Conflicting actions sought on bishop’s suspension

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Key points:

  • Different United Methodist groups are advocating for how they hope the Council of Bishops will respond to Bishop Minerva Carcaño’s suspension.
  • The United Methodist Church’s top court recently upheld a church law that allows the Council of Bishops to intercede in complaints against fellow bishops.
  • Carcaño has been suspended with pay for more than a year.

As United Methodist bishops meet this week, they are hearing from different groups who seek opposing actions on Bishop Minerva Carcaño’s suspension. 

The Council of Bishops has received various statements and open letters in recent days — some urging the episcopal leaders to intervene and reinstate Carcaño while another letter urges the bishops to let the complaint process move forward in the Western Jurisdiction.

Western Jurisdiction leaders placed Carcaño on leave more than a year ago while complaints against the bishop were under review. Carcaño faces three complaints under church law, according to Western Jurisdiction leaders. But no one has publicly disclosed the nature of those complaints.

Since then, Carcaño has been suspended from her episcopal duties while the church’s complaint process has been ongoing. During her suspension, she is receiving her full pay and benefits. 

But the suspension “has hurt the ministries of ethnic minority local churches and communities as well as damaged her reputation in public square,” said an April 29 letter signed by the Rev. Peter K. Lau, chair of the Chinese Caucus of the California-Nevada Conference, on behalf of other ethnic leaders in the conference. California-Nevada is the regional body where Carcaño has been assigned since 2016. 

Lau’s letter follows a similar statement by MARCHA (Methodists Associated Representing the Cause of Hispanic/Latino Americans), the denomination’s Hispanic and Latino caucus, asking for the bishops to take up the case and reinstate Carcaño.

However, on May 1, the bishops as well as agency leaders heard from a different group of United Methodists calling themselves the Cal-Nev Alliance for Justice and Transparency. More than 80 California-Nevada clergy, many of them also people of color, signed the group’s letter urging bishops to let the complaint remain in the Western Jurisdiction’s hands.

Returning Carcaño to active service without a just resolution or the findings of a church trial, the letter said, “would create a depth of conflict and division that could undermine the mission and ministry of the Annual Conference for years to come.”

Carcaño, the denomination’s first Latina bishop whom the Western Jurisdiction elected in 2004, is among The United Methodist Church’s more well-known episcopal leaders. She has gained national recognition in the U.S. and respect across the denomination for her advocacy work on behalf of migrants and U.S. immigration reform. She recently led the denomination’s Task Force on Immigration.

Both the length of her suspension and the lack of public details about the accusations she faces have led to some very public pushback as well as concerns about whether she is receiving due process. 

In March, the United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women — which advocates for the full inclusion of women in church life — requested to serve as a monitor as the bishop’s case is being adjudicated

Just before the bishops’ meeting, the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race — which advocates for racial equity in church life — released a statement urging the Western Jurisdiction to lift Carcaño’s suspension in 30 days. The commission also asked that within 30 days, the jurisdiction’s leaders issue their own statement explaining the general nature of the charges the bishop faces.

Leaders of the Western Jurisdiction and the two agencies have been in communication, but efforts to monitor the situation remain a work in progress.

Associates in Advocacy, which provides assistance to clergy under complaint and advocates for clarity of church law, also issued a statement during its meeting, calling for the Council of Bishops to ensure fair process.

“Associates in Advocacy urges all persons responsible for handling of the administrative, judicial, and pastoral processes to promptly seek a just resolution, which is the primary purpose of any complaint process,” the group’s statement said.

The California-Nevada clergy alliance, in its letter, said that it, too, is eager to see justice done.

“However, those advocating for an immediate end to Bishop Carcaño’s suspension, do so by their own admission without any objective awareness as to why the suspension was implemented,” the letter said. “To expedite this process, absent this awareness, is irresponsible, reckless, and does harm to faith in our systems of accountability.”

Various groups are going public with their advocacy now because The United Methodist Church’s top court has opened the door for the Council of Bishops to intercede in complaints against their colleagues.

Historically, a complaint that a bishop is ineffective or guilty of a chargeable offense has been handled entirely within the church region where the bishop was elected. That means adjudication happens within an accused U.S. bishop’s jurisdiction or within an accused African, European or Filipino bishop’s central conference.

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However, in a decision released April 25, the Judicial Council ruled that two
relatively new church law provisions that allow the Council of Bishops to get involved are in line with the denomination’s constitution

The Book of Discipline’s Paragraph 413 now says that if upon receiving a complaint against a bishop, the college of bishops doesn’t act within 180 days, the Council of Bishops must set up a panel to step in. 

If the bishop under complaint is from the U.S., the panel has five bishops — one from each jurisdiction. If the bishop is from Africa, Asia or Europe, the panel has three bishops — one from each continent.

It will then be up to the panel to either dismiss or refer the complaint within 180 days.

Another new provision in Paragraph 413 allows the Council of Bishops — “at any time in the process, after a complaint is filed, including after a just resolution” — to remove a complaint from a college of bishops by a two-thirds vote.

Carcaño’s case has already been referred to the denomination’s judicial process and is now before the Western Jurisdiction’s committee on investigation. The role of the committee is to investigate the allegations in a complaint and determine if reasonable grounds exist to bring charges to a church trial.

Because the case has already been referred, it would take at least a two-thirds vote by active bishops to take up the case. But the Discipline offers little detail on what the bishops should do next. 

The Council of Bishops has a Paragraph 413 Task Force that has been looking at how to apply the paragraph’s new measures. 

Lau’s letter beseeches the bishops to “create a panel that ensures a fair, equitable, and transparent process.” 

The Rev. Felicisimo Cao, another pastor in the California-Nevada Conference, has previously joined in other statements raising concerns that Carcaño was not receiving fair process. He also was copied on Lau’s letter.

But Cao signed on to the Cal-Nev Alliance for Justice and Transparency letter.

“I signed the other letter with Cal-Nev clergy,” he told UM News, “because I believe that the process should be done continuously by the Western Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy and not by the Council of Bishops.”

Hahn is assistant news editor for UM News. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected].To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Friday Digests.

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