Bishop Bruno’s Title IV Troubles

 

Let me preface this post by saying I instinctively like Bishop Bruno.
That said, his recent Title IV case underscores one of my beliefs about clergy misconduct, which is that, when called to account, one typically sees the true nature of the clergyperson. It also illustrates the confusion that surrounds Title IV.

So what is Title IV? In a nutshell, it is the Episcopal canon that provides a framework for clergy discipline.

Several years ago, Title IV was amended to be less punitive, and more focused on healing and reconciliation. To my mind, those are good things, and changes that were long overdue.

The challenge, of course, is that you can’t make people play nice. Healing and reconciliation may be possible, but only if the parties want this to happen.

In Bishop Bruno’s case, the controversy involves the church of St. James the Great.

This is one of the churches that the so-called Anglicans tried to wrest from its rightful owners, which are the members of The Episcopal Church. Litigation ensured over the matter, with the dissidents contending that Episcopal Canons do not affect ownership.

The courts ruled against the dissidents, and the assets of the church were returned to loyal Episcopalians. The challenge, however, was that there were darned few left.

So, the loyalists moved back in, and claim that they made great progress in rebuilding the parish. They further claim that Bishop Bruno could remain in their church home if they could become sustainable.

Apparently, however, at some point Bishop Bruno’s plans changed. He negotiated a deal to sell the property, which would have raised a huge sum to offset the diocese’s litigation costs with the dissidents.

In so doing, the Bishop apparently locked parishioners out of the building. The loyalists were outraged, and the conflict escalated when the deal with the developer fell through, yet the parishioners remained locked out of the building. By this time, the loyalists had filed a Title IV complaint against Bishop Bruno, alleging inter alia that he had been dishonest in his dealings with them.

Do I know who said what to whom? Of course not.

But the root of the problem became clear when the reference panel, which refers the matter out for resolution, sent the matter to conciliation. This was a good and appropriate first step, as it allowed the parties to seek a win-win solution.

Instead of doing what I hope most of us would do, which is to go to conciliation in good faith, Bishop Bruno allegedly refused to do so. Thus, the matter came back to the reference panel. From there, it likely went to a conference panel, in which the parties would have been encouraged to discuss ways to resolve the matter.

Unfortunately, it appears that Bishop Bruno refused to “belly up to the bar,” and the matter skidded back yet again to the reference panel. The panel then sent the matter on to a hearing panel.

In a formal hearing under Title IV, it’s a full-on, courtroom-style event, with rules of evidence, lawyers–the whole nine yards.

At that point, Bishop Bruno still remained intractable, arguing he couldn’t, wouldn’t, shouldn’t and didn’t do anything. As of this writing, we are awaiting a decision from the hearing panel.

The crux of the matter is illustrated by the fact that things ever went this far. I have worked with +Clay Matthews personally, the national intake officer, and I believe he does everything possible to resolve complaints informally, without the need for a full-on Title IV proceeding. So the fact that the complaint has now gone through the entire Title IV lifecycle speaks volumes. And what it tells me is that Bishop Bruno has been far more worried about power and control than about kindness, compassion, and resolution.

Of course, none of those attributes are, per se, violations of church canons. But they tell you about the respondent and his or her priorities, and those are far more damning than any Title IV case ever could.

At the same time, I am glad that the complaint has been taken seriously. Far too often, diocesan intake officers take the view that if it doesn’t involve sex, drugs, missing money or murder, it’s not an offense. And far too often, diocesan officials will allow clergy who have been on the receiving end of a complaint to engage in retaliation. That’s really bad, as this conduct would be illegal for a publicly traded company under Sarbanes-Oxley and other federal legislation. Yet it’s okay in churches? How does that work?

The good news is that it appears the 2018 General Convention of The Episcopal Church will add whistleblower protection to Title IV. It’s high time that happens, as only a fool will invoke Title IV if his or her clergy are allowed to engage in retaliation.

Meanwhile, I hope Bishop Bruno is giving serious thought to changing his ways. Being a priest isn’t about power. It’s about service.

About Eric Bonetti

I’m a cradle Episcopalian, living in Northern Virginia. My interests include writing, policy, sports, cooking, volunteer work, good food and wine, and teaching kids’ cooking classes. I retired in 2017 and now just work for fun. I’m also a regular contributor to Episcopal Cafe, and have been published at HuffPo and other major sites and publications.

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