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Photo by Kathy L. Gilbert, UMNS

The Rev. Frank Schaefer responds to reporter's questions in press conference after his two-day church trial.

Panel to hear Frank Schaefer’s appeal

By Heather Hahn
March 18, 2014 | NASHVILLE, Tenn (UMNS)

An appeals committee has agreed to hear the case of Frank Schaefer, who was defrocked as a United Methodist pastor after a church trial for officiating at the same-sex wedding of his son.

“The appeal date has been set for June 20, and the parties have been so notified,” said Jen Ihlo, president of the Northeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals. She also noted that a request has been made to reschedule the hearing, but the committee has not yet had a chance to consider the request.

Ihlo, a member of the Baltimore-Washington Annual (regional) Conference, said the appeals committee will perform its work in accordance with the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book.

Appeals in The United Methodist Church are not automatically heard. An appeal has to be made within 30 days and be within the jurisdiction of the appeals committee.

Under church law, the appeals committee can consider only two questions:

  1. Does the weight of evidence sustain the charges?
  2. Were there errors of church law “as to vitiate the verdict and/or the penalty?”

The appeals committee, by majority vote, has the authority to sustain the findings, reverse the penalty in whole or in part or remand the case to a new trial. It does not hear witnesses.

An appeal of the committee’s decision could go on to the Judicial Council, the denomination’s top court.

The committee includes four ordained clergy, one diaconal minister, one full-time local pastor and three lay people. Members of Schaefer’s episcopal area must recuse themselves from the case. 

Schaefer, a pastor in the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual (regional) Conference, drew national attention when he was put on trial in November. A trial court — or jury — of fellow clergy members found him guilty of violating his vows as an ordained United Methodist elder when he officiated at his son’s same-sex wedding in 2007 and disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church.

The Book of Discipline since 1972 has stated that all people are of sacred worth but “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Church law says that marriage is to be between a man and a woman and bans United Methodist clergy from performing and churches from hosting “ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions.”

Schaefer, who has three gay children, was stripped of his credentials on Dec. 19 after he said he could not uphold the denomination’s law book in its entirety.

Bishop Minerva Carcaño, leader of the California-Pacific Annual (regional) Conference, has invited him to become a member of her conference. It is a move Schaefer has said he and his family are considering. But Carcaño, in making the invitation, also acknowledged that she does not have the authority to reinstate his clergy credentials.

Schaefer told United Methodist News Service he hopes to have his United Methodist clergy credentials returned. He also said his appeal is not seeking a retrial.

“Quite honestly. I did not think I have the stomach to go through another trial,” he said.

*Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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