The PCA SJC Process in Brief

Since Jeff did such a nice job summarizing the qualifications for prosecutors in the PCA, I thought that I’d tackle the larger process picture. The operations of the PCA’s Standing Judicial Commission are governed by the SJC Manual, which is approved by the General Assembly as a whole. The manual only comes into play in accordance with the strict procedures of the Book of Church Order.

The amends from Case 2006-2 reads:

Amends – Pursuant to BCO 40-5 the Standing Judicial Commission hereby cites Louisiana Presbytery to appear “to show what it has done or failed to do in the case in question.” To implement this process, RE Samuel J. Duncan is hereby appointed to: a) serve as prosecutor in this matter and conduct the case, which is designated as Case 2007-14; b) select Assistant Prosecutors from members of the General Assembly to assist him with this matter; c) draw an indictment to be served upon Louisiana Presbytery, with the circumstances and specifications therein not being limited to those raised in 2006-02 and 2007-8; d) prepare a citation instructing Louisiana Presbytery to respond, in writing or at a called meeting of the Standing Judicial Commission, to the indictment and to enter its plea to the matters contained therein not later than February 1, 2008. (BCO 40-6, 31-2, 32-3) If Louisiana Presbytery enters a plea of “not guilty,” then Louisiana Presbytery is directed to appear, through its representatives, for trial in this matter before the Standing Judicial Commission on March 5, 2008 (BCO 40-5, 40-6, 31-2, 32-3).

BCO 40-5 and 40-6 read in full:

40-5. When any court having appellate jurisdiction shall receive a credible report with respect to the court next below of any important delinquency or grossly unconstitutional proceedings of such court, the first step shall be to cite the court alleged to have offended to appear before the court having appellate jurisdiction, or its commission, by representative or in writing, at a specified time and place, and to show what the lower court has done or failed to do in the case in question.

The court thus issuing the citation may reverse or redress the proceedings of the court below in other than judicial cases; or it may censure the delinquent court; or it may remit the whole matter to the delinquent court with an injunction to take it up and dispose of it in a constitutional manner; or it may stay all further proceedings in the case; as circumstances may require.

40-6. In process against a lower court, the trial shall be conducted according to the rules provided for process against individuals, so far as they may be applicable.

The is exactly the situation decided in Cases 2006-2 and 2007-8. Now BCO 31-2:

31-2. It is the duty of all church Sessions and Presbyteries to exercise care over those subject to their authority. They shall with due diligence and great discretion demand from such persons satisfactory explanations concerning reports affecting their Christian character. This duty is more imperative when those who deem themselves aggrieved by injurious reports shall ask an investigation.

If such investigation, however originating, should result in raising a strong presumption of the guilt of the party involved, the court shall institute process, and shall appoint a prosecutor to prepare the indictment and to conduct the case. This prosecutor shall be a member of the court, except that in a case before the Session, he may be any communing member of the same congregation with the accused.

Notice how closely the wording of Cases 2006-2 and 2007-8 follow that of the BCO. This is as it should be.

BCO 32-3 is a bit longer and talks about appointing a prosecutor, drawing up the indictment, citing appearances, and pleading. If Louisiana Presbytery pleads “not guilty”, then the last part of the amends comes into play and a trial will be held.

Case 2007-14 will be conducted strictly in accordance with the BCO and the SJC Manual. As this case arose through BCO 40-5 and 40-6, SJC Manual Chapter 16 governs the procedure (I’m way open to correction if I messed that up, though). The manual’s processes are exacting as to order of arguments, the time alloted for all parties, and how the panel shall consider them and report the results. According to SJC Manual 16-9, the case could have the following outcomes for Louisiana Presbytery:

(a) to reverse or redress the proceedings of the court below in other than judicial cases; or

(b) censure the delinquent court; or

(c) to remit the whole matter to the delinquent court with an injunction to take it up and dispose of it in a manner consistent with the BCO; or

(d) to stay all further proceedings and declare that all matters relating to the Memorial, no or previously pending before the General Assembly, are ended, concluded and terminated.

Note that hearings and trials are held either before a judicial panel of not less than 3, including at least one teaching elder and one ruling elder, or the entire Commission (SJC Manual 10.3, 11.1). Larger judicial panels must have an approximately equal balance between teaching and ruling elders (SJC Manual 11-1). There is no provision for a jury as was speculated by at least one Federal Visionist. Perhaps they should read their BCO.

So what happens if Louisiana Presbytery either pleads or is found guilty? Here’s my opinion, which is only my personal opinion: The SJC already tried (c) in a previous round, and Louisiana Presbytery was found in Cases 2006-2 and 2007-8 not to have carried out the required examination of TE Wilkins in accordance with the BCO, so I don’t see that happening again. The copious facts in evidence would seem to me to rule out (d). In my opinion, that leaves only (a) or (b). Neither of these bode well for Louisiana Presbytery.

I close by noting the fairness of the process guaranteed by how tightly it is governed by rules decided by the General Assembly. Not only are the SJC rules approved by the General Assembly, but all SJC members are elected by the same. This process represents a real and substantial accountability to the brothers-nothing more and nothing less.

Soli Deo Gloria!
Posted by Bob Mattes