Decision Number 347
Petition of Council on World Service and Finance for a Declaratory Decision on the Status of Retired Former Term Bishops of Central Conferences.
A Central Conference bishop who retired after the General Conference of 1968 has the status of a retired bishop, and this is not lost if the Central Conference, by which the bishop was elected, subsequently becomes an autonomous church or enters into a church union.
Statement of Facts
The Council on World Service and Finance has petitioned for a declaratory decision as to the status of six retired former term bishops of Central Conferences. The concern of the Council lies in its responsibility in the administration of the Episcopal Fund. The relevant facts concerning each are as follows:
Bishop Hobart B. Amstutz, by election of the Southeast Asia Central Conference, served two four-year terms as a bishop, 1956-64. Thereafter, he was ineligible for reelection because he had reached mandatory retirement age. At its 1964 session. the Central Conference of Southeast Asia adopted a resolution directing that "Bishop Hobart B. Amstutz be retired with all the privileges and rights of a retired Bishop of the Methodist Church."
Bishop Enrique C. Balloch, by election of the Latin American Central Conference, served three four-year terms as a bishop between 1941 and 1952. Thereafter, he was ineligible for reelection because of age.
Bishop Sante Uberto Barbieri, by election of the Latin American Central Conference, served as a bishop for five four-year terms between 1949 and 1969, as of which latter date he was ineligible for reelection because of age.
Bishop Ralph E. Dodge, by election of the Africa Central Conference, served as a bishop for three four-year terms beginning in 1956 and ending in August 1968. At the August 1968 session of the Africa Central Conference, it was voted that bishops who had served for twelve years and were thereafter reelected should serve for life. Bishop Dodge was elected under these circumstances in 1968, but, immediately after his election, announced his decision to retire.
Bishop Jose L. Valencia, by election of the Philippines Central Conference, served five four-year terms as a bishop between November 1948 and November 1968. He had reached mandatory retirement age at the last mentioned date.
Bishop Pedro Zottele, by election of the Latin American Central Conference, served one term and a portion of a second between March 8, 1962, and February 1, 1969. At the latter date, he had reached retirement age.
Jurisdiction is based on Paragraph 1715 of the 1968 Discipline.
Analysis and Rationale
The Constitution of The United Methodist Church provides (1968 Discipline Par. 55):
"The bishops, both active and retired, of The Evangelical United Brethren Church and of The Methodist Church at the time union is consummated, shall be bishops of The United Methodist Church."
We understand this to mean that a person who had the status of bishop at the time of union should enjoy the same status in the united church. No redefinition, or reconciliation between varying practices of the two churches, is attempted in the Constitution. For purposes of the matter before us, this paragraph establishes that the four Central Conference bishops whose terms had not expired at the time of union became active bishops of The United Methodist Church for the balance of their terms.
In 1968 the General Conference added to the Discipline Paragraph 394.4 which reads as follows:
"An elder who has served as a bishop up to the time of his retirement shall have the status of a retired bishop."
In Decision No. 303, we advised that this legislation was not intended to apply retroactively to change relationships established and consummated under the Disciplines of the uniting churches. We adhere to that decision.
On the authority of Paragraph 394.4 of the 1968 Discipline, applied prospectively but not retroactively, Sante Uberto Barbieri, Ralph E. Dodge, Jose L. Valencia and Pedro Zottele, who were active term bishops at the time of union, now have the status of retired bishops of The United Methodist Church.
Hobart B. Amstutz retired in 1964 and was then past retirement age. Enrique C. Balloch retired in 1952, also past retirement age. Does the fact that these men had served as bishops up to the time of their retirement lead to the conclusion that they became retired bishops upon the expiration of their last term of office?
In Decision No. 236 of the Judicial Council of The Methodist Church, this question was answered as follows:
"There is no justifiable reason why bishops whose short terms of office expire, per se, but contemporaneously with a time for compulsory retirement if they had longer tenure, should be favored over bishops whose specified terms of office are identical, but expire prior to any such compulsory time of retirement. In either case, such perishable terms of office will end, and no portion will remain from which retirement is possible.
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"The essence of 'term episcopacy' is that on completion of the term of office the incumbent ceases to occupy that office. A bishop, even though he reaches the age of compulsory retirement concurrently with the completion of the term of office, ceases to be a bishop and returns to the status of a member of the Annual Conference (Par. 445). If a man is elected to the episcopacy under the life-tenure rule, then his term as bishop continues until death, even though he be retired from actual administration when he reaches the mandatory age for retirement from the episcopacy or for other reasons he be retired at an earlier age. (Pars. 436.3 and 435.4) "
We agree with this decision and the reasoning on which it is based.
At the time of the retirement of Hobert B. Amstutz, the Central Conference of Southeast Asia voted that he be retired "with all the privileges and rights of a retired bishop of The Methodist Church." This resolution was beyond the authority of the Central Conference which adopted it.
In Decision No. 236, the Judicial Council of The Methodist Church determined that a Central Conference did not have the authority to elect a bishop, whose term was expiring, to the status of a retired life-term bishop. It was said in explanation that the Central Conference there concerned had been granted authority to elect not more than two bishops in the effective relationship at any one time and that "no permission is granted here or elsewhere to elect former bishops to the status of a bishop in retirement."
The Council made the following explanation of its position (in Decision No. 236) :
"Throughout the Constitution and legislation of the General Conference, it is apparent that ministers are elected to the episcopacy to fulfill episcopal functions. Retirement status is granted within the office of the episcopacy provided life tenure was specified prior to the election. There is no legislative provision to elect persons to a retired episcopal relation. Provision is specifically made, under Paragraph 559.2 of the 1964 Discipline, for a retirement allowance to be paid from the General Episcopal Fund for 'a minister who has served a term, or part of a term, as a bishop in a Central Conference where term episcopacy has prevailed....' This by implication assumes that a bishop who has served in the limited-term episcopacy does not on retirement continue in the office of bishop. It also assumes that a limited-term bishop will not be elected to a life-tenure status after he reaches retirement, thereby having a claim for full episcopal retirement benefits."
We are convinced that this reasoning and the conclusion which follows are correct.
There is no occasion for us to pass upon the authority of the Africa Central Conference to elect for a life term if the successful candidate had previously served for twelve years as a bishop, while all others are chosen for four-year terms, inasmuch as Ralph E. Dodge enjoys the status of a retired bishop by authority of Paragraph 394.9 of the 1968 Discipline.
Our attention is called to a resolution adopted by the General Conference of 1970 which reads (D.C.A. p.139):
"When former Central Conferences of The United Methodist Church become, or have become, autonomous churches or entered into church unions, retired bishops therein shall continue to have membership in the Council of Bishops, if the retired Bishop so desires."
As we interpret the intent of this resolution, it was to preserve the privilege of a retired Central Conference bishop to hold membership in the Council of Bishops in the event that the Central Conference by which the bishop was elected should later become autonomous or enter into union with another church. We do not understand this resolution to be a determination of who should enjoy the status of a retired bishop. Rather, the General Conference was directing that one who otherwise enjoyed that status should not lose his membership in the Council of Bishops because his Central Conference later became autonomous or entered into a church union.
It follows from the foregoing analysis that Hobart B. Amstutz and Enrique C. Balloch are not retired bishops of The United Methodist Church. 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.
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 bishopelected 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.
It is our declaratory decision that Sante Uberto Barbieri, Ralph E. Dodge, Jose L. Valencia and Pedro Zottele are retired bishops of The United Methodist Church, but that Hobart B. Amstutz and Enrique C. Balloch are not.