Top Episcopal bishop removes L.A. bishop from control over Newport's St. James church

The top bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States has removed J. Jon Bruno, the embattled bishop of the Los Angeles diocese, from any jurisdiction over the St. James the Great church in Newport Beach, which Bruno has tried twice to sell.

The Most Rev. Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, issued the restriction Tuesday, transferring pastoral and property oversight from Bruno to Bishop John Taylor, who has been named Bruno’s successor upon Bruno’s planned retirement at the end of the year.

The restriction comes about a week and a half after an ecclesiastical disciplinary panel issued a tentative ruling July 21 recommending that Bruno be suspended for three years and that St. James — which was closed as Bruno tried to sell it to would-be townhouse developer Legacy Partners in 2015 — be reopened to its congregation. The board found Bruno guilty of misconduct related to the sale attempt, which fell through after Legacy’s investment partner dropped out.

Curry’s decision also comes on top of a partial restriction he placed on Bruno’s ministry on June 28, barring him from completing another planned sale of the St. James property — this one to Newport Beach-based developer Burnham-Ward Properties — that was about to close escrow.

That sale is in a holding pattern, a diocese spokesman said Tuesday. A representative of Burnham-Ward did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

In between Curry’s restrictions, an Orange County Superior Court judge ruled July 11 that Bruno had legal control over the St. James property, nullifying a claim by the land’s donor, the Griffith Co., that deed restrictions meant it could only be used as a church.

Bruno’s secular attorney, Brian Bauer, did not immediately return calls Tuesday seeking comment about Curry’s latest decision.

In a statement, Curry wrote: “My review of the [disciplinary panel’s] order and the factual findings that undergird it, as well as my independent understanding of the deeply impaired relationships among the respective parties, have led me to have additional concerns about Bishop Bruno’s exercising any aspect of his ... authority over the St. James congregation ... or St. James’ real and personal property, during the pendency of this matter in the [disciplinary] process.”

Anticipating an appeal of the board’s ruling — which could stay the proposed suspension or other orders — Curry said “any exercise of more general authority by Bishop Bruno over the St. James congregation … may threaten the good order and welfare of the Church.”

Curry said he sought to “create space” for Taylor and the church governing committee to find reconciliation with the St. James community.

In a statement, Taylor said, “We pledge to do all we can to use this opportunity to achieve a just outcome for the sake of our entire diocesan community.”

Save St. James the Great, a group that formed after the church’s closure, said in a statement that it is grateful for Curry’s direction.

“We recognize the need for healing through honest reflection, humility and dialogue by all parties, guided by the Holy Spirit,” the statement said. “We stand ready to discuss a path forward with Bishop John Taylor, the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Los Angeles, and all of our brothers and sisters in Christ in the diocese, aimed at restoring us to our house of worship and the diocese to a peaceful, loving and united community in God’s service.”

hillary.davis@latimes.com

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