Decision Number 824


April 24, 1998

Request for a Declaratory Decision by the California-Pacific Annual Conference to Determine If the Clergy Sexual Ethics Policy Adopted by That Conference in Response to Decision 803 Is in Accordance with the 1996 Discipline and Judicial Council Decision 736


The Clergy Sexual Ethics Policy of the California-Pacific Annual Conference is approved as amended by this decision.

Statement of Facts

On Thursday morning, June 13, 1996, during the morning session, the California-Pacific Annual Conference adopted a Clergy Sexual Ethics Policy. Following the adoption of the policy, a motion was placed before the conference to request a declaratory decision on whether the Clergy Sexual Ethics Policy was in accordance with United Methodist polity, the 1996 Discipline and Decision 736.

This policy was before the Judicial Council at its April 1997 meeting. The council’s review resulted in Decision 803, which remanded the Clergy Sexual Ethics Policy of the California-Pacific Annual Conference to the conference for appropriate revisions to bring it into conformity with the 1996 Discipline and Decision 803.

Decision 803 raised the following concerns:

The paragraph numbers used in the policy were not in accordance with the paragraph numbers of the 1996 Discipline and in some cases nonexistent paragraph numbers were cited.

The policy used nomenclature from the 1992 Discipline which, in several instances was changed by the 1996 General Conference. Consequently, the policy contained errors in referring to certain categories of clergy.

Although the policy’s foreword said that the words "must" and "shall" are used when the Discipline has set the specific procedure, in point of fact, there were parts of the policy which did not follow the standard. For example, the policy stated that a complaint "must" be "signed by the person who alleges misconduct involving sexual or sexualized behavior took place." The Discipline has no such requirement and even notes that a bishop or district superintendent may initiate a complaint (emphasis added). (¶ 358.1.a) (See Decision 736, Item No. 12.)

The policy paraphrased the Discipline in some instances. Note that Decisions 476, 700, and 736, all rule that an Annual Conference may not summarize the Discipline. The California-Pacific policy created its own definition of a complaint, and stated when allegations of sexual harassment, sexual abuse or child abuse "may" be considered in relation to secular court charges. This was paraphrasing, and in some ways modifying the Discipline.

The policies suggested procedures which were already set otherwise in the Discipline. For example, submission of complaints is delineated in ¶ 358.1.(a). Some complaints may be treated under the judicial process and some complaints may be referred to the Administrative Complaint Procedure as set forth in ¶¶ 358.1.(d)(1) and (2). Additionally it was a violation for the policy to change or regulate disciplinary procedures, even by suggestions which limit discretionary decisions.

At a hearing at Seattle, Washington, on April 24, 1998, an oral presentation was made by the Reverend Catie Coots, representing the California-Pacific Annual Conference.


The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under provisions of ¶ 2616 of the 1996 Discipline.

Analysis and Rationale

The Clergy Sexual Ethics Policy Committee charged with revising the Clergy Sexual Ethics Policy of the California-Pacific Annual Conference has made very good progress in developing a policy that is in compliance with the 1996 Discipline and Decisions 736 and 803. Several minor editorial revisions and the deletion of one section are needed to make the document fully in compliance.

The designation for paragraphs used is capitol "P". While this designation may be technically correct, in general usage "P" means page not paragraph. We recommend "Par." be used for "paragraph".

Paragraphs 1 and 2 of the foreword quote only part of each of the disciplinary paragraphs listed. That the paragraph continues, but is not quoted, can be shown by "...".

Under General Provisions II the policy states: "This policy applies to all full, associate and probationary ministerial members of the annual conference in both the effective and retired relationships (P. 312-314) . . . . " The disciplinary paragraphs cited are not correct.

4. Finally, one policy section continues to be illegal at worst; confusing at best. The "Definitions " section defines three (3) phrases. The first phrase, "sexual behavior", is not a chargeable offense and appears nowhere else in the policy. "Sexual Harassment", the second phrase, is a chargeable offense and its definition can be determined by an Annual Conference. However, the standard to be applied in determining whether or not there has been commission of this conduct is ultimately that of the jury in a church trial and the "jury instructions" as to the standard for reasonableness cannot be set by this policy. The third and last phrase in the "Definitions" section is " Sexual Misconduct", but the words following it do not really give a definition, but rather give only a statement that sexual intercourse is included in the definition if it is an abuse of power. If the intention is to give guidance as to the full scope of the chargeable offense of Sexual Misconduct, the definition fails. This section should be deleted.


The Judicial Council approves the Clergy Sexual Ethics Policy of the California-Pacific Annual Conference as amended by this decision. It will take effect when the president and secretary of the Judicial Council have received verification from the conference secretary that this amended policy has been approved by the June 1998 session of the California-Pacific Annual Conference.

United Methodist Communications is an agency of The United Methodist Church

©2023 United Methodist Communications. All Rights Reserved