Judicial Council Decisions Search
Memorandum No. 1116
April 23 2009
In Re: Review of Decision by Bishop Mary Ann Swenson of the California-Pacific Annual Conference Regarding a Request for a Decision of Law Related to Conference Clergy Benefit Charge.
During the 2008 session of the California-Pacific Annual Conference, the presiding bishop received a written request for a bishop's decision of law regarding a conference clergy benefit charge that had been adopted by the annual conference. The bishop's report to the Judicial Council was undated; however, the bishop acknowledged that her response to the request was untimely. Although the bishop acknowledged that the questions received were not moot or hypothetical, the bishop's response failed to address the substance of the request as required by ¶ 2609 of the 2004 Book of Discipline. Citing the complexity of the issue presented and a self-perceived conflict of interest due to her service as President of the General Council on Finance and Administration, the bishop requested that the Judicial Council accept referral of the request in the nature of a request for a declaratory decision directed to the Judicial Council. Under ¶ 415 of the Discipline, a bishop’s presidential duties include presiding at annual conference sessions. See Decision 395. In such capacity, bishops are to render decisions of law on requests submitted to them in writing in the regular business of an annual conference session. Paragraph 2609 contemplates that some requests for a decision of law may contain complex issues. It is for that reason the Discipline allows a bishop up to thirty days after the close of an annual conference session to issue a ruling on a request for a decision of law received during an annual conference. During that period, a bishop is afforded the time and opportunity to research the issues raised, to receive suggestion from interested parties, to consult with knowledgeable members of the episcopacy and to seek advice and guidance from the conference chancellor in order to formulate a timely ruling. Despite the bishop’s feelings “of conflict of interest and of inability,” it is clearly the bishop’s responsibility to consider and respond to each request for a decision of law. There is no provision in the Discipline for referral or transfer of that duty to another authority. We know of no disciplinary provision that regards the duties of the office of bishop as being in conflict with service on general boards and agencies of the church. Paragraph 805 mandates that four of the voting members of General Council on Finance and Administration shall be bishops. There is no conflict between a bishop’s presidential duties in an annual conference and the responsibilities of a bishop as a general superintendent of the church or as a member of a general board or agency of the church. The matter is remanded to the bishop with directions to answer the question presented within 30 days of the date of this memorandum and to report her decision of law to the Judicial Council in accordance with ¶ 2609 of the Discipline.