+Bruno, Schmuno: Diocese of LA Sells Out its Parish for the Money

LA repudiates notion of a national Episcopal church

Today, those clinging to the dying remnant that was the once-renowned Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (“PECUSA” — or, after they dropped the first adjective, “ECUSA”) finally learned that there is no soul left in that scabrous body. Long ago, it sold itself out to Mammon. Now, those who blinded themselves to that fact are sadly learning the reality.

I have thoroughly documented on this site all the ups and downs of the parish of St. James the Great, in Newport Beach (Orange County), nonetheless a member of the Diocese of Los Angeles. I regret  having no patience for rehearsing the dreary steps of that history again: start here, then go here, and continue backwards through the earlier posts at this page.

The interim decision of the Hearing Panel of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops set forth its recommendations for the suspension of Bishop J. Jon Bruno and for the reinstatement of the congregation of St. James into its Newport Beach property. There was one dissenting view, from Bishop Michael Smith of North Dakota, who expressed the opinion that the Hearing Panel had no business getting mixed up in the local property ownership dispute.

As I detailed in my posts linked above, it emerged after the conclusion of the hearing that Bishop Bruno had secretly entered into another confidential agreement to sell the St. James property — to a different Newport Beach developer.  The Hearing Panel entered a special order to keep him from going forward with the sale, which was to have closed escrow on July 3.

Bishop Bruno’s appeal of that restraining order was rejected, but ECUSA’s Presiding Bishop, in an express desire to “protect the integrity” of the disciplinary proceedings, issued a highly unusual pastoral restriction on the authority of Bishop Bruno to make any disposition of the church property (even though he owned it through his corporation sole) pending the hearing’s outcome. Since that report, the Presiding Bishop of ECUSA expanded his restrictions on Bishop Bruno, and effectively removed him from any further episcopal oversight of either the St. James parishioners or their vicar, the Rev. Canon Cindy Voorhees.

The Presiding Bishop also ordered that henceforth, the Bishop Co-Adjutor for Los Angeles (Bishop Bruno’s elected replacement upon the latter’s resignation [retirement]), the Rt. Rev. John Taylor, would have pastoral care of the parish and its vicar. He further specified that Bishop Bruno could in no way authorize any sale of the St. James property to go forward pending the conclusion of the disciplinary proceedings.

The Hearing Panel, after considering submissions from both sides, then entered its final decision and recommendations (again, with the dissent of Bishop Smith of North Dakota). It made its chief recommendation in the following language (emphasis in the original):

After hearing this entire unfortunate case and after prayerful deliberation the Hearing Panel reaches a definite and clear conclusion: 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.

Notice the word “recommends” (forget “strongly”; that is just window-dressing).

It is key to understanding both the polity (structure) of ECUSA, and the now unfortunate outcome of this case, that one take into account the true relationship among the individual dioceses of ECUSA and the individual pieces of the national church organization. (The latter are the Presiding Bishop and his staff at 815 Second Avenue, in New York, the officers and committees of the General Convention, which meets only once every three years, and the episcopal disciplinary bodies which convene under the authority of the national canons.)

For it requires such an understanding to put into context the announcement today by the Bishop Suffragan of Los Angeles that in agreement with the Diocesan Standing Committee, and despite the strong recommendation of the Hearing Panel just quoted, the Diocese of Los Angeles intends to go forward with the sale of the Newport Beach parish’s former property that Bishop Bruno surreptitiously contracted with a developer while he was under disciplinary jurisdiction.

Bishop Taylor’s patently lame excuse for this outlandish development is as follows:

In prayerful discernment, we opened our hearts to a variety of possibilities for reconciliation in Christ and healing for St. James and our whole community. But Bishop Bruno has entered into a binding contract to sell the property. The buyer has the legal right to expect the seller to honor the contract. Much as we might wish it were otherwise, we do not believe that it would be in the interests of the diocese or consistent with our fiduciary responsibilities to endorse any steps leading to breaching or threatening to breach an enforceable contract that could lead to further expense and litigation.

Translation: even if Bishop Bruno breached his fiduciary duties to the Diocese and the congregation of St. James the Great by entering into a contract to sell the latter’s property without their consent, the Diocese will honor his underhanded dealings by going forward with the contract. Otherwise the Diocese (!) — and not Bishop Bruno or his corporation sole — could suffer “further expense and litigation.”

Excuse me, but this rationale does not even pass first blush. The contract in question was between the developer and Bishop Bruno’s corporation sole. It was not (so far as I am able to learn) a contract with (or guaranteed by) the Diocese per se. Bishop Taylor, the Standing Committee, and the Diocese itself have no liability to the developer if Bishop Bruno’s corporation sole is unable to perform on its contract — they were not parties to it.

So if Bishop Bruno is unable (due to the restrictions placed upon him by the Presiding Bishop) to sign the deed conveying title out of his corporation sole, could the developer sue the corporation sole for specific performance? Undoubtedly he might, but could a secular court order the incumbent of a religious corporation to sign a deed that he no longer has the authority to sign?

I doubt it seriously. If Bishop Bruno no longer has the authority to sign the deed, the situation is just as though he had died before the close of escrow. The next incumbent of the corporation sole (i.e., the Rt. Rev. John Taylor) would be subject to a court order to sign — but only once he takes office.  Bishop Taylor has no current authority on behalf of the corporation sole, and will have none until Bishop Bruno is removed as its incumbent and he is installed as +Bruno’s replacement. Under the Hearing Panel’s suspension order, that could take three years or more. Is the developer prepared to wait that long?

Perhaps the developer might want to sue the corporation sole for damages for breach of contract, rather than seek specific performance. According to this article, however, his damages are limited to his “out-of-pocket costs” — i.e., for his preliminary title report, and for any physical investigations he made into the condition of the property, etc.  Such expenses could at most amount to a few tens of thousands of dollars (if that much). So of what, exactly, is the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles afraid?

All these speculations serve only to point out that they are all the consequences of Bishop Bruno’s secret actions  — without the knowledge, consent or (I trust) participation of the members of the Standing Committee, or other diocesan officers.

Although the Standing Committee was clearly derelict in its responsibilities when it approved the original (2015) transfer of the property to the corporation sole, I have seen no evidence that its members were complicit in the most recent, and highly secret, sale. That said, however, how could it reasonably be argued that its consent to one (unknown) deal in 2015 provided a blanket of authority for Bishop Bruno to enter into a second deal (assumably unknown to the Standing Committee) for the property in 2017? Surely the consent required by the canons must be informed consent, i.e., consent given after full disclosure of all the factual and legal details.

And if that is the case, just why should the Diocese and the Standing Committee now find it necessary to throw the congregation of St. James under the bus?? Surely the answer couldn’t be that “it needs the money from the proposed sale.” Or could it?

If that is truly the case, then a pox on all of Bishop Bruno’s enablers on both sides is in order. For they were the ones who sat silently by as he brought suit to oust the original parish of St. James in the first place, and as he ran up the millions and millions of dollars in legal fees and costs that they now seek to recoup from the current sale.

In other words: if it was about dollars then, and is still about dollars now, then it has always been about the dollars, and not about the people. The parishioners from time to time are just pawns who come and go as they are sacrificed on the secular chessboard for the bishops’ sake, and it is high time they drew that conclusion from how all St. James’s parishioners have been treated — first by Bishop Bruno and his apologists, and now by the Suffragan Bishop, by the current Standing Committee, and by Presiding Bishop Curry (who appears to have acquiesced in the ousting of the latest congregation). Under the evidence, then, it just comes down to dollars, and not the collective faith of parishes.

One concluding observation, which goes to Bishop Taylor’s own candor in these machinations. According to his public statement on this debacle (and I quote verbatim, with my bold emphasis added), “We pledge to do all we can to ensure that capital sums received by the diocese, including proceeds from the Via Lido sale, are conserved for the sake of generations to come.”

Wait: I thought that the proceeds of the sale of the St. James property (NB:not acceding to Bishop Taylor’s euphemism of “the Via Lido sale”), were by contract coming into the corporation sole, not the Diocese. And if that is the case, how do they get out of the corporation sole’s bank account and into the Diocese’s accounts without Bishop Bruno signing some sort of draft on his corporation sole’s account — which he is under strict prohibition not to do?

Finally, what does the empty promise to “conserve[ those funds] for the sake of generations to come” do for the current needs of the congregation of St. James? Are they expected to sacrifice the value of their long-standing worship property for some unspecified benefit to unspecified future Episcopalians?  (Again, listen to Bishop Taylor make hollow-sounding promises on behalf of a secular, profit-minded developer.)

Without more details, Bishop Taylor’s solemn pledge to “conserve” those proceeds reeks of the duplicity that Bishop Bruno habitually used to derail opposition to his self-serving maneuvers.

Let us try to summarize and draw conclusions from the foregoing.

First, what a chimera is the much-touted authority of ECUSA over its dioceses and its bishops. Not only can ECUSA not prevent a diocese from doing what its own disciplinary panel found was against “the integrity of the reconciliation process”, whatever that high-sounding language is supposed to mean, but it is absolutely incapable of making anything more than a “[strong] recommendation” to the diocesan authorities as to how they should best protect the interests of their member congregations.

When parishes concerned about the drift of the national church were debating about how to proceed, the personnel at ECUSA’s 815 Second Avenue headquarters encouraged dissidents to bring disciplinary charges against “nonconformist” clergy and bishops. And it encouraged loyalist bishops to sue clergy and parishes who decided they could not stay in the national church — it even made a practice of joining in such suits, and in seeking punitive damages against individual rectors and vestry members (with the object of forcing them to hire expensive attorneys and drive up their costs).

But now it becomes clear that the national church’s claims were hollow to start with: it can do nothing on its own to command a member diocese to take any measure whatsoever; it can only “strongly recommend” that it do something.

Second, it follows from the foregoing that if you are a parishioner in an individual parish, then no matter how much you might support the national church’s agenda, you are on your own when push comes to shove in your own parish, or diocese. The national church is powerless to aid or support you; what you are able to salvage will depend solely on those officials in the diocese whom you can persuade to support you. Good luck with that!

Third, the desultory example of St. James itself, over a period of twelve years, should furnish all the proof you need that neither your national church nor your diocese cares one whit for your parish’s ongoing welfare. They are happy to accept the tributes you send their way, so long as you keep sending them. But the moment that their financial survival / viability is at stake, you and your parish assets become expendable, regardless of the length or loyalty of your service to them. Remember: it’s all about Mammon.

Is it any wonder that ECUSA is a dying denomination? Maybe some good may come of its selfish (and self-destructive) behavior, but if so, it will not be before it shrinks a great deal more, and before its members, out of sheer necessity, learn anew how to make mission out of adversity.

Since God has a purpose for everything under the sun, let us pray that He will use the apostate denominations of our time as a means of restoring their disenchanted followers to His fold. Amen.

Latest Articles

Similar articles