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Decision No. 944

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October 24 2002
In Re: Review of Bishop’s Decision of Law in the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference.

Digest of Case

The decision of law by Bishop Elias G. Galván that the purported question of law presented to him was both improper, and moot and hypothetical is affirmed. During the 2001 session of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference a clergy member of the conference disclosed to the conference that he/she was a practicing homosexual. At the same session of the conference a declaratory decision was requested by the annual conference on the perceived conflict between ¶ 321.1 and ¶ 304.3 of the 2000 Discipline. In response to that request the Judicial Council rendered Decision 920. In that decision the Judicial Council stated: ...Absent a change in conference relation, elders in full connection remain in good standing and shall be continued under appointment. ¶ 325.1. Where a clergy person makes a declaration such as that quoted above (that she “is living in a partnered, covenanted homosexual relationship with another woman”), a bishop may not take unilateral action not to appoint such a person. The annual conference must be informed of the declaration, and the annual conference, and/or the resident bishop or the district superintendent must initiate proceedings to subject her membership in her ministerial office to review under ¶ 359.1 . ... In accord with that decision Bishop Elias Galván filed a judicial complaint against the clergy person who had disclosed that he was a practicing homosexual, alleging “practices declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings.” The Conference Committee on Investigation determined that there were no reasonable grounds for the charge. In the 2002 session of the annual conference a lay member of the conference requested a decision of law of Bishop Galván on whether the clergy person could refuse to answer questions that are intended to review his eligibility for certification as an elder in The United Methodist Church. Bishop Galván rendered the following decision of law: Since the request for a ruling on a question of law refers specifically to a judicial procedure which was dealt with by the Committee on Investigation, and, since the question does not relate to any specific item of business under consideration by the annual conference, I must conclude that the question of law raised by Ms. Gent is improper and/or moot and hypothetical.

Statement of Facts

Jurisdiction The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2609.6 of the 2000 Discipline. Analysis and Rationale In Decision 799 the Judicial Council ruled: Substantive rulings by a bishop which come under the purview of the judicial and/or administrative process are improper; however, a bishop must rule on such matters as improper. In accordance with that decision the bishop’s ruling that the question submitted to him was improper is affirmed. It is also important to preserve the separation of powers by insisting that there be no blurring of the line that divides episcopal and judicial functions. Without question, proceedings of the Committee on Investigation are considered to be judicial. This concept is affirmed in ¶ 2701 of the Discipline. Fair process provisions are actuated at any point that the judicial process is commenced. For a bishop to make a ruling on a matter that is judicial in nature threatens to blur the line that exists between the executive authority of bishops and the investigative and interpretive role that belongs in the judicial process. In several prior decisions the Judicial Council ruled that questions of law must be presented in writing during a session of the annual conference and be germane to the business of the annual conference or they are moot and hypothetical. (See Decisions 33, 396, 651, 746, 747, 762, and 763). The ruling of the bishop that the question submitted is moot and hypothetical is affirmed. Par. 2715.10 of the 2000 Discipline states: The Church shall have no right of appeal from findings of the trial court. In regard to cases where there is an investigation under ¶ 2702, but no trial is held, egregious errors of Church law or administration may be appealed to the jurisdictional committee on appeals by the counsel for the church. In this case if the counsel for the Church feels egregious error has been committed, he may seek redress by appealing to the jurisdictional committee on appeals.

Decision

The decision of law by Bishop Elias G. Galván that the purported question of law presented to him was both improper, and moot and hypothetical is affirmed.

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