Church-goers file complaint against Episcopalian bishop over St. James site sale

<This post has been clarified, as noted below.>

Episcopalians formerly associated with a Newport Beach church have filed a formal complaint against a bishop whose actions have paved the way for the church’s waterfront property to potentially become luxury condos.

The complaint, known as a presentment, filed with the national Episcopal church in New York City alleges that Bishop J. Jon Bruno violated church doctrine in May after he put the St. James the Great Episcopal Church’s Lido Village property and two nearby parking lots up for sale to a developer, Legacy Partners Residential, which plans to construct 22 homes there.

Among the 147 canon violations levied in the presentment, dated July 6, are “instances of reckless or intentional misrepresentation, conduct unbecoming a bishop of the church, possible failure to get required diocesan approval for the sale and creating or promoting conflict,” according to a news release from St. James issued Wednesday.

Also joining the presentment were eight clergy members from Orange and Los Angeles counties.

According to the presentment, Bruno’s actions are “very upsetting to many in the congregation and the community, inasmuch as the site has been a church for 70 years and thousands of Newport Beach area Episcopalians have been baptized, confirmed, married and buried there, and the earthly remains of a dozen souls rest at the site.”

A spokesman for the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles was not available for comment Wednesday.

The church has 30 days from July 6 to review the presentment, and it could schedule proceedings that would “require the bishop to account for his actions,” according to a St. James press release.

Bruno, who has been otherwise unavailable for comment partially due to the legal proceedings, wrote in a July 8 statement on the Los Angeles diocese’s website about the sale: “I am fully aware that the decision to sell the Newport Beach property is not to the liking of some Episcopalians and other stakeholders, and I sincerely empathize with the sense of loss felt by many, particularly after the joint efforts of local parishioners, the former vicar and the Bishop’s Office to rebuild the mission congregation there.”

Bruno added that there are options available for worship in neighboring Episcopal parishes within seven miles of the Via Lido church.

The presentment comes weeks after St. James’ congregation filed another complaint in Orange County Superior Court that said the roughly $15-million sale to Legacy Partners violates the land’s deed, which says that the property be used exclusively for church purposes.

On June 24, a judge sided with Legacy Partners, saying that the church’s parishioners lacked legal rights to their claim because they are not listed on the deed.

Diocese attorneys, who filed their own lawsuit June 26, argued that in 1985, the church was able to negotiate taking off the land-use restrictions from the deed, though the Griffith Co., which formerly owned the property, claims the restrictions were never removed.

Parishioners and church staff have been kept out of St. James since June 29, when the locks were changed. They have been conducting outdoor services nearby.

[Clarification, 1:55 p.m. July 16: This article was updated to clarify that eight clergy members from Orange and Los Angeles counties were among those joining the presentment filed with the national Episcopal church.]