Decision Number 240
Ruling of Bishop W. Kenneth Pope on Suspension of Gladstone Risinger
The penalty of suspension by verdict of a Trial Court under Paragraph 935 is an interruption of and prohibition upon the exercise of ministerial functions for the period of time stipulated. Such suspension interrupts, but does not deprive the individual suspended of the privileges of full connection of ministerial membership in his Annual Conference, nor exclude him from the church. In prescribing the penalty of suspension such a Trial Court may not condition reinstatement of a suspended minister by requiring him to assume the burden of proving affirmatively an absence of disqualifying conditions. It is required of him only that he submit himself to the Annual Conference through procedures established by the Discipline.
Statement of Facts
Gladstone Risinger, for convenience hereinafter referred to as the 'appellant,' an ordained and appointed elder in the North Texas Annual Conference of The Methodist Church, on June 21, 1963 was charged by the Conference Committee on Investigation under Paragraph 921, Sections (a), (c) and (f). On August 8, 1963, after hearing before the Trial Court, he was adjudged guilty of specified charges under Paragraphs 921 (c) and (f). The appellant appealed to the Jurisdictional Court of Appeals and on October 1, 1963 the verdict of the Trial Court was modified and affirmed in the following language:
1. "We find the evidence sustains the verdict of the Trial Court of the North Texas Conference that Rev. Gladstone Risinger is guilty under Paragraph 921 (c), of 'imprudent and unministerial conduct,' but we do not find that the evidence sustains the verdict of guilty under Paragraph 921 (f), of 'Immorality and crime.'
2. We support the penalty assessed by the Trial Court."
The penalty of the Trial Court, as affirmed by the Jurisdictional Court of Appeals, was as follows:
"That said Gladstone Risinger be suspended from the exercise of all functions of his ministerial office, such suspension to terminate at the regular 1965 session of the North Texas Annual Conference, provided that he is able to satisfy the conference at that time that his conduct is and has been such as to warrant his reinstatement."
The appellant served the period of suspension and in May 1965. prior to the regular session of the North Texas Annual Conference, informed the Presiding Bishop of the North Texas Annual Conference of appellant's desire for reinstatement and appointment to his ministerial functions. He was informed by the bishop that the Committee on Conference Relations would have to recommend and the conference approve his "readmission" before any appointment to ministerial duty. In addition, appellant was dissuaded by the Presiding Bishop to apply for reinstatement or "readmission."
On June 6, 1966, appellant appeared before the Committee on Conference Relations, at which time he objected to the application of requirements of Discipline Paragraph 993 in his case; contended that his suspension terminated at the Annual Conference of 1965, and stated "I desire to fully cooperate with this committee and all other duly constituted authorities by answering any pertinent questions." The record does not disclose what report or recommendation the Committee on Conference Relations made to the Annual Conference. However, on June 8, 1966, during the session of the Annual Conference, a member of the conference requested in writing an episcopal decision as to whether Reverend Gladstone Risinger was "an effective member of the North Texas Conference, in good standing and entitled to exercise all functions of the ministerial office."
On June 10, 1966 the Presiding Bishop made a ruling in writing. The pertinent part is as follows:
"The Brief requesting the ruling on my part sets forth only part of the penalty that was fixed by the Trial Court and sustained. The following penalty was assessed to the Reverend Gladstone Risinger by the Trial Court of the North Texas Conference of the Methodist Church:
'To be suspended from the ministry of the Methodist Church until the meeting of the 1965 North Texas Annual Conference. At that time he may apply for readmission to the ministry of the Methodist Church through the North Texas Annual Conference; provided he can satisfy the North Texas Annual Conference that his conduct during the period of his suspension has been in keeping with the standards of the ministry of the Methodist Church.'
"'Suspended' means to be placed outside. When a student is suspended from school, he is not a member of the student body. The other two stated forms of penalty are 'expulsion' or 'deposition.' At the time, one is as much 'out of the Methodist Ministry' under suspension as he is under the other two stated penalties. The difference in 'suspension' has to do with the possibility of returning and being readmitted.
"This open door of possibility mitigates the sentence assessed. However, the 'outness' is as much out under one penalty as another. The very wording of the penalty itself implies that one is on the outside of the ministry, i.e., 're-admission to the ministry of the Methodist Church.' One is not 're-admitted' to something in which he is already a part. One is 'readmitted' from the outside. Until further action is taken, Gladstone Risinger, under the penalty assessed, is on the outside of the ministry of the Methodist Church. The sentence states that 'he may apply for re-admission.' This is permission to ask for re-admission, but it is neither automatic nor certain that re-admission will be granted. The mood and mind of the Annual Conference is still free to say 'yes' or 'no.'
"A Penalty of suspension from the ministry of the Methodist Church belongs to the area of 'Involuntary Location' in that the penalty is involuntarily received. In paragraph 377 of the Discipline the last sentence states: 'In the case of involuntary location the authority to exercise the ministerial office shall be suspended, and the District Superintendent shall require from him his credentials to be deposited with the Secretary of the Conference.' This is the required procedure from ministers whose ministerial office and function have been taken from them. At the present time, Gladstone Risinger has not surrendered his credentials to the Conference secretary.
"Furthermore, Gladstone Risinger has not united with a local Methodist Church since his suspension from the ministry. This failure to identify himself with Methodist Church membership means that he is not only not a Methodist Minister at the present time, but that he is also not a member of the Methodist Church. Even the most generous allowance might have been that at the surrender of his credentials he request and be granted a certificate of membership in the Methodist Church by the Conference Secretary. No such request has been made by Gladstone Risinger.
"The above reasons are in themselves minimum and adequate reasons for my ruling concerning Gladstone Risinger. He is neither in the Methodist Ministry nor in the Methodist Church.
s. W. Kenneth Pope Bishop of the Dallas-Fort Worth Area The Methodist Church"
The statement of the penalty appearing in the foregoing ruling of the Presiding Bishop was that which was presented to him for consideration. After the rendering of his ruling it was ascertained that that penalty statement was erroneous and through stenographic error, or otherwise, failed to follow the wording of the penalty prescribed by the Trial Court. It is the latter statement which we consider herein. The appellant intervened as a party in interest and submitted a brief and oral argument.
The episcopal ruling comes to us for review under Article VII of Division Three of the Constitution (Paragraph 40 of the 1964 Discipline). Therefore we have jurisdiction under that provision and related Paragraph 909 of the Discipline.
Analysis and Rationale
The questions of law raised by the episcopal ruling and brief of appellant are:
1. What is the legal effect of the Trial Court's penalty as affirmed by the Jurisdictional Court of Appeals?
2. Did the episcopal ruling correctly interpret the penalty? The appellant was accused under Paragraph 921 of the Discipline; was charged by the Conference Committee of Investigation in accordance with Paragraph 934; and the Trial Court conducted its proceedings in compliance with Paragraph 935, wherein it provides:
"The court thus constituted shall have full power to try the accused and upon his conviction by a vote of nine or more thereof shall have power to suspend him from the exercise of the functions of his office; to depose him from his office or the ministry or both; to expel him from the church; or in case of conviction of minor offenses, to fix a lesser penalty." (emphasis added)
Thus the Trial Court had the power to impose one of three alternate penalties, each of different severity. It is a well established rule that statutes prescribing penalties are to be strictly construed. When punishment is imposed under one of the alternative procedures, that particular punishment should be applied justly without added penalty or onerous condition borrowed from the other alternatives which were not invoked.
The focal question posed by the episcopal ruling is the meaning of the proviso "to suspend from the exercise of all functions of his ministerial office" as a penalty authorized in Paragraph 935, and its effect upon the appellant's membership in the Annual Conference.
The term "suspend" has not been precisely defined in the church Discipline, but is clearly recognized as a distinct and separate discipline to be imposed upon ministerial members. Thus in Paragraph 636, "the Annual Conference shall have power to hear complaints against its ministerial members and may try, reprove, suspend, deprive of ministerial office and credentials, expel, or acquit . . ." However, the phrase "shall be suspended" in the instance of involuntary location (Paragraphs 379 and 378) appears to be an imprecise use of the term "suspend." "Involuntary location" involves a termination of ministerial functions. Therefore the word "revoked" would be more accurate since surrender of credentials is required.
In the absence of clear definition in the Discipline, we turn to the general and accepted meaning of words. According to Black: Law Dictionary, 3rd Edition:
To "suspend" is "to interrupt, to cause to cease for a time; to discontinue temporarily, but with an expectation or purpose of resumption; to forbid an ecclesiastical person from performing his duties or functions for a more or less definite interval of time."
To "depose" is to deprive, remove, divest, or strip from an individual his office or position against his will.
To "expel" is to put out, exclude from a body or order, and in the ecclesiastical sense, the excommunication and formal cutting off from the privileges and sacraments of the church.
We conclude that the penalty of the Trial Court in the instant case, as set forth in the Statement of Facts, was clearly and solely a suspension for a time period, a temporary interruption "from the exercise of all functions of his ministerial office" to terminate at the regular 1965 session of the Annual Conference. We hold that the clause "provided that he is able to satisfy the conference at that time that his conduct is and has been such as to warrant his reinstatement," imposed upon the appellant a burden not required of him by the law in cases of suspension. The clause can only be sustained as a requirement that he submit himself to the Annual Conference through procedures established by the Discipline.
We hold that the suspension imposed did not deprive or depose appellant of his membership or connection in the Annual Conference, nor did it expel him from the church. The authority of an ordained elder (Paragraph 402), the duties and functions of a pastor (Paragraph 352), and the privileges of a member in full connection of the Annual Conference, were temporarily interrupted, but not divested. Thus, in the absence of a clear statutory requirement, we conclude that the surrender of credentials in case of suspension is not required. Only in cases of deposition, expulsion, voluntary withdrawal or involuntary location is it required that credentials be surrendered. (Paragraphs 377, 378, 991 and 992)
The penalty of suspension by verdict of a Trial Court is an interruption of and prohibition upon the exercise of ministerial functions for the period stipulated. Such suspension does not divest, but interrupts only the privileges of full connection of a ministerial member of an Annual Conference. It does not remove him from the ministry or exclude him from the church. The episcopal ruling so holding is reversed.