Decision Number 187
Ruling of Bishop D. D. Alejandro in the Philippines Annual Conference As to the Legality of the Readmission on Trial of Miguel Fernandez
The ruling of Bishop D. D. Alejandro that the readmission on trial of Miguel Fernandez in the Philippines Annual Conference was legal is reversed.
Statement of Facts
At the 1961 session of the Philippines Annual Conference Miguel Fernandez, age 59, was admitted on trial. William M. Pickard, a member of the Philippines Annual Conference, requested in writing that Bishop D. D. Alejandro "rule on the legality of the admission on trial of Miguel Fernandez into the Philippines Annual Conference." In response to this request, Bishop Alejandro made the following ruling:
"This decision is an answer to the question propounded by Brother William M. Pickard, a member of the Philippines Conference to wit: Is the readmission on trial of Miguel Fernandez to the Philippines Annual Conference legal? The answer is 'Yes, it is legal.' The attached letter of Brother Pickard contains the facts of the case.
"Without rehearsing the facts of the case, the presiding bishop bases his ruling and affirms the belief that the action of the Philippines Conference in readmitting Brother Fernandez, a member on trial, is legal.
"First, there is no prohibition in the Discipline to readmit a member on trial after he has withdrawn before he was admitted into full connection. Since there is no prohibition to the contrary, therefore it is legal to readmit Brother Fernandez on trial this time after a lapse of eight years since he withdrew from his relationship of On Trial to the Conference.
"Second. The question that bars Brother Fernandez to be readmitted on trial is his age. At the present time, his age is 59, as item number 3 in the list of facts will show. This age is against the age requirement passed by the Philippines Central Conference which is forty. The philosophy behind the Central Conference legislation, regarding the minimum age limit of forty years for those seeking admission into the conference, is to do away with people who will become a burden to the church when they retire sooner than expected. In the case of Miguel Fernandez, there is no risk because he waived all right to annuity when he was admitted in 1951, and reiterated the same statement at this time. Although Miguel Fernandez may serve the church a few years, he will never be a burden to the church if and when he retires.
"Third. The argument given by those who voted for the readmission of Brother Fernandez on trial under this circumstance is the question of meeting the pressing need of the expanding work of the church at this time. The newly opened work in Bicol region needs the type of ministry that Miguel Fernandez can provide. In the first place, he is a Bicolano himself, speaks the dialect of the region, and the type of work that he will be doing will be definitely a home mission type. He will not be much of a burden upon the resources of our own local mission board for he is receiving a regular monthly pension from the United States Navy, being a retired navy man. All his children are now married and have their own families and incomes. Brother and Mrs. Fernandez are entirely free to serve the church which they love with as little expense on the part of the church. He will be the first well-trained man to cover the newly organized churches in the Bicol peninsula so that he can give the type of ministry that these newly organized churches never had before. He was graduated from the Union Theological Seminary with the Bachelor of Theology degree in 1953. Brother Fernandez served the two years of probation in actual pastorate as student-pastor in 1951-53. For some personal and family reasons, he had to withdraw during the session of the Philippines Annual Conference in 1953, just before the time he was to be admitted into full connection and ordained deacon.
"The action of the Board of Ministerial Training and Qualifications of the Philippines Annual Conference was only to readmit him on trial and nothing more. The count vote was 24 for readmission and two against.
"In view of all this the presiding bishop, for the sake of the pressing need at this time of expanding of our Methodist work southward, and in good conscience, allowed this seeming violation of a legislation of the Philippines Central Conference, which has been, by the way, a moot question during the last quadrennium. To show that the legislation was not much favored by the brethren, immediately after this action on Brother Fernandez was taken, a resolution was passed by the conference, presented by no less than the chairman of the Department of Ministerial Education and Training of the Philippines Central Conference to the Executive Board of the Philippines Central Conference. The resolution is hereby quoted in full: 'That the Executive Board of the Philippines Central Conference of The Methodist Church make a re-study of the minimum age of 40 years set for the admission on trial into the conference and also of approved supply pastors with the view of raising the same.'
"For all these reasons, the presiding bishop rules that the readmission of Miguel Fernandez as a member on trial in the Philippines Annual Conference is legal."
The Judicial Council assumes Jurisdiction in this matter under the Constitution of The Methodist Church, Division Four, Article II, Section 3, being Paragraph 43 (3) of the 1960 Discipline of The Methodist Church and Paragraph 909 of the 1960 Discipline of The Methodist Church.
Analysis and Rationale
Paragraph 331 of the Discipline of The Methodist Church provides: "Theeducational standards and other requirements for admission shall be set . . . by the Central and Provisional Central Conferences for the Annual and Provisional Annual Conferences within their territories, and outside such territories by the Annual or Provisional Annual Conference itself."
The Philippines Central Conference set ". . . 40 years of age as the maximum limit for those who will be admitted on trial. . . ." (Philippines Central Conference Journal 1959, p. 51, Item 7).
The Philippines Annual Conference is one of the Annual Conferences of the Philippines Central Conference and is bound by the rule adopted by the Philippines Central Conference.
The fact that Miguel Fernandez had previously been admitted on trial and had been discontinued at his own request has no bearing whatsoever on his being readmitted on trial since there were no charges pending at the time of his being discontinued on trial. He came before the Annual Conference for readmission without either prejudice for or against his readmission on trial. He came before the conference de novo. Bishop Alejandro is correct in his observation that "there is no prohibition in the Discipline to readmit a member on trial after he has withdrawn," i.e., been discontinued.
Bishop Alejandro's observation that the rule of the Philippines Central Conference barring those past 40 years of age from admission on trial "is to do away with people who will become a burden to the Church when they retire sooner than expected" is an assumption, perhaps a correct assumption. However, this assumption, correct or not, has no bearing on the case before the Judicial Council. The rule itself does not make any exceptions.
Again the fact that Miguel Fernandez waived all right to annuity when he was admitted on trial in 1951 and that he made the same statement when the matter of his readmission was before the conference in 1961 has no bearing whatsoever on the case. The rule adopted by the Philippines Central Conference makes no exception and in fact Paragraph 1626 (2), 1960 Discipline provides, "Any agreement made prior to retirement to relinquish at retirement a future annuity claim shall be null and void."
The pressing need of the Annual Conference and the ability of Miguel Fernandez to help meet the need and all his qualifications, while appealing to the head and the heart, cannot obviate the plain rule of the Philippines Central Conference, ". . . 40 years of age as the maximum limit for those who will be admitted on trial. . . .". This rule makes no provision for an exception to be made because of pressing need or unusual qualifications. Neither a presiding bishop nor the Judicial Council has the authority to set aside constitutional actions of Methodist bodies.
It is the decision of the Judicial Council that the ruling of Bishop Alejandro that the readmission on trial of Miguel Fernandez is legal is in direct conflict with the rule of the Philippines Central Conference, which rule was established under the authority of the Discipline of The Methodist Church. Therefore, the ruling of Bishop Alejandro that it was legal for the Philippines Annual Conference to readmit Miguel Fernandez on trial is reversed.