A disciplinary board for the Episcopal Church has upheld a lower panel's order blocking the bishop of the Los Angeles diocese from completing a planned sale of the St. James the Great church property in Newport Beach.
The Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno appealed to the Disciplinary Board for Bishops after an ecclesiastical hearing panel warned him in June not to sell the property before that panel reaches a decision on misconduct allegations related to a separate attempt to sell the church site in 2015.
The Most Rev. Michael Curry, the top bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, issued a similar sale-blocking order late last month.
The hearing panel, acting on a tip from a congregation member, issued its restriction not knowing whether Bruno had in fact entered a new sale contract. However, an attorney for Bruno eventually confirmed that he contracted with Newport Beach-based developer Burnham-Ward Properties in May. The price and plans for the property were not disclosed.
"By contracting to sell the St. James property while the conflicts involving that property were still under review and consideration by the hearing panel, (Bruno) disrupted and interfered with the integrity of the process of the (disciplinary) proceeding," the Rt. Rev. Catherine Waynick, president of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops, wrote in a decision issued Friday. "(Bruno's) actions undermined what the canons intend to be a process of reconciliation."
A call to the Los Angeles diocese seeking comment was not immediately returned Monday.
The 2015 sale attempt was the focal point of a three-day hearing in March to determine whether Bruno acted deceptively and unbecoming of a clergyman when he tried to sell the property. Opponents of the effort also argued that he didn't have permission of the diocesan government to sell. The hearing panel has yet to issue a decision on those allegations.
Bruno changed the locks on the church after committing to selling the site for $15 million to Legacy Partners, a developer that wanted to raze the church to build luxury townhomes. The congregation filed an ecclesiastical complaint not long after its eviction.
The sale fizzled after Legacy's investment partner dropped out, but the church remains locked. Members now worship in a community room at Newport Beach City Hall.