A Tale of Two Bishops (Part 4)

This is my last post providing background for this series. The next post will begin one of the stories.

A look at ¶ 413

We need to look at ¶ 413 because it plays a role in the stories of both bishops. ¶ 413 is titled Complaints Against Bishops. I’ve put the entire text of ¶ 413 from the 2008 Discipline at the end of this postnoting the text that was declared unconstitutional by the Judicial Council and the cross-references changed in the 2012 Discipline.

One more necessary point about bishops: According to the Church Constitution, “The bishops of each jurisdictional and central conference shall constitute a College of Bishops, …” (¶ 48). For example, all bishops in the Western Jurisdictional Conference constitute the College of Bishops of the Western Jurisdiction. Similarly, all bishops in the Africa Central Conference constitute the Africa Central Conference College of Bishops.

Rather than go through ¶ 413 line by line, I’ll just go through a hypothetical scenario applying it. Let’s imagine that we are submitting a written complaint concerning a bishop, and the alleged offense or offenses are specified in ¶ 2702. (I’ll look at ¶ 2702 in detail in a later post.) The bishop under complaint is not the president or secretary of the College of Bishops.

Here are the steps (and yes, I am oversimplifying a bit here):

  1. A written complaint is submitted to the president of the bishop’s College of Bishops (¶ 413.2). Within 10 days of the receipt of the written complaint, the College of Bishops consults the chair of the jurisdictional or central conference committee on episcopacy. The chair appoints two members of the committee on episcopacy (¶ 413.3).
  2. The next step is the “supervisory response”. It “should” be confidential and be completed within 120 days. The supervisory response can be extended another 120 days with the written consent of the supervising bishop (the president of the College of Bishops), the two members of the committee on episcopacy, the complainant, and the bishop under complaint (¶ 413.3b).
  3. If the supervisory response does not result in a resolution, then the complaint gets referred as a Judicial Complaint (¶¶ 413.3d, 2704.1).

From the above, it should be obvious that anyone filing a complaint should have heard something after 130 days. (Any additional extension would require their written consent.)

A couple of additional observations:

First, one basic idea behind the supervisory response is that the complainant and the bishop under complaint gather together in the hope of a just resolution that can begin healing (¶ 413.3c). The supervisory response and any resulting judicial process are not supposed to be about punishing rule breakers. Anyone insisting that the previous sentence is a bunch of “liberal nonsense” needs to understand that such “liberal nonsense” is contained within the Discipline: ¶¶ 363.1, 363.1b, 363.1c, 363.1f, 413.1, 413.3b, 413.3c, 2701 (Preamble), 2701.4c, 2701.5, 2706.5c(3), and 2708.3. In the same spirit, church trials “are to be regarded as an expedient of last resort” (¶ 2707).

Second, a College of Bishops can dismiss a complaint. See Judicial Council Decision 763 (October 1995), Questions 11 and 12.

There are two more observations concerning complaints against bishops in Central Conferences.

First, what if a Central Conference College of Bishops contains only one bishop? The Discipline makes no provision for this possibility.

Second, the Discipline does not define the composition of a Central Conference Committee on Episcopacy. A Jurisdictional Conference’s Committee on Episcopacy is defined at ¶ 524. Apparently it is up to each Central Conference to decide who will hold its bishops accountable.

With this background established, in my next post I turn to the public record concerning a bishop in the Africa Central Conference.

Appendix: Full Text of ¶ 413 (2008 Discipline)

413. Complaints Against Bishops—1. Episcopal leadership in The United Methodist Church shares with all other ordained persons in the sacred trust of their ordination. The ministry of bishops as set forth in The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church also flows from the gospel as taught by Jesus the Christ and proclaimed by his apostles (¶ 402). Whenever a bishop violates this trust or is unable to fulfill appropriate responsibilities, continuation in the episcopal office shall be subject to review. This review shall have as its primary purpose a just resolution of any violations of this sacred trust, in the hope that God’s work of justice, reconciliation, and healing may be realized.

2. Any complaint concerning the effectiveness, competence, or one or more of the offenses listed in ¶ 2702 shall be submitted to the president of the College of Bishops in that jurisdictional or central conference. If the complaint concerns the president, it shall be submitted to the secretary of the College of Bishops. A complaint is a written statement claiming misconduct, unsatisfactory performance of ministerial duties, or one or more of the offenses listed in ¶ 2702. For the purposes of this paragraph, the United Methodist bishops of the central conferences shall constitute one college of bishops. [Struck down by Judicial Council Decision 1149 (April 2010).]

3. After receiving a complaint as provided in ¶ 413.2, the president and the secretary of the College of Bishops, or the secretary and another member of the college if the complaint concerns the president (or the president and another member of the college if the complaint concerns the secretary), shall, within 10 days, consult the chair of the jurisdictional or central conference committee on episcopacy who shall appoint from the committee one professing member and one clergy member who are not from the same episcopal area; who are not from the episcopal area that the bishop under complaint was elected from or has been assigned to; and who are not of the same gender.

a) When deemed appropriate to protect the well-being of the complainant, the Church and/or bishop, the College of Bishops, in consultation with the jurisdictional or central conference committee on episcopacy, may suspend the bishop from all episcopal responsibilities for a period not to exceed sixty days. During the suspension, salary, housing and benefits will continue.

b) The supervisory response is pastoral and administrative and shall be directed toward a just resolution. It is not a part of any judicial process. The supervisory response should be carried out in a confidential manner and should be completed within 120 days. There may be an extension of 120 days if the supervising bishop and the two jurisdictional or central conference episcopacy committee members appointed to the supervisory process shall

c) The supervisory response may include a process seeking a just resolution in which the parties are assisted by a trained, impartial third party facilitator(s) or mediator(s) in reaching an agreement satisfactory to all parties. (See ¶ 361.1[b]). [2012 Discipline: “(See ¶ 363.1b, c.)”] The appropriate persons, including the president of the College of Bishops, or the secretary if the complaint concerns the president, should enter into a written agreement outlining such process, including an agreement as to confidentiality. If resolution is achieved, a written statement of resolution, including terms and conditions, shall be signed by the parties and the parties shall agree on any matters to be disclosed to third parties. Such written statement of resolution shall be given to the person in charge of that stage of the process for further action consistent with the agreement.

d) If the supervisory response results in the resolution of the matter, the bishop in charge of the supervisory response and the two episcopacy committee members appointed to the supervisory process (¶ 413.3) shall monitor the fulfillment of the terms of the resolution. If the supervisory response does not result in resolution of the matter, the president or secretary of the College of Bishops may refer the matter as an Administrative Complaint (¶ 413.3[e]) or a Judicial Complaint (¶ 2704.1).

e) Administrative Complaint—If the complaint is based on allegations of incompetence, ineffectiveness, or unwillingness or inability to perform episcopal duties, the president and secretary of the College of Bishops (or the two members of the college who are handling the complaint) shall refer the complaint to the jurisdictional or central conference committee on episcopacy. The committee may recommend involuntary retirement (¶ 408.3), disability leave (¶ 410.4), remedial measures (¶ 363.2) [2012 Discipline: no cross-reference] , other appropriate action, or it may dismiss the complaint. When the jurisdictional or central conference committee on episcopacy deems the matter serious enough and when one or more offenses listed in ¶ 2702 are involved, the committee may refer the complaint back to the president and secretary of the College of Bishops (or the two members of the college who are handling the complaint) for referral as a judicial complaint to the jurisdictional or central conference committee on investigation. The provisions of ¶ 362.2 for fair process in administrative hearings shall apply to this administrative process.

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.

5. Each jurisdiction shall develop a protocol for the caring of lay, clergy and staff determined to be affected by the processing of the complaint.

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