Council’s ruling could affect Bledsoe appeal

By Neill Caldwell, United Methodist News Service…

ELK GROVE VILLAGE, Ill.—A United Methodist bishop can be placed in involuntary retirement, the denomination’s Judicial Council has ruled.

The ruling, in one of 18 cases considered during its Oct. 24-27 meeting here, could have implications for the forced early retirement of Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe, which the UMC’s Judicial Council will consider separately.

The Judicial Council did not have the requisite number of votes to declare unconstitutional Paragraph 408.3(a) of the Book of Discipline. That church rule says a jurisdictional episcopacy committee, by a two-thirds vote, can place a bishop “in retired relation” if the committee finds it “to be in the best interests of the bishop and/or the Church.”

Bishop Earl Bledsoe

The decision in Memorandum 1229 was a response to a request by the South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops to rule on the paragraph, which the jurisdiction’s committee on episcopacy cited in its decision in July to remove Bishop Bledsoe from active assignment. The jurisdictional delegates affirmed the committee’s decision. Bishop Bledsoe will appeal that action at a special called session of the Judicial Council on Nov. 9-11 in Phoenix.

The Book of Discipline requires six Judicial Council member votes to rule a paragraph unconstitutional, a higher standard than a simple majority. The church court has nine members.

In a separate case, the Judicial Council did declare unconstitutional an action by the 2012 General Conference regarding Paragraph 602, dealing with the balance between clergy and lay members at annual conference.

The General Conference added the language, “Clergy who voluntarily indicate that they are unable to attend annual conference because of incapacity or advanced age shall not be counted in arriving at the balance between lay and clergy.” In Decision 1212, the Judicial Council said that “members cannot be eliminated from the count for equalization,” citing Paragraph 32, and added that “the principle of equalization stands and cannot be subverted under the Constitution.”

In other decisions, the Judicial Council rejected a ruling of law by Bishop John Schol and voided a June 1 policy update by the Baltimore-Washington Conference on sexual misconduct, abuse or harassment.

The policy contained sentences referring to “a dating, romantic or sexual relationship” involving church staff, lay or clergy, parishioners and ministry participants. During debate on the measure, Bishop Schol was asked for a decision of law on whether the words “sexual relationship” in the policy conflicted with the Book of Discipline, and Bishop Schol ruled that there was no conflict. But the Judicial Council disagreed, saying the phrase conflicts with the disciplinary call for “celibacy in singleness” for United Methodist clergy.

The court ruled it had no jurisdiction in a question from the North Alabama Conference on membership in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, saying the matter involved an agency of the general church, not the annual conference.

Mr. Caldwell is editor of the Virginia United Methodist Advocate.

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Please change the Book of Discipline so it says that the Judicial Council must articulate the reasons it finds a clause in the BOD constitutional or unconstitutional. Just saying that it is constitutional because there weren't six votes saying it isn't is arbitrary.

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