all the offenses committed by Bishop Bruno are 'material and substantial or of clear and weighty importance to the Ministry of the Church'." (Canon IV.3.3).

The Hearing Panel has broad authority. "Under the Canons the Hearing Panel's task is not simply to determine whether Bishop Bruno has violated the Canons. The Panel is charged with fashioning an appropriate remedy."

The "remedy" the Hearing Panel decided upon is to suspend -- but not depose -- Bishop Bruno for three years. It will be at least another two months (60 days) before Bishop Bruno could be officially suspended. The Episcopal News Service explains that 40 days after the August 1 order was issued, the president of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops, retired Bishop Catherine Waynick (X Indianapolis), then has another 20 days in which to sentence Bishop Bruno as provided for in the order. However, Bishop Bruno can appeal his sentence and, if he does, the sentence would not be imposed during the appellate process.

"During the period of his suspension Bishop Bruno shall refrain from the exercise of the gifts of the ministry conferred by ordination (Canon IV.2, definition of "Sentence") and not exercise any authority over the real or personal property or temporal affairs of the Church." (Canon IV.19.7)

In part the gifts of ministry conferred by ordination of a priest and consecration of a bishop include: baptizing, celebrating the Eucharist, proclaiming the Gospel and preaching, teaching the faith, pronouncing absolution, confirming, and ordaining new deacons and priests and participating in the consecration of bishops.

The Hearing Panel explains: "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 ... have unjustly and unnecessarily disturbed the ministry of a mission of the Church," explaining that St. James the Great is a casualty of Bishop Bruno's misconduct acting as diocesan bishop and Corp Sole.

The Hearing Panel wonders "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."

The Hearing Panel is hoping that the Diocese of Los Angeles' Standing Committee coupled with the "supportive leadership" of its newly-ordained Bishop-coadjutor John Taylor take an active part in the "self-examination and truth-telling" which would lead to "justice, healing, restitution and reconciliation" which are the "hallmarks" of Title IV canons.

Title IV seeks to provide ways to promote healing, repentance, forgiveness, restitution, justice, amendment of life and reconciliation between an effected congregation, its bishop and the wider community through a combination of placing restrictions on the bishop's exercise of ministry and limit the bishop's involvement, attendance or participation with the church and/or wider community.

"Otherwise, justice, healing, restitution and reconciliation, the hallmarks of Canon IV.1, will not be possible in the long run in the Diocese of Los Angeles, no matter what might be imposed from the outside by force of canon," the Hearing Panel concluded.

Bishop Bruno not only received sanctions from the Hearing Panel, Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry also weighed in with his own set of restrictions.

On June 28 Bishop Curry issued a partial restriction of ministry against Bishop Bruno forbidding him from selling St. James the Great property in Newport Beach, California. Then on August 1, Bishop Curry upped the ante and issued a further restriction to Bishop Bruno's ministry by striping him of any and all episcopal authority -- secular, temporal, pastoral, or ecclesiastical -- in any matter concerning St. James Church whether it be its real estate, its congregation or its vicar.

The Hearing Panel also noted emphatically that its August 2 order does not supersede the Partial Restrictions on the Ministry of Bishop Bruno placed by the Presiding Bishop on June 28 and Aug. 1.

Bishop Bruno was elected Los Angeles' bishop coadjutor in 1999 and consecrated bishop in 2000. He followed Bishop Frederick Brosch (V Los Angeles) as the VI Bishop of Los Angeles in 2002. He is slated to formally retired in 2018 when he turns 72 and Bishop Taylor is step in as the VII Bishop of Los Angeles. So, when Bishop Bruno emerges from serving his three-year
suspension he will no longer be the sitting bishop in Los Angeles. Bishop Taylor, who was consecrated on July 8, would have advanced as the bishop ordinary.

Following the release of the Hearing Panel's findings, Bishop-coadjutor Taylor issued a statement defending Bishop Bruno's legacy. "Bishop Bruno's 40 years of ordained ministry and 15 years as sixth bishop of Los Angeles are not summed up by this order or the events that precipitated it."

Bishop Herman Hollerith, IV (X Southern Virginia); Bishop Nicholas Knisely (XIII Rhode Island); Fr. Erik Larsen (Rhode Island) and Ms. Deborah Stokes (Southern Ohio) signed the Hearing Panel's order. The remaining member of the Hearing panel, Bishop Michael Smith (XI North Dakota), did not sign the Hearing Panel's order wrote a dissenting opinion last month saying that after due consideration of the facts and realizing that "both parties have ignored scriptural wisdom" he recommended "that the matter against Bishop Jon J. Bruno be dismissed."

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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