Florida Conference pastor faces possible church trial

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Florida Conference pastor faces possible church trial

March 16, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
tparham@flumc.org  Orlando {0639}

NOTE: A headshot of McLeod is available at http://www.flumc.info/photo_gallery2.shtml.

An e-Review Feature
By Erik J. Alsgaard**

LAKELAND — A United Methodist pastor suspended late last year after being charged with sexual misconduct, sexual abuse, immorality and disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church is now facing the possibility of a church trial on those charges.

The Rev. Dr. Jacques Pierre is currently on suspension from his ministerial duties as pastor of Norland United Methodist Church in Miami for the duration of an investigation into the charges brought against him and a possible church trial. Pierre could lose his ministerial orders if found guilty.

With permission from the executive committee of the conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry, Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker suspended Pierre Oct. 1, 2006, after a complaint was filed against him last September.

The suspension is for the purpose of protecting the complainant, the church and Pierre, who has served as pastor of Norland United Methodist Church since February 2005.

“The United Methodist Church believes there is a sacred trust between clergy and parishioner,” said the Rev. Deborah McLeod, superintendent of the South East District, in which Norland United Methodist Church is located. “The church takes allegations of sexual misconduct very seriously. That is why Bishop Whitaker took quick action to suspend Pierre after being informed of the allegations.”

Following policies and procedures in the 2004 Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church (book of church law), Whitaker suspended Pierre after meeting with him and the party bringing the complaint. Whitaker then referred the complaint to counsel for the Florida Conference.

The possibility of a church trial is a result of findings by the Florida Conference’s Committee on Investigation that reasonable grounds exist to support the charges.

In an e-mail sent to South East District clergy March 14, McLeod asked for prayers and reminded clergy the charges against Pierre do not presume his guilt.

“This is very difficult for everyone involved, and we seek God’s grace, strength and guidance in the ongoing process,” she wrote. “Please remember that the finding of ‘reasonable grounds’ for referral to a church trial does not mean there is a finding of guilt or innocence. Only the church trial can determine innocence or guilt, and the clergyperson is presumed innocent until a finding by the church trial.”

The Rev. Alford Alfonse has been serving as interim pastor at Norland United Methodist Church since Oct. 8, 2006. The Rev. Leonis Quinlan will assume that role April 1, 2007, at Alfonse’s request to conclude his ministry at the church.

The Rev. Dr. Bill Larrison of the Christian Community Counseling Center has also been working with members and leaders of Norland United Methodist Church to help them heal and cope with the situation. In addition, pastoral care and support has been extended to the person who brought the complaint.

According to paragraph 2707 of the 2004 Book of Discipline, United Methodist church trials “are to be regarded as an expedient of last resort. Only after every reasonable effort has been made to correct any wrong and adjust any existing difficulty should steps be taken to institute a trial.”

If a church trial does take place, it will be scheduled and presided over by a United Methodist bishop other than Whitaker, with a jury comprising clergy in full connection within the Florida Conference, according to paragraph 2713.2 of the Book of Discipline.


This article relates to Board of Ordained Ministry/Clergy Misconduct.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Alsgaard is director of communications for the Florida Conference.

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