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Decision No. 980

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October 23 2003
In Re: Appeal From The Decision Of The Committee On Appeals In The Western Jurisdiction In The Matter Of The Rev. Karen Dammann.

Digest of Case

The refusal of the Western Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals and the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference Committee on Investigation to apply ¶¶ 304.3 and 2702 of the 2000 Discipline, and Decisions 886 and 920, to the agreed facts stated in a complaint is an egregious error of Church law. Where the agreed facts concede a practice which the Discipline declares to be incompatible with Christian teaching, reasonable grounds exist to bring a bill of charges and specifications and it is an egregious error of Church law not to bring such a bill of charges and specifications. The decision of the Western Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals is reversed, and the action of the Pacific Northwest Committee on Investigation not to certify a bill of charges is set aside. This matter is remanded to the Western Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals with direction to its president that the matter be remanded to the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference Committee on Investigation for a new hearing on the agreed facts. In fairness to all parties, the remand must occur expeditiously. Should members of the Pacific Northwest Committee on Investigation be unwilling to uphold the Discipline for reasons of conscience or otherwise, such members must step aside in this matter and either alternate members or others who are willing to uphold the Discipline must be appointed to the Committee to enable it to complete its responsibility. Likewise, once a bill of charges is certified, persons who state that they cannot in good conscience uphold the Discipline are ineligible to serve on a trial jury. The Judicial Council retains jurisdiction over this matter for the purpose of ensuring that its decision is implemented. The Committee on Investigation shall report its action to the Western Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals within forty-eight hours after reaching a decision. The Western Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals shall transmit the decision to the secretary of the Judicial Council within twenty-four hours of its receipt.

Statement of Facts

On November 28, 2001, Bishop Elias G. Galvan, resident bishop of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, filed a complaint against the Reverend Karen T. Dammann, an elder in that Conference. The complaint was based upon a letter, dated February 14, 2001, from the Rev. Dammann to Bishop Galvan in which she requested to come off family leave and in which she made the statement, “I am living in a partnered, covenanted, homosexual relationship with Meredith Savage.” The complaint asserted that this statement of homosexual practice was a chargeable offense under ¶ 2702.1.b of the 2000 Discipline. Counsel for the Church, James Finkbeiner, forwarded the complaint to the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference Committee on Investigation on June 5, 2002. The Committee on Investigation held a hearing on this matter on July 24, 2002. At that hearing the Rev. Dammann affirmed that she is a practicing homosexual. On July 25, 2002, the Committee on Investigation issued the following statement: Following a 2 ½ hour hearing July 24th in Tacoma, the Committee on Investigation has dismissed a complaint against Rev. Karen Dammann. The complaint was based on a February 14, 2001 letter to Bishop Elias Galvan, in which Rev. Dammann stated that she was “living in a partnered, covenanted, homosexual relationship.” The United Methodist Discipline bars self-avowed, practicing homosexuals from ordination and appointment to service in the church. The hearing and subsequent deliberations included consideration of scriptural and theological issues as well as church law. A motion to send the matter on for a church trial did not receive the required five clergy votes. The vote was three for, three against, and one abstention. The two lay members of the committee are not allowed to vote under the church’s constitution. On August 20, 2002, counsel for the church appealed the decision of the Committee on Investigation to the Western Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals. The Notice of Appeal asserted that “the Committee on Investigation made an egregious error of Church law or administration by not recommending trail [sic] of the respondent for the violation of Sec. 2702.1.b and Sec. 304.3 of the 2000 Book of Discipline, the explanatory footnote 1 for 304.3, and decisions of the Judicial Council 722, 920, and 930.” On January 29-30, 2003, the Western Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals met to consider the appeal. The decision of the Committee on Investigation was affirmed by a 4-3 vote. In the majority opinion, four members of the Western Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals stated: The appellant claims the Committee committed egregious error in not ordering a trial. We do not agree, and we affirm the result reached by the Committee. . . . The appellant has provided no proof and cited no action of the Committee that was, in our opinion, egregious. . . . We cannot speculate about how or why the Committee reached the conclusion made. All we can do is search the record to determine if the Committee made such serious violations of the due process rights of the appellant that those errors can be deemed egregious. We could find no such errors. In the dissenting opinion, three members of the Western Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals stated: In our opinion, her [respondent’s] “argument” [that the Committee should not uphold the Discipline] is the only reasonable way of understanding the vote of the Conference Committee on Investigation. Her testimony is so compelling and overwhelming, the only way to avoid referring to trial is to ignore the mandates of the Discipline. She has admitted a same-sex relationship in writing to the Bishop and orally to the Conference Committee on Investigation. Her admission far exceed the nominal standard of “reasonable cause” to refer to trial. When the Conference Committee on Investigation reported their decision they stated, “The hearing and subsequent deliberations included consideration of scriptural and theological issues as well as church law.” While we commend the Committee for their broad interests, the Discipline must remain their primary standard of church law. In our opinion, to fail in this regard is reversible error. Counsel for the church appealed the decision of the Western Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals to the Judicial Council. Oral hearings were held in San Diego, California on October 23, 2003. James Finkbeiner, counsel for the church, spoke. Karen Dammann, respondent, Robert C. Ward, counsel for respondent, and Dodie Haight, a lay member of the church to which respondent is appointed, spoke. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶2609.8 of the 2000 Discipline. ANALYSIS AND RATIONALE Paragraph 2715.10 of the Discipline provides: 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 counsel for the Church. The role of a committee of investigation is to “conduct an investigation into the allegations made in the judicial complaint and to determine if reasonable grounds exist to bring a bill of charges and specifications to trial. . . . The committee’s duty is only to determine whether reasonable grounds exist to support the charges. It is not the committee’s duty to determine guilt or innocence.” ¶ 2706.1 of the Discipline. In Decision 886, the Judicial Council stated that “all entities of the Church are bound by the provisions of the Discipline, and that no entity or individual member of the Church has the right to negate or ignore the Discipline.” Further, the Judicial Council observed, “f annual conferences were free to violate provisions of the Discipline because they disagree with them, this would have the effect of negating or ignoring the Discipline. Such acts would leave the Church without any enforceable law, which would lead to chaos in the Church.” The Judicial Council noted, “[s]ince the Discipline regulates ‘every phase of the life and work of the Church,’ there are no covenants which supersede the authority of the Discipline.” Thus, the Judicial Council held: The Discipline is the law of the Church which regulates every phase of the life and work of the Church. As such, annual conferences may not legally negate, ignore, or violate provisions of the Discipline with which they disagree, even when the disagreements are based upon conscientious objections to those provisions. The committee on investigation is an entity of the annual conference which is subject to the reasoning and holding of Decision 886. When a committee on investigation negates, ignores, or violates provisions of the Discipline with which they disagree, even when the disagreements are based upon conscientious objections to those provisions, such a committee on investigation commits an egregious error of Church law. In Decision 920, the Judicial Council held: A statement by a clergy woman that she is “living in a partnered, covenanted homosexual relationship with another woman” is a sufficient declaration to subject such person’s membership in her ministerial office to review under ¶ 359.1 of the Discipline. If, in the course of such review, such person affirms that she is engaged in genital sexual activity with a person of the same gender, she would have openly acknowledged to one or more of the persons enumerated in footnote 1 to ¶ 304.3 that she is a self-avowed practicing homosexual. . . . Where a clergy person makes a declaration such as that . . ., [t]he annual conference must be informed of the declaration, and the annual conference, and/or the resident bishop or district superintendent must initiate proceedings to subject her membership in her ministerial office to review under ¶ 359.1. . . . The annual conference, in reviewing and acting upon the conference relation of such person, may not legally negate, ignore or violate the provisions of the Discipline, including, but not limited to, the provisions of ¶¶ 304.3, 359.2 and 2701. The procedure outlined in Decision 920 was followed in this matter. The respondent made the statement that she is “living in a partnered, covenanted homosexual relationship with another woman.” The bishop initiated the process to review the respondent’s membership in her ministerial office. In the course of that review, the respondent affirmed that the partnered, covenanted homosexual relationship in which she lived with another woman included genital sexual contact, thus self-avowing that she is a practicing homosexual. The practice of homosexuality is declared by the Discipline to be incompatible with Christian teaching. ¶¶ 161(G) and 304.3 of the Discipline. The bishop charged the respondent under ¶ 2702.1.b with engaging in a practice declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teaching. The role of the committee on investigation, as noted above, was to determine whether reasonable grounds existed to support the charges. No evidentiary issues were involved in making such a determination here. The relevant facts were admitted by the respondent. The role of the committee on investigation was limited to applying the law of the Discipline to those admitted facts. The committee’s opinion reflects, “[t]he hearing and subsequent deliberations included consideration of scriptural and theological issues as well as church law.” While it is not inappropriate to include discussions of theological and scriptural issues in its considerations, the decision of the committee on investigation must be made on the basis of Church law as set forth in the Discipline and decisions of the Judicial Council and not other considerations. The General Conference is the only forum in which changes to the Discipline with respect to scriptural and theological issues can occur. Once the General Conference adopts Church law as part of the Discipline, all entities of the Church are bound by the provisions of the Discipline, and no entity or individual member of the Church can negate or ignore the Discipline. Decision 886. Had the Committee on Investigation limited its inquiry to its proscribed role of applying the law of the Discipline, as interpreted by the decisions of the Judicial Council to the admitted facts, it would have had no choice but to certify a bill of charges and specifications having found reasonable grounds to exist to support the charges. In Decision 89, the Judicial Council held: If in the judgment of the committee [on investigation] the evidence does seem to substantiate the accusation, the committee has no alternative but to prepare and file the proper charges and specifications. Nullification of the Discipline by a committee on investigation is egregious error. Giving all deference to the Committee on Investigation, there is not one piece of evidence in the record or inference which can be drawn which provides a basis to support the Committee on Investigation’s failure to certify a bill of charges and specifications. Paragraph 2715.10 of the Discipline provides that “[w]hen the committee on appeals shall find egregious errors of Church law or administration under this part, it may remand the case for a new hearing.” The decision of the Western Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals is reversed, and the action of the Pacific Northwest Committee on Investigation not to certify a bill of charges is set aside. This matter is remanded to the Western Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals with a direction to its president that the matter be remanded to the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference Committee on Investigation for a new hearing on the agreed facts. Should members of the Pacific Northwest Committee on Investigation be unwilling to uphold the Discipline for reasons of conscience or otherwise, such members must step aside in this matter and either alternate members or others who are willing to uphold the Discipline must be appointed to the Committee to enable it to complete its responsibility. Likewise, once a bill of charges is certified, persons who state that they cannot in good conscience uphold the Discipline are ineligible to serve on a trial jury. The Judicial Council retains jurisdiction over this matter for the purpose of ensuring that its decision is implemented. The Committee on Investigation shall report its action to the Western Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals within forty-eight hours after reaching a decision. The Western Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals shall transmit the decision to the secretary of the Judicial Council within twenty-four hours of its receipt.

Decision

The refusal of the Western Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals and the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference Committee on Investigation to apply ¶¶ 304.3 and 2702 of the 2000 Discipline, and Decisions 886 and 920, to the agreed facts stated in a complaint is an egregious error of Church law. Where the agreed facts concede a practice which the Discipline declares to be incompatible with Christian teaching, reasonable grounds exist to bring a bill of charges and specifications and it is an egregious error of Church law not to bring such a bill of charges and specifications. The decision of the Western Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals is reversed, and the action of the Pacific Northwest Committee on Investigation not to certify a bill of charges is set aside. This matter is remanded to the Western Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals with direction to its president that the matter be remanded to the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference Committee on Investigation for a new hearing on the agreed facts. In fairness to all parties, the remand must occur expeditiously. Should members of the Pacific Northwest Committee on Investigation be unwilling to uphold the Discipline for reasons of conscience or otherwise, such members must step aside in this matter and either alternate members or others who are willing to uphold the Discipline must be appointed to the Committee to enable it to complete its responsibility. Likewise, once a bill of charges is certified, persons who state that they cannot in good conscience uphold the Discipline are ineligible to serve on a trial jury. The Judicial Council retains jurisdiction over this matter for the purpose of ensuring that its decision is implemented. The Committee on Investigation shall report its action to the Western Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals within forty-eight hours after reaching a decision. The Western Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals shall transmit the decision to the secretary of the Judicial Council within twenty-four hours of its receipt.

Sally Brown Geis was absent. Concurring Opinion While I am in full accord with this opinion and its statement of the present law of the church contained in the Discipline, I feel it necessary to state that I do not agree with the Discipline on this issue. I do not believe that we as a Judicial Council have the authority to change the Discipline (except where matters are unconstitutional) and must uphold it in its present form in our official capacity. However, I also feel that my personal integrity requires me to state that I disagree with the pronouncements on homosexuality contained in our present Discipline. Sally Curtis AsKew

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