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Decision No. 788

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October 24 1996
In Re: Request From the West Ohio Annual Conference for a Declaratory Decision on Whether a Resolution Entitled "Confidentiality and Responsibility for Addressing Sexual Misconduct and Harassment" Violates ¶ 440.5 of the 1992 Discipline.

Digest of Case

The West Ohio Annual Conference resolution entitled "Confidentiality and Responsibility for Addressing Sexual Misconduct and Harassment" violates ¶ 440.5 of the 1992 Discipline regarding confidentiality.

Statement of Facts

In June 1996, the West Ohio Annual Conference passed a resolution entitled, "Confidentiality and Responsibility for Addressing Sexual Misconduct and Harassment." This resolution included the statement: "Therefore, we understand that ministers shall inform persons who come to them with issues involving sexual misconduct and harassment that we have an affirmative obligation to share that information with a District Superintendent and/or the Bishop." The Annual Conference by a two-thirds vote, requested a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council pursuant to ¶ 2616, as to whether the policy statements in the resolution violated ¶ 440.5 of the 1992 Discipline. Par. 440.5 states: "Ordained ministers of The United Methodist Church are charged to maintain all confidences inviolate, including confessional confidences." It is clear and unequivocal that confidences may not be shared. The only question then is whether a warning given to persons who come to pastors for help, that all confidences concerning sexual misconduct and/or harassment will be told to the district superintendent and/or the bishop is a sufficient action to negate the confidentiality requirement. We rule that this warning is not sufficient to override the clergyperson's obligations under ¶ 440.5. Further, as a practical matter, often at the point in time that the clergyperson becomes aware that the counselee's issues involve sexual misconduct and/or harassment, it will be too late to give any such warning. The requirement of reporting confidences is in violation of the Discipline.

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