Judicial Council Decisions Search
Decision No. 803
April 24 1997
In Re: Request for a Declaratory Decision by the California-Pacific Annual Conference to Determine If the Clergy Sexual Ethics Policy Adopted by That Conference Is In Accordance With the 1996 Discipline and Judicial Council Decision 736
Digest of Case
The Clergy Sexual Ethics Policy of the California-Pacific Annual Conference is remanded to the Conference for appropriate revisions to bring it into conformity with the 1996 Discipline and this decision. The policy is not in effect until reviewed and approved by the Judicial Council,
Statement of Facts
On Thursday morning, June 13, 1996, during the morning session, the California-Pacific Annual Conference adopted a Clergy Sexual Ethics Policy. Following the adoption of the policy, a motion was placed before the conference to request a declaratory decision on whether the Clergy Sexual Ethics Policy was in accordance with the United Methodist polity and with Interim ¶454 and ¶2622-2628 of The 1996 Discipline and Judicial Council Decision 736, According to an Amicus Curiae brief filed by two members of the task force which prepared the Clergy Sexual Ethics Policy, it was developed prior to the 1996 General Conference and immediately after the General Conference. In order to complete the policy for presentation to the June 1996 annual session of the California-Pacific Annual Conference, the task force used an interim operating document prepared by the legal department of the General Council on Finance and Administration. Apparently, the task force moved swiftly to complete the document because the executive committee of the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry determined that the Conference's existing policy was out of conformity with Judicial Council Decision 736. This resulted in the Board of Ordained Ministry's expansion of its present Ethics Committee into a temporary task force including other United Methodists, lay and clergy, who were not members of the board. The board requested the task force to draft a new policy which would meet the requirements of Judicial Council Decision 736. The proposed policy was presented to "legislative sessions" during the 1996 Annual Conference Session. Based on input from those legislative sessions, some amendments were accepted by the task force and the amended proposal was presented to the plenary session of the Annual Conference on Thursday, June 13, 1996, and was adopted. Immediately following the adoption of the policy, the chair of the task force moved that the Annual Conference request a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council on whether the Clergy Sexual Ethics Policy adopted by the Annual Conference is in accordance with United Methodist polity and with Interim ¶454 and ¶2622-2628 of the 1996 Discipline and Judicial Council Decision 736. The motion was adopted. Jurisdiction The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under the provisions of P 2616 of the 1996 Discipline. Analysis and Rationale The Clergy Sexual Ethics Task Force of the Board of Ordained Ministry of the California-Pacific Annual Conference has done good work in attempting to prepare a Clergy Sexual Ethics Policy for the California-Pacific Annual Conference. Unfortunately, in preparing the Clergy Sexual Ethics Policy, the task force used a flawed document issued by the legal-department of the General Council on Finance and Administration. Therefore, the paragraph numbers used in the policy are not in accordance with the paragraph numbers of the 1996 Discipline and in some cases nonexistent paragraph numbers are cited. In addition, the task force used nomenclature from the 1992 Discipline which, in several instances, was changed by the 1996 General Conference. Consequently, the policy contains errors in referring to certain categories of clergy. Additionally, the Judicial Council notes that the policy is in conflict with the Discipline in three (3) major areas. First, although the policy's Foreword says that the words "must" and "shall" are used when the Discipline has set the specific procedure, in point of fact, there are parts of the policy which do not follow this standard. For example, the policy states that a complaint "must" be "signed by the person who alleges misconduct involving sexual or sexualized behavior took place." The Discipline has no such requirement and even notes that a bishop or a district superintendent may initiate a complaint. (emphasis added) ¶ 358.1.a. (See Decision 736, Item #12) Second, the policy paraphrases the Discipline in some instances. Note that Decisions 476, 700, and 736, all rule that an Annual Conference may not paraphrase, nor may it summarize the Discipline. The California-Pacific Policy creates its own definition of a complaint, and states when allegations of sexual harassment, sexual abuse or child abuse "may" be considered in relation to secular court charges. This is paraphrasing, and in some ways modifying the Discipline. Third, the policy "suggests" procedures which are already set otherwise in the Discipline. For example, submission of complaints is delineated in P 35S.l.a). Which complaints may be treated under the judicial process and which complaints may be referred to the administrative complaint procedure are set forth in P 358.l.d(1) and (2). Additionally, it is a violation for the policy to change or regulate the disciplinary procedures, even by. suggestions which limit discretionary decisions. The foregoing is not meant to be exhaustive but rather are examples of issues to be considered in revising the policy. The policy is being sent back to the conference for revision.
The Judicial Council remands this Clergy Sexual Ethics Policy to the California-Pacific Conference for revision to bring it into conformity with the 1996 Discipline and this decision. The revision is to be accomplished preferably by the 1997 Annual Session of the California-Pacific Conference but not later than the 1998 Annual Session of the Conference. This policy is not in effect until reviewed and approved by the This copy subject to final editing and correction.