Decision Number 361
Effect of the Action of the General Conference Amending Paragraph 395.4.
The amendment of Paragraph 395.4 by the 1972 General Conference does not correct the (so-called) inequity addressed in Item 285 (D.C.A., page 407), for the amendment cannot be applied retroactively beyond 1968; nor can the General Conference violate the right of a Central Conference to elect a specified number of bishops whose tenure has been determined beforehand.
Statement of Facts
On April 29, 1972 the General Conference adopted an amendment to Paragraph 394.4 of the 1968 Discipline. Originally the paragraph read, "An elder who has served as a bishop up to the time of his retirement shall have the status of a retired bishop." The paragraph was amended to read:
"An elder who has served as bishop up to the time of his retirement, including all bishops of former or existing Central Conferences, shall have the status of retired bishop." (D.C.A., Calendar Item 285, pages 407, 863)
Immediately following its act of amendment the General Conference referred its action to the Judicial Council "for review to determine that the action does correct the inequity addressed in Item 285." (D.C.A., page 863)
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Paragraph 1515 of the 1972 Discipline.
Analysis and Rationale
The inequity referred to is a possible one which arises from Judicial Council Decision No. 347 (October 6, 1971) in which the Council decided that two bishops are not retired bishops of The United Methodist Church, they having been Central Conference bishops of The Methodist Church elected for terms that had expired, and having retired prior to the General Conference of 1968.
During the history of The Methodist Church and of The United Methodist Church no fewer than six decisions dealing with the matter of retired Central Conference term bishops have been rendered by the Judicial Council (61, 80, 199, 236, 303, 347). Of immediate pertinence to the issue at hand are Decisions 236(1966), 303(1968), and 347(1971).
In Decision No. 236 the Council decided that a Central Conference term bishop who retired at the expiration of a term ceases to be a bishop and returns to the status of a member of the Annual Conference. Further, it decided that there is no provision whereby such a former bishop may be elected to continue in office as a retired bishop.
Decision No. 303, interpreting Paragraph 394.4 of the 1968 Discipline stated in part:
"A bishop elected for a term of years by a Central Conference of the former The Methodist Church and who at the end of his term was returned to membership in the Annual Conference under the Discipline of the Church is not now eligible to have his term revived and his tenure extended by Paragraph 394.4 of the 1968 Discipline."
Moreover, it called attention to Paragraph 55 of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church which states:
"Each bishop elected by a Central Conference of The Methodist Church shall have tenure as the Central Conference electing him shall have determined."
In Decision No. 347, upon the basis of the reasoning and conclusions in Decisions Nos. 236 and 303, the Council decided that Paragraph 394.4 could be applied prospectively but not retroactively to Central Conference term bishops. Hence former Central Conference term bishops who had retired prior to the 1968 General Conference were elders with membership in an Annual Conference, and could not have the status of bishop restored or revived.
The Judicial Council also pointed out:
"If this ruling results in consequences that are believed to be inequitable or were not intended, the remedy lies in the authority of the General Conference to redefine either the status or the emoluments of former bishops who do not presently enjoy the status of a retired bishop."
The Council further cautioned:
"If a redefinition is attempted, care should be exercised to respect the constitutional right of the Central Conferences to determine the tenure of their bishops. Paragraph 55 of the 1968 Discipline provides inter alia: 'Each bishop elected by a Central Conference of The Methodist Church shall have such tenure as the Central Conference electing him shall have determined.'
"It is also to be borne in mind that the determination of who is a retired bishop involves both status and emoluments. These are separable issues. See for example Paragraph 631.5 of the 1968 Discipline, which authorizes the Council on World Service and Finance to determine the appropriate allowance to be paid a former term bishop upon his retirement from the effective relation in the ministry."
To these decisions the Council does still adhere.
The question before the Council now is whether or not the amendment of Paragraph 395.4(1972) corrects what is set forth as an inequity with respect to former Central Conference term bishops in The Methodist Church who retired prior to 1968 and who reverted to the status of elder in an Annual Conference. It is to be noted that the word "inequity" is hardly a suitable one, for it has no basis for the making of a comparison. The status referred to existed in The Methodist Church, not The United Methodist Church, in which former denomination a Central Conference determined beforehand the tenure of its bishops but could not elect to the status of retired bishop a bishop whose retirement coincided with the conclusion of the term to which he was elected. (See Judicial Council Decision No. 236.)
Additionally, Paragraph 55 of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church precludes the use of the term inequity in the instant case as well as in any action that would nullify tenure as having been determined by a Central Conference.
Still further, in adhering to Decision No. 303 we insist that the amendment cannot be applied retroactively beyond 1968 when Paragraph 55 of the Constitution and Paragraph 395.4 became effective. Henceforth it may be applied provided that it does not violate the right of a Central Conference to determine the tenure of its bishops.
Of equal import is the observation that those in whose favor equity is said to be sought are elders for whom a retroactive election to the status of bishop is desired. To effect the amendment thus would be tantamount to election of retired travelling elders to the episcopacy. The General Conference has not the power to elect as such amendment would require.
The amendment of Paragraph 395.4 does not correct the so-called inequity addressed in Item 285, for it cannot be applied retroactively for former Central Conference bishops of the former The Methodist Church; nor can the General Conference violate the right of a Central Conference both to elect its bishops and to determine beforehand their tenure. The General Conference does not have the constitutional authority to do what it attempted to do in Item 285.
Nothing in this decision should be construed as limiting the authority of the Council on Finance and Administration to make the financial adjustments referred to in Decision 347.