Saturday, June 01, 2013

Due process must be observed in terminating church membership

What is due process?

 (1) “Before a person can be deprived of his life, liberty, or property, he must be given an opportunity to defend himself.”

(2) “Fundamental fairness”

(3) “Opportunity to be heard”

(4) “What due process contemplates is freedom from arbitrariness; what it requires is fairness and justice; substance, rather than the form, being paramount. What it prohibits is not the absence of previous notice but the absolute absence thereof.”

Supreme Court ruling: “While the civil courts will ordinarily leave ecclesiastical matters to church authorities, they may however intervene when it is shown that they have acted outside the scope of their authority or in a manner contrary to their organic law and rules.” (Fonacier vs. Court of Appeals and Isabelo De los Reyes, Jr., 1955)

Plain English explanation: 

(1) The pastor, board, or congregation, must comply with the church constitution or rules in terminating church membership.

(2) Church leaders must educate members on how church membership is terminated.

Biblical due process: Matthew 18:15-17
Several years ago, a young pastor from a province south of Metro Manila was actively opposed by some church members. When he couldn’t take these members’ actions anymore, he announced after the Sunday morning preaching that he was terminating their membership right there and then. His church was split the next Sunday, and he has since then transferred to another church.

The Philippine Supreme Court has ruled in the following cases that due process must be observed when church membership is terminated:

[1] Taruc et al vs. Bishop de la Cruz et al, 2005

We would, however, like to comment on petitioners’ claim that they were not heard before they were expelled from their church. The records show that Bishop de la Cruz pleaded with petitioners several times not to commit acts inimical to the best interests of PIC. They were also warned of the consequences of their actions, among them their expulsion/excommunication from PIC. Yet, these pleas and warnings fell on deaf ears and petitioners went ahead with their plans to defy their Bishop and foment hostility and disunity among the members of PIC in Socorro, Surigao del Norte. They should now take full responsibility for the chaos and dissension they caused.

[2] The Church In Quezon City, 2001

As early as 1988, the respondents-Board of Directors patiently and persistently reminded, advised and exhorted the erring members, including herein petitioners, to stop espousing doctrines, teachings and religious belief diametrically opposed to the Principles of Faith embraced by the CHURCH. The respondents-Board of Directors further warned them during Sunday worship gatherings, in small group meetings and one-on-one talk, that they would face disciplinary action and be dropped from the membership roll should they continue to exhibit acts inimical and injurious to the teachings of the Holy Bible which the CHURCH so zealously upholds. When they ignored petitioners’ exhortations and warnings, the erring members should not now complain about their expulsion from the membership of the CHURCH by the Board of Directors on August 30, 9193. The Board of Directors, before deciding to purge their list of membership, gave the erring members sufficient warning of their impending ouster.

[3] Fonacier vs. Court of Appeals and Isabelo De los Reyes, Jr., 1955

The Supreme Bishop cannot punish an erring member without first giving him an opportunity to be heard and to defend himself, and, in any event, without first securing the opinion of the Judge of the Curia de Apelaciones, and in serious cases, the case needs to be referred to the Supreme Council of Bishops. With regard to a case where a bishop is involved, the action shall be submitted to the Supreme Bishop for approval. And in case of guilt, the accused may appeal to the Curia de Apelaciones, whose decision shall be final. Such is the procedure laid down by the constitution of the church when disciplinary action needs to be taken against a delinquent member. It is not, therefore, correct to say that the Supreme Bishop can take action alone in connection with an erring bishop, even in disregard of the Supreme Council, in view of the over-all powers he claims to possess under the circumstances.