Witness tampering and intimidation charges brought against Bishop Bruno

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The Bishop of Los Angeles has retaliated against clergy and lay members of St James the Great Episcopal Church in Newport Beach, Cal., for having brought misconduct charges against him under the Episcopal Church’s Title IV disciplinary canons, alleges the Save St James the Great coalition. 

According to a supplement filed last week to the complaint, (printed below) attorneys for the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno have harrassed witnesses and members of the parish who had brought charges against him. Bishop Bruno is accused of trying to depose the husband of parish vicar the Rev. Canon Cindy Evans Voorhees and seeking legal sanctions for his alleged non-cooperation with his attorney’s demands, and have threatened to bring civil legal charges against those who signed the complaint, accusing them of “malicious prosecution.”

The threats came after Bishop Bruno was told by the Presiding Bishop’s Office not to make contact with the complainants during the initial investigation of the charges. The new charges allege the bishop misled his standing committee and manipulated the diocese to enrich his office. Last month members of the Save the St James the Great Coalition filed charges of fraud, corruption, bullying, lying and abuse under Canons IV.4.1(h)(6) and IV.4.1)h)(8). The Rt. Rev. Clayton Matthews found that a prima facie case of misconduct had been made by the complainants and forwarded their charges to a panel for investigation. If the new charges are proven, Bishop Bruno may have violated the canons forbidding witness tampering. Canon IV.19.11 states: “No person subject to the authority of the Church may attempt to coerce or improperly influence, directly or indirectly, the actions of any body performing functions under this Title, or any member of such body or any other person involved in such proceedings.”

The case continues.

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Letter of 31 July 2015 to the Bishop for Pastoral Development, the Rt. Rev. Clayton Matthews

This is a further supplement to the Presentment with respect to Bishop Bruno of the Los Angeles Diocese and is submitted in order to identify additional canonical violations by the Bishop that have occurred or become known to the signatories since the last submission on July 16, 2015. The additional violations are set out in detail in Attachment A (relating to fraud, deceit or misrepresentations under Canon IV.4.Sec 1(h)(6)) and Attachment B (relating to conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy under Canon IV.4.Sec. 1(h)(8)). Attachment B includes a description of violations by Bishop Bruno of your specific request to him, in your letter of July 15, 2015, not to make contact with the complainants during your initial investigation. In fact during your investigation Bishop Bruno through his attorney continued his aggressive efforts to take the deposition of the spouse of the St James vicar and threatened sanctions for delay of that deposition and, more astonishingly, on July 21, 2015, in a lengthy letter threatened the entire Save Saint James the Great organization, whose members include most of the signatories, with a new legal action for “malicious prosecution” for continuing its legal case against the Bishop on the basis of a deed restriction that is clear in the public records in Orange County, California. In view of these developments and the efforts by the Bishop and the Diocese to destroy the congregation and divert its assets, the situation has badly deteriorated and the complainants now believe it is very unlikely that any effort at conciliation will prove fruitful in this matter.

Most significantly, Attachment B sets out our view that, even with the support of the current 2015 Standing Committee (we agree with the Bishop that that current 2015 Standing Committee has no jurisdiction over Corp Sole and that it is therefore just “support” and not approval required under Canon II.6.3 ), it still is conduct unbecoming of the Bishop or any member of the clergy to sell a long time consecrated church property with a viable congregation, such as St James, even if it only has mission status, in order to fund speculative real estate transactions in Corp Sole simply for the benefit of even larger economic profits. And we now know that is what is going on because it is right there in the draft Standing Committee minutes of June 8, 2015 meeting that the Bishop expects to use the proceeds of the sale of the St James building not just to recover the costs of litigation for the four church properties (last overestimated at some $10 mil by the Bishop and the Diocese) as he indicated in the Episcopal News of July 11, 2015, but in fact in order to obtain funds apparently necessary to achieve a bonanza of up to some $40 mil in economic profits in Corp Sole through its own additional real estate transactions. It is all well and good that the Bishop, as the Standing Committee notes in its July 8 statement, has regularly brought and sold properties in Corp Sole and been able to do so at a profit for the benefit of the Diocese. We submit, however, that the real estate transactional activities of Corp Sole cross the line into unbecoming behavior by the Bishop when they extend to encompass obtaining funding by selling a long established consecrated church building and uprooting and seeking to systematically destroy a viable and thriving congregation there. In any event, even assuming that the Bishop could otherwise effect such a sale for large economic gains as a primary motivator at the cost of a viable and growing congregation, any such effort to sell the St James building is contrary to the limitation imposed by the Standing Committee in 2009, the only Standing Committee that has had jurisdiction and considered a transfer to Corp Sole, and imposed the limit that the St James property not be sold by Corp Sole if there were a viable Episcopal congregation there. Because such a sale is directly contrary to the terms of the 2009 Standing Committee action, it would violate Canon II.6.3. and derivatively Canon 4.4.1(c) (“not abiding by the promises and vows made when ordained”). In addition, the need to complete the sale of the St James building to provide for the ability to complete the Anaheim transactions was also used by the Bishop and the Diocese in their objection to the motion for a temporary restraining order by Save Saint James in the civil action. All of this directly contradicts Bishop Bruno’s original stated reasons for closing the congregation and selling the property stated to the congregation at the May 17 meeting and in the Bishop’s letter to Mayor pro tem Diane Dixon of Newport Beach, as well as in several Diocesan and Southern California media publications. The sale clearly has nothing to do with recovering costs from the lawsuits or the parking challenges or the financial sustainability of the congregation which the Bishop has misrepresented continuously, as did at least one Suffragan Bishop in a Deanery meeting. The motivation to sell has been constant and persistent—the reasons for selling and the approvals to sell have been very fluid and shifting as information and evidence to refute the originally stated reasons have surfaced and the bonanza real estate transactions have been revealed.

It may already be impossible to really determine what happened at the June 8, 2015 meeting of the Standing Committee—the Bishop has indicated in the Episcopal News on July 11, 2015 that he received “support” although the committee was without jurisdiction over Corp Sole, instead the president of the Standing Committee told Bishop Matthews on July 8, 2015 that the Committee approved the sale of St James the Great although apparently agreeing with the Bishop it was unnecessary to do so because the Standing Committee had no jurisdiction, while the Secretary of the Standing Committee told Bishop Matthews on the same date that she cannot really remember what happened at the June 8 meeting but knows that there was no criticism whatsoever of the Bishop. Apparently the Standing Committee as part of its deliberations considered the title records because it expressed its views on the matter in its later statement of July 8 (point number 1); for reasons best known to the Committee, that statement omitted to mention that a portion of the St James church property remained subject to a use restriction to church purposes on the Orange County records although that fact was well known to the Bishop, the Diocese, the St James congregation and the public many weeks earlier. It is stunning that the Standing Committee would even inquire into title matters with respect to the St James church building while completely ignoring and affirmative rebuffing all efforts to provide information about the congregation and the limitations imposed by the 2009 Standing Committee. The draft minutes are themselves not really useful in sorting out these various versions but of course may be finalized in some yet further variation. While what really happened may already be lost in the fog, it is clear that a completely committed and executed sale agreement was already in place well before this meeting and there is an ex post effort by all involved to somehow justify the sacrifice of church values and the St James congregation for pure economic gains of Corp Sole. There was no effort by the Standing Committee to determine the size or nature or rapid growth of the St James the Great congregation beyond review of a badly outdated official report that was over a year old — none of the members sought information from the vicar or congretgation directly. Not even the presentation to the Diocesan Corporation in September, 2014, by the vicar, some nine months earlier, on which commentary from the entire Directors of the Diocesan Corporation including Canon Tumilty and Bishop Bruno had been so favorable as to the growth and development of St James congregation, was apparently considered. Nor, we believe, did Bishop Bruno describe to the Standing Committee the multiple reports to him from the Suffragan Bishop with responsibility for congregations in the southern portion of the Diocese, as she reported many times to the vicar, that the congregation was much larger and growing more rapidly than the Bishop believed. And of course the Standing Committee itself flatly refused to hear from the St James the Great congregation and the Bishop was conveniently unable to meet with the Evaluation/Transition Team appointed by the vicar until the day after the Standing Committee meeting; in any event, contrary to the implication of Bishop Bruno’s statement to Bishop Matthews, no part of that meeting with the Evaluation/Transition was about the economic viability of the St James congregation and its existing building and instead the sale and loss of the building was a forgone conclusion asserted by Bishop Bruno and not open for discussion. And we are quite certain that the Bishop never told the Standing Committee that the transfer of St James to Corp Sole in 2009 had been conditioned on the St James building not being sold if there were a viable congregation; that never even made it into the 2009 minutes. In sum, there was a systemic effort in the preparations for and at the June 8 Standing Committee by all involved to ignore, disregard, and avoid any information that would get in the way of the goal a sale of the St James building for the benefit of great economic gains for Corp Sole. And the Bishop even told Bishop Matthews on July 20, 2015, that the parochial reports for the congregation after two years showed “little to no growth.” This conveniently ignores the facts on the ground readily available to all who care to inquire. And of course these reports cover a period well short of two years. All these circumstances would compel, in any other Diocese, a fundamental reexamination of whether it is appropriate to sell the St James building for the development of upscale townhomes. We believe it should do so in the Los Angeles Diocese as well.

Bishop Bruno, notwithstanding his written commitment to the St James Evaluation/Transition Team on June 17, 2015 to allow the congregation to continue if it wished, is now causing and allowing every Diocesan resource at his command to be deployed against the congregation of St James the Great in an effort to silence, destroy and disperse the St James congregation so it will become non-viable. This will allow him to continue in his effort to sell the St James building in order to fund speculative real estate investment activities in Corp Sole and avoid a violation of Canon II.6.3 and thus Canon IV.4.1(c) because of the limitation imposed by the 2009 Standing Committee. As previously reported the Bishop has locked out the congregation from a usable church building and claimed wrongly that the vicar has resigned. The most recent attacks on the congregation by the Bishop and the Diocese, including the threat by the Bishop through his attorney to sue the Save Saint James the Great organization, whose members include substantially all members of the St James the Great congregation, for malicious prosecution for seeking to benefit from the deed restriction, the incorrect and flatly wrong assertions that the vicar’s spouse is a lawyer and is responsible for all the problems delaying the sale of the St James the Great property, the fraudulent access into computers and resulting seizure of the congregation’s funds and termination of the payroll of the Vicar, and the civil law fraud of distribution of individualized communications to members of the congregation regarding prior pledges purportedly from the bookkeeper for the St James congregation but sent by the Diocese without the knowledge or consent of the bookkeeper so as to redirect the funds away from use by the congregation, are all detailed in Attachment B.

We would add that the behavior of bullying, intimidation and stonewalling is not new or surprising behavior for the Bishop and the Diocesan staff. Many of the signatories or the Vicar of St James the Great have been contacted voluntarily by other clergy, communicants and congregations in the Los Angeles Diocese who have been victimized in the past in similar ways. Some of these are available on Facebook ( https://www.facebook.com/pages/St-James-the-Great-Newport-Beach-Episcopal/628622020493466 ) and we are prepared to share others with you, or have them shared with you, with the consent of or by those who have contacted us. We also know that you have been the recipient of a number of direct communications of concern from communicants in the Diocese and others in the Newport Beach community and elsewhere. We have discontinued seeking additional signatories but continue to receive some on an unsolicited basis.

It appears from your communication that the appointment of a temporary Bishop for the St. James the Great congregation is not provided for in the circumstances. We strongly suggest in that case that a leave of absence be considered for the duration of this matter for Bishop Bruno. That is something within your power to recommend, and the Presiding Bishop to effect, in the circumstances. Maybe some other temporary relief is available or could be suggested by the Adviser you indicated would be appointed to assist the signatories in this matter. /In all events we would find it very surprising and very unhappy for the greater Episcopal Church that any Bishop, acting under color of authority, can lock a growing, viable worshipful congregation out of a consecrated church property, sue the donor of that church property for “title slander” including damages, threaten the congregation with civil legal action for malicious prosecution for a deed restriction that is a matter of clear public record, and, despite a written promise to the contrary, generally seek to destroy the congregation by callously throwing the congregation out on the street to worship in the summer heat while he is on a month’s vacation, permitting the Diocesan staff to allow personal possessions of the congregation to be locked within the premises, terminating leases of service providers without required notice, fraudulently accessing the congregation’s computer system and records, and sending out pledge notices falsely claiming to be from the bookkeeper for the church while actually diverting the pledges to the Diocese, manipulating contract labor to access payroll service, all apparently with the full acquiescence of the Standing Committee of the Diocese and in the full glare of increasingly adverse and extensive publicity, all for the sake of economic gains (and presumably some future glory) of Corp Sole, without some form of emergency relief being available from the Episcopal Church.

Respectfully Submitted by the over 80 signatories

cc: The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop (pbonnasst@episcopalchurch.org) The Right Reverend Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop-Elect (michael.curry@episdionc.org) The Right Reverend Catherine M. Waynick (bishop@indydio.org) David B. Beers (dbeers@goodwinproctor.com) Mary Kostel (mkostel@goodwinproctor.com) LA clergy