During morning plenary, the Assembly Committee on the Rules of Discipline recommended that the 225th General Assembly disapprove a recommendation from the Survivors of Sexual Misconduct Task Force. But several hours, a lunch break and a whole lot of parliamentary procedure later, the full assembly overwhelmingly approved a proposed amendment to the Book of Order regarding mandatory reporting of abuse.
“There was much discussion on the limits of confidentiality in the context of pastoral care, and the committee voted 19-5 to disapprove ROD-07,” said Robert Brashear, moderator of the Rules of Discipline Committee, making the motion that the full assembly disapprove the motion.
Dave Huting, ruling elder commissioner of Philadelphia Presbytery, quickly introduced a substitute motion that he maintained would strengthen the reporting requirements.
“It was my feeling that the Rules of Discipline task force largely agreed with the intent behind the survivors task force’s original recommendation, but we felt it went too far,” Huting said. “I believe this substitute motion fully addresses the concerns raised by the Rules of Discipline Committee while responding to the intent of the original recommendation.”
The Advisory Committee on the Constitution (ACC) recommended disapproval of the original proposal, expressing concern about terminology related to mandating and establishing thresholds for reporting.
“Such a drastic expansion of disclosure and reporting requirements could adversely affect the needs of most people who seek the support of pastoral counselors and could undermine the extensive time many abuse survivors need to gather the courage necessary for public disclosure of their victimization,” the advice from the ACC in the report said.
Teaching Elder Judy Woods of the ACC said the language in Huting’s substitute motion was problematic as well.
Resource person the Rev. Dr. Kristopher Schondelmeyer, of Philadelphia Presbytery, was one of the fiercest advocates for the proposal, saying in his initial comments, “The Scriptures are clear — our mandate to protect the vulnerable and the victimized is greater than our responsibility to those who hold power. It is essential then, when talking about confidence and privilege, that we begin with protecting the vulnerable.”
Commissioners, committee members and staff spent a lot of time wrestling with the motion, substitute motion and amendments, led by GA225 Co-Moderators the Rev. Shavon Starling-Louis and the Rev. Ruth Santana-Grace and parliamentarian the Rev. Tricia Dykers Koenig. It was ultimately the ACC, offering language for a second substitute motion, that a majority of commissioners could support.
It specifies: “Ministers of the Word and Sacrament and commissioned ruling elders shall hold in confidence all information revealed to them in the course of providing care and all information relating to the exercise of such care except:
- When the person whose confidences are at issue gives express consent to reveal confidential information, then a minister of the Word and Sacrament or a commissioned ruling elder may, but cannot be compelled to, reveal confidential information, or
- When a minister of the Word and Sacrament or a commissioned ruling elder reasonably believes that there is risk of imminent bodily harm to any person.”
Schondelmeyer said that while advocates for the original recommendation would have liked stronger language and feel it would have been constitutional, they were satisfied with what ACC proposed. It passed by a vote of 325-65. The amendments to G-4.0301 will be sent to the presbyteries for affirmative or negative votes.
In other business:
- The assembly approved ROD-05, which essentially says the judicial process would go on even if an accused minister or member of the church renounces its jurisdiction.
- Commissioners heard the daily report from Ian Hall, chief financial officer and chief operating officer for the PC(USA), A Corporation, and DeAmber Clopton, budget manager for the Office of the General Assembly, about the financial impacts of decisions made at the General Assembly. They pointed viewers to the real-time tracking report, where people can keep up with the numbers.
- The Rev. Iris Dalila Santoni Ortiz, moderator of the Assembly Committee on Bills and Overtures, gave her daily report, stating the plenaries were a little behind, with the Assembly Committee on Health, Safety and Benefits report having been moved from Wednesday to Thursday’s docket.
- The assembly acted on a motion to extend debate time from 1.5 to 2 minutes per speaker. The motion, which required a two-thirds majority of commissioners, failed with 180 voting yes and 192 saying no.
The assembly also heard the Ecumenical and Interfaith Engagement report from Frances Lin, committee moderator. She pointed out that six of the committee’s seven items of business were approved on the consent agenda and there was a 92 percent approval rate for items that went before the committee.
The one item that went before the full assembly was ECU-06, Distribution of Study Document on Denouncing Antisemitism and Islamophobia. The discussion proceeded much as it did during the committee meeting on June 28, with a few commissioners expressing opposition to some language and history presented in the report but with overall support for the unequivocal stand against Islamophobia and antisemitism. It was approved 367-9.