Before publishing the following commentary regarding complaints filed against Bishop Karen Olevito, Good News reached out to Bishop Grant Hagiya, president of the Western Jurisdiction’s College of Bishops. We asked him if “there [was] any information regarding this matter that [he] could share with us so we can include it in the article? What is the explanation for the unusually long delay regarding resolution or reports on the status of these complaints?”
Hagiya responded as follows: “Due to Judicial Council Ruling 1341, and under advisement of our legal counsel, we dismissed the original complaint without prejudice, and opened up a new complaint submitted in light of 1341 to deal with any issues pertinent to the new ruling.
“A new complaint supervising committee has been formed and will begin working on this new complaint.”
In light of his response Good News decided not to make any changes to the following commentary by our analyst Walter Fenton.
By Walter B. Fenton
According to a United Methodist News Service article published one year ago, Bishop Grant Hagiya, president of the Western Jurisdiction’s College of Bishops, said newly elected Bishop Karen Oliveto, an open lesbian married to a UM Church deaconess, “faces multiple complaints under church law.” One year later, and the church has not heard anything regarding the status of the complaints.
While the details of the complaints are confidential, they surely have to do with the fact that Oliveto’s marriage and her admission that she has presided at approximately 50 same-sex weddings constitute serious and serial violations of the UM Church’s Book of Discipline.
According to church law, the status of complaints against a bishop must be reported after 120 days. However, if the parties involved in the matter have not reached a resolution they can request an additional 120 days, and, if necessary, another 120 after that. Apparently, these requests were made, granted, and have now expired. And yet, the Western Jurisdiction’s Episcopacy Committee has failed to issue any report.
Consequently, Oliveto’s leadership in the Mountain Sky Episcopal Area remains under a cloud of suspicion. The episcopal area is comprised of the Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone annual conferences. Both recently reported financial challenges with the latter characterizing its situation as a “financial crisis.” It recently reported monthly revenue losses are ten times higher than they were in 2016. The conference is in jeopardy of exhausting all of its reserves by the end of the year. To be sure, other factors are contributing to these challenges, but Oliveto’s assignment has clearly exacerbated the situation.
However, it now appears the Western Jurisdiction’s bishops are attempting to indefinitely postpone any day of reckoning for their colleague. They think the church’s sexual ethics, teachings on marriage, and its ordination standards are wrong. While they are certainly entitled to their opinions, their actions – or lack thereof – are raising serious questions about the possibility for church unity and the trust required for it.
What comes of a church when some of its bishops cavalierly decide which laws they will and will not enforce? What comes of church unity when some of its leaders are patronizingly dismissive of values held by the vast majority of United Methodists across a global denomination, and yet continue to draw their pay checks from it? And what comes of trust when bishops give the appearance they are protecting one of their own when it comes to legitimate complaints?
Oliveto’s election came after General Conference had agreed to table all petitions to change the church’s sexual ethics, and after it had authorized the Council of Bishops to appoint a commission to study the matter and present a definitive plan for resolving the long running debate at a called General Conference. Delegates, church leaders, and bishops left the conference with an understanding the church’s teachings on marriage and sexuality remained fully in force while also allowing time for the commission to do its work.
Heedless of all of this, the Western Jurisdictional Conference elected, consecrated, and assigned Oliveto anyway. In response, several bishops issued statements lamenting her election as a breach of the church’s covenant and its unity. The Council of Bishops’ Executive Committee, citing “the great importance of the matter,” encouraged the Judicial Council to take up the matter as soon as possible. And of course many United Methodists regarded her election as an event likely to tip the church towards separation or dissolution.
In short, Oliveto’s election has pushed the church to the brink of division, and its ramifications are taking a toll on worship attendance and giving all across the connection. But despite all of the turmoil it has unleashed, the Western Jurisdiction, which was in such a rush to elect Oliveto, is now stonewalling the complaints filed against her.
United Methodists rightly expect a just and timely resolution of this case. At this juncture, the Western Jurisdiction bishops’ failure to be forthcoming would be indicative of their arrogance and disdain for the wider church.
Walter Fenton is a United Methodist clergy person and an analyst for Good News.