Judicial Council Decisions

Decision No. 1152

In Re: Review of a Bishop’s Decision of Law in the Middle Philippines Annual Conference Regarding the Designation of the Site of an Annual Conference Session Pursuant to ¶ 603.3

DIGEST OF CASE

The Wesleyan University Philippines site of the Middle Philippines Annual Conference was validly chosen and designated by a majority of the district superintendents with the consent of the bishop in charge. Any purported Annual Conference actions taken outside of said Wesleyan University Philippines session are null, void, and of no effect. The bishop’s decision of law is affirmed.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

On January 6, 2010, the district superintendents of the Middle Philippines Annual Conference met as a committee to select the site of the 2010 regular session of the Annual Conference scheduled for February 22-25, 2010. Unidentified conference lay persons also were present at the meeting during which the Carmen United Methodist Church was chosen as the proposed site. An announcement of the location was published (along with a listing of the sites of other annual conferences) in MEALAB, the official publication of the Manila Episcopal Area, in its January-March 2010 issue (volume 2, number 1, page 14).

On January 20, 2010, Bishop Daniel C. Arichea, Jr. was assigned as the presiding bishop of the Middle Philippines Annual Conference. Bishop Arichea met with the district superintendents on February 3, 2010. The superintendents agreed and the bishop consented that the Annual Conference session would be held at Wesleyan University Philippines.

On or about February 5, 2010, the bishop received a letter from the Annual Conference lay leader that stated that all of the district superintendents and lay leaders of the Annual Conference had agreed that the venue for the February 2010 regular session of the Annual Conference would be Carmen United Methodist Church. That letter “humbly requests the Most Reverend Daniel C. Arichea for his consideration and approval” of the Carmen United Methodist Church site. Hence, the Lay Leader’s own words recognize that the consent of the bishop was necessary before any change could be made. The bishop requested comments from the district superintendents, and between February 5 and February 8, he received none. None of the district superintendents attended a meeting of the cabinet that was scheduled for February 8, 2010. The bishop never consented to a change from the Wesleyan University Philippines location.

On February 11, 2010, the bishop notified the four district superintendents that he was invoking ¶ 603.3 of the 2008 Discipline which states that the venue of an annual conference can only be changed by a majority of the district superintendents with the consent of the bishop. The bishop stated that since he had not heard back from them, the venue of the annual conference would remain Wesleyan University Philippines as previously agreed. He then appointed four new district superintendents to serve immediately “up to Conference time when the regular appointments are made.” On February 18, 2010, three of the four district superintendents met with Bishop Arichea and supported the decision to have the annual conference session at the Wesleyan University Philippines.

During the 2010 regular session of the Annual Conference, a clergy member of the conference requested a bishop’s decision of law regarding “the status of the annual conference session being concurrently held at Carmen UMC, Carmen Zaragoza.” The bishop published his decision of law on the same day that the request was made. In doing so, he provided both the substance of his decision and a summary of the ruling. His summary follows:
1. In pursuance with paragraph 603.3, the official approved venue of the 2010 Annual Conference session is Wesleyan University Philippines.
2. The sessions being held in Carmen are a violation of the Book of Discipline, and any actions taken there, including appointments do not have any validity.
3. The act of the Carmen session in electing an elder as president pro tempore is a violation of paragraph 603.6.


JURISDICTION


The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2609 of the 2008 Discipline.


ANALYSIS AND RATIONALE


Under ¶ 51 of the Constitution, a bishop presiding over an annual, central or jurisdictional conference is required to decide all questions of law coming before the bishop in the regular business of the session, provided that such questions be presented in writing and that the decision shall be recorded in the journal of the conference. The Constitution further provides that such an episcopal decision shall not be authoritative except in the pending case until it shall have been passed upon by the Judicial Council.

Paragraph 2609 further elucidates the authority of bishops to render decisions of law upon written questions submitted in annual conference sessions. The decision of a presiding bishop is authoritative in the case pending unless and until it is reversed or modified by the Judicial Council. A bishop’s decision of law rendered in an annual conference and affirmed by the Judicial Council becomes authoritative as the law of the Church. We have no jurisdiction to entertain an appeal of a bishop’s decision of law from an individual or body other than the annual conference in which the bishop’s decision of law is rendered.

The Judicial Council’s jurisdiction flows from our obligation to review a bishop’s decision of law rendered in an annual conference. See Paragraph 2609.6. A bishop’s decision of law is authoritative in the case pending once it is rendered.

The place for holding an annual conference must be chosen in accordance with ¶ 603.3 of the Discipline, which assigns that responsibility to the annual conference itself or to “a committee thereof.” In this case, the “Business of the Annual Conference Report” from the May 20-24, 2009 regular session of the Annual Conference, setting of the place of the next Annual Conference is in Question 64. This question asked, “Where shall be the next session of the Annual Conference?” The response was, “To be referred to the cabinet.” Additionally, ¶ 603.3 states that “should it become necessary for any reason to change the place of the meeting, a majority of the district superintendents, with the consent of the bishop in charge, may change the place.”

With regard to a change in the place for holding the annual conference session, ¶ 603.3 affords some latitude. A change may be made “should it become necessary for any reason” and there is no requirement that a reason or reasons be specified. In this case, three of the four district superintendents “with the consent of the bishop in charge” selected Wesleyan University Philippines as the site.

We conclude that proper disciplinary procedures were followed in designating Wesleyan University Philippines as the site of the 2010 regular session of the Middle Philippines Annual Conference. The assigned bishop was present and presided at the session. The request for a decision of law was properly submitted during the business of the Annual Conference. Para. 2609.6. Publication of the bishop’s decision of law occurred within the mandated time period. The valid session of the Middle Philippines Annual Conference occurred February 22-25, 2010, at Wesleyan University Philippines.

DECISION


The Wesleyan University Philippines site of the Middle Philippines Annual Conference was validly chosen and designated by a majority of the district superintendents with the consent of the bishop in charge. Any purported Annual Conference actions taken outside of said Wesleyan University Philippines session are null, void, and of no effect. The bishop’s decision of law is affirmed.

Dennis L. Blackwell was absent.

Ruben T. Reyes recused himself and did not participate in any of the proceedings related to this decision. Jay Arthur Garrison, first lay alternate, participated in this decision.

May 22, 2010

Saturday, May 22, 2010.

CONCURRING OPINION


Although we agree that Wesleyan University Philippines was the legitimate site of the February 2010 regular session of the Middle Philippines Annual Conference, we are disturbed by the asymmetrical way in which that decision was made. The context of a deeply divided annual conference has led all parties to work in new and difficult ways. The Judicial Council has no authority to engage in the resolution of those divisions, but only to rule on the bishop’s decision of law. In a matter as convoluted as this circumstance, there are many peripheral issues that could be addressed, but to do so is beyond the jurisdiction of the Judicial Council.

F. Belton Joyner, Jr.
Katherine Austin Mahle
Jay Arthur Garrison
Angela Brown
Beth Capen
Susan Henry-Crowe

May 22, 2010


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