Earlier, I covered the uproar and Title IV disciplinary case now under way against Bishop Bruno, who serves — and I use the word loosely — the Episcopal diocese of Los Angeles. Most recently, the hearing panel slapped +Bruno with sanctions that prohibited him from selling the physical assets of the parish of St. James the Great after it came to light that a sale may be imminent. Now, +Bruno has filed a response to the notice of sanctions, and things are not looking pretty.
In his response, + Bruno continues his antics, claiming inter alia that:
- He did not have adequate notice.
- The diocesan standing committee approved the sale.
- The Hearing Panel does not have the authority to prevent the sale of the property.
But this is a bunch of baloney, and no doubt +Bruno knows it.
For starters, it appears that there was a confidentiality clause in the sale agreement. Why was that? I don’t know, but its very presence is inherently suspect. Churches, like other nonprofits, do best when they operate in the light of day. So why was the confidentiality agreement there in the first place? I strongly suspect +Bruno put it there so that he might shield the transaction from outside scrutiny. And having known all along about his secret deal, it is disingenuous at best for +Bruno to now bewail his lack of notice.
As for the standing committee, they have no role in a Title IV case involving the bishop. To the extent that the committee’s decision has probative or moral value, however, one must consider that clergy who abuse their position almost invariably pack their standing committee or vestry with sycophants. Thus, it’s a safe bet that, when we hear the standing committee, we hear the voice of the man behind the curtain, +Bruno. Even if that is not the case, the fact that no one on the standing committee thought to share this key data point with the hearing committee — despite the fact that they had allegedly approved the sale — undercuts any moral legitimacy the standing committee may claim in the matter. I mean, is there no one on the standing committee with the common sense to argue for transparency, openness and fair dealing?
As to the authority of the hearing panel, its ability to impose sanctions is limited per Canon 14.3 only by the requirement that the sanctions be reasonable in light of the misconduct. The right of the Hearing Panel to impose sanctions is triggered by any conduct that it finds to be “disruptive, dilatory, or otherwise contrary to the integrity of the proceedings.” Surely, any reasonable person would conclude that selling the property underlying the dispute in secret, during the course of the proceedings, is “contrary to the integrity of the proceedings.”
Moreover, the canons are clear: In Title IV proceedings involving a bishop, the presiding bishop because the bishop ultimately responsible for the case. Since a bishop in a Title IV case — or even outside such a case — has a near-absolute right to issue a pastoral directive, and the hearing panel operates on behalf of the presiding bishop, it is hair-splitting to argue whether or not that power ultimately resides with the hearing panel.
Nor is this sanction unreasonable. Given that the hearing panel can, for instance, sanction +Bruno by excluding all evidence offered on his behalf, which would allow it to move directly to sentencing, being told not to sell the building during the pendency of the case strikes me as eminently reasonable, and entirely in +Bruno’s best interest. After all, no developer in her right mind would want a property with this sort of potential cloud on the title and the litigation that could well ensue.
If there was any hope of peace and reconciliation in this matter, it surely looks like +Bruno has ended that possibility. And now he is doubling down on his position, further painting all involved into a corner and a situation in which no one comes out the winner.
Perhaps that is +Bruno’s goal–to being the temple roof down on all involved.
I hope not.