In a development that few Episcopalians of four or five years ago could have imagined, the Episcopal bishops of the most powerful and financially secure dioceses have begun to turn on their own once-strong, but now severely weakened, parishes. Having driven out all the dissenters at enormous expense to their coffers, these dioceses are increasingly trying to make up their losses by sacrificing valuable real estate — even if it means turning out previously loyal congregations from their hard-won property. And — who could have foreseen it? — the parishes most harmed by the continuous litigation were precisely those with the most valuable properties.
A prime example is the Diocese of Los Angeles, led by the litigious J. Jon Bruno — he of the forkÃ¨d tongue. For nine years he waged war in the California courts against four dissident congregations to prevent them from keeping title to their own parish properties. Using the notorious Dennis Canon, he was singularly successful in having California courts impose an irrevocable trust on the local parishes’ real estate, so that when they voted to withdraw from the diocese, they necessarily forfeited all rights to their property.
But his victories came at a tremendous cost: the Diocese had spent more than eight million dollars as of last year, and was still incurring more costs to subsidize two of the remnant congregations in their newly recaptured sanctuaries. Bishop Bruno negotiated sales of two of the properties: the parish of All Saints Long Beach was allowed to purchase their property on a long-term contract, and he sold the church of St. David’s in North Hollywood to a private school.