Section XV. Complaints
¶ 362. Complaint Procedures-1. Ordination and membership in an annual conference in The United Methodist Church is a sacred trust. The qualifications and duties of local pastors, associate members, probationary members, and full members are set forth in The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, and we believe they flow from the gospel as taught by Jesus the Christ and proclaimed by his apostles. Whenever a person in any of the above categories, including those on leaves of all types, honorable or administrative location, or retirement, is acccused of violating this trust, the membership of his or her ministerial office shall be subject to review.
This review shall have as its primary purpose a just resolution of any violations of this sacred trust, in the hope that God’s work of justice, reconciliation and healing may be realized in the body of Christ. A just resolution is one that focuses on repairing any harm to people and communities, achieving real accountability by making things right in so far as possible and bringing healing to all the parties. In appropriate situations, processes seeking a just resolution as defined in ¶ 362.1(b) may be pursued. Special attention should be given to ensuring that cultural, racial, ethnic and gender contexts are valued throughout the process in terms of their understandings of fairness, justice and restoration.
When a complaint is received by the bishop, both the person making the complaint and the person against whom the complaint is made will immediately receive a written copy of the process to be followed at that stage. When and if the stage changes, those persons will continue to receive written details of the new process in a timely fashion.
a) Supervision-In the course of the ordinary fulfillment of the superintending role, the bishop or district superintendent may receive or initiate complaints about the performance or character of a clergyperson.64 A complaint is a written and signed statement claiming misconduct or unsatisfactory performance of ministerial duties.65 The person filing the complaint and the clergyperson shall be informed by the district superintendent or bishop of the process for filing the complaint and its purpose.66
b) Supervisory Response-The supervisory response is pastoral and administrative and shall be directed toward a just resolution among all parties. It is not part of any judicial process. At any meetings no verbatim record shall be made; no legal counsel shall be present; the person against whom the complaint was made may choose another person to accompany him or her with the right to voice; the person making the complaint shall have the right to choose a person to accompany him or her with the right to voice.67
The supervisory response should be carried out by the bishop and district superintendent in a confidential and timely manner, with attention to communication to all parties regarding the complaint and the process. At the determination of the bishop, persons with qualifications and experience in assessment, intervention, or healing may be selected to assist in the supervisory response. The bishop also may consult with the committee on pastor-parish relations for pastors, the district committee on superintendency for the district superintendents, appropriate personnel committee or other persons who may be helpful. The supervisory response may include a process that seeks a just resolution in which the parties are assisted by a trained, impartial third party facilitator(s) or mediator(s), in reaching an agreement satisfactory to all parties.68 The bishop and other appropriate persons shall enter into a written agreement outlining the process, including any agreements on confidentiality. If resolution is achieved, a written statement of resolution, including any terms and conditions, shall be signed by the parties and the parties shall agree on any matters to be disclosed to third parties.
A process seeking a just resolution may be begun at any time in the supervisory or complaint process. This is a not an administrative or judicial proceeding.
When the supervisory response is initiated, the bishop shall notify the executive committee of the board of ordained ministry that a complaint has been filed, the clergyperson named, and the general nature of the complaint; and when concluded the disposition of the complaint.69
c) Suspension-When deemed appropriate, to protect the well-being of the person making the complaint, the congregation, annual conference, other context for ministry, and/or clergy, the bishop, with the recommendation of the executive committee of the board of ordained ministry, may suspend the person from all clergy responsibilities, but not from an appointment, for a period not to exceed ninety days. During the suspension, salary, housing, and benefits provided by a pastoral charge will continue at a level no less than on the date of suspension.70 The person so suspended shall retain all rights and privileges as stated in ¶ 334. The cost of supply of a pastor during the suspension will be borne by the annual conference.
d) Referral of a Complaint-Upon receiving a written and signed complaint, the Bishop shall, within 45 days, either dismiss the complaint after consultation with the cabinet, as having no basis in law or fact, or shall initiate the supervisory response process. If within 120 days after the initiation of the supervisory response, resolution is not achieved, the bishop shall either:
(1) Refer the matter to a 3rd party mediator(s) if this has not been attempted;71 or
(2) Dismiss the complaint with the consent of the cabinet giving the reasons therefore in writing; or
(3) Refer the matter as an administrative complaint (¶ 362.2) or judicial complaint (¶ 2704).72
All time limitations may be extended for 30 days upon the consent of the complainant and the respondent.
e) Supervisory Follow-up and Healing-The bishop and cabinet shall provide a process for healing within the congregation, annual conference, or other context of ministry if there has been significant disruption by the complaint. This process may include sharing of information by the bishop and/or cabinet about the nature of the complaint without disclosing alleged facts, which may compromise any possible forthcoming administrative or judicial process. This may include a process of a just resolution, which addresses unresolved conflicts, support for victims, and reconciliation for parties involved.73
2. Administrative Complaint-If the bishop determines that the complaint is based on allegations of incompetence, ineffectiveness, or unwillingness or inability to perform ministerial duties, he or she shall refer the complaint as an administrative complaint to the board of ordained ministry for its consideration of remedial or other action74 (see ¶ 362.4a).
3. Fair Process in Administrative Hearings-The following procedures are presented for the protection of the rights of individuals and for the protection of the Church in administrative hearings. The process set forth in this paragraph commences upon referral of a matter as an administrative complaint. Special attention should be given to the timely disposition of all matters and to ensuring racial, ethnic, and gender diversity in the committee hearing the complaint.
a) In any administrative proceeding the respondent (the person against whom the administrative complaint has been filed) shall have a right to be heard before any final action is taken.
b) Notice of any hearing shall advise the respondent of the reason for the proposed procedures with sufficient detail to allow the respondent to prepare a response. Notice shall be given not less than twenty days prior to the hearing.
c) The respondent shall have a right to be accompanied by a clergyperson in full connection to any hearing, in accordance with the appropriate disciplinary provisions. The clergyperson accompanying the respondent shall have the right to voice.75
d) In any administrative hearing, under no circumstances shall one party, in the absence of the other party, discuss substantive issues with members of the pending hearing body. Questions of procedure may be raised with the presiding officer of the hearing body.
e) The respondent shall have access to all records relied upon in the determination of the outcome of the administrative process.76
f) In the event that a clergyperson fails to appear for supervisory interviews, refuses mail, refuses to communicate personally with the bishop or district superintendent, or otherwise fails to respond to supervisory requests or requests from official administrative committees, such actions or inactions shall not be used as an excuse to avoid or delay any Church processes, and such processes may continue without the participation of such individual.
g) In order to preserve the integrity of the Church’s administrative process and ensure full participation in it at all times, the bishop, cabinet, board of ordained ministry, witnesses, advocates, administrative review committee, clergy in full connection voting in executive session, and all others who participate in the Church’s administrative process shall have immunity from prosecution of complaints brought against them related to their role in a particular administrative process, unless they have committed a chargeable offense in conscious and knowing bad faith. The complainant/plaintiff in any proceeding against any such person related to their role in a particular judicial process shall have the burden of proving, by clear and convincing evidence, that such person’s actions constituted a chargeable offense committed knowingly in bad faith. The immunity set forth in this provision shall extend to civil court proceedings, to the fullest extent permissible by the civil laws.
4. Disposition of Administrative Complaints-When a complaint has been received, the board of ordained ministry shall develop a response in a timely manner. The complaint shall be referred to a committee of the board that deals with matters of conference relations (other than the executive committee) and this committee shall conduct an administrative hearing following the fair process provisions of § 2. The bishop or a cabinet representative shall present the administrative complaint to the committee. The respondent shall be given an opportunity to address the administrative complaint in person, in writing and with the assistance of a clergyperson in full connection, with voice. Once the committee has heard the cabinet representative, the respondent, and others as determined by the chairperson of the committee, it may recommend remedial action, discontinuance, leave of absence, administrative location, dismissal of the complaint or such other action that it deems appropriate, to the board of ordained ministry. The board may accept or amend the recommendations of the committee, or it may dismiss the complaint. In rare instances, the board may refer the complaint back to the bishop for possible referral as a judicial complaint. The board alternately may refer the matter to the resident bishop as deemed appropriate for a process that seeks a just resolution (See ¶ 362.1b). The bishop shall institute such a process and may use the assistance of a trained, impartial third party facilitator(s) or mediator(s). Such referral will not constitute a dismissal. The appropriate persons, including a cabinet member and a representative of the board of ordained ministry, shall enter into a written agreement outlining the process including any agreement on confidentiality. The parties shall be told that any resolution remains subject to final approval by the board. If resolution is achieved, a written statement of resolution, including any terms and conditions, shall be signed by the parties and the parties shall agree on any matters disclosed to third parties. If the just resolution process results in resolution, the signed written statement of resolution shall be given to the board, and the board may dismiss the matter, retain oversight relating to any terms or conditions of the statement of resolution or take such other action as deemed appropriate. If the process does not result in resolution, it is returned to the board for further action. The board’s response will be shared with the clergyperson, the bishop, the cabinet, and the person bringing the original complaint.77
a) Remedial Action-In cooperation with the cabinet and in consultation with the clergyperson, the board of ordained ministry may choose or recommend one or more of the following options for a program of remedial action, subject to regular oversight by the board and annual review:
(1) Program of continuing education (¶ 351);
(2) Leave of absence, voluntary or involuntary (¶ 354);
(3) Early retirement (¶ 359.2) or involuntary retirement
(4) Sabbatical leave (¶ 352);
(5) Honorable location (¶ 360);
(6) Surrender of ordained ministerial office (¶ 361.2);
(7) Personal counseling or therapy;
(8) Program of career evaluation;
(9) Peer support and supervision;
(10) Private reprimand: a letter signed by the chairperson of
the board of ordained ministry and the clergyperson’s district superintendent, addressed to the clergyperson with a file copy in the permanent file of the board of ordained ministry (¶ 606.6) stating the appropriateness of the complaint, the specific remedial action required, and the conditions under which the reprimand shall be withdrawn. A report of the reprimand and the remedial action taken shall remain in the personnel file of the respondent once the reprimand has been withdrawn.
(11) Administrative location.
b) Clergy Residing Beyond the Bounds of the Conference-Any clergy members residing beyond the bounds of the conference in which membership is held shall be subject to administrative complaints or process exercised by the appropriate officers or committees of the conference of which he or she is a member, unless the presiding bishops of the two annual conferences and the clergy member subject to the process agree that fairness would be better served by having the process carried out in the annual conference in which he or she is serving under appointment, or if retired, currently residing.
c) Recommendation to Administrative Location-(1) Upon recommendation of the board of ordained ministry, the annual conference may place members on administrative location when, in the judgment of the annual conference, members have demonstrated a pattern of being unable effectively and competently to perform the duties of itinerant ministry; provided that the annual conference shall have first examined their character and found them in good standing. The requirements of fair process as set forth in ¶ 362.2 shall be followed in any administrative location procedure.
(2) The board of ordained ministry shall notify the clergy member, chairperson of the administrative review committee, bishop, district superintendent, and the complainant of the recommendation to administrative location at least sixty days before the opening of the next annual conference.
The notice to the clergy member shall also inform the member of the right to a hearing before the bishop, cabinet, and executive committee of the board of ordained ministry prior to the recommendation being forwarded to the executive session of the clergy members in full connection of the annual conference for consideration and action. Such choice by the ordained member must be made and notification of the choice sent to the bishop and the chairperson of the board of ordained ministry within thirty days following receipt of notice from the board.78 The chairperson of the board of ordained ministry shall preside at such a hearing. The recommendation of the board of ordained ministry shall be acted upon by the clergy session of members in full connection with the annual conference.
(3) The administrative review committee (¶ 635) shall ensure that the disciplinary procedures for administrative location were properly followed. The entire process leading up to the recommendation to administrative location shall be reviewed by the administrative review committee, and it shall report its findings to the clergy session of members in full connection with the annual conference.
(4) The provisions of ¶ 362.4c above apply to administrative location, except that a person on administrative location may not be given ad interim appointments by the bishop. Upon recommendation of the board of ordained ministry, an annual conference may offer financial assistance from conference resources in this transition.
d) Recommendation to Discontinue Probationary Membership-The board of ordained ministry shall recommend the discontinuance of a probationary member in keeping with the provisions of ¶ 327.6.
5. This process shall be reviewed by the Administrative Review Committee pursuant to ¶635.
64. See Judicial Council Decision 685.
65. See Judicial Council Decisions 763, 777.
66. See Judicial Council Decision 751.
67. See Judicial Council Decision 836.
68. See Judicial Council Decisions 691, 700, 751, 763, 768.
69. See Judicial Council Decisions 691, 982.
70. See Judicial Council Decision 776.
71. See Judicial Council Decision 700.
72. See Judicial Council Decision 700.
73. See Judicial Council Decision 763.
74. See Judicial Council Decision 763.
75. See Judicial Council Decision 972.
76. See Judicial Council Decision 974.
77. See Judicial Council Decision 917.
78. See Judicial Council Decisions 384, 485.