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Decision No. 820

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April 24 1998
In Re: Review of Decision of Law of Bishop Joe A. Wilson in the Central Texas Conference Relating to Fair Process in Surrender of Clergy Credentials. (Deferred from October 1997)

Digest of Case

The bishop is correct in ruling that these were hypothetical questions which he was not required to answer. The ruling of the bishop is affirmed.

Statement of Facts

On June 2, 1997 at the Executive Session of the Central Texas Annual Conference one of the members of that session asked the bishop, in writing, for an episcopal ruling on the following questions: 1) Was fair process denied Charles Rice if he was not advised of the processes available to him as required in para 454.1a of the 1992 Book of Discipline before soliciting his withdrawal from ministry? (para. 2622 and JCD #557) 2) When Charles Rice surrendered his credentials on November 17, 1995 under threat of the judicial process for an alleged offense which occurred in May 1991, which offense was outside the Statute of Limitations, was this act of surrender valid since he was not informed of the Judicial Council Decision in regard to the extension of the Statute of Limitations adopted by the 1992 General Conference? 3) Was Charles Rice denied fair process if he was told that his surrender of credentials would be "held in abeyance" until his case could be processed? 4) If fair process was denied Charles Rice, is it not fair and right that the surrender of his credentials should be declared null and void, and that he should have the right to have any legitimate charges against him processed under the judicial section of the Book of Discipline? 5) If the surrender of the credentials of Charles Rice is declared null and void should he be entitled to compensation for lost salary and benefits? The bishop responded that these questions were not questions of law about which rulings may properly be made under the Discipline. However, he took the precaution of going through the questions, one by one, and answering them. The Judicial Council originally considered this matter in the fall session of 1997. At that session, it was concluded that the Judicial Council did not have adequate information on which to proceed. The parties were asked for that information by the secretary of the council saying, ...specifically we would like more information about the complaint, including a copy of it. We would like to determine if there was an element of duress or intimidation present in the handling of this matter from the beginning. Jurisdiction The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2613 of the 1996 Discipline. Analysis and Rationale The council reviewed the entire file including the additional information provided by all of the parties at the request of the secretary. The council has found that under the circumstances it would have to make findings of fact to respond to the questions posed. The Judicial Council is not a fact finding body. Additional voluminous information was filed. However, there was no indication that there was any element of duress or intimidation. The matter was handled in a proper fashion. Therefore, the questions are hypothetical and the Judicial Council has ruled since Decision 33 in 1946 that a bishop is not required to answer hypothetical questions. (see also Decisions 396, 651, 746, 747, 762, and 763.)

Decision

The bishop is affirmed in his ruling that he is not required to answer hypothetical questions. This copy subject to final editing and correction.

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