7:00 P.M. EST April 26, 2010 | MORRISTOWN, N.J. (UMNS)
United Methodist bishops in the Philippines have the authority to
handle a complaint against one of their own.
The United Methodist Judicial Council, the denomination’s top court,
ruled that the Philippines College of Bishops could handle such
complaints – contrary to references in the 2008 Book of Discipline
declaring United Methodist bishops in the central conferences from
Europe, Africa and Asia constitute one college of bishops in such
matters. The court ruled that the references are unconstitutional.
The ruling was one of 10 decisions made during the council’s April
21-24 spring meeting in Morristown.
The complaint against Bishop Lito C. Tangonan, who leads the Manila
Episcopal Area, accused him of misconduct under Paragraph 2702 of the
Discipline. No details were provided by the council.
Tangonan was elected bishop in November 2008 at the age of 51, and
began a four-year term on Jan. 1, 2009. He had previously served as
district superintendent of Quezon City District of the Philippines
Annual Conference East.
Bishop Lito C. Tangonan
Bishop Rudolfo Juan, president of the College of Bishops of the
Philippines Central Conference, received the complaint on July 2, 2009.
Both the supervisory committee of the college of bishops and the
committee on episcopacy of the Philippines Central Conference requested a
declaratory decision from Judicial Council as to whether the college of
bishops had the authority to handle the complaint.
Ruben T. Reyes, a Judicial Council member from the Philippines,
recused himself from the discussion and decision making regarding the
request. The council called in Jay Arthur Garrison, the first lay
alternate, to take his place.
Paragraph 413.2 in the 2008 Book of Discipline directs that any
complaint against a bishop be processed through the college of bishops
in that jurisdictional or central conference. The sentence at the end of
that paragraph, however – and in Paragraphs 2704.1d and 2712.7 –
states, “For the purposes of this paragraph, the United Methodist
bishops of the central conferences shall constitute one college of
As Judicial Council member Jon R. Gray points out in a concurring
opinion, General Conference did not intend for members of central
conferences in the Philippines, Africa and Europe, separated by distance
and, in some cases, language, “to function effectively as a close
Gray does not believe a constitutional decision is needed to “avoid an
But the Judicial Council ruled the provision unconstitutional. The
complaint will be handled by the college of bishops in the Philippines
Authorizing retirement program
In other action, the council addressed the issue of who can authorize
an early retirement program for an annual (regional) conference of the
During an April 22 oral hearing, the Rev. Jim Foster, senior pastor
of John Wesley United Methodist Church in Houston, complained that the
2009 Texas Annual Conference was not given the opportunity to discuss or
directly vote on the conference’s Early Retirement Incentive Program.
Such a financial proposal “could mean spending $1 million to $2
million from the reserve funds,” he said. “Doesn’t the annual conference
have a responsibility to decide an expenditure of funds?”
During the annual conference session, Foster requested a ruling of
law from Bishop Janice Riggle Huie regarding the report of the
conference’s Core Leadership Team and the decision to offer retirement
incentives. Huie denied the request, ruling that it was “not germane” to
Gib Walton, the Texas Conference chancellor, explained to Judicial
Council members that the early retirement program was financed through
an unrestricted pension reserve fund managed by the Conference Board of
Pensions and the Group Health Benefits Committee. The fund was approved
by the 2007 Texas Annual Conference “to meet an unexpected financial
need” related to pension or health benefits, he added.
In the end, 17 pastors accepted early retirement under the incentive
program, at an eventual cost of $600,000. Walton argued that the
Conference Board of Pensions, whose report was adopted by the annual
conference, had the authority to make the funding decision regarding the
Reversing the bishop’s decision, the Judicial Council cited
Discipline Paragraph 613 in ruling that “decisions related to annual
conference clergy support – in this case, post-retirement benefits – are
to be made by the annual conference after receiving a recommendation
from the council on finance and administration.”
Such a recommendation is required “even if the requisite funds are
not from apportionments,” the council’s decision added. Authorization by
the Conference Board of Pensions and the Core Leadership Team is not
Indiana Conference budget
One decision and a memorandum were related to the new Indiana Annual
Conference, a merger of the former Indiana North and Indiana South
Reversing a decision of law by Bishop Michael Coyner, the Judicial
Council found that the 2010 budget and financial policies adopted by the
conference amounted to reductions in the apportioned general church
Church law requires that conferences build budgets that include items
mandated by general church apportionments. It is clear, the council
said, that the Indiana Conference Council on Finance and Administration
used “the poor apportionment performances” of the two former conferences
rather than the full apportionment amount to project income levels for a
“It is laudable for a conference to seek means for increasing
revenue,” the council said. “But creating devices to generate higher
revenue for the annual conference that might lead to full payment of
apportionments established by the general Church does not relieve the
annual conference from fulfilling the church law.”
In other business, the Judicial Council:
- Decided that the new structure of the Dakotas Annual Conference must
abide by all mandates of the Discipline and past Judicial Council
decisions and, in this case, include a Conference Commission on Archives
- Affirmed the decision of law by Michigan Area Bishop Jonathan Keaton
that the West Michigan Annual Conference has the authority to implement
a mandatory conference-wide property and casualty insurance plan.
- Declined jurisdiction in a case from the California-Pacific Annual
Conference regarding voluntary termination of conference membership.
The full text of the Judicial Council decisions will be posted online
within the next few days at http://archives.umc.org/interior_judicial.asp?mid=263.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or email@example.com.