Friday, June 23, 2017

+Bruno Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place [UPDATED]

The Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, has landed himself in a difficult spot. As detailed in this earlier post, he entered into a contract in 2015 to sell the property of St. James the Great in Newport Beach to a developer for a price of $15 million, without bothering to inform its parishioners beforehand. When the congregation and its vicar protested, he changed the locks and kicked them out.

This being Bishop Bruno, litigation soon ensued -- between the parish and its Bishop, and between the original donor of the church's property (who sought to enforce a restriction on the use of the property for anything besides church purposes). The parishioners also brought charges of fraud, misrepresentation and "conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy" against +Bruno before the national body's Disciplinary Board for Bishops, as detailed in this earlier post.

The litigation grew nastier, as narrated in this post. Matters even began to sour between Bishop Bruno and his own Diocese's convention. Eventually, the original purchaser pulled out of the contract (because of the litigation, no doubt), +Bruno rejected all attempts at mediation / conciliation with the parishioners, and the Disciplinary Board's review panel ordered the matter (over +Bruno's hypocritical objections) to a full-blown, public hearing, which took place over three days at the end of March of this year. (You can read the day-by-day accounts of the proceedings at this site, if you choose. With my departure from ECUSA, I have pretty much stopped chronicling all the desultory conduct that goes on in the name of that body.)

In the civil courts, meanwhile, +Bruno achieved mixed results. The parishioners' lawsuit to stop him from selling the property was dismissed, but his suit against the original donor has not fared well. On February 24, the Court of Appeal reversed a decision by the trial court which had denied the donor's motion to strike +Bruno's "slander of title" claim against it. The decision ordered the trial court to strike the claim from the lawsuit and award the donor its attorneys' fees and costs incurred as a result of its filing. The fees and costs will have to be paid out of the Bishop's own corporation sole, since it was the plaintiff against the donor. In another ruling, the trial court found the original donor had failed to record a renewal of its deed restriction as required by law to keep it enforceable. That freed +Bruno to sell the property, but by then (as we now learn -- see below) the original buyer had backed out.

After the disciplinary hearing concluded on March 30, the hearing panel took the matter under submission for briefing before issuing its decision. The Bishop's attorneys asked the panel to dismiss all charges against him, while the attorney prosecuting the charges asked the panel to find him guilty and suspend him from active ministry for up to a year while fashioning a remedy that would foster reconciliation -- for which +Bruno to date has shown no interest whatsoever.

On June 14, before the panel had issued any decision, one of the complainants submitted colorable evidence that +Bruno had entered into a new contract to sell St. James while the disciplinary proceedings were going on. The panel asked +Bruno's attorneys to disclose to it whether he was under contract with a buyer or not, and when they gave evasive replies, the panel issued a sanctions order on June 17 directing +Bruno not to sell or contract to sell the property until "further order of the Hearing Panel."

Now comes word from Anglican news sources that on June 22, +Bruno's attorney sent an email to the panel in which she disclosed that Bishop Bruno had signed a contract to sell the property to another developer -- just three weeks after the disciplinary hearing (the purchaser signed the contract a month later). She explained that neither +Bruno nor his attorneys could respond substantively to the panel's inquiry earlier because he had been bound by a "confidentiality clause" in the purchase contract, which the parties had just agreed to modify so that he could disclose the fact of the sale. (You may read the details here and here.)

Other sources are now reporting that not only is +Bruno selling the St. James church property, but also its rectory and a huge commercial property which his corporation sole owns in Anaheim. The total sales which he reportedly has currently in escrow come to approximately Forty Million Dollars ($40,000,000).

In his desire to recoup the money he has squandered on over twelve years of litigation -- against parishes, their clergy, and (as shown above) generous donors to his Diocese -- Bishop Bruno has now landed himself between a rock and a hard place. He is under a direct disciplinary command not to complete the sale of St. James. But his contract with the purchaser provides that he will be in default -- and liable for damages and costs -- if he does not sign the deed in escrow.

Can the Hearing Panel actually block the sale? No, it cannot, since it has ecclesiastical jurisdiction only, and that is over Bishop Bruno, not the purchaser. But it can certainly discipline him for flouting its order. Such discipline could include suspension from his ministry (he will reach mandatory retirement age in late 2018), or even deposition (a drastic step he has not hesitated to take in the past against dissident clergy).

Will the Dennis Canon's trust provisions affect the marketable title to St. James property? Again, no: the Canon applies only to property in the name of a parish, and not to property held by a corporation sole or by a Diocese. (That was the ruling of the Fifth District Court of Appeal in the San Joaquin case last year.)

However, it appears from the latest stories linked above that the new purchaser runs the risk of displeasing the City Council of Newport Beach, if it tears down the church to put up some industrial or commercial complex -- for which it will need a zoning change. So the developer may find it convenient to let +Bruno out of his contract, after all.

There is no doubt that +Bruno's underhanded conduct has thrown a monkey wrench into the deliberations of the Hearing Panel. By selling the property while the disciplinary panel was considering his case, +Bruno in effect attempted to bypass its authority to maintain the status quo until it reached its final decision. No court likes to be told that a defendant has acted on his own, and surreptitiously to boot, to alter the status quo while the court has the matter still under submission.

Do not expect, therefore, that Bishop Bruno might wiggle out from this dilemma unscathed. It may cost his corporation sole still more money, and it may cost him his bishopric. I will update this post when the Panel renders its decision.

[UPDATE 06/24/2017: Bishop Bruno has filed with the Disciplinary Board for Bishops an appeal of the Hearing Panel's sanctions order. The attachments to the appeal dispel some of the mysteries surrounding his dealings with the Newport Beach property. We learn:

1. The original purchaser pulled out of the sales contract in early November, 2016.

2. At that time, Bishop Bruno was contacted by other "potential purchasers." Though there was no express canonical jurisdiction of the Diocesan Standing Committee over the Bishop's corporation sole, Bishop Bruno sought and received on November 16 the consent of the Standing Committee to a future (unspecified) sale of the property, in order to obviate one of the disciplinary charges against him (that he had entered into a contract to sell the property without obtaining the consent of the Standing Committee as required by the national canons in the case of sales of property by a Diocese).

3. The discussions with purchasers crystallized into the present buyer, which signed a "Due Diligence and Confidentiality Agreement" with the Bishop on April 19, 2017, and then entered into a formal purchase and sale agreement on May 25, with escrow to close on July 3.

4. The "colorable evidence of a pending sale" furnished to the Hearing Panel by one of the complainants consisted of a screen capture of an online property reporting service that indicated a title insurance policy had been ordered from Fidelity Title for the property on June 6, 2017 -- a sure sign that an escrow had been opened. (I assume there are similar title policies ordered for the other sales which the "Save St. James" group has reported as pending, making up the $40 million total mentioned in the post.)

5. Bishop Bruno turned down a request earlier this year from a long-time parishioner at St. James to allow her mother's ashes to be interred there in accordance with her dying wishes. The parishioner appealed to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, but was told it was a decision which Bishop Bruno alone could make, as the Presiding Bishop had no authority over him.

6. Bishop Bruno is utterly non-repentant about keeping his dealings with the property out of the purview of the disciplinary proceedings. Once the initial sale complained of fell through, he believed there was no restraint of any kind on his ability to enter into a new sales contract for it.

7. He has asked the full Disciplinary Board to set aside the sanctions order of June 17, so that he will not go into default under his current sales contract.

Some further observations on these disclosures:

A. The "consent" by the Standing Committee (both the one in 2015 and the one in November 2016) was a meaningless gesture. In neither instance was the Standing Committee given any particulars about the sale, so its "consent" was uninformed, and for outward form's sake only.

B. We still do not know the amount +Bruno has contracted to accept for the church property, or for any of the other properties he is selling: $40 million is just an educated guess, based upon tax roll values. Nothing could demonstrate more clearly +Bruno's determination to keep all particulars of his dealings as a corporation sole from both his Standing Committee and his Diocese as a whole.

C. The Standing Committee is itself complicit in these matters, and acts as a willing rubber stamp for anything +Bruno decides to do. It has requested that he amend the articles of his corporation sole to provide for oversight and consent of its property dealings, but that is only a request -- as was the request the Convention made to +Bruno to disclose the finances of his corporation sole. He has thus far ignored both of them.

D. By virtue of his office, Bishop Bruno stands in a fiduciary relationship to his Diocese and to its governing bodies. A fiduciary under law has a duty to act in utmost good faith toward those who have put their trust in him. +Bruno's secretive conduct is the polar opposite of how a fiduciary is supposed to act toward those in his charge. For him, it's all about the money: business comes first, and to hell with fiduciary duties that get in the way.

E. Thus far, the complainants are the sole members of the Diocese who are trying to compel Bishop Bruno to observe fiduciary standards of conduct, and they are a decided minority. The Hearing Panel is their last resort. The Diocese of Los Angeles is receiving exactly the kind of fiduciary care that it asks for -- especially after its Board voted in May 2014 to transfer the Newport Beach property to the corporation sole, where it could be sold without +Bruno having to account to anyone.

F. Bishop Bruno's claim that the Panel "lacks jurisdiction" to direct him not to sell the property, while accurate in a church constitutional sense, ignores his fiduciary duties to the church of which he is an episkopos -- the Greek word for "overseer" or "guardian", used since the earliest days to describe the role and functions of a bishop. The Panel most certainly can sanction him for breach of his fiduciary duties toward his Diocese and its governing bodies, because such breach is the essence of "conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy." If you can't put your trust in a man ordained to serve God, whom can you trust?

G. The whole charade of this matter puts ECUSA's Title IV procedures to the ultimate test. It brings into sharp relief the actual autonomy of dioceses and their bishops in relation to the national body itself, which is surprisingly weak in light of how recent Presiding Bishops and their Chancellors have sought to portray its supreme authority in civil litigation over church property. Oh, yes -- the Presiding Bishop and hired attorneys will swoop down upon any hapless rector and parish (or bishop and diocese) who dare to try to leave ECUSA, and drag them into never-ending and ruinously costly litigation, regardless of the harm done to its reputation. But let one of their own have his sovereign authority to act in his own diocese be challenged, and just watch how effete ECUSA will be in response. It has taken over a year to bring Bishop Bruno to this point, and he still defies the authority of the disciplinary bodies to hold him accountable for his conduct unbecoming. (It is ironic that the ENS is currently carrying a lead story on how bishops learn to be bishops.)

The proof will be forthcoming shortly. First the Board will act on the appeal (it has been asked to do so by next week, when Bishop Bruno is obligated to sign escrow papers to close the sale), and then the Hearing Panel will have to agree upon a final decision. Well, not really "final", because then there will be a motion for reconsideration, followed perhaps by a further appeal. You get the picture.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Trumphooey

In the face of yet another onslaught from the never-Trump, ever-snorting boars (actually, bores) in the media, echoed by world so-called leaders from Europe and elsewhere, and by the brainwashed Democrats who can still commandeer a platform for a statement, it is time to pour another dose of cold reality onto the overheated political front.

Briefly: behind the Gadarene rush to condemn President Trump's announcement that he will no longer abide by the provisions of the Paris Agreement signed by President Obama is nothing more than political posturing. The campaign is designed only to spread rampant disinformation in an effort to undermine Trump's public support.

At the same time, the remarkable breadth and effrontery of this campaign is highly revealing of the motives of those behind it. There is no science (understood properly, as a prediction of what will happen when a process is repeated) to back their claims. Instead, there is a consensus of the like-minded and like-motivated, around the moniker of "climate change" (after all, who in his right mind could disagree that the climate changes over time?), that is propped up by highly flexible (and debatable) computer models.

And now that President Trump has had the gall to question the validity of their unsupported (and unsupportable) consensus, the elites and their media are in an uproar: an uproar based on fear of exposure, and not on facts (because there aren't any facts -- only elaborately constructed, and continually revised, computer models). I shall not boost their Web traffic by linking in this post to all the stories they have generated. You may, as Claude Rains would say, round up the usual suspects by going to Huffington Post, MSNBC, CNN or the New York Times, and take it from there.

In short, Obama signed the Paris Agreement as a hollow gesture to his Potemkin legacy, and now Trump has decided he won't play along with the charade. 

You will never read the whole truth in the mainstream media. So those of you who find your way to this obscure outpost on the worldwide Web may thank the luck (or chance) that brought you, because here you will find nothing but the unvarnished truth, as always -- no matter how unpalatable it may be. Qui potest capere capiat.

Let me begin with some unvarnished facts.

First, the so-called "Paris Agreement (or Accord)" of 2015 is called that, because it is not a full-fledged international treaty. It is more akin to a "gentlemen's agreement" between those who signed it as to the levels of greenhouse gases they will individually (as leaders) strive to meet on behalf of their respective countries. (I say "strive", because the Agreement contains no consequences for signatories who fail to reach their own set goals -- see below.)

Second, because it is not a treaty, it is not legally binding on any country whose leader signed it. Instead, it contemplates only a series of implementation measures to be adopted by the signers at future sessions, subject to formal ratification and adoption by the respective governmental bodies of their individual countries.

Third, in the United States, our Constitution gives legal effect only to a treaty that has been signed by the President and ratified by a two-thirds majority of the Senate. (See Article II, Section 2 for the language.) All else is ephemeral: what one President signs, a later President may revoke.

President Obama signed the accord, but he never submitted it to the Senate for ratification. So it has no legal force on the United States, and never has had. It was only his personal commitment to the other signers to lower CO2 gas emissions, and that commitment ended when he left office. Trump was in no way legally bound to continue to honor it -- and now he has announced he will not.

Thus the vocal opposition to Trump's announcement is not based in law, or on any other justifiable ground. The measure of it is simply the degree to which the globalists are outraged that any public figure should attempt at this date to thwart their agenda. (After all, they managed to persuade the heads of 197 countries to climb on board initially, and now those heads have secured official ratification in 147 instances.)

In other words, their bobbing balloons having been punctured, the "climate change" enthusiasts are now emitting a gaseous pollution of their own into the atmosphere. The collective phenomenon is so unique to our experience that I have had to invent a new word for it: "Trumphooey".



Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Inclusivity Revisited

In lieu of an update while I still explore my alternatives, I am reposting this 2014 article, because I deem it most relevant to the decisions I face just now in evaluating what it truly means to join an "inclusive" church. Obviously, ECUSA has not achieved all that it expected from its plan to "broaden" its outreach while deposing those who dared to oppose its progressive agenda.

There is no future for those who would strive to remain orthodox within the oppressive atmosphere of ECUSA. This post from 2014 says it all:


Consider the following Canon of the Episcopal Church (USA), Canon I.17.5:
No one shall be denied rights, status or access to an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disabilities or age, except as otherwise specified by Canons.
(There is a similar Canon applying to the discernment process for would-be clergy.) The words "sexual orientation" and "gender identity and expression" are the most recent additions to the list of grounds upon which Episcopalians are called not to discriminate. As this Canon's predecessor stood from its adoption in 1964 (at the height of the civil rights movement) until 1982, it read:
Every communicant or baptized member of this Church shall be entitled to equal rights and status in any Parish or Mission thereof. He shall not be excluded from the worship or Sacraments of the Church, nor from parochial membership, because of race, color, or ethnic origin.
With only slight rewording in 1982, the threefold grounds of "race, color, or ethnic origin" remained untouched until General Convention 1994, when the categories were expanded by one Resolution (1994-C020) to include "national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, disabilities or age." Most recently Resolution 2012-D002 added the categories "gender identity and expression."

What we see here is a progression from characteristics which define every human being, to characteristics that define only broad segments ("national origin, marital status, ... disabilities or age"), to ones that are much narrower ("sexual orientation" -- meaning, of course, "other than heterosexual"), and concluding with a category that characterizes a tiny minority indeed ("gender identity and expression").

Paradoxically, however, there appears to be an inverse relationship between the number of persons who could be placed within a given category and the sub-categories within that category.  Thus "marital status" breaks down into categories of single, married, divorced or widowed. Likewise, "race" and "ethnic origin", while capable of many gradations, are still defined by less than a dozen boxes on the census forms. But as Facebook (the largest social media site on earth) now is recognizing, there are no less than 58 sub-categories of "gender identity and expression."

Episcopalians point to this progression of smaller and smaller categories as one of increasing inclusivity. "There will be no outcasts in this Church," said Presiding Bishop Browning in 1986.

At the same time, the Episcopal Church has, since around 2000, been alienating hundreds of thousands of churchgoers, and deposing nearly a thousand of its clergy. What single characteristic do you think best identifies with those who have left or have been forced to leave?

If you responded "orthodoxy in tradition and belief," you would be correct.

And that fact speaks volumes about the Church's "inclusivity."

When the disenfranchised minorities pressed over the last ten years for their listing in the anti-discrimination Canons, where were the voices speaking up for the orthodox? It's a good question.

One could certainly put forth a modest proposal to rectify this increasing discrimination against the orthodox by those in ECUSA. It would propose to amend Canon I.17.5 (and its clergy counterpart) to read as follows:
No one shall be denied rights, status or access to an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, orthodoxy of belief or practice, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disabilities or age, except as otherwise specified by Canons.
I can see people at once objecting: "How do we define 'orthodoxy of belief' or 'orthodoxy of practice'?" To which the obvious answer is: "Difficulty of definition was not an objection to adding the words 'gender identity and expression' in 2012, so why should we get hung up on definitions? Judging from the number of clergy being deposed, the Church leadership has no difficulty whatsoever in discerning just who is 'orthodox'."

Consider: we already have attacks on bishops and other clergy who do not march with the LGBTs, or who do not speak out enough against anti-gay laws, or who will not back same-sex marriages and blessings. (Does the word "homophobe" sound familiar?)

The addition of these words to the Canon would at least furnish a basis for trying to limit or end such attacks. They would also create a "safe harbor" for those who read their Scripture as it had been read for at least two thousand years before General Convention 2003.

And do you know what? That is exactly why such an amendment would never be adopted at General Convention.

For those now in charge of the Church want to keep up the pressure on the orthodox to go elsewhere. They are all for inclusion, but not of the traditional or orthodox. Those who once held power must apparently pay for the years of oppression they (albeit unintentionally) inflicted on minorities -- simply by being who they are, and upholding their traditional understandings of Holy Scripture.

It is Father Neuhaus' Law in spades: "Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed." The tendency to limit orthodoxy by making it optional, and then to proscribe it altogether, cannot be stopped so long as the new liberalism of self-identity holds sway.

And why is that? In the essay just linked, Fr. Neuhaus gives a very perceptive explanation:
Orthodoxy, no matter how politely expressed, suggests that there is a right and a wrong, a true and a false, about things. When orthodoxy is optional, it is admitted under a rule of liberal tolerance that cannot help but be intolerant of talk about right and wrong, true and false. It is therefore a conditional admission, depending upon orthodoxy’s good behavior. The orthodox may be permitted to believe this or that and to do this or that as a matter of sufferance, allowing them to indulge their inclination, preference, or personal taste. But it is an intolerable violation of the etiquette by which one is tolerated if one has the effrontery to propose that this or that is normative for others.
I think Fr. Neuhaus has it exactly right. To adhere to tradition is to adhere to standards of right and wrong. People could disagree over particulars, and it was possible to have debates about the finer points. But no longer:
With the older orthodoxy it is possible to disagree, as in having an argument. Evidence, reason, and logic count, in principle at least. Not so with the new orthodoxy. Here disagreement is an intolerable personal affront. It is construed as a denial of others, of their experience of who they are. It is a blasphemous assault on that most high god, “My Identity.” Truth-as-identity is not appealable beyond the assertion of identity. In this game, identity is trumps. An appeal to what St. Paul or Aquinas or Catherine of Sienna or a church council said cannot withstand the undeniable retort, “Yes, but they are not me!” People pack their truths into what Peter Berger has called group identity kits. The chief item in the kit, of course, is the claim to being oppressed.
Oppression means that there are victims and oppressors, and the latter must pay for their sins against the victims. But first, they must forced to acknowledge the error of their orthodox ways. Are they against "being inclusive" or "being accepting"? Who would dare so be? So hit them with guilt -- after all, they are rich, white Episcopalians:
The proponents of truth-as-identity catch the dissidents coming and going. They say their demand is only for “acceptance,” leaving no doubt that acceptance means assent to what they know (as nobody else can know!), [and] is essential to being true to their authentic selves. Not to assent is not to disagree; it is to deny their humanity, which, especially in churches credally committed to being nice, is not a nice thing to do.
The culture of identity, however, is one of increasing fragmentation. For very few others can have shared all the experiences you have gone through to make you what you are -- i.e., there is no longer any common ground of experience. And the lack of common ground is the ultimate barrier to consensus and agreement on going forward. Appeals to past tradition and Scripture fall on deaf ears:
This helps explain why questions such as quota-ized representation, women’s ordination, and homosexuality are so intractable. There is no common ground outside the experiential circles of identity by which truth is circularly defined. Conservatives huff and puff about the authority of Scripture and tradition, while moderates appeal to the way differences used to be accommodated in the early church (before ca. 1968), but all to no avail. Whatever the issue, the new orthodoxy will not give an inch, demanding acceptance and inclusiveness, which means rejection and exclusion of whatever or whomever questions their identity, meaning their right to believe, speak, and act as they will, for what they will do is what they must do if they are to be who they most truly are. “So you want me to agree with you in denying who I am?” By such reasoning, so to speak, the spineless are easily intimidated.
Those who are not intimidated simply grow weary of the endless attacks on their orthodoxy, and the  stridency of those behind the attacks. But both kinds end up leaving -- not just in the hope of finding peace and quiet, but also because being constantly on the defensive is both spiritually debilitating and physically stressful. Religion is not supposed to consist of confrontation, of having continually to justify your faith while being called a "bigot", a "homophobe", and worse.

For traditional conservatives, religion used to be a communal affair. You were baptized in the church, married in the church, and given a funeral in the church -- in the midst of your community. (Indeed, that is the only reason, for example, we know when William Shakespeare was born, when he married, and when he died: the dates are all due to carefully preserved parish records.) The church was, for better or worse, the thread that linked all of your significant life events.

But the point was not that you made the church; instead, you came to the church in all humility, as an infant, and the church thereafter sheltered and supported you as you passed and marked each of life's milestones. It had its own authority, derived from the community that comprised it and the God they  worshipped, while you derived from it the nourishment that came from being part of that community which worshipped God. Nevertheless, it is due to man's fallen nature,which makes him think that he does not need God to help him, that man eternally tries to remake the church in his own image.

There is much more to commend in Fr. Neuhaus' essay of six years ago. Not least is his longer view, in which he contrasts the forces behind today's identity-liberalism with the forces that gave rise to the Anglo-Catholic movement in the 19th century. Both took on their respective cultures. While the latter was transformed in the process, we are unfortunately not yet able to see just what kind of transformation the current ideology will undergo.

Nevertheless, the two movements differ greatly in their essential goals. Anglo-Catholics sought to travel the via media of Anglicanism on a path toward the ultimate reconciliation of Orthodoxy and Catholicism. The modern crop of identity-liberals have no common goal other than to celebrate their own individuality, and to make others respect (and even honor) it. It is difficult to see, at this juncture, just how a church can stay together when the center no longer holds.