RETAINING THE COMMITTEE ON INVESTIGATION
North Georgia Annual Conference forwarded a request for a declaratory decision about whether the 2012 General Conference’s removal of the Committee on Investigation (COI) was constitutional. They quoted a retired bishop who has been a trial court presider as saying that the COI transcript was invaluable to trial court presiders because it gave a helpful summary of the facts of the case and the nature of the procedures leading up to the trial. They pointed to Paragraph 33 and JCDs 698 and 704 referring to the COI as integral to the judicial process. And the Council looked at the fact that the COI was removed only for clergy but not for laity and bishops. The decision was fairly straightforward and they declared the removal unconstitutional, noting that the previous Disciplinary passages from 2008 related to the passages removed were now in effect.
The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, primarily the Division of Ordained Ministry (GBHEM/DOM), submitted a sweeping revision to simplify the judicial processes through a storm of petitions, something anyone doing individually (me for example) would be castigated and reviled for doing. But the Council of Bishops wanted the changes and the money/time savings involved.
I confess to thinking there was some merit to eliminating the COI because it has been misused and usually been incompetent in serving the function for which it was intended. The COI is not the same as a grand jury because the complainant and the respondent have the right to appear and to raise questions and bring witnesses. However, many COI chairpersons have been advised to minimize anything from the respondent in order to make the COI become a grand jury, contrary to the Discipline. By eliminating the COI, someone with some measure of competence at investigating and framing judicial charges, the conference chancellors, would be given the task along with the Counsel for the Church. Chancellors could be trained at the annual GCFA workshops or at the National Association of Conference Chancellors annual gatherings.
Word has come back to me that there has been little or no interest in setting up or attending such workshops. But I thought the idea might be an improvement over the COI process.
If that isn’t working anyway, I welcome this ruling.
Now if only the Judicial Council would also look at the transcripts of the COI as well as those of church trials and appeals, that would be even better. If the trial court presiders like having that transcript, it should be part of the record, along with the evidence presented so that the Council can fulfill its first function upon appeal: Does the weight of evidence sustain the charge or charges (Paragraph 2715.7) as well as its second function, checking for vitiating errors of law. The whole appellate system has restricted its attention to the trial transcripts alone and has refused to weigh the evidence presented on the fallacious notion that only those at the trial could weigh it. The appellate bodies ignore how much the thumb of the bishop may be on the scales at the trial level.
The dissenting and concurring opinions indicate there was again something of a spirited discussion among the Council dealing with this decision. The dissenters note that the lack of a specific entity such as the COI does not mean the constitution has been violated. The concurring opinion appears in large part to be the working paper of the Council member about the case. The majority chose simpler language for the decision. However, this concurring opinion counters the dissenting opinion, especially arguing there would be no involvement of laity in the pre-trial processes as Paragraph 33 requires. His telling of the legislative history points out that the two different legislative committees (Judicial and Ministry Legislative Committees) disagreed on the petitions that had been submitted on behalf of the bishops through GBHEM/DOM. Interesting stuff.
The next General Conference will have to fight off another deluge of petitions from GBHEM/DOM intended to make life easier for bishops to run off pastors. (Star Chamber procedures, anyone? Star chamber procedures are closed and controlled by the powers-that-be.) Expect to see the Council called on to straighten out the next batch of petitions that gets manipulated through General Conference.