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Bishop Bruno pushes back on Title IV disciplinary measures against him

Bishop Bruno pushes back on Title IV disciplinary measures against him
An appeal has been mounted

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
September 10, 2017

Bishop John Bruno (VI Los Angeles) is not taking Title IV Hearing Panel's sanctions against lying down. Nor is he poised to accept them. On Sept. 7, he fired back with a short three-page brief on Diocese of Los Angeles letterhead, charging that the panel's Aug. 2 ruling was deliberately prejudiced against him.

On Aug. 2, four of the five-member Hearing Panel determined that Bishop Bruno would be barred from exercising his ministry, either as priest or bishop, for a three-year period of time. It also said that he was to keep his hands off of all real or personal property and to refrain from involving himself in any "temporal affairs of the church." It was also determined that "St. James the Great is a casualty of Bishop Bruno's misconduct acting as Diocesan and Corp Sole," and that the church "was robbed of a reasonable chance to succeed as a sustainable community of faith."

The Hearing Panel also strongly recommended that "as a matter of justice", the Diocese of Los Angeles "immediately suspend its efforts to sell the St. James property, that it restore the congregation and vicar to the church building and that it reassign St. James the Great to appropriate mission status."

That prohibition was quickly ignored by the Bishop-coadjutor John Taylor, in conjunction with the Diocese of Los Angeles' Standing Committee, which determined that through Bishop Bruno, the Diocese has entered into a binding contract to sell the Newport Beach property where St. James the Great sits with Burnham-Ward Properties/Burnham USA. Apparently, that agreement cannot be broken without "further expense and litigation."

"... Bishop Bruno has entered into a binding contract to sell the property," Bishop Taylor wrote on Aug. 14. "The buyer has the legal right to expect the seller to honor the contract."

Bishop Taylor was elected Bishop-coadjutor on December 3, 2017, and was consecrated on July 8. He will take over the full reins of leadership later this year when Bishop Bruno retires and ends his 15-year reign.

In his written response to the Hearing Panel's disciplinary actions, Bishop Bruno addressed 18 issues and charges that the he felt the Panel violated the Constitution & Canons of The Episcopal Church; exceeded its Title IV authority; had not decided all issues requiring resolution; erroneously interpreted and/or applied the church canon law; is guilty of procedural errors; and that the "factual determinations" of the Panel are not supported by "substantial evidence."

Bishop Bruno also levels charges that the Panel was improperly influenced by church authorities in its Title IV decision-making process; failed to maintain confidentiality; referenced secular court rulings to determine canon law; failed to dismiss the Title IV action; refused discovery evidence; failed to decide the Title II 6:3 charge as used in the Title IV action; blindsided him with a Title II 6:2 charge -- consulting with the Standing Committee about the sale of property; relied on irrelevant evidence in the Trial of a Bishop; excluded Canon Cindy Voorhees' deposition and other pertinent evidence at the Trial of a Bishop; relied on a negative publicity campaign against him as evidence in the charge of "conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy"; exceeded its jurisdiction to suggest to the Standing Committee not to continue with the sale of the property; and made "irrelevant findings" by adopting The Episcopal Church attorney's facts without proper analysis to the weight of evidence.

Therefore, Bishop Bruno asks the nine-member Court of Review for Bishops to "reverse the order of the Hearing Panel and dismiss all charges and restrictions in the Title IV disciplinary matter" involving him.

Five-members made up the Hearing Panel. Four of the five panelists signed the order, including: Bishop Herman Hollerith, IV (X Southern Virginia); Bishop Nicholas Knisely (XIII Rhode Island); Fr. Erik Larsen (Rhode Island) and Ms. Deborah Stokes (Southern Ohio). The fifth remaining member, Bishop Michael Smith (XI North Dakota), was seeking reconciliation and redemption rather than retribution.

"Both parties have ignored this scriptural wisdom: the Bishop, when he resorted to the secular court against the Anglicans who attempted to depart with the property; and the congregation of St. James the Great, under the guise of 'Save St. James the Great,' when it filed a civil complaint against the Bishop to stop the sale of the property," Bishop Smith stated in a dissenting communique. "Christian reconciliation becomes an elusive goal under these circumstances."

Sanctions against Bishop Bruno cannot be enforced until his appeals process has run its course. His appeal could also be successful and the bishop's court ruling overturned leaving Bishop Bruno's ministry intact.

This is not the first time a bishop has been adjudicated by the Trial of a Bishop and has sought redress through the Court of Review for Bishops.

The Bennison-Bruno connection

In 2008, Bishop Charles Bennison (XI Philadelphia) was found guilty of covering up his brother's on-going sexual abuse of a young teenage girl. At the time, newly-ordained Deacon John Bennison was the youth minister at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Upland, California, while his brother (Charles) was rector.

Eventually, Deacon Bennison was ordained into the priesthood and became rector of St. John's Episcopal Church in Clayton, California, a position he held 25 years.

In 2006, a San Francisco television investigative news crew at KGO-TV 7 news broke the story about Fr. Bennison's various sexual dalliances not only with the teenager, but a married woman as well.

When SNAP (the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) heard about the Episcopal priest's previous sexual misdeeds, it lobbied for Fr. Bennison's defrocking. He was deposed on June 12, 2006. Initially, there was some confusion as to whether Fr. Bennison could be deposed or if he already was deposed. Records show that during the 1970s, he voluntarily renounced his orders, but was able to work his way back into the good graces of The Episcopal Church, recover his priesthood and land a rectorship.

The irony is that Bishop Bruno was instrumental in the defrocking of Fr. Bennison. The former Episcopal priest's known sexual transgressions took place at St. Mark's, which is within the Diocese of Los Angeles. So, even though Fr. Bennison in 2006, was rector at St. John's in Diocese of California, when his past history was uncovered by the television station, Bishop Bruno had to sign off on his deposition before Bishop William Swing (XII California) could actually depose him.

The former Fr. Bennison has not faded way. Now he is Dr. Bennison with a Ph.D. in religion from Claremont School of Theology. He is involved in Pathway Faith Community an embracive, inclusive, progressive Internet "non-church", which includes "self-professed atheists, agnostics, pagans and believers of any sort." He also writes the Words & Ways commentary blog from a progressive angle, which has drawn the praise of at least two retired Episcopal bishops.

"John Bennison's messages are always interesting, always provocative and, as often as not, inspiring, memorably inspiring," commented Bishop John S. Thornton (XIII Bishop of Idaho). "Few preachers are so aware of what's going on in the world and few are so aware of what's going on in them, as a consequence."

Dr. Bennison's old friend Bishop Swing, also commented on his blog: "As Mary and I traveled abroad last week, I read aloud your collection of writings. Superb! Sometimes I couldn't finish a sentence, as I was touched to tears. Your sermons are the reason we all preach ... Thank you."

The Bennison brothers grew up in an Episcopal rectory. Their father, Charles E. Bennison, Sr., eventually became the V Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan.

Bishop Bennison's successful appeal

As a result of the initial cover-up, Bishop Bennison the younger, a presentment was brought against him in late October 2007, with "suppressing the information about his brother until 2006, when he disclosed publicly what he knew" and "failing to minister to people who he understood to have been injured by his brother's conduct."

This resulted in Bishop Bennison being removed as Bishop of the Diocese of Philadelphia and inhibited by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori on October 31, 2007. This was in effect through the June 2008 Trial of a Bishop, in which he was found guilty on both charges. He faced defrocking as a result of the guilty verdict.

On October 3, 2008, the Court for the Trial of a Bishop handed down its sentence, formally deposing Bishop Bennison, Jr. from holy orders. The order stated: "The court finds that even today Bishop Bennison has not shown that he comprehends the nature, significance and effect of his conduct and has not accepted responsibility and repented for his conduct and the substantial negative effects of that conduct."

However, Bishop Bennison appealed, and, like his brother, he was able to work his way back into the good graces of The Episcopal Church and regain his diocese.

In 2009, Bishop Bennison first appealed to the Court of Review for Bishops. He requested a new trial, citing new exculpatory evidence. He was denied. His second appeal was based on the statute of limitations. In August 2010, the ecclesial appeals court found that the statute of limitations had been breached by the time the 2007 Title IV presentment was issued, so the bishop's court ruling was overturned and Bishop Bennison was returned to his diocese amid a non-binding House of Bishops resolution urging him to retire. He finally hung up his mitre on Dec. 31, 2012.

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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