The high court of the United Methodist Church ruled Friday that the consecration of openly gay bishop Karen Oliveto is a violation of church law and is a chargeable offense.
In a decision published on the denomination's website, the Judicial Council emphasized that, based on the Book of Discipline, all members of the clery are required to exhibit "complete dedication to the highest ideals of the Christian life." This includes upholding the Church's stand on marriage and homosexuality.
"An openly homosexual and partnered bishop is in violation of these minimum standards," the decision reads.
The Judicial Council rejected an argument from Richard Marsh of the Western Jurisdiction, who represented Oliveto during an oral hearing held Tuesday, that Oliveto's same-sex marriage to Robin Ridenour in 2014 is not equivalent to a public statement of being a self-avowed homosexual.
The Judicial Council said that "a same-sex marriage license issued by competent civil authorities together with the clergy person's status in a same-sex relationship is a public declaration that the person is a self-avowed practicing homosexual."
The council further stated that an "openly homosexual and partnered bishop" may be charged with disobedience to church law, along with bishops and clergy persons who "actively participate" in his or her consecration.
The Judicial Council clarified that self-avowal does not remove Oliveto from episcopal office nor does it nullify her consecration as bishop. However, Oliveto's office will be subject to review following the process recommended by the Book of Discipline.
"The jurisdictional or central conference may not ignore the report, but must initiate action to review the membership of the bishop's office, including filing a complaint," the council ruled.
"If the jurisdictional or central conference does not initiate such action, the president or the secretary of the college of bishops of the jurisdictional or central conference must initiate such action," the council added.
Oliveto will remain "in good standing" until the process is complete.
The Judicial Council's ruling is in response to a petition for a declaratory decision filed by Dixie Brewster of the South Central Jurisdiction regarding the consecration, nomination, election and assignment of a self-avowed, practicing homosexual as bishop.
However, the council addressed only the question concerning the consecration of such an individual. The church's high court said it was "improper" to answer the other three points raised in the petition.
The Western Jurisdiction released a statement regarding the high court's ruling, saying the decision shows the church's disagreement about the "inclusion of LGBTQI people and sexual practices outside heterosexual marriage."
The statement also said that the Judicial Council's "expanded" definition of "self-avowed practicing homosexual" is a clear indication that the UMC is "still not open to full LGBTQI inclusion."
However, the Western Jurisdiction said it is "already in the process of responding to complaints that were filed after her election" in accordance with church law.
The Western Jurisdiction consecrated Oliveto as bishop at the Mountain Sky Area in July 2016. The move has greatly polarized the UMC, with some groups supporting her consecration and others opposing it.
A number of churches have already decided to leave the denomination because of the issue, causing some members to believe the UMC could be headed for a split.
Many members also left the Mountain Sky Area after Oliveto became bishop, and affected congregations suffered from lack of financial support.