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Decision No. 781

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April 17 1996
In Re: Petition from the General Council on Finance and Administration for a Declaratory Decision as to the Constitutionality, Meaning, Application, and Effect of Paragraphs 507.1 and 923 of the 1992 Discipline as They Affect the Date on Which Newly-Elected Bishops Receive Salary from the Episcopal Fund.

Digest of Case

Pars. 507.1 and 923 of the 1992 Discipline are constitutional, as they follow the direction of Pars. 15 and 25 of the Constitution in making plans for the support of the bishops of the church.

Statement of Facts

The 1992 General, Conference adopted the report of the General Council on Finance and Administration which included the following sentence: "The salary ofa bishop newly elected in 1992 shall begin on September 1, 1992." Similar legislation is proposed to the 1996 General Conference. The General Council on Finance and Administration took action to petition the Judicial Council for a Declaratory Decision on whether the General Conference has the authority to adopt rules which set September 1 of the year of election as the beginning date for the salary of newly-elected bishops. At an oral hearing on Saturday, April 13, 1996, Bishop Jack Tuell appeared for the Council of Bishops and Mary K. Logan appeared for the General Council on Finance and Administration. Theodore H. Walter recused himself and did not participate in any of the proceedings related to this decision. Jurisdiction The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2616 of the 1992 Discipline. Analysis Par. 15 states that "[t]he General Conference shall have full legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional." Following this statement is a list of specific powers granted to the General Conference which includes "[t]o define and fix the powers, duties, and privileges of the episcopacy, to adopt a plan for the support of the bishops, to provide a uniform rule for their retirement, and to provide for the discontinuance of a bishop because of inefficiency or unacceptability" Further, Par. 25 states that one of the responsibilities of the Jurisdictional Conferences is "to elect bishops and to cooperate in carrying out such plans for their support as may be determined by the General Conference." Par. 17, one of the Restrictive Rules, states that "[t]he General Conference shall not change or alter any part or rule of our government so as to do away with episcopacy or destroy the plan of our itinerant general superintendency." Prior to 1976 newly-elected bishops were appointed to an episcopal area where their duties began immediately. Since 1976, the appointment to an episcopal area is effective on September 1 of the year of election. From 1976 to 1988, bishops were paid salary and other expenses from the Episcopal Fund from the date of consecration. Beginning in 1988 and continuing to the present, the salary has been paid from September 1 of the year of election. Par. 506 states that the "consecration of bishops may take place at the session of the conference at which election occurs or at a place and time designated by the conference." This paragraph clearly assumes that consecration of newly-elected bishops may take place at a time other than the session of the Jurisdictional or Central Conference. Par. 49 gives to the General Conference the power to set the time and place for the bishops elected by the jurisdictions, and the Central Conferences the power to do the same for those elected by the Central Conferences. Par. 15 requires that the General Conference establish a "uniform rule" for the retirement of bishops. Par. 509.1 provides for bishops to be retired on August 31 for bishops to be retired on August 31 following the regular session of the Jurisdictional Conference. Because of this provision, it is logical for the Discipline to provide in Par. 507.1 that September 1 of the same year is the date on which all episcopal assignments made at Jurisdictional Conference become effective. The approximately six-week period between election and consecration and September 1 enables a newly-elected bishop to conclude matters at the prior appointment and make an orderly transition to assumption of the duties of the episcopal area. This is analogous to the way clergy members of an Annual Conference receive new appointments at the Annual Conference session but move to the new appointment at a later date. In clear recognition that the bishops are general superintendents from the time of their consecration, funds are provided for travel and certain other expenses from the Episcopal Fund. Par. 527 states that bishops "are elected general superintendents of the whole Church . . . so bishops become through their election members first of the Council of Bishops before they are subsequently assigned to areas of service." As set forth in the 1992 Discipline Par. 923, bishops are paid from the Episcopal Fund, and the General Council on Finance and Administration recommends to the General Conference the budget for the Episcopal Fund, In adopting the recommendation of the General council on Finance and Administration, the General Conference makes "plans for their support" as required by Pars. 15 and 25. It clearly is the responsibility of the General Conference to make these plans. The present plan may be unwieldy, cumbersome, vague, unfair, and/or unwise, but none of those things necessarily renders it unconstitutional. The lack of any definition of effective bishop in the Discipline at present means that any plan of support for bishops recommended by the General Council on Finance and Administration must make assumptions about that definition. The present plan, and the plan recommended to the 1996 General Conference, assume that bishops become effective when they begin their residential and presidential supervision of the assigned episcopal area. It is the responsibility of the General Conference, not the Judicial Council, to determine what is meant by the term "effective bishops" in Par. 923 and whether the assumption of General Council on Finance and Administration is correct. In the context of the present plan of support, a person elected to the episcopacy is assumed to continue receiving a salary from the prior appointment from mid-July to September 1. When the General Conference determines the date a bishop becomes effective, it must also determine the source of the salary of the effective bishop. Par. 505 refers only to bishops who are assigned to episcopal areas for residential and presidential supervision. It does not determine the total number of bishops in The United Methodist Church. As long as there is only one bishop assigned to an episcopal area, the total number of bishops in the period from the consecration of new bishops in mid-July until September 1 creates no Disciplinary problem.

Decision

Pars. 507.1 and 923 of the 1992 Discipline are constitutional, as they follow the direction of Pars. 15 and 25 of the Constitution in making plans for the support of the bishops of the church. Tom Matheny, President Wayne Coffin, Secretary Supplementary Opinion I agree for the most part, with the opinion of the majority. However, there are observations that I must make. First, I believe that it must be clear that a person becomes a bishop when consecrated, regardless of the definition of "effective." This is correct theologically and from the disciplinary point of view. Second, every piece of legislation by an Annual Conference or the General Conference must meet the test, "Is it fair?" It is not fair for a person to be consecrated a bishop and not be paid immediately. It is not fair for a previous appointment to bear this burden in the interim period. It is not fair for the General Conference to have the responsibility for a program of financial support, and to do it without money. It is not fair for the General Council on Finance and Administration to, in effect, amend legislation by means of a budget item without carefully explaining this to the General Conference. Tom Matheny, President

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