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Decision No. 1240

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April 19 2013
In Re: Review of a Bishop’s Decision of Law in the Congo Central Conference Regarding Mandatory Retirement Age for Bishops in Light of ¶¶ 50, 408, and 543.3

Digest of Case

A decision is deferred until the Secretary of the Congo Central Conference provides minutes of the relevant session. The Judicial Council retains jurisdiction.

Statement of Facts

On August 21, 2012, during the morning session for the election of a bishop, a member of the Congo Central Conference submitted a request for a decision of law, as follows (in English translation):

1. Did the 2012 General Conference in its legislative actions regarding paragraph 408 of The Book of Discipline authorize the extension of episcopal tenures in the DR Congo beyond the mandatory retirement age of 68 years? 2. Do the paragraphs 50 of the Constitution and 543.3 of The Book of Discipline constitute an authorization of the Central Conference to extend episcopal terms beyond the mandatory retirement age of 68 years? 3. In the absence of the above mentioned authorization, can the Bishops extend their episcopal terms themselves?
At the afternoon session, the presiding bishop gave an oral response, and later in a timely way submitted a written response as follows (in English translation):
1. Concerning the retirement age of bishops, the reference should not be made to the Book of Discipline of the central conference, published in 1990 (based on the Book of Discipline 1988). The reference has to be to the Book of Discipline established by the general conference. 2. At general conference 2008, the mandatory retirement age for all clergy was changed from age 70 to age 72 (BOD 2008, par. 358.1) BOD 2008, par. 50 and par. 543.3 speak about the power given to central conferences to fix the tenure of its bishops. However, the ministry of a bishop is not a third order which would not be subject to the rule for mandatory retirement age of clergy; see the reference made to par. 358.1 in BOD 2008, par. 408.1c, last part. 3. The Book of Discipline 2008 includes a specific regulation for bishops in jurisdictions in the United States. This regulation mentions as mandatory retirement age if a bishop has reached his/her 68th anniversary before July 1st of the year in which is held the session of the jurisdictional conference; see BOD 2008, par. 408.1a. The Book of Discipline 2008 does not mention a similar regulation concerning bishops in central conferences. 4. General Conference 2012 wanted to clarify this question for bishops in central conferences through a petition (petition 20416; calendar item 372). The petition was amended in the Legislative Committee on superintendency, based on a recommendation from the Standing Committee for Central Conference Matters, for adjusting to the different dates of the sessions of central conferences (they have to be held within a year following the general conference, see BOD 2008, Par. 30), and thus added a new par. 408.1b for the central conferences, but still mentioned a clear indication that it would become effective immediately. In the discussion on the floor of general conference, amendments on the effective date were proposed. In the final vote, it was approved by the general conference that the amended petition on par. 408.1b shall be “effective on January 1st, 2016”. In the discussion on the floor, the persons who spoke verbally mentioned the situation in the episcopal areas of Central Congo (for one speaker) and of South Congo (for another speaker). Conclusion: General Conference 2012 voted the effective date in full knowledge of the implications for the two episcopal areas in the Congo and thus allowing its bishops who have passed the age of 68 to continue in active service beyond the session of the central conference in 2012. For the bishops in the Congo central conference who will continue in active ministry beyond their 68th anniversary, the mandatory retirement age remains at their 72nd birthday. At the time of their mandatory retirement during the quadrennium 2012-2016, the central conference (through its executive committee) may either call for an extraordinary session for the election of a successor, or ask the Council of Bishops to name a bishop for overseeing the episcopal area under consideration until a successor is elected at the ordinary session of the central conference in 2016.
In addition to the report filed by the bishop, a lay member of a church in the Central Congo Annual Conference filed a brief, challenging the bishop’s ruling. The Secretary of the Congo Central Conference has not responded to multiple requests that he provide minutes of the August 21, 2012, session of the Congo Central Conference.
JURISDICTION
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2609.6 of the 2008 Discipline.
ANALYSIS AND RATIONALE
The Secretary of the Congo Central Conference has not provided minutes of the August 21, 2012, session of the Congo Central Conference. There is no official text with which to compare the presiding bishop’s report. A brief filed by an amicus curiae argues that the oral report to the central conference was different from the written report filed by the bishop. The language of the ruling submitted by the presiding bishop, and the language of the ruling referenced in an amicus curiae brief differ in some ways. Also, without the minutes, the Judicial Council cannot fully determine the context in which the question of law was raised. Although a delay in deliberating this item may or may not effectuate difficulties and stresses in the Congo Central Conference, the Judicial Council prefers to make its determinations based on the full record. To withhold action at this point in no way questions the intent or integrity of those who have submitted materials. The Judicial Council operates under jurisprudence that calls for official documentation. The Judicial Council continues to request the Secretary of the Congo Central Conference to provide minutes of the August 21, 2012, session of the Congo Central Conference. In anticipation of receipt of that record, the Judicial Council retains jurisdiction in this matter.

Decision

A decision is deferred until the Secretary of the Congo Central Conference provides minutes of the relevant session. The Judicial Council retains jurisdiction. 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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