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UM Judicial Council revisits language of earlier decision

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    CALLED OUT INFORMATION SERVICE ... Monday, April 29, 2002 Judicial Council revisits language of earlier decision By Joretta Purdue* INDIANAPOLIS (UMNS) – A
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 29, 2002
      CALLED OUT INFORMATION SERVICE
      ------------------

      Monday, April 29, 2002
      Judicial Council revisits language of earlier decision
      By Joretta Purdue*

      INDIANAPOLIS (UMNS) � A decision by the United Methodist Judicial
      Council to revise an earlier ruling leaves Bishop Elias Galvan of
      Seattle with more discretion on the issue of suspending a clergywoman
      whose credentials are under review.

      In question was whether the suspension of a clergyperson whose
      ministerial credentials are under review is mandatory or optional.

      The new decision brings an earlier ruling into line with the
      denomination�s 2000 Book of Discipline by substituting the word "may"
      from the cited passage of the book for the word "shall," used in the
      earlier decision. Three council members signed a dissenting opinion
      in the current decision, saying suspension was required by the facts
      presented in the case. The case originated last year in the Pacific
      Northwest Annual (regional) Conference, which Galvan oversees.

      Meeting in its spring session April 24-25, the denomination's
      equivalent of the Supreme Court decided to alter the wording of its
      previous decision to accurately reflect that of the church�s book of
      laws and procedures.

      The relatively short docket � seven items, of which one was withdrawn
      � enabled the council to conclude its business a day earlier than
      expected. Spring storms prevented the Rev. C. Rex Bevins from
      attending, leaving the court with eight members for the session.

      Last year, the council had been asked by the Pacific Northwest
      Conference if a conflict exists between the denomination�s
      prohibition of "self-avowed practicing homosexual" clergy from being
      appointed to serve a congregation and the rule that requires the
      ministerial appointment of all clergy in good standing.

      In its decision, the council held that the two rules are not in
      conflict but that a bishop could not act unilaterally to withhold
      appointment of a clergyperson. Rather, the standing or status of an
      ordained pastor is determined only by the annual conference in
      accordance with fair process, a set of procedures designed to
      guarantee the rights of the clergyperson.

      The council's decision last October also noted that the specifics of
      this case were enough to subject the person to review of her
      ministerial credentials. Earlier in the year, the Rev. Karen Dammann
      had sent a letter to Galvan saying she was living in a covenanted
      same-sex relationship. Dammann was not mentioned by name in either
      Judicial Council decision.

      Galvan and another conference official subsequently sought the
      council's reconsideration of its directive, contained in Decision No.
      920, to suspend the clergywoman.

      The new decision does not alter the earlier decision except to change
      the direction that the bishop "shall place the clergy person on
      suspension" while proceedings are conducted to "may place the
      clergyperson on suspension," in keeping with the wording of the Book
      of Discipline.

      Three council members � the Rev. Keith D. Boyette, Mary A. Daffin and
      James Holsinger � dissented, saying that suspension is required in
      the specified case. They also said that the earlier decision "does
      not say that the bishop must suspend every person against whom any
      type of complaint is made. Decision 920 is limited to the factual
      situation set forth in the request for declaratory decision."

      A request for a declaratory decision from the churchwide Commission
      on General Conference asked, in effect, which groups may submit
      petitions to the General Conference, the church's highest legislative
      body. The commission also asked if it has the responsibility to
      interpret the meaning of a Book of Discipline reference to "any
      organization" of the United Methodist Church. The question arose in
      regard to the submission of petitions to General Conference.

      The council ruled that the commission does not have the authority to
      define the phrase "as being limited to official organizations" of the
      denomination. The Book of Discipline provides legislative access to
      both official and unofficial groups within the church, the council
      said.

      Another case involved the North Carolina Annual Conference's approval
      last June of a motion to appeal a Judicial Council decision. North
      Carolina members wanted to appeal the court�s ruling that a request
      from the conference's 2000 session did not meet the requisites for a
      declaratory decision.

      "There is no disciplinary provision for appealing a decision of the
      Judicial Council," the council said. "All decisions of the Judicial
      Council are final." Four members used a concurring opinion to point
      to the inadequacies of the original request, reminding petitioners
      that when questioning legality, they need to cite a particular
      paragraph in the Book of Discipline that relates to the matter.

      The concurring members � Rodolfo C. Beltran, the Rev. John G. Corry,
      Sally Brown Geis and James Holsinger � said they believed the North
      Carolina Annual Conference intended to ask for a decision on the
      legality of a resolution that it adopted in 2000, calling for seeking
      the guidance of the Holy Spirit on the issue of homosexuality through
      study and prayer and through the use of the official study materials
      of the denomination. "There is nothing in this resolution that makes
      it illegal or that is contrary to the provisions of the 2000
      Discipline," they wrote.

      The court also reviewed North Carolina Bishop Marion Edwards'
      decision of law regarding a question raised in the conference�s 2001
      session. The question dealt with whether funds of any unit within the
      church could be given to any organization that "promotes the
      acceptance of homosexuality by authorizing any portion of its
      property or buildings to be used to celebrate 'same sex' unions in a
      service resembling a marriage service or in a quasi service." The
      council agreed with the bishop that the question did not relate to
      business before the conference and was moot.

      In another case, the council upheld Edwards' ruling that a series of
      questions related to procedures for handling complaints against
      clergy was moot and hypothetical because the questions did not refer
      to any action before the conference.

      All bishops' decisions of law � responses to questions asked during
      the business session of the annual conference � are sent to the
      Judicial Council for review.

      The court gave a similar review to decisions by Bishop Hae-Jong Kim
      of the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference related to questions
      about conference structure. The council sometimes affirmed the
      bishop, sometimes overruled him and sometimes found that his decision
      that a particular question was moot and hypothetical was incorrect
      but that the bishop correctly ruled that the question was factually
      untrue.

      The council retained jurisdiction and said it expects to see the
      complete conference structure and rules at its fall session in
      Baltimore. The court also specified that district superintendents and
      members of the conference staff are barred from membership on the
      conference committee on episcopacy; the conference rules permitting
      the conference council to meet in executive session violate the Book
      of Discipline; and the conference's council on finance and
      administration cannot have voting members who also are members or
      employees of another church unit that is considered for funds from
      the conference budget.

      Before the council session began, a request related to whether annual
      conferences are required to provide for archival and historical
      matters was withdrawn by the petitioner. The Judicial Council also
      denied three other requests for reconsideration of earlier decisions.

      *Purdue is news director for United Methodist News Service in
      Washington.



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