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Decision No. 726

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October 28 1994
In Re: Matters Related to Grievance Procedures, with Particular Reference to Involuntary Leave of Absence.

Digest of Case

The decision of the bishop that there had been compliance with all provisions of the 1988 Discipline in placing the clergy member on leave of absence without consent prior to the Executive Session of the 1992 Annual Conference is reversed and the clergy member's voluntary status continued. The actions of the 1992 Executive Session and 1993 Clergy Session in placing the clergy member on an involuntary leave of absence (leave of absence without consent) were in accordance with the provisions of the 1988 and 1992 Discipline as evidenced in the record. The decision of the bishop is affirmed. There can be no complaints brought at this time against the clergy member based on unsigned grievances for alleged immorality which is said to have occurred in 1990 and was discovered in 1991 because such a complaint is barred by the statute of limitations.

Statement of Facts

At the 1994 Session of the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference William Brooks, a clergy member of that conference, submitted in writing, through John Schwiebert, a list of twelve "questions of law" to be ruled on by the presiding bishop of the conference (William Brooks was not present at the conference session). The questions were not read in the conference session but were handed to the presiding bishop. The bishop took the questions under advisement, and responded within thirty days. Some of the questions had to do with a leave of absence without the clergy's consent, on which he was placed prior to the 1992 Annual Conference, following a voluntary leave of absence. This leave of absence without consent was initiated by the bishop following allegations of immorality. Other questions evolved around involuntary leaves of absence on which the respondent was placed by the Executive Session in 1992 and the Clergy Session of 1993. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2612 of the 1988 Discipline and Par. 2613 of the 1992 Discipline. ANALYSIS The bishop has ruled that the Annual Conference was in compliance with the provisions of the applicable Discipline in procedure related to all of the abovementioned leaves of absences. A proper consideration of the issues demands a separate analysis of each leave, which follows below. In 1990 the clergy member was placed on voluntary leave of absence when his wife received a position in Sitka, Alaska, which continued through the 1991-92 conference year. There was no appointment available to the clergy member in that area at the time. During that year the clergy member was accused of molesting some young girls (immorality) during his most recent prior pastorate. Upon recommendation of the Bishop and Cabinet the clergy member was placed on leave of absence without consent, by the Board of Ordained Ministry. This action, occurring between the sessions of the Annual Conference, was an interim action, subject to the approval of the Annual Conference at its next session. The letter the clergy member received concerning the interim action simply told him that he was placed on a leave of absence without consent. There was no opportunity to request a hearing, nor were there any delineated reasons for this action. In March 1992, prior to the Annual Conference, clergy member was advised in writing and verbally that the Executive Session was going to ask him to be placed on a leave of absence without consent. He was advised of the reasons for this action and his right to a hearing. A formal grievance had been signed by the Secretary of the Cabinet on May 16, 1994 charging the respondent with sexual abuse under the provisions of Par. 2623.(i) of the 1992 Discipline. This formal grievance is flawed in two respects. First, the charge of sexual abuse is a new charge added to the Discipline in 1992. The alleged abuse is said to have occurred in 1990, with awareness of same having been brought to light in 1991. The allegation would then be processed under the provisions of the 1988 Discipline. There is no such chargeable offense in Par. 2621 of 1988 Discipline. Secondly, even if there were such a chargeable offense, under provisions of Par. 453.1(b) of the 1988 Discipline "no complaint shall be considered for any misconduct ... which shall not have been committed within two years preceding the filing of the grievance." The statute of limitations having run in the instant case no such formal complaint can now be filed in this matter. This would be the case notwithstanding the fact that the respondent failed to cooperate in the investigation of the allegations. As to the chargeable offense of disobedience to the Order and Discipline of The United Methodist Church, the clergy member was given notice of the complaint; it is currently before the Joint Review Committee. Additionally, the clergy member was advised that the 1994 Clergy Session was being requested to place him on involuntary leave of absence. He was advised of his right to a hearing and failed to request one, thereby waiving his right. The 1994 Clergy session legally placed the clergy member on involuntary leave of absence.

Decision

The decision of the bishop that there had been compliance with all provisions of the 1988 Discipline in placing the clergy member on leave of absence without consent prior to the Executive Session of the 1992 Annual Conference is reversed and the clergy member's voluntary status continued. The actions of the 1992 Executive Session and 1993 Clergy Session in placing the clergy member on an involuntary leave of absence (leave of absence without consent) were in accordance with the provisions of the 1988 and 1992 Discipline as evidenced in the record. The decision of the bishop is affirmed. There can be no complaints brought at this time against the clergy member based on unsigned grievances for alleged immorality which is said to have occurred in 1990 and was discovered in 1991 because such a complaint is barred by the statute of limitations.

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