The Judicial Council also released two memoranda that address requests for declaratory decisions related to the denomination’s complaint process and bishop elections in Africa. Both included dissents.
In Memorandum 1466, the church court majority declined to take up a request from the Virginia Conference for a declaratory decision on the meaning, application and effect of various provisions related to the denomination’s complaint process.
The memorandum said the record showed that the conference’s request stemmed from a complaint filed in 2019 against a clergyperson that was still in the supervisory response process and thus still open. “Given the judicial and pending nature of the request, the Judicial Council declines jurisdiction in this case,” the majority said.
However, in a dissenting opinion, members Beth Capen, the Rev. J. Kabamba Kiboko and Lidia N. Gulele disagreed with the majority’s assessment. “A well-informed application of the long line of Judicial Council decisions requires the opposite result from the majority opinion,” the dissent said.
In Memorandum 1465, the Judicial Council majority also declined to take up a request from the Burundi Conference to determine whether the colleges of bishops in Africa must schedule central conference meetings to replace bishops who have reached the mandatory retirement age.
For the majority, the issue was that the Discipline limits annual conferences to making requests for declaratory decisions only about “matters relating to annual conferences or the work therein.”
The memorandum said the questions raised by the Burundi Conference “do not meet this requirement.” Instead, the majority of the church court said the questions pertain to the work of central conferences — church regional bodies in Africa, Europe and the Philippines that, like jurisdictional conferences in the U.S., elect bishops.
However, in a dissenting opinion, Judicial Council members Kiboko, Capen and Gulele again disagreed that the church court lacked jurisdiction.
The Burundi Conference raised the question of whether it could be given the go-ahead to become an episcopal area and elect its own bishop should the 2024 central conferences be postponed. The dissenting opinion said this question pertains directly to the Burundi Conference and thus was within the Judicial Council’s jurisdiction.
“Whether the Judicial Council can actually answer the question is a matter that is separate and apart from the fact that we have jurisdiction over the subject matter,” the dissent said. “Thus, although the question may not be one that we can fully address, it is important to explain those reasons to the petitioning Annual Conference.”
The dissent also said it is important, while staying within the Discipline’s mandates, to keep in mind the context that may lead a body to bring a request to the Judicial Council.
The Burundi Conference made its request after bishops in the U.S., the Philippines and Central and Southern Europe scheduled elections last year to replace retiring or already-retired colleagues. For continuity of leadership, bishops in Africa announced that no new bishops would be elected in the continent’s three central conferences until after General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly, postponed by COVID to now 2024.
Proposed legislation is being sent to the coming General Conference that would increase the number of bishops on the African continent from 13 to 18, with the goal of Burundi being among the areas to be able to elect its own bishop. However, that legislation has not yet received a vote and thus is not in effect.
The dissent said the Burundi Annual Conference has set forth and explained how the answers to its questions affect the conference specifically as opposed to its central conference generally. “Thus we believe that jurisdiction attaches to the questions herein, in whole or in part,” the dissent said.
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