Judicial Council Decisions Search
Memorandum No. 942
October 24 2002
In Re: Review of Bishop’s Decision of Law in the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference Relative to the Action Taken by the Board of Ordained Ministry and the Cabinet on the Appointive Status of a Clergy Member of the Annual Conference.
Digest of Case
Since Bishop Sharon A. Brown Christopher does not have the authority to decide issues solely related to a judicial or administrative matter, her decisions are not affirmed.
Statement of Facts
At the 2002 session of the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference Bishop Sharon A. Brown Christopher was presented with a series of five questions of law related to an administrative proceeding. Bishop Christopher responded to the questions within the time limits of ¶ 2609 of the 2000 Discipline. However, the Guidelines for Bishop’s Rulings on Questions of Law in Decision 799 state: ...The bishop has no authority to make substantive rulings on judicial or administrative matters. Such matters are limited to the purview of the judicial or administrative bodies such as Committee on Investigation, Trial Court, Committee on Appeals or Judicial Council. The Constitution (¶ 18) and the 1996 Discipline (¶¶ 358, 2623, and 2626-2628) have placed the authority to resolve such questions in these bodies. To do otherwise would violate the principle of separation and balance of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial branches as set forth in the Constitution. Questions which are procedural or substantive matters relating solely to actions in a judicial or administrative process are not proper questions to be addressed in a substantive ruling by a bishop. However, these questions are properly addressed by an appeal to the presiding officer of a Trial Court [¶ 2627.1(a)(3)]. In regard to errors during a trial, errors of procedure or law are properly addressed in the appellate process to the Committee on Appeals of the Jurisdiction [2628.1(g)]. Such questions are not proper questions for the bishop in that these are not matters concerning the regular business of the Annual Conference. By the Constitution and other paragraphs of the 1996 Discipline, such questions belong to the judicial bodies of the Church.... Since Bishop Sharon A. Brown Christopher does not have the authority to decide issues solely related to a judicial or administrative matter, her decisions are not affirmed. Although it may appear that the clergy member is left without remedy by this opinion, that is not the case. Par. 18 (Article IV of the Constitution) provides in part “. . . [t]he General Conference shall not do away with the privileges of our clergy of right to trial by a committee and of an appeal ... .” If the clergy member feels her rights have not been properly safeguarded, she may exercise her right to demand a trial.
We dissent and would hold that the questions of law submitted to Bishop Sharon A. Brown Christopher at the 2002 session of the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference relating to the action taken by the board of ordained ministry and the cabinet on the appointive status of a clergy member of the annual conference were proper questions of law which the bishop was authorized to answer. The questions submitted all arose as a part of the proceedings which occurred since Decision 915 was issued on October 26, 2001 involving the same clergy member. Following Decision 915, the cabinet and the board of ordained ministry attempted to initiate proceedings to place the clergy member on involuntary leave of absence. At the conclusion of the process, the board of ordained ministry recommended that the clergy session place that the clergy member on involuntary leave of absence. When the recommendation was presented, the administrative review committee delivered its report indicating that while errors had occurred in the process leading to the board of ordained ministry’s recommendation, the committee deemed those errors to be harmless. As the recommendation was placed before the clergy session for action, a clergy member of the annual conference submitted five questions of law to the bishop. The bishop thereafter issued her rulings on these five questions. Questions 1 and 2 dealt with the complaint and notice provisions of ¶¶ 352.1 b) and 359.2 of the 2000 Discipline. The bishop ruled that in order for a clergy member to be placed on an involuntary leave of absence, a complaint had to be signed and delivered to the clergy member, and the clergy member had to be given timely notice of the specific reasons for the request that the clergy member be placed on an involuntary leave of absence. The bishop found an irregularity in the process used by the board of ordained ministry in that adequate notice was not given to the clergy member as required by ¶ 359.2, and ordered that the process be remanded to the cabinet and board of ordained ministry for initiation of proceedings once again. Questions 3 and 4 dealt with whether a hearing held by the board of ordained ministry on an involuntary leave of absence request would be valid where no member of the cabinet was present for the hearing. The bishop ruled that a hearing under such circumstances was invalid. Question 5 dealt with whether the time on which the clergy person was illegally placed on a leave of absence is to be counted against limitations on the periods a clergy person could be placed on a leave of absence in ¶¶ 352.1 b) and 352.5. The bishop ruled that such time could not be included in such calculation. Because the questions were germane to business being conducted by the clergy session of the annual conference and were posed as part of the clergy session’s consideration of the conference relations of a clergy member, we would hold that the bishop had authority to answer these questions under these circumstances and that answering the questions under these circumstances does not conflict with Decision 799. These questions, in this instance, dealt with the regular business of the annual conference. We would further hold as follows with respect to the questions of law asked by the clergy person. Questions 1 and 2. In a proceeding initiated by a district superintendent to place a clergy member on an involuntary leave of absence, the district superintendent must deliver to the clergy member and the board of ordained ministry in writing specific reasons for the request. Such notice must be provided not less than twenty days before any hearing scheduled by the board of ordained ministry. Any hearing on such request and any action taken by the conference on such request is not valid when these requirements have not been met. Questions 3 and 4. Paragraph 359.2 d) of the 2002 Discipline prohibits a communication between the hearing body and one of the parties to the proceeding on substantive issues in the absence of any other party to the proceeding. The prohibition precludes communications with respect to which one of the parties to the proceeding is denied the opportunity to participate. The failure of a party to attend a hearing of which they have received timely notice does not prohibit the hearing body or the other party who attends the hearing from addressing substantive issues. Question 5 Where a clergy person is wrongfully placed on a voluntary or involuntary leave of absence, the period of such wrongful leave of absence shall not be counted as part of the limitations on the durations of such leaves of absence in the 2002 Discipline. We commend the bishop for taking the step of voiding the actions of the cabinet, the board of ordained ministry, and the annual conference, and remanding the matter to initiate the proceedings once again. Keith Boyette Mary A. Daffin James W. Holsinger