The disciplinary council for Sister Kate Kelly met yesterday. Today, the council announced that they had decided to excommunicate her, for “conduct contrary to the laws and order of the Church.”
This result is very troubling.
I have serious doubts about the substantive result here. I will set them aside for this post and instead focus on an important procedural matter: Sister Kelly was never informed that she was to be tried for “conduct contrary to the laws and order of the Church,” was never given a chance to defend herself from that charge, and was ultimately excommunicated for an offense to which she had no way of responding. This is astounding.
As noted on her website and in the media, Sister Kelly was informed by e-mail, on June 8th, that the bishopric was considering church discipline “on grounds of apostasy.”
In response, she submitted a letter explaining that she had not committed apostasy. This was necessary as the court was scheduled after she had left the state, so she could not attend in person. In addition, Nadine Hansen wrote an excellent brief, examining the question in detail and concluding that Sister Kelly did not commit “apostasy” as defined in the church handbook.
The brief may have been persuasive, since the bishopric did not in fact find Sister Kelly guilty of apostasy. However, they ruled that she should be excommunicated for “conduct contrary to the laws and order of the Church.”
This is an exceedingly troubling outcome. To arrive at this result, the bishopric must have done the following:
1. Brought new charges against Sister Kelly, at the hearing — a hearing in absentia, where she was not present
2. Decided to deliberate on those charges
3. Did not inform her of those charges
4. Did not allow her to make any statement in her defense regarding those charges
5. Made a decision on those charges
6. Excommunicated her, based on those new charges
All within a single day, all without providing the least notice to Sister Kelly.
As documented by Nadine Hansen and others, the Kelly court has already been a site of numerous procedural irregularities. This latest is simply the most egregious.
Church membership is too important to be handled in ad hoc and arbitrary ways. The Handbook exists for a reason, to provide order for what could otherwise be a highly irregular process.
Because of the complete failure to notify Sister Kelly of the grounds on which she was apparently being tried, the bishopric process fails the most basic requirements of notice and chance to defend oneself. Church leaders should reverse the Bishopric decision. If Sister Kelly is to be tried for other charges, including “conduct contrary to the laws and order of the Church,” then her local leaders should inform her of those charges and call a new hearing, complete with notice and a chance to respond.
Update: Some folks have stated in comments that the letter language is the same for every letter and simply means that an excommunication took place. If that’s the case, and no new charges were brought, then the particular notice issues raised in this post — questioning whether Sister Kelly was tried on new charges without notice — would be satisfied. I’ve updated the post to note this.
Also, some folks have noted in comments, there are apparent disagreements of fact between the chronologies set out by Sister Kelly and that set out in the excommunication letter. I hope that it’s correct that Sister Kelly had additional opportunities to be heard. If she was not, it would be deeply troubling.