Judicial Council Decisions Search
Decision No. 1238
April 19 2013
In Re: Request from the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference for a Ruling on the Legality of Certain Financial Actions and the Complaint Process Regarding the East Africa Annual Conference in Light of ¶¶ 258.4f, 413, and 613.13
Digest of Case
In response to the three questions posed by the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference, the Judicial Council finds the following: First, the responsibility for managing the mission including the expenditure of funds was designed to be a direct partnership between the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference and the East Africa Annual Conference. There is no legal justification in the record for inferring donor intent from the evidence presented or for requiring restoration of funds to the donor conference. Second, the funds in the amount of $3,000 intended for compensation to Isaac Sebit should be paid to him by the East Africa Annual Conference by January 1, 2014, or be returned to the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference. Third, the inquiry about the complaint filed against the Bishop is hypothetical at this point and cannot be addressed by the Judicial Council.
Statement of Facts
During the 2012 session of the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference, a motion was approved to ask that the Judicial Council determine the legality of three actions linked to the mission program of the conference. They were stated as follows:
Were the funds given by the Pittsburgh East District of the Western Pennsylvania Conference to the East Africa Annual Conference used in accordance with ¶ 258.4f? Were the funds given by the members of the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference in the payment of Isaac Sebit in compliance with ¶ 258.4f and ¶ 613.13? Was the complaint filed by one member of the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference (Nancy Denardo) properly dealt with in accordance with ¶ 413 of the 2008 Book of Discipline?
The questions arose in the context of a long history in the relationship between the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference and the East Africa Annual Conference, more specifically involving the mission of the church linking the Pittsburgh East District and the people of Uganda. In 2003, the superintendent of the Pittsburgh East District initiated a “Uganda Challenge” to raise $30,000 for constructing a church building, digging a water well, and providing a mobile maize mill for the churches and the people of Eastern Uganda. The Bishop of the East Africa Central Conference approved the proposal and assigned the Project Coordinator for Uganda, The Rev. Daniel Wandabula, to manage the process. By June 2004, the Pittsburgh East District had raised $85,000 for this mission (later increasing to more than $90,000), and by August 2004 they had sent a total of $87,000 for the Pittsburgh East District Project. Additionally, the General Board of Global Ministries had committed $20,000 for the purchase of property on which the church building in Namboole was to be constructed. In January 2005, Nancy Denardo and other persons from Western Pennsylvania visited Uganda to see the outcomes of the mission. At the site where the church was to have been constructed, they discovered only a foundation, and they were told by Rev. Wandabula that the funds had been exhausted. On four subsequent occasions (2007, 2009, 2010, and 2011), Mrs. Denardo visited the site to determine whether additional construction had occurred, but she found no evidence of it. She did find that the water well was bored, albeit at a location different from the one initially proposed, but that the mobile maize mill—which had been built—was inadequate for the purposes intended, hence it was unusable. In a separate mission endeavor, the Western Pennsylvania Conference raised funds to provide salary support for Isaac Sebit, a pastor in South Sudan. Approximately $3,000 was raised and—beginning in March 2009—the funds were sent for this purpose. In 2010, the Western Pennsylvania Conference heard from Isaac Sebit that he received none of these funds. In May 2006, Rev. Daniel Wandabula was elected as Bishop for the East Africa Episcopal Area. Continuing the relationship with him that had been established when he was the Uganda Project Coordinator, the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference had repeated and direct contacts with him about the three original projects and about Isaac Sebit. Bishop Wandabula has asserted that the enthusiasm of the people in the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference for these endeavors was not matched by a recognition of the actual costs of property acquisition and construction in Uganda, especially in the urban area of the capital, Kampala. Bishop Wandabula has further asserted that the funds allegedly intended for Pastor Isaac Sebit have never been sent to the East Africa Annual Conference. And, Bishop Wandabula contends that there is no evidence that the funds sent for the three mission projects were in any way misused. In July 2011, Nancy Denardo filed a complaint against Bishop Wandabula. In March 2012, she filed a further complaint against Bishop Wandabula and was joined in that complaint by a clergy member of the East Africa Annual Conference. The Bishop has asserted that he has been notified that the complaint was dismissed. The complainant has said that she participated in no agreement about any resolution and has received no notification of any resolution. The Western Pennsylvania Conference seeks the following: an affirmation of the principle that funds raised for specific purposes must be spent solely for those purposes; a determination that the funds they provided were not expended in accordance with that principle; that funds not used in accordance with this principle be restored; that any funds for projects which cannot be completed by January 1, 2015, will be restored to the annual conference where they were raised; that funds raised for Isaac Sebit be paid to him no later than January 1, 2014, or that the funds be restored to the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference; and that the Judicial Council find the disposition of the complaints filed by Nancy Denardo has not been compliant with the requirements of the Discipline. Oral Hearings were conducted in October 2012 in Elk Grove, Illinois, and in April 2013 in Seattle, Washington. The Rev. Robert Zilhaver and Bishop Daniel Wandabula participated in both Oral Hearings. Mrs. Nancy Denardo participated in the April 2013 Oral Hearing.
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2610 of the 2008 Discipline.
The first question posed by the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference asks whether the funds given by the Pittsburgh East District were used in accordance with the Discipline in ¶ 258.4f. All of the mission endeavors identified in this matter were undertaken as a direct partnership between the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference—more specifically, by a district within that conference—and the East Africa Episcopal Area. While some general church funds contributed to the total budget for this effort, the projects were not managed through the connectional systems in the General Board of Global Ministries or authorized as an “Advance” of the denomination. Members of the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference raised the funds, transmitted the funds to the East Africa Annual Conference, visited the locations in Uganda, and negotiated the terms of the mission with church leaders in East Africa. The Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference bases its argument, in significant part, on the application of ¶ 258.4f of the 2008 Discipline. This is one of several places where the Discipline specifies the importance of donor intent in the expenditure of funds (See Judicial Council Decision 976). However, this specific paragraph involves the work of the finance committee in a local church. Beyond the general principle of honoring the donor’s intent, it is difficult to discern how far the limits of this citation in the Discipline may apply in this case. For example, it is unknowable from the record whether individual donors from the Pittsburgh East District or the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference understood that the established connectional procedures for monitoring mission projects would be employed or whether the donors intended that Western Pennsylvania would manage the effort through its own resources. Nor is it clear from the record whether any specific officers within the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference had the authority to adjust expenditure plans in cases where acquisition of the property became too expensive or too cumbersome, where construction (such as the mobile maize mill) proved to be too inferior for effective use, or where the water well was to be bored. To imagine a way that the narrow reference of ¶ 258.4f could be stretched legally to cover all aspects of donor intent concerning the complexities of this mission endeavor is more than the Judicial Council can achieve. The record indicates that the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference now seeks supervisory action by the General Board of Global Ministries to help remedy the errors that the annual conference finds in the management of this mission. But it is not clear that the Judicial Council can legally reach such a determination ex post facto. In its second question, the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference asks about the funds intended for Isaac Sebit, again seeking to use ¶ 258.4f as one basis for the query and invoking also ¶ 613.13 for the matter. The latter paragraph contains legislation that applies to the work of an annual conference council on finance and administration. This specific portion of ¶ 613 authorizes the annual conference council to “establish uniform and equitable policies and practices” with regard to such matters as employment and compensation as well as to provide “pension benefits.” There is no legal bridge for the Judicial Council to cross that ties ¶ 613.13 to the funds raised and sent for Isaac Sebit. Regarding the matter of donor intent, however, the record is clearer. According to the evidence presented, all of the funds for Isaac Sebit came from one individual, namely a retired missionary who designated a portion of his own pension for Pastor Sebit. Until his death in January 2011, the donor contributed $3,000 for this purpose and the funds were transmitted to the office of Bishop Wandabula. While the Bishop has asserted that these funds “have never been sent to the East Africa Annual Conference,” and while one exhibit in the record says that the only funds received for Isaac Sebit were $2,500 for the purchase of a motorcycle, it is clear from other parts of the record that the funds were sent and that the intent of the donor was well established. A separate and unrelated item in the record, namely a letter from Bamutya Charles (the Treasurer of the East Africa Annual Conference) to Barbara Jacobsen at the General Board of Global Ministries on September 28, 2012, acknowledges that financial records—which had previously been administered manually—were now in the process of being computerized. In that same letter, the Treasurer acknowledges a discovery that documents concerning construction expenditures for a school had been improperly filed. It should be possible to locate the funds in the office of the Bishop and either direct them to Pastor Isaac Sebit or restore them to the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference by January 1, 2014, as the petition from the conference requests. In its third question, the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference asks whether the complaint filed against Bishop Wandabula was handled properly in accordance with the Discipline in ¶ 413. The question is, at this point, hypothetical because there is no conclusive evidence in the record that the complaint process has concluded. During the Oral Hearing in October 2012, Bishop Wandabula stated that the complaint had been dismissed, and he promised to provide documentation to support this assertion after the close of the hearing. However, the Judicial Council has received no such documentation from him or from any other source, and none was provided during the Oral Hearing in April 2013. Hence, the only indication that exists in the record about the outcome of the complaint process is the Bishop’s unsubstantiated claim. The Judicial Council, therefore, understands that the complaint process is continuing. The Council cannot intervene in the midst of an ongoing administrative or judicial process but can only do so in response to an appeal that is properly filed after any such processes are concluded. The complainant is certainly entitled to be included in active consultation with regard to the handling of the complaint, and the accused is certainly entitled to fair process. The Africa Central Conference College of Bishops and the Council of Bishops have responsibility for the proper handling of the complaint to its conclusion. Beyond that, the Judicial Council has no legal authority to intrude into the case.
In response to the three questions posed by the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference, the Judicial Council finds the following: First, the responsibility for managing the mission including the expenditure of funds was designed to be a direct partnership between the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference and the East Africa Annual Conference. There is no legal justification in the record for inferring donor intent from the evidence presented or for requiring restoration of funds to the donor conference. Second, the funds in the amount of $3,000 intended for compensation to Isaac Sebit should be paid to him by the East Africa Annual Conference by January 1, 2014, or be returned to the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference. Third, the inquiry about the complaint filed against the Bishop is hypothetical at this point and cannot be addressed by the Judicial Council. Beth Capen and Ruben Reyes were absent. Sandra Lutz, first lay alternate, and Warren Plowden, fifth lay alternate, participated in this decision.