Authority of a bishop
The bishop of the California Pacific Conference set up two task forces that she chaired to handle problems she wanted the conference to resolve. One of the problems was financial and the conference’s Council on Financial Resources (alternative name for conference council on finance and administration) challenged the task forces’ formation and nature since they were not initiated by the legislative body of the annual conference nor have to work through existing conference agencies before going to the plenary of the annual conference. The second episcopal task force dealt with conference structure and its recommendations went straight to the plenary without being reviewed by any existing conference agency like the Rules Committee.
The bishop tried to make the five questions of law disappear by calling them moot and hypothetical. She believed she had the authority to form the task forces under the Discipline and that the results of the task forces could be directly dealt with by the conference.
From the stated facts, it appears the conference was terribly busy sorting out things from its previous administration and so the bishop felt under her general supervisory authority as bishop that she could pull together groups to face issues that appeared to be falling through the cracks in the midst of the turmoil.
I worry that certain bishops would use this tactic to circumvent the appropriate agencies of the conference who might be unsympathetic to his/her agenda. JCD 831 reminds us that bishops are not members of the annual conference and therefore have no right to bring legislation to the plenary. But some bishops keep trying!
In this case, the Council stated that a bishop may set up a committee to report back to the bishop. Then those recommendations must be vetted by the appropriate agency of the conference and if valid, presented by the agency for amending and vote by the conference.
But the bishop’s committees do not have authority to present directly without the vetting (disrespecting the Disciplinary constitutional authority of the respective conference agencies).
So in this case, the bishop’s belief she had the authority to have her task forces report directly to the conference was overturned by the Council. Some of the recommendations of her financial task force, however, were accepted by Financial Resources council and presented to the conference and voted upon there. The Council ruled those changes stand despite their original source. They illustrated the proper way.
The two questions on constitutionality of the bishop’s overstepping the separation of powers were dismissed by the Council as inappropriately raised. See JCD 1304 as well as my blog posting on it. They should have been raised separately as requests for declaratory decisions and not given to the bishop to rule upon. But that was taken care of indirectly by the Council’s reversing the bishop’s decisions of law about how broad her authority was. Her authority as bishop does not extend to providing legislation through personally chosen task forces.
Let me note that both question four and question five were arguments against the bishop’s actions more than either being questions of law or requests for legal review. Hence the Council could refuse jurisdiction. As recommended in my blog on JCD 1304, the questions needed to be based on the specific actions of the conference, such as votes on motions. Without being specific, the questions became hypothetical. That took the bishop and the Council off the hook for ruling on legitimate concerns.
The paper I did on “Moot and Hypothetical” is available now from me.