PITTSBURGH – The top United Methodist (search) court ruled Tuesday that it does not have the authority to review the case of an openly lesbian pastor who was acquitted of violating church law.
The ruling from the Judicial Council came in the case of the Rev. Karen Dammann (search), a Washington state minister who acknowledged she was in a committed relationship with a woman.
A jury of 13 pastors outraged conservatives in March by acquitting Dammann of practices contrary to Christianity at her church trial in Bothell, Wash. The jurors effectively ruled that church law did not make it a chargeable offense for gay clergy to be sexually active.
Conservatives called the verdict a "schismatic act." When the Methodist General Conference began last week, delegates turned to the denomination's high court and asked it to enforce the church ban on ordaining homosexuals.
Dammann's lawyer, Lindsay Thompson, said it was his understanding that the decision meant Dammann, who is on family leave, remains a pastor in good standing in the Pacific Northwest Conference.
"They bought our argument, which is you can't do anything retroactive in a trial that is already decided," Thompson said, in a phone interview from Seattle. "This is a victory. I'm every pleased with it."
However, experts in church law say they were sifting through the decision to sort out the implications.
The council also had been asked to rule whether a bishop can appoint a sexually active gay minister. The court said no, but added that its ruling Tuesday would only apply to future cases, not to Dammann's case.