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Committee on Appeals reaches decision in Schaefer case

The Northeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals has reached a decision regarding Frank Schaefer, former pastor of Iona (Penn.) United Methodist Church who was defrocked after a November 2013 church trial.

After the appellate hearing on Friday, June 20, the nine-member committee has released their written decision on Tuesday, June 24. It reads as follows:

COMMITTEE ON APPEALS NORTHEASTERN JURISDICTION OF THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH

In the Matter of the Rev. Frank Schaefer, Appellant.

(Original Jurisdiction: Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of The United Methodist Church)

Digest of Decision

The compound penalty the Trial Court fashioned for purposes of this judicial proceeding — a 30-day suspension, to be followed by a mandatory surrender of credentials if the Respondent failed to satisfy the Board of Ordained Ministry that he would henceforth uphold the Book of Discipline "in its entirety" — is not within the range of penalties authorized by ¶ 2711.3 of the Discipline. Trial Courts have ample latitude to select an appropriate penalty from among the alternatives listed in ¶ 2711.3, but those penalty provisions are to be strictly construed and do not allow the mixing and matching of penalties that are designed to be distinct. Judicial Council Decision No. 240. Nor may the imposition of any penalty, let alone the enhanced penalty of a withdrawal of credentials, be predicated on "a future possibility, which may or may not occur, rather than a past or present act." Decision No. 725.

Consequently, errors of Church law vitiate the penalty imposed by the Trial Court and the penalty imposed on Respondent shall be modified as follows: The Respondent is suspended, without compensation, from the exercise of all duties and functions of a pastor, and from the enjoyment of all privileges of a member in full connection of the Annual Conference, for a period of 30 days, which suspension shall be deemed to have commenced on November 19, 2013 and ended December 18, 2013. Pursuant to ¶ 2711.3 of the Discipline, the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference shall restore Respondent's credentials and compensate Respondent for all lost salary and benefits dating from December 19, 2013.

Statement of the Questions Presented

  1. Whether the penalty imposed was illegal because Church law prohibits trial courts from conditioning reinstatement of a suspended elder on his proof of good conduct.
  2. Whether the penalty imposed was illegal because Church law prohibits trial courts from imposing a penalty based on what a pastor may intend to do in the future.
  3. Whether the penalty is illegal because, even if it were legal to make a penalty dependent in some respect on what a pastor intends to do in the future, this penalty was framed in language that was impossibly vague, overly broad, and disconnected from the offense for which the Appellant was convicted.

Statement of Facts

The Rev. Frank Schaefer, Appellant, became an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church in 1996 and was ordained an Elder in 1998. A member of the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference, Rev. Schaefer was appointed to Zion of Iona United Methodist Church in Lebanon, Pennsylvania in 2002, where he served until November 19, 2013, the date the Trial Court determined the penalty to impose on Rev. Schaefer for violating the Discipline.

On April 28, 2007, Rev. Schaefer officiated at the wedding of his son, Tim, to another man. The wedding was a small, private affair held in a restaurant in Massachusetts, a jurisdiction where same sex marriage was legal.

Statement of Prior Proceedings

On April 2, 2013, a complaint was filed against Rev. Schaefer charging him with violating ¶¶ 2702.1(b) and 2702.1(d) of the Book of Discipline by performing a same-sex marriage ceremony for his son, Tim. After the parties were unable to reach an agreed-upon just resolution of the charges, the Resident Bishop of the Philadelphia Area, Peggy A. Johnson, appointed the Rev. Dr. Christopher Fisher as Counsel for the Church and referred the matter to him for investigation and, if warranted, to prepare a judicial complaint.

A formal Judicial Complaint was presented by Dr. Fisher to Presiding Officer Bishop Warner Brown, Jr., on July 1, 2013. After Bishop Brown recused himself from the case, Bishop Johnson appointed Bishop Alfred W. Gwinn, Jr., as the Presiding Officer. Dr. Fisher presented the Judicial Complaint to Bishop Gwinn on July 15, 2013. Another attempt at just resolution between the parties failed. Bishop Gwinn set a trial date of November 18-19, 2013.

The trial began on November 18, 2013, whereupon a jury was selected and testimony was heard. The Presiding Officer limited testimony in this phase of the trial to witnesses whose testimony was deemed to show that the facts in the specifications underlying each charge were "more or less likely" to be true. The Trial Court found Rev. Schaefer guilty of both charges.

The penalty phase of the trial began on November 19, 2013. This phase of the trial involved a number of lay and expert witnesses for both parties. After hearing this testimony and arguments from counsel, the Trial Court announced the following penalty, inscribed on a pre-printed form supplied by the Presiding Officer:

Suspend Rev. Frank Schaefer from all ministerial duties effective immediately for 30 days. If there are any violations of the Discipline during the 30 days, his credentials will be surrendered to the annual conference.

During these 30 days, Rev. Schaefer must take the opportunity to discern his newly discovered calling for the LGBT community. If at the end of the 30 days Rev. Schaefer has determined he cannot uphold the Discipline in its entirely, he must surrender his credentials.

After reviewing the Trial Court's initial formulation of the penalty, Bishop Gwinn returned the form to the Trial Court, with instructions to clarify how the second stage of the penalty — that is, the steps that were to be taken in the 30 days following trial — was to be implemented. In response, the Trial Court added the following provision to the penalty:

The District Superintendent of record shall monitor the progress. Rev. Frank Schaefer will provide a written report to and interview with the Board of Ordained Ministry within 30 days regarding his call and his willingness to uphold the Book of Discipline in its entirety.

On December 19, 2013, Rev. Schaefer met with the Board of Ordained Ministry and provided the written report requested by the Trial Court. In response to the specific questions posed by the Trial Court, Rev. Schaefer's report stated:

I have been directed to report to you on whether I can uphold the Book of Discipline in its entirety. My honest answer has to be: No, I cannot.

In fact, I don't believe anybody can. It's impossible to uphold the Discipline in its entirety because it is filled with competing and contradictory statements. It reflects the diversity of convictions we hold as United Methodists. In the words of Prof. Thomas Frank: "The UMC is a big tent!" And that's reflected in the Discipline.

With regard to surrendering his credentials, Rev. Schaefer's December 19, 2013 written report to the Board stated "I also cannot in good conscience surrender my credentials voluntarily…." Indicating that he had "received hundreds of petitions from LGBT members, colleagues, and even bishops, not to surrender my credentials," Rev. Schaefer's written report stated, "By surrendering my credentials, I feel as though I would abandon those under my spiritual care and especially those I feel called to advocate for."

Rev. Schaefer's written report concluded with the statement, "I look forward to continuing as a clergy person in the United Methodist Church, committed to working together with my clergy colleagues, providing a ministry to all people under my care, continuing to advocate for our LGBT community within the UM Church while using proper channels toward changing the discriminatory language and provisions in our Book of Discipline."

After Rev. Schaefer read the entire written statement to the Board, the Chair asked whether he agreed to uphold the Discipline in its entirety, to which he responded "I cannot, unfortunately." The Chair then asked Rev. Schaefer to surrender his credentials. The December 19, 2013 Board minutes reflect that Rev. Schaefer replied that he would not voluntarily surrender his credentials. The Board's Chair then replied that his credentials "will be taken from him and he will no longer be deemed as clergy in The United Methodist Church."

Rev. Schaefer timely filed his Notice of Appeal, which Notice was forwarded by the Presiding Officer of the Trial Court to the Committee on Appeals for the Northeastern Jurisdiction on January 22, 2014. The Committee on Appeals met on February 20, 2014, at which time the Committee set the date and time for the hearing and so notified the parties. Discipline, ¶ 2716.3

Both parties filed timely briefs, and on June 20, 2014, the Committee heard arguments from the parties. The Committee then retired to deliberate and arrive at its decision.

Jurisdiction

The Northeastern Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals has jurisdiction of this matter pursuant to the Book of Discipline, ¶¶ 2715 and 2716.

Standard of Review

As a general matter, Committees on Appeal are authorized to resolve just two questions: a) Does the weight of the evidence sustain the charge or charges? (b) Were there such errors of Church law as to vitiate the verdict and/or the penalty? Discipline, ¶ 2715.7. Because Rev. Schaefer is not appealing the Trial Court's verdict, the only decision this Committee is authorized to review in this case is whether there were "such errors of Church law as to vitiate . . . the penalty" the Trial Court imposed on Rev. Schaefer. Id., ¶ 2715.7. The Committee's resolution of that question must be based on "the records of the trial and the argument of counsel." Id.

The parties have advanced competing positions concerning the proper scope of the record on appeal in this case. Pursuant to ¶ 2716.3 of the Discipline, the Secretary of the Trial Court delivered the trial record to the Committee on Appeals on March 6, 2014. The last entries in the record as delivered by the Secretary were the transcript of the penalty phase of the trial, which was held on November 19, 2013, and the penalty form the Trial Court delivered to the Presiding Officer the same day. But it was a month later — on December 19, 2013 — when Rev. Schaefer reported to the Board of Ordained Ministry and his credentials were finally revoked.

Under these circumstances, Rev. Schaefer filed a motion to supplement the trial court record to include several documents relating to the Board of Ordained Ministry's involvement, including the minutes of the meeting the Board held on December 19, 2013, which reflect the Board's decision to revoke Rev. Schaefer's credentials. In his brief on the merits, Church Counsel argues that it would be error for the Committee to review the materials presented in Rev. Schaefer's motion to supplement the record. He argues, in essence, that those materials cannot be part of "the records of the trial" within the meaning of ¶ 2715.7 of the Discipline, because the trial concluded on November 19 and the documents relate to post-trial developments.

In light of representations made during the appellate hearing held June 20, 2014, it is the Committee's understanding that Counsel for the Church is no longer opposing Rev. Schaefer's motion to supplement the record or otherwise objecting to the Committee's consideration of the materials appended to that motion in deciding this appeal. Despite this understanding, the Committee notes that two additional factors suffice to dispense with any objection regarding the materials associated with the Board of Ordained Ministry's involvement.

First, the Committee concluded that the penalty fashioned by the Trial Court in this case is unlawful on its face, based solely on the penalty form the Trial Court completed on November 19, 2013, and without reference to any of the documents referenced in Rev. Schaefer's motion to supplement the record. Second, given the particular circumstances of this case, ¶ 2715.7 is best understood simply as reinforcing the commonplace requirement that the record on appeal is confined to the record developed at the trial court level, rather than for the first time on appeal. Here, the "records of the trial" cannot fairly exclude everything that post-dates November 19, 2013, when the Trial Court effectively elongated the "penalty phase" by crafting a penalty that would not be fully defined until 30 days later. For all intents and purposes, the Trial Court instructed the Board of Ordained Ministry to complete its job on December 19, 2013, by receiving Rev. Schaefer's written report, conducting an interview, and then either implementing or dispensing with the second, conditional component of the penalty the Trial Court had outlined a month earlier.

Furthermore, the Discipline provides that the "trial court shall be a continuing body until the final disposition of the charge." Discipline, ¶ 2711.1. If it is permissible (as Church Counsel argues) for the Trial Court to make the final contours of the penalty dependent on the outcome of subsequent proceedings before the Board of Ordained Ministry, then surely it follows that meaningful appellate review of the penalty requires the phrase "records of trial" to be interpreted as encompassing, not excluding, the associated proceedings before the Board of Ordained Ministry.1

Analysis and Rationale
 

I. The Penalty Fashioned by the Trial Court is Unlawful

Based on the following analysis and rationale, the Committee unanimously concludes that the penalty fashioned by the trial court is illegal and, as such, the penalty is vitiated.

If a clergy member has been tried and convicted of a chargeable offense, the Discipline provides that the Trial Court shall establish an appropriate penalty in the following manner:

3. Penalties—If the Trial Results in Conviction. Further testimony may be heard and arguments by counsel presented regarding what the penalty should be. The trial court shall determine the penalty, which shall require a vote of at least seven members. The trial court shall have the power to remove the respondent from professing membership, terminate the conference membership, and revoke the credentials of conference membership, commissioning, ordination, or consecration of the respondent, suspend the respondent from the exercise of the functions of office, or to fix a lesser penalty. The penalty fixed by the trial court shall take effect immediately unless otherwise indicated by the trial court. Should any penalty fixed by a trial court be altered or reduced as a result of the appellate process, the respondent shall be restored and/or compensated as appropriate.

Discipline, ¶ 2711.3.

The Judicial Council is clear that the General Conference's delineation of the penalties the Trial Court is authorized to impose under ¶ 2711.3 must be "strictly construed." Decision No. 240. Thus, although the Trial Court "has the authority to set a penalty, . . . it must do so within the range of options specified by the Discipline (¶ 2711.3)." Decision No. 1201 (emphasis added). Moreover, inasmuch as the alternatives the General Conference has taken the time to delineate are discrete — with each of the "alternate penalties" having a "different severity" — the Trial Court is not free to mix and match. Decision No. 240. On the contrary, "[w]hen punishment is imposed under one of the alternative procedures, that particular punishment should be applied justly without added penalty or onerous condition borrowed from the other alternatives which were not invoked." Id. (emphasis added).

The leading example of a penalty that violates these principles is found in Decision No. 240. In that case, the Trial Court imposed the following penalty on Gladstone Risinger, an elder in the North Texas Annual Conference:

That said Gladstone Risinger be suspended from the exercise of all functions of his ministerial office, such suspension to terminate at the regular 1965 session of the North Texas Annual Conference, provided that he is able to satisfy the conference at that time that his conduct is and has been such as to warrant his reinstatement.

Decision 240 (emphasis added).

The Judicial Council rejected this penalty as not within the range of the penalties the General Conference has authorized the Trial Court to impose.2 In the simplest of terms, the penalty imposed on Rev. Risinger was illegal because, rather than choosing from among the discrete alternative penalties authorized by the General Conference, the Trial Court had fashioned a hybrid. Immediately following trial, Rev. Risinger was suspended. The illegality arose when the trial court conditioned Risinger's reinstatement on his ability "to satisfy the conference at that time that his conduct is and has been such as to warrant his reinstatement." As the Judicial Council explained, suspension "is clearly recognized as a distinct and separate" penalty that interrupts the pastor's enjoyment of the functions and privileges of his office for a stipulated period of time, and then it ends, essentially by its own terms. The penalty the Trial Court had imposed on Risinger, however, was fundamentally different: Risinger could not resume his pastorate — leaving him at risk of remaining indefinitely on the outside looking in — unless and until he met a new, post-trial burden of "satisfying" the conference that he now "warranted" reinstatement. In short, the penalty levied on Risinger exceeded the Trial Court's authority because it "condition[ed] reinstatement of a suspended minister by requiring him to assume the burden of proving affirmatively an absence of disqualifying conditions," thereby imposing on Rev. Risinger "a burden not required of him by the law in cases of suspension."

The situation here is not materially different. In the instant case, Rev. Schaefer was suspended for 30 days, and his ability to resume his ministry — or, more precisely, his ability to avoid having his credentials removed entirely — was expressly conditioned on his presenting himself to the Board of Ordained Ministry at the end of that 30 days, delivering a written report and submitting to an interview, all with the objective of assuring the Board that, going forward, Rev. Schaeffer would uphold the Discipline in its entirety. Based on the plain terms of ¶ 2711.3 of the Discipline, and consistent with the Judicial Council's longstanding and appropriately strict construction of those provisions, a penalty of that nature is simply not among the options the General Conference has authorized a Trial Court to impose on a clergy member convicted of a chargeable offense.

The penalty the Trial Court imposed on Rev. Schaefer is unlawful for the additional and independent reason that revoking his credentials cannot be squared with the well-established principle that our clergy can only be punished for what they have been convicted of doing in the past, not for what they may or may not do in the future. Indeed, the Judicial Council has made this point even in the context of another provision in the Discipline that addresses human sexuality. In Decision No. 725, the Judicial Council was asked to review the California-Pacific Annual Conference's newly adopted definition of the phrase "self-avowed practicing homosexual." The annual conference's definition covered anyone "who affirms publicly and intends it to be known that she/he engages in or intends to engage in physical sexual behavior with a person of the same gender." In response to a request for a ruling of law, the resident bishop ruled that this definition was "in compliance with the Discipline and Judicial Council Decisions." But the Judicial Council reversed the bishop's decision, holding that neither the language in the Discipline nor its prior decisions can reasonably be read to countenance judicial action based on nothing more than a "future possibility, which may or may not occur, rather than a past or present act."

The foregoing discussion focuses on Judicial Council precedent that holds (1) that the penalty provisions in ¶ 2711.3 of the Discipline must be strictly construed, such that the distinct alternative penalties itemized therein may not be altered, including by conditioning a return to the pulpit on satisfaction of some additional burden invented by the Trial Court (Decision No. 240); and (2) that the punishment imposed on a clergy person convicted of a chargeable offense must be based solely on the offense for which he or she was actually tried and convicted, not on anything that might or might not happen in the future (Decision No. 725). However, even without the benefit of the Judicial Council's rulings in Decision Nos. 240 and 725, the Committee concludes that the penalty the Trial Court imposed is incompatible with ¶ 2711.3, especially when interpreted in light of our denomination's resolute dedication to fair process and to the General Conference's admonition that our Church's "judicial process shall have as its purpose a just resolution of judicial complaints, in the hope that God's work of justice, reconciliation and healing may be realized in the body of Jesus Christ." In the Committee's judgment, that overriding purpose cannot be achieved — indeed it risks being gravely undermined — if the penalty meted out to clergy who stand convicted of a chargeable offense can be made to vary depending on whether a pastor can, in good faith and with authentic integrity, stand before the Trial Court or the Board of Ordained Ministry (or anyone else for that matter) and pledge that they will — henceforth and always, regardless of the circumstances — uphold the Discipline in its entirety.

In sum, under our system of judicial administration, having convicted Rev. Schaefer of violating ¶¶ 2702.1(b) and 2702.1(d) of the Discipline, the Trial Court had the authority to suspend Rev. Schaefer for a specific period of time. If the Trial Court's assessment was that Rev. Schaefer's violation was so grave that a suspension, no matter the length, was insufficient punishment for the single act for which he was convicted, then the Trial Court had the option of terminating Rev. Schaefer's conference membership and revoking his credentials. What the Trial Court could not do was combine aspects of those distinct and discrete alternatives, "suspending" Rev. Schaefer for a short period of time and then crafting a subsequent proceeding, in which another body was given power to convert the suspension into an outright termination, depending on what assurances Rev. Schaefer was able to give regarding his future conduct.3

II. The Committee Modifies the Penalty Imposed on Respondent

Having determined that the Discipline precludes the penalty imposed by the Trial Court, the Committee has two options: (1) it may "remand the case for a new trial" to establish a new penalty; or (2) the Committee itself "may determine what penalty, not higher than that affixed at the hearing or trial, may be imposed." Discipline, ¶ 2715.8. The Respondent has asked the Committee to retain jurisdiction and modify the penalty to include only a 30-day suspension. Counsel for the Church has not taken a position on whether, in this circumstance, the Committee should remand the case for a new trial on penalty alone or retain jurisdiction and modify the penalty to cure the illegality.

The Committee believes that the objective of securing a just resolution of these already protracted judicial proceedings will be better served if the Committee retains jurisdiction and modifies the penalty, rather than remanding the case and re-convening the Trial Court to determine a new penalty. The Committee has reviewed the ample record already developed at the trial court level and believes it to be more than adequate to ascertain all the facts needed to identify an appropriate penalty. The Committee is not aware of, nor has any party identified, any advantage that might be gained or any good purpose served by sending the case back, rather than finishing the job now, based on a fully developed record.

The Committee has also determined that it is important to name for the Church the factors that have informed the Committee's choice of an appropriate penalty, as well as the considerations the Committee members have done their best to put to the side. The factors that informed the Committee's decision are simply these and no others: (1) the provisions in the Discipline that animate and govern the Church's judicial process and the responsibility given to the Committee on Appeals in particular; and (2) the particular facts of this case. The corollary is that the Committee dedicated itself to the principle that deciding upon an appropriate penalty should not be informed by the Committee members' personal viewpoints on whether the Discipline should or should not countenance same-sex marriages.

It should come as no surprise (not to any United Methodist, at any rate) that this Committee's members have diverse views on issues related to human sexuality, and for many those views are evolving. Regardless — and even while knowing that our bishops have taught that we should "not see the Discipline as sacrosanct or infallible" — every member of this Committee appreciates and takes seriously that the Discipline represents the "current statement of how United Methodists agree to live their lives together," and that it "defines what is expected of its laity and clergy as they seek to be effective witnesses in the world as a part of the whole body of Christ." Discipline, Episcopal Greetings at v (emphasis added).

Most importantly, the Committee is profoundly united in the belief that the objective this Committee has been charged to pursue in this case is nothing less than a resolution that is just. Discipline, ¶ 2701. As a result, and being mindful of our differing perspectives, the Committee understood that reaching consensus on an appropriate penalty in this challenging context required that, with all humility and seeking God's grace at all times, we keep our focus on the Discipline's core teaching that a "just resolution is one that focuses on repairing any harm to people and communities, achieving real accountability by making things right in so far as possible and bringing healing to all the parties." Id., ¶ 2701.5.

Working from this framework of understanding, the Committee has identified a number of core factors that led the Committee to select a penalty that falls within the range of options delineated by the General Conference in ¶ 2711.3 and has been accepted by the majority of the Committee as being reasonably tailored to promote the objective of achieving a just resolution in this particular case, "in the hope that God's work of justice, reconciliation and healing may be realized in the body of Jesus Christ." Discipline, ¶ 2701 (Preamble). Specifically, the facts that were most salient in selecting a penalty in this case were as follows:

  • Rev. Schaefer officiated at the marriage of his son, Tim Schaefer, to another man on April 28, 2007, knowing that doing so was in violation of the Discipline.
  • Based on that admitted act, Rev. Schaefer was tried and convicted of engaging in a "practice[] declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings" and "dis-obedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church," in violation of ¶¶ 2702.1(b) and 2702.1(d) of the Discipline.
  • Inasmuch as Rev. Schaefer has not challenged those convictions, the Discipline mandates that a penalty be imposed on Rev. Schaefer for his adjudicated violations of the Discipline.
  • The same-sex marriage for which Rev. Schaefer was convicted was performed at his son's request.
  • Rev. Schaefer informed his District Superintendent in writing that he would be officiating at his son's marriage to another man.
  • Tim Schaefer's wedding was a private affair, attended by a small gathering of family friends.
  • The ceremony was not held in a United Methodist church, but in a restaurant in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriages had already been made legal.
  • There is nothing in the trial record indicating that Rev. Schaefer had ever participated in any other same-sex marriages or ceremonies celebrating same-sex unions.
  • There is no record that, during the six years that elapsed between Tim Schaefer's wedding and the filing of the complaint that initiated this proceeding, Rev. Schaefer publicized or broadcast the fact that he had conducted a same-sex marriage, or otherwise conducted himself in such a way as to reflect or promote contempt or disrespect for the Discipline or for any particular provisions of the Discipline.

Based primarily on these factors, an 8-person majority of the Committee has determined that Rev. Schaefer shall be suspended, without compensation, from the exercise of all duties and functions of a pastor, and from the enjoyment of all privileges of a member in full connection of the Annual Conference, for a period of 30 days.4

The Committee notes that, in another case involving different facts, a majority of its members might well have concluded that a different penalty better serves the cause of achieving a just resolution. In addition, the Committee appreciates that, in a denomination as diverse as ours, a Committee on Appeals comprised of different individuals might well have calibrated the penalty differently. Indeed, there are members of the Committee — including some within the majority on this penalty-selection aspect of the Committee's decision — who advocated during the Committee's deliberations for a longer period of suspension and who continue to believe that a longer suspension would better reflect fidelity to our polity, which all agreed was important. In the end, however, a consensus emerged that allowed an eight-person majority to join in concluding that a just resolution of this particular judicial proceeding, based on its unique and distinct facts, is to suspend Rev. Schaefer for thirty days, without pay.

Decision

For all of the forgoing reasons, errors of Church law vitiate the penalty imposed on the Respondent by the Trial Court, and the penalty imposed for his violation of ¶¶ 2702.1(b) and 2702.1(d) of the Discipline is modified, such that the Respondent is suspended, without compensation, from the exercise of all duties and functions of a pastor, and from the enjoyment of all privileges of a member in full connection of the Annual Conference, for a period of 30 days, which suspension shall be deemed to have commenced on November 19, 2013 and ended on December 18, 2013. Pursuant to ¶ 2711.3 of the Discipline, the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference shall restore Respondent's credentials immediately and compensate Respondent for all lost salary and benefits dating from December 19, 2013.

DATED: June 24, 2014

Committee members participating: Jen Ihlo, President (Baltimore Washington); Rev. Alyce Weaver Dunn, Vice-President (Western Pennsylvania); Carolyn Hardin Engelhardt (New York); Scott Johnson (Upper New York); Rev. Matthew Lake (Susquehanna); Royce Lyden (West Virginia); Rev. Lyssette Perez (Greater New Jersey); Rev. Joan Reasinger (Western Pennsylvania); Rev. Brian Shockey (Baltimore Washington).

1 Likewise, the Committee does not agree that ¶ 2715.7, much less the unremarkable rule against taking testimony from "witnesses" on appeal, precludes the Committee from accepting briefs from amici curiae who believe they have a perspective the Committee might benefit from hearing. We need not decide that point, however, because the Respondent himself has requested that the Committee confine its review to the issues presented by the parties alone, which the Committee has determined provide a sufficient basis for its disposition of this appeal.

2 Decision 240 was decided in 1966 and was based on the penalty provision included in the 1964 version of the Discipline. The structure and substantive content the language the General Conference used at that time, however, are not materially different from that in effect now. Then, as now, trial courts had the "power to suspend [the pastor] from the exercise of the functions of his office; to depose him from his office or the ministry or both; to expel him from the church; or . . . to fix a lesser penalty." Decision No. 240, quoting Discipline (1964), ¶ 935.

3 In light of the above-stated rationale for the Committee's decision, the Committee has determined that it is not necessary to reach the question raised in Ground #3 of the Appellant's Brief, which argues that the penalty is illegal because it is framed in language that is impossibly vague, overly broad and disconnected from the offense for which Rev. Schaefer was convicted. Also, with regard to Ground #1 in Appellant's Brief, the Committee notes that the rationale for its decision is not dependent on the fact that the Trial Court's penalty required Rev. Schaefer to comply with the Discipline during the 30-day suspension, but instead on the more fundamental principle upheld in Decision No. 240, namely, that the penalty provisions enshrined in ¶ 2711.3 must be strictly construed, and that the alternate penalties authorized therein cannot be mixed-and-matched or otherwise modified at the Trial Court's discretion.

4 To be clear, this 30-day suspension is not being imposed under ¶ 363(d). Paragraph 363(d) controls when a complaint has first been received and the clergy member's innocence is still presumed, but a suspension is deemed appropriate to "to protect the well-being of the person making the complaint, the congregation, annual conference, other context for ministry, and/or clergy." Discipline, ¶ 363(d). In that context, the executive committee of the Board of Ordained Ministry may recommend that the bishop "suspend the person from all clergy responsibilities," but in light of the fact that the clergy person has not yet been tried, the pastor's appointment remains in effect and his or her "salary, housing, and benefits" must continue during the suspension. When a suspension is imposed after trial, however, the convicted pastor may be "barred from office or privilege, . . . forbidden to perform the duties or functions of office, and . . . deprived of the normal rights of Annual Conference membership for a period of time." Decision No. 534.

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