The heavy-handed treatment meted out by Bishop J. Jon Bruno of Los Angeles to the parish of St. James the Great in Newport Beach, as reported in this post, has backfired. Members of the parish, as well as a number of clergy in the Diocese, have joined in filing charges against him which allege that he repeatedly lied and misrepresented his intentions to them, and that he is attempting to sell the valuable property on which their church is located without any appraisal, and at far below its market value.
A copy of the complaint is at this link, and an "emergency supplement" is at this link. The names of the signatories have not been disclosed in order to protect them from retaliation until the Disciplinary Board for Bishops can act on the charges. Under the Canons, the charges are reviewed first by Bishop F. Clayton Matthews, the Intake Officer for the Disciplinary Board. If he finds them presentable (capable of being made a formal presentment under the disciplinary canons), he will convene a Review Panel, consisting of himself, the Presiding Bishop and the President of the Disciplinary Board. The latter is a bishop who is soon to be elected for a new three-year term following General Convention; until his successor is so elected, the Rt. Rev. Dorsey Henderson, Jr. will function in that role.
There is a timeline of the Diocese's and Bishop's various dealings and interactions with the St. James parish and its Vicar on the Website organized to publicize this affair, www.SaveSaintJamesthe Great.org. Also linked there are a number of letters written by the parish to other clergy in the Diocese and to the Church at large. They detail a scenario of unbelievable ham-handedness and insensitivity which has brought the matter to its current state of intensity. And so as not to be out of character, the Bishop apparently has left on a month's vacation!
The new charges will add to his recent woes. After the news came out that Bishop Bruno purportedly had arranged a "sweetheart" private deal with a developer -- no bids or listing of the property, but just terms worked out with a single buyer who wants to erect a suite of expensive townhomes on the property -- he received a letter from the original developer of Lido Isle (the area of Newport Beach where St. James is located), the Griffith Corporation. That letter informed him something he ought to have known already: that the property on which the church stands was gifted to the Diocese for use only for church purposes. Griffith stated that if he went through with the proposed sale, the property would automatically revert back to it.
The letter caused Bishop Bruno to instruct his attorneys immediately to sue the Griffith Corporation for "slander of title" -- a rather heavy-handed response to the donor of one's most valuable property. You can read the complaint and see the original deed of gift at this link -- the deed restriction is for real, and the courts enforce them as written.
It will be interesting to watch this scenario play out -- whether the Bishop can remain on top of the situation will require that he first rein in his attack dogs, and begin treating donors and parishioners for the valued assets they are. Meanwhile, some useful information is emerging. According to this letter to the Diocesan Standing Committee, Bishop Bruno told the parish that he was trying to recoup the Diocese's litigation expenses (incurred in suing four former parishes, including the previous congregation of St. James) of Nine Million Dollars. That is five million dollars greater than I had estimated in tallying up all the costs of Church litigation, as reported in this post.
Now that original litigation has mushroomed into further lawsuits and disciplinary charges. That's quite an achievement for just one Episcopal bishop! Multiply it seventy times over, and perhaps you can begin to see why it is a wonder that there are any parishioners at all left in the Episcopal Church.