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Decision No. 1351

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October 27 2017
In Re: IN RE: Review of a Bishop’s Decision of Law in the Iowa Annual Conference regarding the complaint procedure involving a clergy member who was reported to have publicly declared to be “a self-avowed practicing homosexual.”

Digest of Case

{Subject to final editing and review.}

 

The Rulings of the Bishop on all five questions presented are affirmed.  Questions 1, 2, 3, and 5 are clear efforts to relitigate a complaint procedure that was closed and completed by the previous Bishop.  The current Bishop correctly determined that she has no authority to reopen or otherwise disturb the outcome in the earlier complaint proceeding.  The Bishop found Question 4 to be hypothetical on the ground that no actual situation has occurred.  The record before us fails to show that any of the statements of a self-avowed, practicing homosexual occurred since September 1, 2016.  In the absence of that showing and in the absence of any action by this Bishop, the Bishop correctly concludes that she has no duty or authority to act.  The rulings of the Bishop are affirmed.

Statement of Facts

During the 174th Plenary Session of the 2017 Iowa Annual Conference on June 11, 2017 at 1:03 PM, a lay member, after being duly recognized, rose and verbally requested that the bishop enter a ruling on a question of law.  The bishop reminded the member that a bishop may only provide a ruling on a question of law submitted in writing during the annual conference session.  The member submitted the question of law in writing by the close of the Annual Conference session, which ended on the evening of Monday, June 12, 2017. 

 

The request is predicated on two events.  The first was the public disclosure on June 22, 2016, at the 2016 Iowa Annual Conference, by a United Methodist elder and member in full connection, who is duly appointed to ministry in the Annual Conference, that she, among other things, is “a self-avowed, practicing homosexual.”   The second event was the dismissal by a different bishop—who was then serving as the resident bishop to the Iowa Annual Conference—of a complaint arising from the elder’s June 22, 2016 statement.  The request then states, accurately, that the elder continues to serve in the Annual Conference as an appointed elder in good standing. 

The request then continues:

Therefore, in accordance with ¶51 and 2609 of the Book of Discipline, and in light of ¶304.2, 304.3, 310.2d, 605.7, ¶ 2702.1 (a), (b), and (d), Judicial Council decisions 920, 1341, and other relevant church law, I request a bishop's decision of law on the following:

  1. Before the complaint against the Rev. Anna Blaedel was dismissed in August, did a review process conducted in accordance with ¶362, Judicial Council Decision #920, and related church law include Rev. Blaedel retracting her statement at the 2016 Annual Conference session to say that she was not really "a self-avowed practicing homosexual," include a determination of fact otherwise being made that she was not really “a self-avowed practicing homosexual,” or include Rev. Blaedel being directly asked if she was a self-avowed, practicing homosexual?
  2. If not, was the complaint properly dismissed in accordance with ¶362 and other relevant church law?
  3. If Rev. Blaedel has not retracted her public statement that she is “a self-avowed practicing homosexual” and her statement has not been disproven by any proper review process, may her ministerial office be subject to further review under ¶362?
  4. Does someone who states directly to the bishop, multiple superintendents, and multiple members of the board of ordained ministry, as Rev. Blaedel did before the entire 2016 Iowa Annual Conference, that she is “a self-avowed practicing homosexual” or an "out, out, queer, partnered clergy," and never retracts or contests the accuracy of such a statement, meet the minimum requirements for ordination and appointment under 304.3 310.2d, and 2702.1 (a), (b), and (d)?
  5. Does ¶605.7 require that the bishop/cabinet report complaints dismissed under ¶362.e.1 as pertinent information required under ¶635.2m, at least upon request in the clergy session?

 

Within thirty days on June 28, 2017, the presiding bishop issued her Decision of Law which reads as follows:

Pursuant to the requirements of The Discipline of The United Methodist Church 2016 (hereinafter, The Discipline), I am instructed to respond “with a ruling to all submitted questions of law.” See “Guidelines for Bishop’s Rulings on Questions of Law,” Rules of Practice and Procedure, The Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church, Appendix A (last revised on October 28, 2016) (“Guidelines”). I must do so even “if the ruling is simply that the question is 3 moot, hypothetical or improperly submitted.” Id. (quoting Judicial Council Decision 799). I address each of Dr. Scott’s inquiries in turn:

  1.  I am asked whether the proper procedure was followed by Bishop Trimble in response to the complaint filed against Rev. Blaedel, as set forth above, under Paragraph 362 of The Discipline. See Scott Request ¶ 1; Ex. 5. I have no authority to rule on this question. As the Judicial Council as ruled, a “bishop has no authority to make substantive rulings on judicial or administrative matters.” Dec. 799 (“Questions which are procedural or substantive matters relating solely to action in a judicial or administrative process are not proper questions to be addressed in a substantive ruling by a bishop.”). To decide otherwise would be address a question is not a matter “concerning the regular business of the Annual Conference.” Id.; see also Dec. 867.
  2. I am asked whether the complaint, as set forth above, was properly dismissed in accordance with ¶362 and other relevant church. For the reasons and authorities set forth in my response above, I have no authority to rule on this question.
  3. I am asked whether Rev. Blaedel retracted her public statement that she is “a self-avowed practicing homosexual” and her statement has not been disproven by any proper review process, may her ministerial office be subject to further review under ¶362. This request also asks me to review a judicial or administrative process, something I do not have authority to do. Dec. 799. Further, as this sub-request also asks me to determine whether Rev. Blaedel’s ministerial office is subject of further review under Paragraph 362, it is moot and hypothetical. The subject complaint has been dismissed. Dec. 799 (“The council has repeatedly noted that questions of law must relate to actual situations and must set forth the circumstances or acts upon which a specific ruling may be rendered.”); Dec. 867.
  4. I asked whether “someone who states directly to the bishop, multiple superintendents, and multiple members of the board of ordained ministry . . . that she is “a self-avowed practicing homosexual” or an “out, out, [sic] queer, partnered clergy,” and never retracts or contests the accuracy of such a statement, meet the minimum requirements for ordination and appointment under 304.3 310.2d, and 2702.1 (a), (b), and (d).” This is a hypothetical question and so one on which I may not opine. Dec. 799 (“The council has repeatedly noted that questions of law must relate to actual situations and must set forth the circumstances or acts upon which a specific ruling may be rendered.”).
  5. I am asked whether under ¶ 605.7 of The Discipline, that the “bishop/cabinet report complaints dismissed under 362.e.1 as pertinent information required under ¶ 635.2m, at least upon request in the clergy session.” This request requires me to opine on a procedural matter which is not in my authority to do. Dec. 799. It is also a hypothetical. See Dec. 33 (“It is not the duty of the presiding Bishop to rule upon any hypothetical question which may be propounded, nor to answer requests for information which involve no legal matter.”).

Jurisdiction

The Judicial Council has jurisdiction pursuant to ¶¶ 51 and 56 of the constitution and ¶ 2609.6 of The Book of Discipline 2016.  

Analysis and Rationale

We are asked to answer five discreet questions in this case.  Four of these questions challenge the complaint procedure followed by the previous Bishop in response to the 2016 complaint filed against the elder in that case and this.  All four of these questions relate to the previous proceeding and attempt to relitigate a closed complaint procedure which was finalized by the dismissal of that complaint.

The first question specifically asked for the bishop to rule on the procedure followed by the previous presiding bishop in an administrative matter.  The bishop correctly ruled that a bishop does not have the authority to do so.  This is a principle of longstanding jurisprudence.  JCD 799 arose from another review of a bishop’s decision of law in the Iowa Annual Conference concerning the “legality of procedures related to a clergy member’s suspension and subsequent trial.”  While there was no trial in the instant case, there was the completion of an administrative process, so that a question of law would be “moot and hypothetical” and would not “relate to the business, consideration or discussion of the conference session.”

Questions 1, 2, 3, and 5 are improper questions for substantive rulings by a bishop and are proper only under the purview of the judicial and/or administrative process. See JCD 1130, 1131, 1188, and 1251.  Question four relating to whether “someone who states directly to the bishop, multiple superintendents, and multiple members of the board of ordained ministry. That she is ‘a self-avowed practicing homosexual’….and never retracts or contests the accuracy of such a statement, meets the minimum requirements for ordination and appointment” under the relevant Disciplinary provisions presents a different question than presented in the other four questions in this Request for a Decision of Law.  The Bishop correctly found that the issue raised is one on which she could not opine.  She reasoned that the question is hypothetical presumably on the ground that no action has been taken since Bishop Haller was appointed Bishop of the Iowa annual conference.  It is clear from the record before us that the clergy person involved did make a public statement at the 2016 session of the Iowa Annual Conference.  She identified herself as “a self-avowed practicing homosexual” which led to the filing of complaints and the initiation of the complaint process undertaken by the previous Bishop.

The relevant question in this case is whether the clergy person who is the subject of this request for a decision of law has made similar or the same self-avowing public statements since this bishop took office as the resident bishop of the Iowa Annual Conference.  Thus, the question is whether there is evidence of a self-avowing public statement by the clergy person at issue here since September 1, 2016 when the current bishop assumed her responsibilities.  Clearly if the record in this case alleged a self-avowing statement since that date, the current bishop would have a duty to initiate proceedings under Discipline ¶362 in accordance with JCD 920 and 1341.  This record contains no evidence that the complained-of statements of self-avowal occurred subsequent to September 1, 2016.  The burden is on the movant to make a showing that would trigger the Bishop’s responsibilities.  No such showing is made on this record.  The record also points to no action taken by the Bishop on a subsequent self-avowal. 

Question 4 is moot and hypothetical as it requests a ruling from the bishop on a hypothetical situation, namely, “Does someone who states directly to the bishop, multiple superintendents, and multiple members of the board of ordained ministry, as Rev. Blaedel did before the entire 2016 Iowa Annual Conference, that she is ‘a self-avowed practicing homosexual’ or an ‘out, out, queer, partnered clergy,’ [sic] and never retracts or contests the accuracy of such a statement, meet the minimum requirements for ordination and appointment under 304.3 310.2d, and 2702.1 (a), (b), and (d)?”  JCD 33 is the landmark decision defining the issue on moot and hypothetical questions.  Regarding such questions, the key principle is "Moot and hypothetical questions shall not be decided." This principal has been followed in numerous decisions, including JCD 396, 651, 746, 747, 762, 763, and 799 (as referenced above).

A review of the minutes of the June 11, 2017 afternoon session of the annual conference reveal that the questions presented in the request for a decision of law were not related to the regular business, current consideration nor discussion of the conference session.  We affirm the rulings of the Bishop on all five questions.

Ruling

The Rulings of the Bishop on all five questions presented are affirmed.  Questions 1,2,3, and 5 are clear efforts to relitigate a complaint procedure that was closed and completed by the previous Bishop.  The current Bishop correctly determined that she has no authority to reopen or otherwise disturb the outcome in the earlier complaint proceeding.  The Bishop found Question 4 to be hypothetical on the ground that no actual situation has occurred.  The record before us fails to show that any of the statements of a self-avowed, practicing homosexual occurred since September 1, 2016.  In the absence of that showing and in the absence of any action by this Bishop, the Bishop correctly concludes that she has no duty or authority to act.  The rulings of the Bishop are affirmed.

 

Kabamba Kiboko recused herself and did not participate in any of the proceedings related to this decision.
Dennis Blackwell was absent. 
First clergy alternate Timothy Bruster participated in this decision.

Decision

The Rulings of the Bishop on all five questions presented are affirmed.  Questions 1,2,3, and 5 are clear efforts to relitigate a complaint procedure that was closed and completed by the previous Bishop.  The current Bishop correctly determined that she has no authority to reopen or otherwise disturb the outcome in the earlier complaint proceeding.  The Bishop found Question 4 to be hypothetical on the ground that no actual situation has occurred.  The record before us fails to show that any of the statements of a self-avowed, practicing homosexual occurred since September 1, 2016.  In the absence of that showing and in the absence of any action by this Bishop, the Bishop correctly concludes that she has no duty or authority to act.  The rulings of the Bishop are affirmed.

 

Kabamba Kiboko recused herself and did not participate in any of the proceedings related to this decision.
Dennis Blackwell was absent. 
First clergy alternate Timothy Bruster participated in this decision.

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