Report from St James the Great — Oct 26 hearing date for motion to compel Bishop Bruno to reopen parish
Dear members of the L.A. Diocese, bishops and friends,
The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles faces two major decisions at its December convention: the choice of a new bishop coadjutor and whether to reform Corp Sole. Let’s talk about the latter.
Bishop Bruno’s office has made it clear in recent weeks that the bishop wants to fend off any risk to his complete, unaccountable, and opaque control over Corp Sole.
As regular readers of these letters will recall, “Corp Sole” is the California corporation through which Bishop Bruno has sole authority over dozens of properties, including at least 43 church properties. Nobody other than Bishop Bruno knows exactly what Corp Sole owns; nobody other than Bishop Bruno makes decisions for Corp Sole.
At the diocesan convention in December 2015, there was considerable debate about Corp Sole, and a compromise was reached: a committee of past presidents of the Standing Committee would select a Special Committee of financial and legal experts to look at Corp Sole and make recommendations to the 2016 convention.
The Special Committee’s report, submitted on July 30, 2016, concluded that the “lack of transparency and oversight of Corp Sole is not consistent with national church policy, the policies included in the Constitution and Canons of the Diocese of Los Angeles, best practices or current required practices in the corporate and non-profit world.” The current structure of Corp Sole “poses legal, financial, pastoral and other risks,” the report said.
The Special Committee recommended a change to the Canons of the Diocese of Los Angeles, a change that tracks almost word-for-word a change recently adopted by the Diocese of California. The canon change would require the transfer of properties from Corp Sole to the Diocese to the fullest extent possible. It would require that annual audited financial statements for Corp Sole be provided to the whole Diocese. (If you’ll recall, Bishop Bruno promised at the last convention he would share these audits, but has failed to live up to his commitment). Finally, the canon change would require approval from the Corporation of the Diocese for any real property transactions by Corp Sole.
This is a simple, sensible canon change but has been met with opposition by the bishop’s office.
The Special Committee assumed their report would be shared with all those attending the 2016 Diocesan Convention. It is, after all, what the 2015 Convention requested; a full review, a report and recommendations. But within hours of the first open distribution of the report, there was an email from Bishop Diane Bruce saying that the report would have to be submitted to Diocesan Council first and it was not to be shared. This dubious instruction was in any event too late, as the report had already been distributed well beyond the original recipients.
In early September, without inviting anyone from the Special Committee, the Diocesan Council discussed the Corp Sole report and returned it to the Special Committee with three requests for further time-consuming research and information. The questions were illogical and an obvious attempt to bog the committee down in minutiae.
The Special Committee’s reply dated September 21 was that “these policy issues are urgent. We have not yet heard anyone offer a principled argument for continuing the operations of Corp Sole with no transparency and no governance oversight. In our view, that is because there isn’t such a defensible argument.”
More recently, at initial meetings of the Constitution and Canons Committee, the Bishop’s new Chancellor, Richard Zevnik, has apparently argued that the Diocese has no authority to adopt the proposed canon change, and indeed no authority over Corp Sole at all. Again, the argument is absurd. The proposed canon change is almost word for word the change adopted by the Diocese of California, the original diocese in California, so it is clear that the change “works” both as a matter of California law and canon law. Further, these changes are in keeping with how charities maintain their fiduciary responsibilities and avoid conflicts of interest and malfeasance.
We can only guess Bishop Bruno’s reasons for opposing transparency. His position begs the question: What transactions in and by Corp Sole does the Bishop want to hide from the Diocese, and where has all your money gone?
The candidates for bishop coadjutor and the delegates to the December Diocesan Convention are going to face a simple issue on Corp Sole. Do they want transparency, oversight and checks and balances, or not? Do they want to follow the advice of the Special Committee of independent legal and financial experts, formed by the 2015 convention, who recommend that our diocese follow best practices, or not?
Meanwhile, we have been notified by The Episcopal Church that the Hearing Panel has set a hearing for Oct. 26 in Chicago to consider motions by the Church Attorney to order St. James the Great opened for worship and by Bishop Bruno to dismiss the charges. This month’s hearing and motions are preparatory to a full hearing on the charges themselves; a date for the full hearing has not been set. In full disclosure and transparency, since the bishop neglected to show you all the documents in his last newsletter, the response from the Church Attorney to the Bishop’s Motion to Dismiss is attached here so you can see the seriousness of the charges and situation.
We continue to worship at the Newport Beach City Hall Community Room. Please know that you all are welcome to join us in worship every Sunday at 10:00 a.m.
We will of course continue to keep you apprised of new developments.
Thank you for your continued prayers and support.
Yours in Christ,
The Congregation of St. James the Great
Newport Beach, California