California Episcopal Bishop Jon Bruno intends to sell off the property of a congregation he once championed. Parishioners and clergy are crying foul.

Most people have never heard of J. Jon Bruno, but his saga shows what is tearing apart what once was America’s most influential denomination—The Episcopal Church (TEC)—and creating such bitterness among former and some current members. It’s also a classic man-bites-dog story: Why would a bishop destroy a church and sell its building to a developer who plans to tear it down and build two dozen luxury town homes on the spot?

Bruno is the sixth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. Some call him a compassionate champion of social justice. Others see him as a cunning bully. Many Episcopal hierarchs around the United States have similarly bifurcated reputations now that about 400 churches have broken from the theologically liberal denomination and affiliated with the theologically conservative American Anglican Council. But former Bruno supporters wonder how they could have been so blinded by the gleam of the bishop’s golden chasuble on that day in 2013 when he blessed a newborn flock that he would soon abandon.

BRUNO, WHO TURNS 70 on Nov. 17, is a 6-foot-5, 300-pound former professional football player with a bear-grip handshake. People describe him as charismatic, fearless, passionate—and shrewd. He grew up in a Roman Catholic tailor’s family in Los Angeles and first felt a pull into priesthood as a 12-year-old. But when he discovered Catholic priests had to make a vow of celibacy, sports seemed a better fit. CONTINUE READING