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Decision No. 861

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October 28 1999
In Re: A Request from the Kansas East Annual Conference for a Declaratory Decision on the Constitutionality of the Amended Policy on Sexual Misconduct by Church Professionals and Policy on Sexual Misconduct by Lay Church Professionals.

Digest of Case

The sexual misconduct policies of the Kansas East Conference are remanded to the annual conference for revision to conform to the Constitution, Discipline, and relevant decisions of the Judicial Council. These policies are void and of no effect, until such policies are revised, adopted by the annual conference, and submitted to the Judicial Council for review and approval.

Statement of Facts

Kansas East Annual Conference, at its 1998 session, on June 6, 1998, adopted a policy on Sexual Ethics. After the adoption of the policy, a motion was made to petition the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision on the question: "Do the policies and procedures of The Kansas East Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church Policy on Sexual Ethics conform to the Constitution, Discipline, and decisions of the Judicial Council?" On October 30, 1998, the Judicial Council in Decision 839, remanded the policy back to the Kansas East Annual Conference for "revision, with the direction that the said policies are void and of no effect, until such policies are revised, adopted by the annual conference, and resubmitted to the Judicial Council for review and approval." The conference revised the policies and adopted them on Thursday, June 3, 1999. Jurisdiction The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under the provisions of Par. 2616 of the 1996 Discipline. Analysis and Rationale The Kansas East Annual Conference has made progress in revising its sexual misconduct policies. However, some further work still needs to be done. While the council will not undertake to identify each and every violation, the following are some of the provisions which causes the policy to be invalid: Both of the policies use circular reasoning in the definition section to define sexual misconduct. For instance, the policy states: "Misconduct of a sexual nature is defined as sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and sexual misconduct." The Policy of Sexual Misconduct by Lay Church Professionals does not adequately protect confidentiality for either the victim or the respondent. In the last section of the policy, "Making a Complaint," the policy states: "Persons who have knowledge of misconduct of a sexual nature by a Lay Church Professional shall report the same to a clergy person, any district superintendent, the bishop, a United Methodist layperson, or a trained advocate (1-800-770-7053)." To suggest that a complaint of misconduct of a sexual nature by a lay church professional should be reported to any United Methodist layperson shows a serious disregard for maintaining confidentiality for both the victim and the respondent. There is no provision in the Discipline for making a complaint of misconduct of a sexual nature to a "trained advocate." 4. The Policy on Sexual Misconduct by lay church professionals applies the term sexual misconduct to laypersons. The 1996 Discipline uses the term "sexual misconduct" in regard to ordained clergy and makes sexual misconduct a chargeable offense for clergy. (See Par. 2624.1.) However, the Discipline does not list sexual misconduct as a chargeable offense for a layperson. Sexual abuse or sexual harassment are the only chargeable offenses relating to the sexual behavior of a layperson of The United Methodist Church. 5. There is no provision in the Discipline that persons who have knowledge of misconduct of a sexual nature by a church professional or a lay church professional must report it to anyone. The issues stated above, though not exhaustive, are the major reasons that the council finds the sexual misconduct policies of the Kansas East Conference in violation of the provisions of the Constitution, Discipline, and decisions of the Judicial Council, and therefore invalid.

Decision

The sexual misconduct policies of the Kansas East Conference are remanded to the annual conference for revision to conform to the Constitution, Discipline, and relevant decisions of the Judicial Council. These policies are void and of no effect, until such policies are revised, adopted by the annual conference, and submitted to the Judicial Council for review and approval.

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