Memorandum Number 747


April 27, 1995

Review of Bishop's Response to Request for Decision of Law in the Rocky Mountain Conference Concerning Grievance Procedures.

Statement of Facts

The case before the Judicial Council concerns a matter brought up on the floor of the Rocky Mountain Annual Conference.

A list of questions was presented. It is the opinion of the presiding bishop, Mary Ann Swenson, that the questions presented were hypothetical.

The questions were raised under Paragraph 2613 of the Discipline which states:

The Judicial Council shall pass upon and affirm, modify, or reverse the decisions of law made by bishops in Central, District, Annual, or Jurisdictional Conferences upon questions of law submitted to them in writing in the regular business of a session: and in order to facilitate such review, each bishop shall report annually in writing to the Judicial Council, on forms provided by the council, all the bishop's decisions of law. No such episcopal decision shall be authoritative, except in the case pending, until it has been passed upon by the Judicial Council, but thereafter it shall become the law of the Church to the extent that it is affirmed by the council. Normally the bishop shall rule before the close of the Annual Conference session during which the question was submitted, but in no case later than thirty (30) days after the close of the session. The Annual Conference secretary shall enter in the Annual Conference journal an exact statement of the question submitted and the ruling of the bishop.

And Par. 54 of the Constitution states:

A bishop presiding over an Annual, Central, or Jurisdictional Conference shall decide all questions of law coming before the bishop in the regular business of a session, provided that such questions be presented in writing and that the decisions be recorded in the journal of the conference.

Such an episcopal decision shall not be authoritative except for the pending case until it shall have been passed upon by the Judicial Council. All decisions of law made by each bishop shall be reported in writing annually, with a syllabus of the same, to the Judicial Council, which shall affirm, modify, or reverse them.

The questions were raised, apparently, on behalf of the Rev. Duane Wilterdink. However, there is no evidence that he asked the questions himself.

While this in some ways fits the provisions of the above quoted paragraph, this is a situation where there were no formal charges, complaints, or grievances pending when this minister was granted a leave of absence.

If there were grievances or complaints, it would be another matter. Ordinarily, if questions are raised for a decision of law in regard to a minister they are in order.

Therefore, we must rule that the presiding bishop was correct in finding the questions hypothetical. We do not quote either the questions or answers here because we believe that this is a privileged matter.

We stated in our Decision No. 33:

Moot and hypothetical questions shall not be decided. We are of the opinion that this same principle should apply to requests for rulings by the Bishops in an Annual or a District Conference and that any such request should be based upon some action taken or proposed to be taken by such Conference, wherein under the specific facts in each case some doubt may have arisen as to the legality of the action taken or proposed. It is not the duty of the presiding Bishop to rule upon any hypothetical question which may be propounded, nor to answer requests for information which involve no legal matter.

In this instance, the bishop properly did not make a decision. However, the bishop should have said so and reported to the Annual Conference and the Judicial Council as required by Par. 2613. To that extent, the bishop is incorrect.

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