Memorandum Number 704


April 28, 1994

Clarification of Decisions 691, 694, 698

Statement of Facts

The Judicial Council has received requests to reconsider portions of Decisions 691, 694, and 698. There were no petitions for reconsideration from any of the original interested parties. It is unusual for the Judicial Council to receive a request for reconsideration of a decision. It is rare indeed to find grounds for such reconsideration. We decline reconsideration of Decisions 691, 694, and 698.

However, in response to some of the concerns expressed, we issue the following for additional clarity and emphasis:

Section 5 of the Analysis of Decision 691 is consistent with Decisions 47 and 331, both of which rest on the long-standing principle that legislation must apply prospectively, not retroactively. It should be noted that Decision 47 dealt with retroactive granting of rights and privileges, rather than assessment of punishment. Even in that context of granting privileges, the decision prohibited retroactive application of the legislation, though granting the possibility that such laws may be "clearly and explicitly made retroactive by the terms of the act."

Decision 331, dealing with legislation which would have had a punitive effect if applied retroactively, does not allow even that possibility, but states as one of the guideline rules followed by the Judicial Council that "judicial construction or interpretation of a law should be prospective for application, but not retroactive." The decision prohibits retroactive application and states unequivocally the principle of prospective application.

There have been instances in which the General Conference granted privileges retroactively, particularly in the area of clergy qualifications. We know of no previous instance in which a General Conference passed punitive legislation and sought to apply it retroactively. Such action is repugnant to our sense of justice, which is undoubtedly informed at least in part by the constitutional and legislative history of democratic societies.

Basic to our sense of justice is the conviction that a person must not be placed in judicial jeopardy by a law passed after the act in question was committed. To lengthen the term of a statute of limitations and apply it retroactively has precisely that effect. To do so would be to violate the standards of justice by which The United Methodist Church and its predecessor denominations have been guided for generations.

A further word of clarification should be added. In Section 5 of the Analysis of Decision 691, some illustrative material was included which has been confusing to some. Perhaps it will be more clearly understandable if that material is omitted and the section amended to read: "A change in the statute oflimitations may not take effect retroactively, nor may church laws defining chargeable offenses be made retroactive. A person may not be charged with an offense which was not a violation at the time it was alleged to have been committed. Any charges filed must be in the language of the Discipline in effect at the time the offense is alleged to have occurred, and must relate to an action listed as a chargeable offense in that Discipline."


In regard to official rites and rituals of The United Methodist Church, the pastor who intentionally disregards the covenant to be obedient to the Order and Discipline of the church is subject to the fair process of grievance, complaint and/or charges for such violation. Further, the Discipline requires the district superintendent and bishop, upon receipt of written data giving specific time, place, and violation to follow the fair process.


The adoption of fair process in Par. 2622 by the 1992 General Conference necessitated the requirement of a verbatim record in Joint Review process. The original informal process of Joint Review does not protect the constitutional right to fair process which could require hearing before the Committee on Investigation and, as a last resort, trial and appeal process. The verbatim record of Joint Review provides a detailed, consistent record for fair process to continue with the reporting and decision making of the Board of Ordained Ministry, the Committee on Investigation, Trial Court, and potential appeals to a Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals or the Judicial Council. The verbatim record assists in fair process for the respondent and the Church in the total process.

In regard to the option for legal counsel in Joint Review, the necessity for this option is reaffirmed by the Judicial Council for insurance of the fair process.

In light of the foregoing, we need not reach the question as to whether the requests for reconsideration were timely filed.

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