The Episcopal Church’s first “lesbian” bishop was forced out of office by the Bishop of Los Angeles after she defied him by backing the congregation of St James the Great in Newport Beach in its dispute over the proposed sale of its parish properties.
On 29 March 2017, the attorney for the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, Bishop of Los Angeles, questioned the vicar of St James the Great, the Rev. Canon Cindy Evans Voorhees, about the events that led to Title IV ecclesiastical proceedings being lodged against the bishop.
The bishop’s attorney. Julie Dean Larsen, alleged Canon Voorhees had orchestrated a campaign to discredit the bishop and had conspired with other members of the diocese to halt the sale of the St James the Great in Newport Beach to developers.
The claims came on the morning of the second day of hearings investigating Bishop Bruno for misconduct. On 28 March 2017 Canon Voorhees testified for almost three hours about the events surrounding the bishop’s May 2015 announcement to the congregation that he was selling the property.
On Wednesday morning the bishop’s attorney cross-examined Canon Voorhees about the veracity of her account. She also suggested Canon Voorhees had been engaged in a conspiracy with numerous actors across the church and within the diocese to forestall the sale of the property. Ms. Larsen asked Canon Voorhees to recount what she had said to the Rt. Rev. Mary Glasspool, suffragan bishop of Los Angeles, before a meeting of the diocesan corporation on 16 June 2015 about the sale of the Newport Beach property.
Canon Voorhees said “I didn’t tell her anything. She was in the women’s room and she grabbed me and wanted a hug”.
Asked what the bishop had said, Canon Voorhees said that Bishop Glasspool said “she was very sorry for what was happening.”
Asked to clarify these remarks, Canon Voorhees said she would “rather not say what she said in the women’s room,” prompting laughter from the audience, but also a request from the bishop’s attorney to direct Canon Voorhees to answer the question.
The president of the Hearing Panel, the Rt. Rev. Herman Hollerith IV of Southern Virginia, asked Canon Voorhees to explain why she could not answer. She responded that she knew “Mary was in a lot of trouble” and did not know if their conversation was privileged or private. She added that she did not believe the conversation was relevant as it was “not me talking to her”, but Bishop Glasspool speaking to her “under the stole.”
Bishop Hollerith called a ten minute recess to consider the issue. Upon resumption of the hearing he asked the attorney for the bishop to explain what relevance to the proceedings lay in the conversation between Bishop Glasspool and Canon Voorhees.
Ms. Larsen told the panel: “There was a plan to stop the sale of Newport Beach through this Title IV proceeding, through social media, through litigation, and in fact there might have been a discussion about this at the time.”
The bishop’s attorney further stated these questions were not answered during depositions as Canon Voorhees had claimed “penitential privilege”.
Bishop Hollerith held the conversation did not fall under the priest/penitent exclusionary rule, and directed Canon Voorhees to answer.
The clerk again read the question to Canon Voorhees, who answered: “She said she had gotten into a lot of trouble over this. That she had gone to the Standing Committee to try to talk to them about the sale of Newport Beach, and that it had upset the bishop so much they had to have mediation.”
Canon Voorhees added: “I had no idea that had happened, and that I felt terrible for her that she had to go through that. And she said to me that she went to mediation and came to some agreement … I don’t know what that was.”
“And then she said, the bishop scared the shit out of her,” testified Canon Voorhees, adding that “she needed to get out of here and was just trying to make it through General Convention.”
The bishop’s attorney asked if anything else had been discussed, or if Canon Voorhees had spoken to Bishop Glasspool on subsequent occasions about the TItle IV proceedings against Bishop Bruno. Eliciting a response from Canon Voorhees that no further conversations on this topic were held.
Later in the morning session, the attorney for the bishop returned to the bishop’s theory of a well organized conspiracy. She pressed Canon Voorhees to explain how a copy of her letter to the parish announcing the bishop was shutting down the church had come to be published on Anglican Ink. Canon Voorhees said she did not know.
On 14 Nov 2015 the Dioceses of Los Angeles and New York announced that Bishop Glasspool had accepted the position of assistant Bishop of New York. In a statement released on the diocesan webpage, Bishop Bruno lauded Bishop Glasspool’s service to the church in Los Angeles. He wrote:
“Please join me in congratulating Bishop Glasspool on this new chapter in her ministry, and in giving thanks for her remarkable ministry with us here in Southern California. We will have an opportunity at Diocesan Convention to express our thanks and best wishes to Bishop Glasspool as she returns to the region in which she was born and formed in the Episcopal Church.
“Although we together feel a sense of loss and sadness at Bishop Glasspool’s departure, we can also share with her our ongoing support and appreciation for her many gifts and skills that she has shared with us so generously. Please keep Bishop Glasspool and her spouse, Dr. Rebecca Sander, and our diocesan community in your prayers as we move forward.”