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Decision No. 936

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October 24 2002
In Re: Review of Bishop’s Decision of Law in the Kansas East Annual Conference on the Portion of the Conference Child Abuse Policy Which Requires Clergy To Report All Cases of Child Abuse Including Information Regarding Such Conduct Received in a Confidential or Confessional Setting.

Digest of Case

Paragraph 332.5 of the 2000 Discipline charges clergy “to maintain all confidences inviolate, including confessional confidences.” The Kansas East Annual Conference policy which required pastors to report reasonable suspicion of child abuse without regard to ¶ 332.5 violated the Discipline. Bishop Albert F. Mutti’s decision of law in so ruling is affirmed. The conference has subsequently amended its policy and excepted the reporting of information that would result in a breach of the charge of ¶ 332.5. The action of the conference in amending the policy renders the issue moot.

Statement of Facts

The Kansas East Annual Conference in session on June 7, 2002, defeated a proposal from the Sexual Ethics Implementation Team to amend the conference policy on Reporting of Incidents of Child Abuse. The conference policy required pastors to report reasonable suspicion of child abuse. The policy with the proposed amending language underlined is as follows: Pastors are not required by Kansas law to report reasonable suspicion of child abuse, (See Exhibit A, K.S.A. 38-1522a, Kansas Statute) but they must under the provisions of this policy, except as specifically limited by paragraphs 331, 326(c)(5) and 332.5 of the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church and K.S.A. 60-429, and they may in other situations in which abuse is encountered. The proposal to amend the policy by adding the above underlined language was defeated by a vote of 125 to 217. Thereafter, on June 8, 2002, a request for a decision of law was made to the bishop. The request was for a “ruling concerning whether or not Paragraph 332.5 of the Discipline requiring clergy to keep confidences inviolate including confessions, makes it out of order for us [the conference] to require clergy to report reasonable suspicion of child abuse without noting the limiting requirements of ¶ 332.5.” On June 9, 2002, the bishop issued a written decision of law. The bishop ruled: “the action of the Conference in mandating clergy reporting of child abuse is contrary to the law of the Church and The Book of Discipline of the Church and the action of the Annual Conference, to the extent that it disregards, clouds or otherwise diminishes clergy confidentiality, is therefore ruled to be Out of Order.” After the ruling, the conference voted to reconsider the action it had taken in defeating the amendment to add the proposed language. Upon reconsideration, the conference voted to add the recommended language to its Reporting of Incidents Policy. Jurisdiction The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2609.6 of the 2000 Discipline. Analysis and Rationale We affirm the ruling of the bishop and commend him for this thoughtful and exact analysis of the issue. The policy of the conference in requiring pastors to report reasonable suspicion of child abuse did not recognize the mandate of the Discipline, particularly ¶ 332.5. Paragraph 332.5 says “[a]ll clergy of The United Methodist Church are charged to maintain all confidences inviolate, including confessional confidences.” The Implementation Team recognizing the flaw in the policy, recommended to the conference that the policy be amended to conform with the exception and limitation on reporting imposed by the Discipline. In the first instance, the amendment was defeated. The bishop in his decision correctly notes that the Discipline and the decisions of the Judicial Council are clear and unequivocal. The confessional relationship must remain inviolate. A broad policy that requires clergy to report child abuse, notwithstanding knowledge of which may be obtained during a confidential confessional session, violates the Discipline. See Decisions 736, 788 and 800. This Judicial Council would again reiterate that it is not attempting to protect persons who engage in sexual misconduct. The law of the church is that confidential confessions to the clergy remain confidential. Church law does not except confessions of child abuse from this absolute duty of confidentiality. The Judicial Council interprets church law. It has no authority to make law. That is the purview of the General Conference. The conference voted to reconsider the proposed amendment to its reporting policy after the bishop issued his decision of law. Upon reconsideration, the conference amended its Reporting of Incident Policy by adding the language that excepts reporting of information as charged by ¶ 332.5. The action of the conference in accepting the language amending the policy renders the issue moot.

Decision

Paragraph 332.5 of the 2000 Discipline charges clergy “to maintain all confidences inviolate, including confessional confidences.” The Kansas East Annual Conference policy which required pastors to report reasonable suspicion of child abuse without regard to ¶ 332.5 violated the Discipline. Bishop Albert F. Mutti’s decision of law in so ruling is affirmed. The conference has subsequently amended its policy and excepted the reporting of information that would result in a breach of the charge of ¶ 332.5. The action of the conference in amending the policy renders the issue moot.

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