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Decision No. 1239

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April 19 2013
In Re: Review of a Bishop’s Decision of Law at the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference Regarding the Rescission of Resignation from the Episcopal Office

Digest of Case

Due process was followed in the handling of the case of the resignation of The Rev. Hae-Jong Kim from the office of the episcopacy in accordance with the fair process requirements outlined in the 2004 Discipline. The Bishop’s rulings on the questions of law raised at the 2012 Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference on behalf of The Rev. Hae-Jong Kim and the rescission of his resignation from the episcopacy are affirmed.

Statement of Facts

During the presentation of the Northeastern Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy report to the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference held July 18-20, 2012, in Charleston, West Virginia, a clergy delegate from Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference, requested as a “question of law” that the presiding Bishop rule on the following:

that a determination be made as to the disposition of Bishop Hae Jong Kim’s case, including the rescission (in 2007) of his earlier letter of resignation from the episcopacy to ensure that his case has been handled in accord with the due process requirements outlined in the Book of Discipline, with special attention to the following concerns: 1) Bishop Kim’s letter to the Northeastern Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee (dated Feb. 12, 2007, and copied to Bishop Jane Middleton) rescinding his earlier letter of resignation was never acted upon. 2) The Council of Bishops never took any final action on his 2005 letter of resignation, specifically, by failing to issue a “certificate of resignation” as required by para. 408.4 of the Book of Discipline (2008). 3) The Northeast Jurisdiction Episcopacy Committee took no action and made no report or recommendation in its 2008 report. 4) In its 2012 report, the NEJ Episcopacy Committee again made no mention of Bishop Kim’s case. Upon my inquiry on the floor of the 2012 NEJ onference, the chair of the Episcopacy Committee indicated no knowledge whatsoever of Bishop Kim’s resignation, rescission of the resignation, or any matters connected with the handling of this case. 5) An investigation by the Commission on Religion and Race discovered procedural errors in the due process requirements of handling the original complaint, as outlined in a letter from the commission chair.

This request was properly made in writing during the opening session of the jurisdictional conference on July 18, 2012. Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton was presiding and responded on behalf of the Northeastern Jurisdictional College of Bishops. An oral hearing was held on April 17, 2013, in Seattle, Washington. Those presenting included Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton (by phone), Bishop Peter Weaver, The Rev. Hae-Jong Kim, and The Rev. Jerry Eckert.

JURISDICTION

The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2609 of the 2008 Discipline.

ANALYSIS AND RATIONALE

The Judicial Council acknowledges that this matter has caused much pain and suffering among those involved, the community, and the entire church. Allegations of misconduct by an episcopal leader are a very serious matter and should be treated as such. However, the Judicial Council will only review the decisions of law made by the presiding Bishop during the opening session of the 2012 Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference in response to the question “as to whether the handling of the case of Bishop Hae-Jong Kim was in accordance with the due process requirements outlined in the Book of Discipline.” The brief submitted in response to the ruling asks the Judicial Council to expand the scope of the inquiry into fair process in areas where the Judicial Council has no disciplinary authority. Matters relating to complaints are not within the jurisdiction of the Judicial Council’s consideration. See Decisions 1130 and 1131. Therefore, the Judicial Council is without authority to review the complaint filed against Hae-Jong Kim outside the appeal process provided in the Discipline. Once the just resolution agreement of the complaint was reached, the complaint process ended. The Rev. Hae-Jong Kim forfeited any fair process rights at that time (see Decision 1055) and, by his resignation from the episcopacy, further ended any right to appeal. We turn now to the Bishop’s rulings on the questions asked at the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference. In response to Question 1, the Bishop ruled:

The official letter from Hae-Jong Kim requesting the rescinding of his resignation was addressed to the President of the Council of Bishops, Janice R. Huie (dated January 11, 2007), not the NEJ Episcopacy Committee. The letter to the NEJ Episcopacy Committee, dated February 12, 2007, requested that the Episcopacy Committee consider providing “corporate wisdom and consideration” along with the possibility of setting up an “ad-hoc committee to help the process.” At the time this letter was received, Hae-Jong Kim was a retired Elder of the New Jersey Annual Conference having resigned from the episcopacy sixteen months earlier on September 1, 2005. The Council of Bishops, through its Executive Committee, consulted with the general Counsel for the Church (COB Executive Committee Meeting, January 16-17, 2007, Atlanta, GA, Docket item 07E-351) and determined that they had no jurisdiction in the consideration of this request. The Book of Discipline does not provide any provision for the rescinding of a resignation. As a result, there is no procedure outlined in the Book of Discipline to act upon such a request. As such, the request in paragraph 1 is moot and hypothetical.

The ruling of the Bishop is affirmed. Although the advocate for Mr. Kim argues that ¶ 409.4 of the 2004 Discipline (¶ 408.4, 2008) grants authority to the Council of Bishops “to take appropriate actions concerning matters related to the resignation” including a rescission of the resignation, the Discipline is silent concerning rescission of a resignation. It is not within the authority of the Council of Bishops to create a process to deal with a request not specifically provided for by the Discipline. In the absence of clear legislative language or other legislative intent, the issue is a matter appropriate for further General Conference action. It would not be appropriate for the Judicial Council to supply the legislation. Further, the minutes of the Council of Bishops indicated that a response was made by the Executive Committee of the COB on January 16-17, 2007, and the situation was reviewed and action listed in the minutes of the Council of Bishops meeting on May 4, 2007, to offer compassionate pastoral support to Rev. Kim and Mrs. Kim regarding the decisions (emphasis added) of the Council related to Rev. Kim’s request to the Council” (COB meeting minutes, Friday, May 4, 2007, Docket Item 07C – 177). In response to Question 2, the Bishop ruled:

After extensive research it has been determined that there is no official “certificate” which designates one as resigned from the episcopacy. The purpose of such certification is to “entitle him or her to membership as a traveling elder in the annual conference (or its successor) in which membership was last held.” (¶408.4, 2008 Book of Discipline) In the Press Release announcing Hae-Jong Kim’s resignation, Bishop Peter D. Weaver (President of the Council of Bishops) states: “Bishop Kim has resigned from the episcopacy for personal reasons, effective September 1, 2005. At that time, his clergy membership will return to the Greater Neww Jersey Conference of The United Methodist Church.” In addition, Hae-Jong Kim has been listed as a “Retired Elder” in the Journal of the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference since that time and has been listed in the Appointment Listing of the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference as the “Retired Elder” appointed to The Alpine Community United Methodist Church since 2008. As such, these statements “certify” that Hae-Jong Kim is “a traveling elder in the annual conference (or its successor) in which membership was last held” thus fulfilling the mandates of ¶408.4 of the 2008 Book of Discipline.

Paragraph 409.4 in the 2004 Discipline states in part:

A bishop may voluntarily resign from the episcopacy at any time. A bishop may resign from the office by submitting his or her resignation to the Council of Bishops. The Council of Bishops shall have authority to take appropriate actions concerning matters relating to the resignation, including the appointment of an acting bishop to act until a successor is elected and assigned. The consecration papers of a bishop in good standing so resigning shall be properly inscribed by the secretary of the Council of Bishops and returned. He or she shall be furnished with a certificate of resignation which shall entitle him or her to membership as a traveling elder in the annual conference (or its successor) in which membership was last held. Notification of this action shall be given by the secretary of the Council of Bishops to the chairperson and secretary of the jurisdictional or central conference committee on episcopacy.

Paragraph 409.4 (2004) speaks to a resignation from the episcopacy by having the bishop in question submit a letter of resignation to the Council of Bishops. There is no specific disciplinary requirement that the Council of Bishops must take affirmative action to have the resignation become valid. In the instant case, the Council of Bishops was provided a copy of the confidential agreement reached by all parties in the settlement of the complaint and a copy of the press release prior to its distribution. The parties in the just resolution agreement also assented to the sharing of this material with the Council and affirmed the wording of the press release. There was no effort to violate the prescriptions of the Discipline. In this case, the Bishop ruled that no formal certificate exists that could be presented to the person in question. However, as part the formal statement of resignation, it was stated that the Rev. Kim’s membership would be returned to the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference thus fulfilling the intent of the certificate. Although this deficiency of the action by the Council of Bishops is noted along with the failure to sign the consecration papers of Rev. Kim, it does not invalidate the action of resignation taken by Rev. Kim as part of the agreed upon resolution of the complaint. The ruling by the Bishop is affirmed. Further, the General Council of Finance and Administration is charged to create such a certificate for use by the Council of Bishops for any future resignations. In the ruling on Question 3, the Bishop stated:

The 2008 Book of Discipline requires the Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee to report to the Jurisdictional Conference the following items: ¶50 Article VI: “The committee shall review the work of the bishops, pass on their character and official administration, and report to the jurisdictional conference its findings for such action as the conference may deem appropriate within its constitutional warrant of power. (pg. 37) ¶413.4: “Any actions of the jurisdictional or central conference committee taken on a complaint shall be reported to the next session of the jurisdictional or central conference. (pg. 309) ¶524.3a: “Review and evaluate the work of the bishops, pass on their character and official administration, and report such evaluations and other findings to the jurisdictional conference for such action as the conference may deem appropriate within its constitutional warrant of power. (pg. 336) ¶524.3h: “Prepare a report of its decisions, activities, and recommendations to be transmitted to its successor through the office of the secretary of the jurisdictional conference prior to the jurisdictional conference. The report shall be made available to delegates of the jurisdictional conference prior to the jurisdictional conference.” (pg. 336-337) In January 2005 a written complaint concerning retired Bishop Hae-Jong Kim was received and processed in accordance with the provisions of the 2004 Book of Discipline. This complaint was sent to the Jurisdictional Committee on Investigation as a judicial complaint (¶413.3). Before the matter was considered by this committee, Hae-Jong Kim informed the committee that he was choosing to resign from the episcopacy. Hae-Jong Kim resigned from the episcopacy on September 1, 2005, thus ending the complaint procedure. This matter appropriately did not come before the Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee. As such, the Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee was under no obligation to report this matter to the Jurisdictional Conference. The official letter from Hae-Jong Kim requesting the rescinding of his resignation was addressed to the President of the Council of Bishops, Janice R. Huie (dated January 11, 2007), not the NEJ Episcopacy Committee. The letter to the NEJ Episcopacy Committee, dated February 12, 2007, requested that the Episcopacy Committee consider providing “corporate wisdom and consideration” along with the possibility of setting up an “ad-hoc committee to help the process.” The NEJ Episcopacy Committee chose to not act upon this recommended action and was under no obligation to do so since Hae-Jong Kim had resigned and there are no provisions in the Book of Discipline to act upon a request to rescind a resignation. As such, the Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee was under no obligation to act on this request or to formally report this matter to the Jurisdictional Conference.

The Bishop’s ruling in the first part of the question is affirmed. The Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy had no authority to review or take any action on either the confidential resolution of the complaint or the resignation of Hae-Jong Kim. The ruling in response to the issue of the rescinding of the resignation of Rev. Kim is affirmed. The Northeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy was under no obligation to consider, act on, or respond to the request from Mr. Kim or to make any report to the Jurisdictional Conference since there are no provisions in the Discipline to act on a request to rescind a resignation. Question 4 was ruled in the following way:

Hae-Jong Kim’s resignation, request for rescission of the resignation, or any matters connected with the handling of this case were not under consideration by the Northeastern Jurisdiction Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee. No matters were referred to the Committee for consideration. As such, the request in paragraph 4 is hypothetical and not proper.

The Bishop’s ruling is affirmed. The situation regarding Rev. Kim occurred in the previous quadrennium (2004-2008). Thus, the Northeastern Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy for the 2009-2012 quadrennium would not have considered any of the issues regarding Rev. Kim. The question is hypothetical and moot. The Bishop responded to Point 5 in the following way:

The investigation by the Commission on Religion and Race related to the events surrounding the complaint filed against Hae-Jong Kim in January, 2005. Before the complaint reached the Jurisdictional Committee on Investigation, Hae-Jong Kim resigned from the episcopacy, thus bringing closure to the Judicial Process in which he was the respondent. The Commission on Religion and Race has no jurisdiction in the matter of the confidential agreements reached which resulted in the resignation of Hae-Jong Kim from the episcopacy. As such, the request in paragraph 5 is hypothetical and not proper.

The request to the General Commission on Religion and Race was initiated on November 12, 2005, by Rev. Eugene Kim and two lay members of Alpine Community Church in Alpine, New Jersey, “and others.” This request came after the resignation from the Episcopacy of Hae-Jong Kim as part of the confidential (emphasis added) resolution of the complaint filed on February 2, 2005. The judicial process ended at that point. Confidentiality of the agreed upon resolution was specifically stated as part of the agreement. In making this request to the General Commission on Religion and Race several months later on behalf of one of the parties to the agreement, the confidentiality of the resolution was broken. In reviewing all of the documentation presented to the Judicial Council regarding the report of the General Commission on Religion and Race, it is clear that the General Secretary of the Commission came to understand the full background leading to the resignation of Rev. Kim from the episcopacy. As a result of the just resolution, the complaint process ended and the jurisdiction of the Northeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Investigation ended. There is no warrant for appeal or further process by either the Council of Bishops or the Committee on Investigation. The Commission had no standing to enter into this investigation as was acknowledged in the submission of their letter to Northeastern Jurisdiction College of Bishops. The bishop’s ruling is affirmed.

Decision

Due process was followed in the handling of the case of the resignation of the Rev. Hae-Jong Kim from the office of the episcopacy in accordance with the fair process requirements outlined in the 2004 Discipline. The Bishop’s rulings on the questions of law raised at the 2012 Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference on behalf of The Rev. Hae-Jong Kim and the rescission of his resignation from the episcopacy are affirmed. Beth Capen and Ruben Reyes were absent. Sandra Lutz, first lay alternate, and Warren Plowden, fifth lay alternate, participated in this decision.

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