The California bishop was acquitted in the first United Methodist trial of its kind in nearly a century

A United Methodist Church court acquitted a California bishop on Friday of all charges in the first trial of one of the church's bishops in nearly a century.

Bishop Minerva Carcaño, the first Latina bishop in the denomination and a prominent voice on behalf of immigrants, faced four charges of violating church law. It was for alleged harassment, fiscal violation, disobedience to UMC order and discipline, and undermining the ministry of another pastor. The court reached its verdict after a few hours of deliberation on Thursday night. It was announced on Friday morning.

Among other things, the prosecution alleged that Carcaño retaliated against clergy and staff who challenged her decisions and that she took or allowed actions to be taken while bypassing committees and other staff who should have been consulted on decisions.

Prosecutors also said he benefited from using a San Francisco parsonage, which was renovated through a church development fund, as a second home. Witnesses also raised concerns about the appearance of nepotism because her daughter lived for a time rent-free at the parsonage and worked as an administrative assistant for an area overseer under the bishop's authority.

Carcaño had pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Witnesses at the three-day trial expressed wildly conflicting views of her leadership, with some calling her prophetic and “tender and loving,” others vindictive and “absolutely savage” — or both at different times.

She was suspended with pay and benefits in March 2022 from her leadership of the California-Nevada Conference since 2016.

Carcaño's lawyer rebutted the charges one by one in closing arguments.

“Issues that should have been resolved at home took on a life of their own,” her counselor, the Rev. Scott Campbell, said Thursday.

The jury wasn't deciding who was at fault, but “whether criminal acts were committed,” Campbell said.

He added: “If we allow these thin charges to convict Bishop Carcaño, even a single charge, one of the great champions for justice in the United Methodist Church will be diminished.”

But the Rev Janet Forbes – who as a church councilor acted as prosecutor – urged jurors to focus on the charges.

“A leader can demonstrate faithful, empathetic, courageous and prophetic leadership and do harm in other ways,” he said. He characterized the bishop's actions as a “breach of sacred trust.”

In more than two hours of testimony on her own behalf Thursday, Carcaño spoke in measured tones as she was questioned about each of the charges and denied them one by one.

She regretted her suspension.

“I have been driven from my family, from my faith,” he said.

At the end of her testimony, Carcaño said she was sorry for the disruption the trial had caused the church.

“I feel a great deal of responsibility for the cost this process has brought to the church,” he said. “I am ashamed that I could not manage the business of this annual conference and its staff, its relations in a way that would have prohibited this extended process.”

Witnesses for the bishop said he did not use the rectory as a second home, but as more affordable lodging than a hotel in an expensive city during periods when the West Sacramento-based bishop ministered in San Francisco. Campbell cited a legal opinion from the chancellor of the conference saying that the local church could decide who to host in its sanctuary.

The chancellor also said the employment of Carcaño's daughter was not nepotism because it did not report to her mother.

Some of the more personal accounts centered on an allegation that Carcaño retaliated against a pastor who had been pre-approved to lead a new church. After the pastor requested a maternity leave that would overlap with the church's launch, Carcaño changed her assignment to only three quarters at the new church, with most of her time spent in a previous assignment.

The pastor, Rev. Chelsea Constant testified that the experience was contrary to what she learned from the United Methodist Church “that human dignity is sacred to God and must be protected.”

Carcaño said that as someone who was in ministry as a young mother, she understood the issue well. He said there were other issues, such as setting a precedent for using church growth funds for someone on any kind of leave. He denied asking Constand to take a shorter sabbatical and noted that the pastor eventually went full-time at the new church. But Carcaño regretted not having chatted with her sooner.

Carcaño has been ordained to the ministry for 47 years and was ordained a bishop in 2004, according to the United Methodist News Service.

The trial, being held in suburban Chicago, was heard by a jury of 13 clergy members.

According to the denomination's historical record, it was the first known trial of a bishop since 1928. That year, Bishop Anton Bast was found guilty of “unwise and unministerial conduct” and dismissed from his work as a bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church, predecessor of. in the United Methodist Church.

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