Bishop has ‘sole authority,’ top court says

TAMPA, Fla. (UMNS) - United Methodist bishops have the "sole authority" to determine the time when an annual (regional) conference will meet, says the United Methodist Judicial Council.

That decision, on a case involving an interim bishop in the Philippines, came during the top court's April 22-23 spring meeting.

In 2011, Bishop Daniel Arichea, assigned as presiding bishop of the West Middle Philippines Annual Conference, established May 12-14 as the dates for the annual conference session. Before the conference, however, "a group of purported conference representatives" adopted a resolution changing the dates to May 29-31 and requesting a different presiding bishop.

When the conference convened on May 12, Arichea ruled that the resolution violated The United Methodist Book of Discipline, the denomination's law book, and the Judicial Council agreed.

"Bishop Daniel Arichea was assigned to fulfill all episcopal duties in the Manila Episcopal Area and had the sole authority to convene and preside over the annual conference session," the ruling said.

"Any purported annual conference actions taken outside of said session are null, void and of no effect. The bishop's decision of law is affirmed."

This was not the first time the court had been asked to rule about Arichea and annual conference dates.

In related rulings last October, the Judicial Council upheld Arichea's decisions that the annual conference sites were "validly chosen and designated" for the March 3-5, 2011, Middle Philippines Annual Conference at Roxy Lefforge United Methodist Church, Palayan City; the March 9-11, 2011, Palawan Philippines Annual Conference at Brookes Point, Palayan; and the March 16-18, 2011, Philippines Annual Conference-Cavite at Tagaytay (City) Mission Camp.

Arichea, a retired bishop, also was assigned to replace Bishop Lito C. Tangonan of the Manila Episcopal Area after Tangonan was relieved of his office by the United Methodist Council of Bishops last July.

Some members of the United Methodist Church in the Philippines have formed their own denomination, the Ang Iglesia Metodista sa Pilipinas. "The group finally declared its full autonomy and incorporated legally with Securities and Exchange Commission of the Philippines and was approved on December 7, 2011," according to the church's blog.

On March 17, Tangonan was installed as the first bishop of the Ang Iglesia Metodista sa Pilipinas.

Tangonan filed a petition requesting a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council related to the "constitutionality, legality, meaning, application or effects" of the actions of the Council of Bishops and College of Bishops of the Philippines Central Committee.. But an individual is "not authorized" to request such a decision, the council ruled.

Ruben T. Reyes, a Judicial Council member from the Philippines, has recused himself from all decisions related to the Philippines Central Conference.

In other business, the council again declined to reconsider a decision from 2010 regarding the discontinuation of Hamilton United Methodist Church in San Francisco.

"We previously determined that we had no jurisdiction to review a parliamentary ruling of a presiding bishop and that the matter had been rendered moot by action of the (California-Nevada) Annual Conference," the ruling said.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at http://twitter.com/umcscribe.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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