Skip Navigation

Judicial Council Decisions Search


Decision No. 1131

Back to Search

Share:

October 30 2009
In Re: Review of Bishop’s Decision of Law in the Rocky Mountain Annual Conference Related to the Rights of a Clergy Member Under Complaint.

Digest of Case

The bishop’s decision of law is affirmed in part and reversed in part. A request for a bishop’s decision of law must be submitted in writing in the regular business of an annual conference session. Such requests must relate to the business of the conference. Questions of law and the bishop’s decision of law must be entered into the annual conference journal as an exact statement of the question submitted and the ruling of the bishop.

Statement of Facts

During the clergy session of the 2009 Rocky Mountain Annual Conference, a clergy member submitted seventeen questions in writing to the presiding bishop in the nature of a request for a bishop’s decision of law. The questions were submitted during the report of the conference relations committee and related to whether the rights of a clergy member under complaint were violated during a supervisory process. The excerpted minutes of the annual conference reflect the following proceedings:

Following this question the Rev. J. Charles Schuster presented Bishop Elaine J. W. Stanovsky 17 questions of law. Upon receiving the questions, Bishop Stanovsky responded to the Reverend Shuster, “Thank you, Chuck. Chuck, I would like to ask you a question. In your understanding, what is the business of the Annual Conference Session your questions relate to? Reverend Shuster answered, “Currently, none”.
Bishop Stanovsky then ruled on the submission of the question stating:
“We are going to rule the questions out of order for two reasons. First, some of them are not within the jurisdiction of the annual conference and second, some of them contain confidential material that I am responsible to protect. Questions of law are required to be published in the Journal of the conference. So, I am ruling that the questions are out of order. The Judicial Council will review my decision and may respond by affirming, modifying, or reversing a bishop’s opinion of law. I will write up the ruling. I have a 30 day period to submit these questions and decisions to the Judicial Council. We will not print the questions in the Journal until we hear back from the Judicial Council.”
The Annual Conference returned to its regular business. There is no record of any attempt to appeal the bishop’s parliamentary ruling to the body then in session. Following the adjournment of the Conference, the presiding bishop prepared and submitted her written responses to the questions and repeated the substance of her oral ruling rendered during the Annual Conference session. Each of said questions was determined to be out of order, improper, moot and hypothetical.
Jurisdiction
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2609 of the 2008 Discipline.
Analysis and Rationale
Questions of order are parliamentary in nature. Whenever a presiding bishop rules a matter out of order, the proper remedy is to appeal the bishop’s ruling to the body then in session. The Judicial Council has no jurisdiction to review a parliamentary ruling of a presiding bishop that is rendered during an annual conference session. See Decisions 898, 941, 943, 953, 1117. We continue to review requests for a bishop’s decision of law that ask a bishop to make substantive comment on the propriety of supervisory or judicial processes. Such questions are improper and bishops should rule them improper. The Judicial Council has repeatedly held that a request for a bishop’s decision law must relate to the business of the annual conference session. We have interpreted that to mean that the questions submitted must ask the bishop to rule on the legality of an action taken or to be taken by the annual conference. Questions that do not relate to the business of the annual conference session are improper, moot and hypothetical and should not be answered. In this case the member who asked the questions of the bishop admitted that the questions had no relation to any business that was before the conference. The bishop’s decision of law that the questions were improper, moot and hypothetical is correct. The record of the Annual Conference proceedings reflects that the bishop directed that the questions submitted in the request for a bishop’s decision of law would be omitted from the official record of proceedings of the conference and from the annual conference journal. Paragraph 2609.6 of the 2008 Discipline reads as follows:
The Judicial Council shall pass upon and affirm, modify, or reverse the decisions of law made by bishops in central, district, annual, or jurisdictional conferences upon questions of law submitted to them in writing in the regular business of a session; and in order to facilitate such review, each bishop shall report annually in writing to the Judicial Council on forms provided by the council all the bishop’s decisions of law. No such Episcopal decision shall be authoritative, except in the case pending, until it has been passed upon by the Judicial Council, but thereafter it shall become the law of the Church to the extent that it is affirmed by the council. Normally, the bishop shall rule before the close of the annual conference session during which the question was submitted, but in no case later than thirty days after the close of the session. The annual conference secretary shall enter in the annual conference journal an exact statement of the question submitted and the ruling of the bishop. (emphasis added)
In her report to the Judicial Council, the bishop has cited Judicial Council Decision 747 as authority to withhold publication of the seventeen questions and her decisions of law from the annual conference journal. In Decision 747, the Judicial Council determined that it was not necessary for the Judicial Council to quote the questions or answers submitted for review in its decision because the matters were considered privileged. Decision 747 should not be considered as a waiver of compliance with ¶ 2609.6 for bishops who preside over annual conference sessions. We are unaware of any provision of the Discipline that permits a presiding bishop to excise, redact or omit portions of proceedings conducted during the annual conference session or to treat any portion of the record of an annual conference session as confidential or that permits a bishop to render a decision of law in secret. To the extent that the bishop relies on Decision 747 as authority to withhold the question and her response from the Annual Conference journal, said reliance is misplaced. Paragraph 2609.6 of the Discipline is mandatory and requires the annual conference secretary to enter into the annual conference journal an exact statement of the question submitted and the ruling of the bishop. Closing or attempting to limit the annual conference record would frustrate the clear policy of the General Conference that favors openness and transparency in annual conference proceedings. Confidentiality provisions of the Discipline are clearly delineated and designed to protect persons involved in administrative and judicial processes. There is no provision for confidential questions to, or confidential answers from, a presiding bishop at an annual conference session. We therefore order full compliance with the provisions of ¶ 2609.6 of the Discipline. The seventeen questions submitted and the bishop’s decisions of law in response to those questions shall be included in the 2009 annual conference journal of The Rocky Mountain Annual Conference as an exact statement of the questions submitted together with the ruling of the bishop.

Decision

The bishop’s decision of law is affirmed in part and reversed in part. A request for a bishop’s decision of law must be submitted in writing in the regular business of an annual conference session. Such requests must relate to the business of the conference. Questions of law and the bishop’s decision of law must be entered into the annual conference journal as an exact statement of the question submitted and the ruling of the bishop.

Concurring Opinion
The Judicial Council has repeatedly and consistently held that a presiding bishop has no authority to make substantive rulings on supervisory processes. Presiding bishops have no obligation to answer questions that are improper. Nevertheless, the questions asked become part of a public record because they are published in the annual conference journal. It is difficult to discern whether the questions asked in the open session of the Annual Conference resulted from a misguided attempt to help or were the result of a malicious intent to expose the person who is the subject of the inquiry to further harm and an increased risk of further disclosure of confidential information. The Discipline prescribes supervisory processes that include methods for the consideration of complaints against those who have violated confidentiality. Those processes are designed to protect persons involved in supervisory process from improper disclosures. The remedy for violation of confidentiality resides in those processes and not on the floor of an annual conference session. It strains my credulity to believe that improper questions such as those asked in the open session of the Annual Conference somehow bring resolution to any sensitive or confidential situation where supervisory process are involved. Jon R. Gray Katherine Austin Mahle joins this concurring opinion. October 31, 2009

Back to Search

Share: