September 14, 2023 | by Heather Hahn
The United Methodist Church faces something unprecedented in its and its Methodist predecessors’ history: the church trial of one of its bishops.
The trial of Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño — who has been under suspension for 18 months — is scheduled to begin Sept. 19 at the offices of Wespath Benefits and Investments in Glenview, Illinois, a Chicago suburb.
United Methodist News plans to cover the trial and post updates at www.umnews.org. In another first in the denomination’s history, the trial will be livestreamed. People can sign up to watch the proceedings. Most of the trial is open to the public, with the exception of jury deliberations.
The Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, holds out the possibility of a just resolution being reached at any time before or even during the trial process. So there is no guarantee that the trial will move forward as scheduled.
However, with the church trial set to begin in less than a week, here is a look at some frequently asked questions about the denomination’s judicial complaint process.
What is a church trial?
Simply put, during a church trial, a person responds to a charge or charges of having violated denominational law as set forth in the Book of Discipline. The church’s judicial process refers to the person facing the charges as “a respondent” and the person or people bring the complaint of wrongdoing as “complainants.”
The Book of Discipline requires that all United Methodist clergy, which includes bishops, and lay members have a right to a church trial and appeal. That right is so important, it is part of The United Methodist Church’s restrictive rules — meaning even General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking body, cannot do away with it.
At the same time, the Discipline also calls a church trial “an expedient of last resort” and encourages a just resolution before a complaint ever gets to that point.
What is a just resolution?
The Discipline defines a just resolution as an agreement “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.”
Complainants must be party to any just resolution, and every effort must be made to have complainants agree to the resolution before it takes effect. All parties must sign the resolution and agree on what matters can be disclosed to the public.
Why is Bishop Carcaño on trial?
The charges against the bishop remain undisclosed to the public. Likewise, the complainants’ names also remain confidential.
As in the U.S. court system, the United Methodist judicial process operates under the principle that people are innocent until proven guilty. The United Methodist process also requires the protection of people’s rights to fair process.
Typically, any complaints against bishops are handled within the church region that elected them.
Leaders of the Western Jurisdiction, which elected Carcaño, announced in May that the jurisdiction’s committee on investigation had found reasonable grounds to bring to trial charges that Carcaño violated church law.