Judicial Council Decisions Search
Decision No. 407
October 16 1975
In Re: Petition from Cornelio M. Ferrer for a Reconsideration of Judicial Council Decision No. 392.
Digest of Case
Cornelio M. Ferrer's retirement became effective at the close of the adjourned session of the Central Conference and he is therefore a retired bishop under the Discipline of The United Methodist Church.
Statement of Facts
At the Tenth Regular Session of the Philippines Central Conference, November 29 to December 3, 1972, no bishops were elected to succeed two incumbent bishops who had been elected for a term, the quadrennium 1968-1972. After the twenty-third ballot, the Conference voted: "That an adjourned session of thePhilippines Central Conference be called in 1974" to complete the episcopal election and other unfinished matters. At the Adjourned Session of the Philippines Central Conference, February 1-3, 1974, Paul Locke A. Granadosin was reelected on the twenty-fifth ballot. After fifty-eight ballots the Conference adjourned without electing a second bishop. On February 4, 1974, Bishop Paul Locke A. Granadosin addressed the Judicial Council thus: "The College of Bishops of the Central Conference of the Philippines respectfully requests the Judicial Council to rule upon the following: 'Since 1966 the rule in the Philippines Central Conference has been that the retirement age shall be the same as that obtaining in the jurisdictional conference. "At the adjourned session held February 1-3, 1974, Bishop Cornelio M. Ferrer was not reelected. Bishop Ferrer reached the age of 65 on September 16, 1973. We should like to inquire whether in the light of the Central Conference specification that the retirement age shall be 'that obtaining in jurisdictional conferences,' Bishop Ferrer may be considered a retired bishop under Paragraph 396.3 and continue as a member of the Council of Bishops as provided for in 395.4." The Council found in its Decision 392 that there had been no valid action to provide retirement under Paragraph 396.3 for Cornelio M. Ferrer and that, therefore, he returned to and continued his membership as a traveling elder in the Annual Conference of which he ceased to be a member when he was elected a bishop. From that decision Bishop Ferrer moved for reconsideration and the Council agreed to reconsider at this session. Additional information, not available in our earlier rulings, was provided by petitioner appellant as well as Mr. Justice Crisolito Pascual of the Committee on Episcopacy of the Philippines Central Conference and Bishop Paul Locke A. Granadosin. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council assumes jurisdiction under Paragraph 13 of its Rules of Practice and Procedure. ANALYSIS Because the records which were available to the Council when it made Decision No. 392 were incomplete and in some respects unclear, the Council agreed to reconsider that decision. With a more complete record of the facts of the case we find that consideration of the retirement of Bishop Ferrer must begin with his request for retirement and the action of the Central Conference upon that request near the close of the regular session of the Central Conference on December 3, 1972. At that time, failing of reelection and under the impression that his term would expire immediately, the Bishop asked for and the Central Conference voted to grant retirement under Paragraph 396.2 which effectively accomplished his retirement. The action of the Conference does not establish a date for the retirement but with the close of the 1972 Conference Session his position was generally understood to be that of a retired bishop. Bishop Ferrer himself and the Conference considered that he had been retired. However, when the regular session failed to elect any Bishops, and the Central Conference voted to hold an adjourned session in 1974 for the purpose of electing bishops, the Judicial Council ruled in Decision No. 370 that the terms of the bishops elected in 1968 did not expire until the close of the Adjourned Session. This decision which was not primarily concerned with the retirement of a bishop but rather with the date of the expiration of the term of office, was interpreted by the bishop and the Committee on Episcopacy of the Central Conference to have nullified the action taken on the retirement. Bishop Ferrer then again took up his work as bishop and continued to function in that office until the close of the Adjourned Session. The effect of Decision No. 370 was not to nullify the retirement action taken by the Conference but rather to postpone the date of its effectiveness until the close of the Adjourned Session in 1974. In the meantime both bishops elected in 1968 continued in office under the directive of Decision 370. Because of the misinterpretation of the effect of Decision 370, both the Bishop and the Conference acted under the belief that retirement of Bishop Ferrer would not be effective without additional action. When the Adjourned Session was convened, the Conference proceeded to ballot for the election of bishops. The Adjourned Session elected only one bishop, Paul Locke A. Granadosin. Before the close of this session, failing of reelection, Bishop Ferrer, who had attained the age of 65 on September 16, 1973, made request of the Committee on Episcopacy for retirement under Paragraph 396.3. Since that time the Council has been advised by Bishop Paul Locke A. Granadosin, as follows: "During the 1974 adjourned session, after failing to be reelected, and before final adjournment, Bishop Ferrer appeared before the Committee on Episcopacy with the request for retirement since he had turned sixty-five earlier. The committee, on the basis that his request was presented after the episcopal election had already started and that up to the time of a declaration of a non-election, Bishop Ferrer had not garnered sufficient votes for an election, could not be granted the privilege to retire as a bishop. As a result, his request for retirement was not presented to the Conference." The Council has been further advised by Mr. Justice Crisolito Pascual of the Court of Appeals of the Philippines who is the Chairman of the Committee on Episcopacy of the Philippines Central Conference, as follows: "In connection with the penultimate paragraph of your letter, I recall that the request of the Rev. Cornelio M. Ferrer for retirement as bishop was considered off-the-record by common consent. After presenting his request for retirement under Paragraph 396.2 of the Discipline, the Rev. Cornelio M. Ferrer withdrew and the Committee discussed the matter extendedly. In the end, the Committee decided to maintain its action, reached at the meeting held on January 17, 1973, a few weeks after the close of the 1972 regular session, that Paragraph 396.2 (Watkins Legislation) is not applicable to Central Conferences and even if it were the Rev. Ferrer couldn't be retired under the said disciplinary provision because the condition sine qua non of the said disciplinary provision has not been met and that the Rev. Ferrer decided to remain in contention for the episcopal office up to the very last and final ballot in the adjourned session but failed of reelection." The Committee on Episcopacy failed to consider this request and the matter of Bishop Ferrer's retirement was not again presented to the Conference. On the basis of the fact that no action was taken on the matter of Bishop Ferrer's retirement by the 1974 session of the Central Conference, it has been assumed that the Bishop has not been retired. This is the assumption made by the Central Conference and its Committee on Episcopacy as well as in Decision 392 of the Judicial Council. This assumption is in error. The retirement of Bishop Ferrer was requested and accomplished under the authority of Paragraph 396.2 of the 1970 Supplement of the 1968 Discipline. The authority of the Philippines Central Conference to grant retirement and the title of a retired bishop is an authority granted by Paragraph 397.2, 1960 rule of the Philippines Central Conference, and Paragraph 395.4: "Each Central Conference shall determine the rules for retirement of its bishops; provided that the age of retirement shall not exceed that fixed for bishops in the jurisdictions. In the event of retirement allowances being paid from the Episcopal Fund, these rules shall be subject to the approval of the General Conference." (Par. 397.2, 1972 Discipline) ". . . the retirement age of the Bishops of the Philippines Central Conference of The Methodist Church shall be the same as that obtaining for Bishops in the Jurisdictional Conferences of The Methodist Church in the United States." (1960 rule of the Philippines Central Conference) "An elder who has served as a bishop up to the time of retirement shall have the status of a retired bishop, including all bishops of former or existing Central Conferences." (Par. 395.4, 1972 Discipline) Bishop Cornelio M. Ferrer was granted the retired bishop status by the retirement voted by the Philippines Central Conference on December 3, 1972 with the effective date of that retirement being February 3, 1974 when the term for which he had been elected expired.
Cornelio M. Ferrer's retirement became effective at the close of the adjourned session of the Central Conference and he is therefore a retired bishop under the Discipline of The United Methodist Church. Concurring Opinion I concur with my colleagues in this decision. I do so, however, with a deep awareness of earlier decisions of the Judicial Council on this same question of the retirement of Central Conference term bishops which seem to contradict this decision, and which sometimes have seemed to those involved in the episcopal relationships under question to have been unjust. My colleagues are disturbed in this decision by the fact that it seems to require a reinterpretation of two recent decisions on the question of the retirement of Bishop Cornelio M. Ferrer, Decisions No. 370 and 392, and also an admission that, along with the Philippines Central Conference, the Judicial Council had made an assumption which was in error. Given the changing legislative and judicial background of this question about the retired status of Central Conference term bishops, it is small wonder that at times both petitions and decisions get involved in some confusion or ask and answer narrow questions which need to be tempered by larger perspectives. In matters over which it has jurisdiction the Judicial Council is required to state what the law is at any given moment. The law of the Church may change, however, through constitutional amendments or legislation. I feel that some review of Judicial Council Decisions against the background of the changing law of the Church is necessary for the understanding and support of this decision. The Judicial Council of The Methodist Church had hardly been born when, in Decision No. 4, in 1940, it started to deal with the question of the tenure of Central Conference bishops. That decision upheld the constitutionality of the provision permitting Central Conferences to fix the tenure of their bishops, electing them for a term of years or for life. The argument of the decision stated emphatically that, though both were a part of our Episcopacy and of the Plan of our Itinerant General Superintendency, there were two kinds of bishops, those elected by Jurisdictional Conferences and those elected by Central Conferences. It based this conclusion on the greater limitations on the powers of Central Conference bishops in the law of the Church. Such differences were whittled away, however, by constitutional changes and by General Conference legislation and by Judicial Council decisions. In Decision No. 53 in 1948 the Judicial Council affirmed the constitutionality of the General Conference action giving a Central Conference bishop membership in the Council of Bishops with restricted vote. Later the constitution and the legislation was changed and the voting restriction was removed and the Judicial Council, in Decision No. 164 in 1960, when the General Conference had sought to restrict the attendance of Central Conference bishops at meetings of the Council of Bishops to once in a quadrennium, decided that Central Conference bishops had full rights of membership and participation in the Council of Bishops and that their attendance could not be so restricted. But while differences in power and privilege were being eliminated, some differences remained. The law of the Church required that Jurisdictional Conference bishops be elected for life and provided rules and procedures for their retirement, but permitted Central Conferences to determine the tenure of their bishops and the rules for their retirement. Against this background there was a basic distinction which became a recurring legal problem. It was not so much a distinction between bishops elected by Jurisdictional Conferences and bishops elected by Central Conferences, but a distinction between bishops elected for life by either Jurisdictional or Central Conferences and bishops elected for a term by Central Conferences. Again and again the Judicial Council had to answer questions concerning the status of a bishop whose term had ended. In its decisions the Judicial Council held that the law of the Church was clear, that a Central Conference had the right to elect its bishops for life but when it chose, instead, to elect them for a term, when that term was ended they were no longer bishops. A term was a perishable period of time. Unless one understood the thrust of this interpretation of the law one could read some Judicial Council decisions wrongly. For instance, in 1955 in Decision No. 117, the Judicial Council decided that a retired bishop of a Central Conference was authorized to attend meetings of the Council of Bishops with expenses paid. One might have assumed that Central Conference bishops who had completed their terms as well as those who had been elected for life and retired were included in this authorization. But it would have been a wrong assumption. Or again, The Philippines Central Conference in 1960 adopted retirement rules for its bishops as follows-"That the retirement age of the Bishops of the Philippines Central Conference of The Methodist Church be the same as that obtaining for Bishops in the Jurisdictional Conferences of The Methodist Church in the United States of America." The Judicial Council in Decision No. 199 in 1963 ruled that this action of the Philippines Central Conference, adopting by reference the law of The Methodist Church governing the retirement of bishops elected by Jurisdictional Conferences, was in accordance with the law of the Church. The Decision went on to declare that Bishop D. D. Alejandro, who had been elected for a term and who had become 70 years of age, under the law for the retirement of Jurisdictional Conference bishops adopted by the Philippines Central Conference, would be retired at the next session of the Central Conference. One might have concluded that D. D. Alejandro would then be a retired bishop of the Central Conference. But it would have been a wrong conclusion. A Central Conference might use by adoption Jurisdictional Conference retirement rules to end the terms of its term bishops but it could not make them retired bishops when their terms were ended. The strong reiteration of its interpretation of the law of the Church in Decision No. 236 in 1966 must have been a great disappointment to those who had wrongly interpreted Judicial Council Decision No. 199. Again, the question concerned D. D. Alejandro whose term of office ended at the time of compulsory retirement. Again the Judicial Council put its consistent opinion on this question in clear language- "The essence of 'term episcopacy' is that on completion of that term of office the encumbent ceases to occupy that office. A bishop, even though he reaches the age of compulsory retirement concurrently with the completion of the term of office, ceases to be a bishop and returns to the status of a member of the Annual Conference." In 1968, in an attempt to alleviate what was felt by many to be an injustice to certain Central Conference term bishops in the law of the Church as interpreted by the Judicial Council, a new provision was written into the Discipline by action of the General Conference. This provision was amended in 1970 and now reads- "An elder who has served as a bishop up to the time of retirement shall have the status of a retired bishop, including all bishops of former or existing Central Conferences." (Par. 395.4, 1972 Discipline) In Decisions No. 303, 347 and 361 the Judicial Council held that this new provision could not be applied retroactively beyond 1968, but that it could and did apply prospectively. Its effect is to eliminate many of the remaining distinctions between life tenure and term bishops, particularly in regard to retirement status. While a term bishop whose term ends short of retirement still ceases to be a bishop, a term bishop whose term ends at the age of compulsory retirement or at an earlier age when by the rules of the Central Conference he is retired has a continuing status as a retired bishop in the Church. Whether or not this was the intention of the legislation in Paragraph 395.4, this is its effect, and this is the basic change in the law of the Church which supports this decision. RALPH M. HOUSTON