LEGALITY OF GCFA SANCTIONS AGAINST AFRICAN BISHOPS
The back story on this case is quite complex. The Council had been dealing with the handling of complaints against the bishop of the Burundi and East Africa Annual Conferences (JCDs 1238, 1275, 1281). At the same time, the General Council on Finance and Administration had put that bishop on notice that proper bookkeeping was not occurring and had taken punitive steps because the bishop refused to cooperate. I am told there were two other major actions, one civil and one from another church agency about which I have no first hand information.
The bishop fought back every time and finally won at the Judicial Council on the complaints (JCD 1281).
A resolution was passed by a joint session of the bishop’s two conferences asking the two conferences’ Committees on Episcopacy to request a ruling from the Council on the legitimacy of GCFA’s punitive actions. The Council accepted jurisdiction by ignoring the fact that a Committee on Episcopacy is not one of the listed entities that may petition the Council directly. In other JCDs, the Council had not allowed one body to transfer its authority to another body.
The only document that was actually sent to the Council, apparently, was the motion passed by the joint session of the two annual conferences and thereby did indeed come from a listed entity with the right to approach the Council, weirdly worded as it was. The Council could have chosen not to take authority if it were really strict in its interpretation of law but in this case, they let it come through. .
The Council then became strict in its reading of the Discipline and pointed out that GCFA had no authority to withhold salary because it was an “entitlement.” However, the Council ruled that GCFA could reduce housing and office expenses because the Discipline gave them the authority to determine that. The bishop still got a financial sting out of this ruling.
The Council pointed out that only an action under fair process could lead to a loss of salary (GCFA had cut it to 0% last year). However, the Council appreciated GCFA’s deep concern about protecting moneys given to the church.
One precedent that may have been set is that only in those areas under the authority of an agency as defined by the Discipline could that agency sanction someone under its authority for any reason.
I ran into a “gray area” action where another agency settled out of court with a staff member who had misappropriated funds. Those outside the agency who were hurt by those misappropriations learned too late about the legal settlement to bring complaints
of their own. Did that agency have the authority to sanction (in a small way) the staffer (who moved on to an appointment in a church)?
How does that issue get to the Judicial Council? If anyone has a suggestion, I’d love to hear it. The commentary for JCD 1295 contains the thinking several of us considered but we could not find a motion to bring before an annual conference that could become the channel for a proper request.
Precedent or no, the bishop in question in this East African case has been left to his College of Bishops for accountability, which they chose not to do officially (JCD 1281).
Will that lead to less interest in mission giving?
Update: While Bishop Wandabula is out from under most of GCFA’s sanctions and no longer faces the complaints from Western Pennsylvania, he still is under complaints and sanctions from the General Board of Global Ministries and possibly a civil suit.