Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Three GA PJC decisions and a consent order

On May 7, 2007 the Permanent Judicial Commission of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) rendered three decisions and a consent order, which have just been published.

The consent order in The Session of the Palos Park Presbyterian Community Church, Complainant, v. The Advisory Committee on the Constitution of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Respondent (Remedial Case 218-03) came through extensive mediation after an October 16, 2006 decision of the GAPJC to deny Respondent's motion to dismiss. This case involved actions of the Advisory Committee that were its constitutional responsibilities, as well as the application of the General Assembly's Open Meeting Policy to the Advisory Committee on the Constitution. The parties reached an agreement on how the ACC will give advice on plural, overlapping, and related questions, and on how the ACC will ensure that it complies with the Open Meeting Policy. The GAPJC adopted the agreement between the parties as part of its Consent Order.

In Remedial Case 218-04, George R. Stewart, Complainant/Appellant, v. Mission Presbytery, Respondent/Appellee, the GAPJC dismissed the case as moot. Mission Presbytery had received as a candidate for Ministry of Word and Sacrament an inquirer who stated that she was a lesbian and was living in a committed relationship. While the case was awaiting a hearing before the GAPJC, the candidate wrote to Mission Presbytery to ask that her name be withdrawn from the roll of candidates, and the presbytery did so on March 3, 2007, thereby making the case moot. After conducting a hearing on the question of mootness, the GAPJC noted in its decision that a headnote in the Annotated Book of Order misstated the holding of Sheldon v. Presbytery of West Jersey, (Remedial Case 212-12). Four members of the GAPJC filed a dissent from the finding that the matter was moot, in all other respects agreeing with the majority.

In Remedial Case 218-05, Douglas J. Essinger-Hileman and Sandra D. Essinger-Hileman, Complainants/Appellants, v. The Presbytery of Miami, Respondent/Appellee, the GAPJC affirmed a synod decision to dismiss the complaint of co-pastors whose pastoral relationship had been dissolved by the presbytery under G-11.0103o (i.e., "when it finds that the church's mission under the Word imperatively demands it").

Of the three specifications of error, the GAPJC did not sustain the first and third, giving very brief explanations. The second specification of error was sustained in part and not sustained in part. The Synod PJC had erroneously said that the Book of Order's requirements for due process were not applicable in this instance. As I read this decision the GAPJC says that the requirements of due process that are applicable are reasonable notice and an opportunity to be heard. The pastors had notice of the presbytery meeting, knew that matters concerning a dissolution process would be discussed, and would have been able to speak if they had been present. Although the GAPJC opined that the Presbytery could have followed a better process, it held that the process the presbytery followed did not fall short of fundamental fairness.

Disciplinary Case 218-07, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Through the Presbytery of Redwoods Prosecuting Committee v. Jane Adams Spahr was a request for reference from the Synod of the Pacific. At issue in this case is a charge against Rev. Spahr alleging that she officiated at a same-sex marriage. (See Charge filed against the Rev. Jane Spahr) Redwoods Presbytery PJC had acquitted Rev. Spahr in March of 2006. The Prosecuting Committee had decided to appeal to the Synod.

The Synod PJC was asking the GAPJC to hear the Prosecuting Committee's appeal from the acquittal decision of the Redwoods Presbytery PJC. The Synod PJC stated that this was a matter of first impression, that appeal from any decision rendered by the Synod was inevitable, and that the expense and delay of hearing the appeal at the synod level would be extraordinary. The GAPJC refused to accept the case on reference, stating that "[t]he complexity of the issues invites consideration through the full judicial structure of the PC(USA)," and observing that "[a]cceptance of this reference would deny the parties one level of review."

It must have been a very busy week for the GAPJC.

[UPDATE 4:16 AM] Oops, that came out wrong. I meant that the number of matters the GA PJC had to decide was substantial, not that they were too busy to reach the ultimate question on the case I described last.

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