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Olston v. Hallock

Supreme Court of Wisconsin
Oct 3, 1972
201 N.W.2d 35 (Wis. 1972)


In Olston, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that, under the clause, the decision of an Episcopal diocese to discharge a priest because of "differences" between the priest and the congregation was "outside the province of judicial review."

Summary of this case from L.L.N. v. Clauder


No. 154.

Argued September 6, 1972. —

Decided October 3, 1972.

APPEAL from a judgment of the circuit court for Milwaukee county: ROBERT J. PARINS, Circuit Judge of the Fourteenth Circuit, Presiding. Affirmed.

For the appellant there was a brief and oral argument by Ray T. McCann of Milwaukee.

For the respondents other than respondent Donald H. V. Hallock there was a brief by Reinhart, Boerner, Van Deuren Norris, S.C., attorneys, and Paul V. Lucke of counsel, all of Milwaukee, and oral argument by Mr. Lucke.

For the respondent Donald H. V. Hallock there was a brief by Whyte, Hirschboeck, Minahan, Harding Harland, S.C., attorneys, and Robert P. Harland and Richard C. Ninneman of counsel, all of Milwaukee, and oral argument by Mr. Ninneman.

Appeal taken by the plaintiff-appellant, Gordon R. Olston (hereinafter Olston), from a judgment entered on the 27th day of May, 1971, dismissing the complaint of the plaintiff against all defendants-respondents (hereinafter defendants). The judgment of dismissal on the merits was entered pursuant to the defendants' motion for summary judgment.

Statement of the case.

This appeal concerns the termination of Olston's pastoral relationship with St. Paul's Episcopal Church of the Diocese of Milwaukee (hereinafter St. Paul's).

Olston is an ordained minister of the Episcopal Church of the Diocese of Milwaukee. He became associated with St. Paul's pursuant to a "call" as Assistant Rector of St. Paul's on December 1, 1958, and became Rector on June 21, 1959, and remained as Rector during the events in question. The call contained no conditions or representations as to term of employment. Respondent, Donald H. V. Hallock, is Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee, and the other respondents are the duly elected Wardens and Vestrymen of St. Paul's.

St. Paul's is subject to the church law and form of government as provided in the Constitution and Canons for the Government of the Church in the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee and the Constitution and Canons for the Government of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.

For some time preceding 1970, at least insofar as the Wardens and Vestrymen of St. Paul's were concerned, differences and disagreements had developed between Olston and the congregation.

These differences culminated with the preparation of a document dated November 14, 1969, and entitled "Membership and Financial Profiles of St. Paul's Episcopal Church." The "Profiles" specifically requested that Olston, by Easter of 1970, move his family into the parish rectory, preach at Sunday services, maintain a regular schedule of at least twelve hours per week to be available to the vestry, the staff, and congregation for visiting and counseling and present to the vestry an outline and plan Olston's administration and spiritual objectives for the church, including the Sunday School for the next five years. Olston's salary for the following year would be determined by his performance on these requests.

Olston responded to the "Profiles" on two occasions. On November 24, 1969, he advised he had no comment and that he would take the matter under advisement. On February 17, 1970, he advised that he would continue his efforts to minister to the people of St. Paul's.

March 30, 1970, the Wardens and Vestrymen requested that Olston meet with them on April 13, 1970. Whether this meeting was called to resolve the differences or to provide for an amicable termination of Olston's pastoral relationship is in dispute. However, Olston refused to meet and responded through his attorney, citing Canon 40 of the Constitution and Canons for the Government of the Church in the Diocese of Milwaukee as controlling.

Canon 40, insofar as it is applicable, reads as follows:

"Section 1. Whenever there shall be any serious difference between the Rector of a Parish and the congregation thereof, a majority of the Vestry (or Trustees) may make a representation to the Bishop in writing, stating the facts in the case; and agreeing for themselves and for the congregation which they represent, to submit to his decision in the matter, and to perform whatever he may require of them under the provisions of this Canon; at the same time serving a copy of the representation on the Rector.

". . .

"Sec. 3. If the matter shall not have been amicably settled within a reasonable time, the Bishop shall convene the Standing Committee; and shall give notice to the parties to appear before them, at such time and place as he may appoint, to present their grievances and the evidence thereof; and the Standing Committee shall then and there consider the case, adjourning or continuing the hearing, as they shall see fit.

"Sec. 4. When the hearing shall have been concluded, the Bishop with the concurrence of a majority of the Standing Committee present at the hearing, shall issue such an order in the case, as he shall think just and for the good of the Church; such order may require the Parish to pay the Rector a sum specified therein, and the Rector to resign his cure; and when such order shall have been issued, the Rector, the Parish and every member thereof, shall accept and abide by it, as conclusive of the whole matter."

April 24, 1970, the Wardens and Vestrymen sent a letter to Bishop Hallock making the required representations and requesting the Bishop to effect a separation of the pastoral relationship between St. Paul's and Olston. The vestry stated they were proceeding under Canon 40.

The Bishop sent Olston a letter dated April 27th informing Olston of the vestry's representations and requesting a reply.

Olston responded by his letter dated May 2, 1970, to the Bishop, wherein he denied any knowledge of any difference between himself and the congregation.

The Bishop then requested Olston and the Senior Warden, Harry P. Leadingham, to meet with him in an attempt to amicably settle the matter.

Thereafter a letter signed by Chancellor Warren T. Boggs, advisor to the Bishop, was sent to the Senior Warden and Olston advising each as to the situation and requesting a meeting on May 14, 1970. Opportunity to have counsel present at this informal meeting was afforded Olston.

Olston informed the Bishop that he would not attend any such meeting. It appears Olston declined to meet for two reasons: He felt the vestry had already predetermined the matter. He felt his differences with the Vestrymen, the elected representatives of the congregation, were distinguishable from his relationship with the congregation. There is no dispute as to differences between Olston and the vestry. The record contains no evidence of complaints from the congregation other than those of the Wardens and Vestrymen.

Pursuant to the provisions of Canon 40, the Bishop called a special meeting of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Milwaukee to be held on June 11, 1970. This meeting was called by letter dated May 18, 1970, and sent to both Olston and the Senior Warden. Olston, by letter, advised the Bishop that he would not attend and neither he nor his attorney were present.

The hearing was held on June 11, 1970, and an adjourned hearing was held on June 22, 1970. Olston had notice of this adjourned meeting, but he declined to attend.

June 22, 1970, upon all oral and written evidence presented, the Bishop with the concurrence of a majority of the Standing Committee made findings and issued an order. The findings stated:

"1. That there is a serious disagreement existing between the Rector and congregation of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, as represented by its Wardens and Vestrymen.

"2. That the Rector has been and continues to be either unwilling or unable to take steps to solve this disagreement, so that an impasse has been reached in the pastoral relation.

"3. That for the good of the Church there must be an immediate dissolution of the pastoral relation between St. Paul's Episcopal Church and its Rector."

The Bishop, with the concurrence of the majority of the Standing Committee, ordered:

"1. That the Rector, the Rev. Gordon R. Olston, shall submit his written resignation as Rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Milwaukee, to be effective not later than June 30, 1970, and that upon receipt, such resignation shall be forthwith accepted by the Wardens and Vestrymen of St. Paul's Church.

"2. That the Wardens and Vestrymen shall pay to the Rev. Gordon R. Olston, on such terms as he shall request, six months' salary and other benefits as currently provided.

"3. That the parties concerned shall notify the Bishop not later than June 28, 1970, of their willingness and intention to abide by this Order of the Bishop and Standing Committee."

Olston advised the Bishop that he would not abide by the June 22d order of the Bishop.

June 30, 1970, the Bishop ordered that the pastoral relationship between Olston and St. Paul's be terminated, effective June 30, 1970. The order also provided for certain financial benefits to be paid to Olston and a thirty-day period of grace in the use of the rectory.

There is a dispute as to whether the church had ever provided a suitable rectory and whether Olston was locked out of the rectory before the thirty days. Also in dispute is whether the respondents caused to be published news of Olston's termination in the local newspaper or just sent a letter pertaining thereto to the congregation.

Olston commenced the instant action to have ". . . the alleged termination of his pastoral relationship . . . adjudicated to be null and void, . . ." In essence, his complaint alleges that Canon 40 relates to procedure for settlement of serious disputes between clergymen and the congregation and that there never has been a serious dispute between him and the congregation. He alleges that the dispute, if there is one, is between him and certain of the Vestrymen. Olston claims damages ". . . as a result of the humiliation caused to the plaintiff by the announcement by the defendants to the press of the termination of plaintiff's pastoral relationship. . . ." The complaint also demands judgment adjudicating that the termination of his pastoral relationship was wrongful, malicious and without any foundation in the Canons of the church and for "such damages as may be ascertained to be just compensation to the plaintiff for the wrong done to plaintiff."

Defendants-respondents moved for summary judgment. Affidavits were filed in support of and in opposition thereto. Findings of fact and conclusions of law were made by the trial court.

The rules and procedures governing summary judgment are well established and have been so frequently stated by this court that no useful purpose would be served by again repeating them. Jahns v. Milwaukee Mut. Ins. Co. (1968), 37 Wis.2d 524, 527, 155 N.W.2d 674; Skyline Construction, Inc. v. Sentry Realty, Inc. (1966), 31 Wis.2d 1, 4, 5, 141 N.W.2d 909.

A matter should not be determined by summary-judgment procedure when two conditions exist: (1) There are disputed facts; and (2) the disputed facts are material to the controlling legal issue or issues. Huckstorf v. Vince L. Schneider Enterprises (1968), 41 Wis.2d 45, 163 N.W.2d 190; Strack v. Strack (1961), 12 Wis.2d 537, 107 N.W.2d 632. The trial court properly and correctly determined that there was no substantial disputed issue of fact which would be the proper subject of a fact-finding proceeding; and that the disputed facts did not present a substantial or material issue related to the controlling legal issues presented. These findings are supported by the record and summary-judgment procedure was proper in this case.

Whether any of the "disputed facts" are "material" depends entirely upon the permissible scope of civil court intervention in the ecclesiastical decisions made in this case. The government of St. Paul's is presbyterial rather than congregational. It is governed by both local and national canons and constitutions, and both provide procedures for the termination of a pastoral relationship with a particular church. These rules contain both the causes for removal and the procedures to be followed. There appears to be no dispute in the facts as to the procedure followed and the decision ultimately made by the Bishop and the Standing Committee. In the instant case, the dispute which exists is one of law.

We would agree that there is a dispute in facts that go to the merits of the decision reached by the ecclesiastical tribunal. However, in the instant case, the trial court was correct in determining that it had no jurisdiction to review the merits of the determination of the ecclesiastical tribunal. Under the facts of this case, the "call" of Olston was not temporal in nature and civil court review is limited to determining whether the ecclesiastical tribunal had authority to proceed, and whether it proceeded according to its rules and procedures.

In Watson v. Jones (1872), 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 679, 20 L. Ed. 666, at pages 728, 729, the court held:

". . . The right to organize voluntary religious associations to assist in the expression and dissemination of any religious doctrine, and to create tribunals for the decision of controverted questions of faith within the association, and for the ecclesiastical government of all the individual members, congregations, and officers within the general association, is unquestioned. All who unite themselves to such a body do so with an implied consent to this government, and are bound to submit to it. . . ."

Later cases seem to have modified the rule set forth in Watson, supra. In Kedroff v. Saint Nicholas Cathedral (1952), 344 U.S. 94, 116, 73 Sup. Ct. 143, 97 L. Ed. 120, discussing Watson, supra, the court stated:

". . . The opinion radiates . . . a spirit of freedom for religious organizations, an independence from secular control or manipulation — in short, power to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine. Freedom to select the clergy, where no improper methods of choice are proven, we think, must now be said to have federal constitutional protection as a part of the free exercise of religion against state interference." (Emphasis supplied.)

The court in Gonzales v. Roman Catholic Archbishop (1929), 280 U.S. 1, 16, 17, 50 Sup. Ct. 5, 74 L. Ed. 131, held:

". . . Because the appointment is a canonical act, it is the function of the church authorities to determine what the essential qualifications of a chaplain are and whether the candidate possesses them. In the absence of fraud, collusion, or arbitrariness, the decisions of the proper church tribunals on matters purely ecclesiastical, although affecting civil rights, are accepted in litigation before the secular courts as conclusive, because the parties in interest made them so by contract or otherwise." (Emphasis supplied.)

Wisconsin cases, although not numerous, have been in substantial accord with the decisions of the United States Supreme Court.

In Hellstern v. Katzer (1899), 103 Wis. 391, 396, 79 N.W. 429, this court held:

". . . This court has repeatedly disclaimed all right to determine mere questions of faith, doctrine, or schism, not necessarily involved in the enforcement of ascertained trusts or the determination of legal rights; and has also disclaimed any right of interference with mere church discipline, in the absence of any invasion of the legal rights of persons or property."

See: Fadness v. Braunborg (1889), 73 Wis. 257, 293, 41 N.W. 84; Holm v. Holm (1892), 81 Wis. 374, 382, 51 N.W. 579.

In Evangelical Lutheran St. Paul's Congregation v. Hass (1922), 177 Wis. 23, 187 N.W. 677, this court considered the status of a pastor under a congregational form of church government as distinguished from the presbyterial form of church government, as in the instant case, and at page 31 it is stated:

". . . The right of a congregation to remove its pastor with or without cause is a temporal right unless otherwise clearly specified in the charter or by-laws of the congregation. Civil courts will apply civil remedies to the disputes of religious bodies unless the laws of such bodies provide for specific ecclesiastical remedies. In the instant case we fail to find any ecclesiastical remedies in the constitution of the plaintiff [church] that apply to the situation. . . ."

In the instant case, the trial court found that the Bishop had authority under ecclesiastical law, to terminate Olston's position and that all proper procedures had been followed as set forth in Canon 40 of the local church, which was adopted pursuant to Canon 45 of the national church organization. We think it is clear that the plaintiff is seeking a civil tribunal review of the merits of the findings and decision of the Bishop and the Standing Committee, which determined that there was a serious disagreement existing between the pastor and the congregation as represented by its Wardens and Vestrymen, and that for the good of the church there must be an immediate dissolution of the pastoral relationship between St. Paul's and its pastor. Under both Wisconsin and federal case law, such a review in this case is outside the province of judicial review.

From our examination of the record, we are of the opinion that it cannot be said that the plaintiff's relationship with St. Paul's was terminated by either the Wardens or the Vestrymen.

In Borgman v. Bultema (1921), 213 Mich. 684, 182 N.W. 91, the court was considering civil jurisdiction to review an ecclesiastical decision, under a presbyterial form of church government, relating to the termination of a pastoral relationship, and at page 703, it was stated:

"`. . . To assume such jurisdiction would not only be an attempt by the civil courts to deal with matters of which they have no special knowledge, but it would be inconsistent with complete religious liberty untrammeled by State authority. On this principle the action of the church authorities in the deposition of pastors and the expulsion of members is final. Where, however, a church controversy involves rights growing out of a contract recognized by the civil law, or the right to the possession of property, civil tribunals cannot avoid adjudicating these rights under the law of the land, having in view, nevertheless, the implied obligations imputed to those parties to the controversy who have voluntarily submitted themselves to the authority of the church by connecting themselves with it. Therefore, where it is admitted, as in this case, that property belongs to a particular church, and the only question is whether the defendant claiming to be pastor should be excluded from its use, this court will only consider whether the church has ordered his exclusion, not whether it was right in so doing. Neither will the court as a civil tribunal undertake to determine whether the resolution directing exclusion was passed in accordance with the canon law of the church, except in so far as it may be necessary to do so in determining whether it was, in fact, the church that acted.' Morris Street Baptist Church v. Dart, 67 S.C. 338 ( 45 S.E. 753, 100 Am. St. Rep. 727)."

When Olston accepted the "call" to St. Paul's, all the canons of both the local Diocese and the national church became a part of his pastoral contract. Evangelical Lutheran St. Paul's Congregation v. Hass, supra; Watson v. Jones, supra. This includes both local Canon 40 and national Canon 45. Olston contends Canon 45, and not Canon 40, applies. Section 4, Canon 45, states:

"This Canon shall not apply in any Diocese or Missionary District which has made, or shall hereafter make, provision by Canon upon this subject, nor in contravention of any right of any Rector, Minister, Parish, Congregation, or Vestry under the law of the Civil Authority."

The Diocese of Milwaukee has, through Canon 40, made "provision by Canon upon this subject." Therefore, Canon 45 does not apply and plaintiff-appellant's contentions must fail. Canon 40 sets out in detail the procedure and authority for the termination of a pastoral relationship.

In the early stages of the dispute, Olston, himself, stated that Canon 40 was controlling. The trial court found as "undisputed facts" that the church followed these procedures and gave Olston full and fair notice and an opportunity to be present with attorney on more than one occasion at the hearings; that Olston chose not to attend or defend himself. These findings are supported by the record. He cannot now raise his defenses in a civil tribunal. The trial court properly granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment.

Finally, we consider the issue of damages. Sec. 263.37, Stats., as it pertains to pleading libel and slander, states in part:

". . . it shall be sufficient to state generally that the same was published or spoken concerning the plaintiff, . . ."

The trial court found that the pleading did not set forth a cause of action based on either slander or libel. This determination is correct. The plaintiff-appellant has not alleged the particular defamatory words alleged to have been spoken, that the words were false, or claimed any special damages. No cause of action is stated. Lathan v. Journal Co. (1966), 30 Wis.2d 146, 140 N.W.2d 417; Schubert v. Richter (1896), 92 Wis. 199, 66 N.W. 107; Born v. Rosenow (1893), 84 Wis. 620, 54 N.W. 1089.

Any other areas of potential damages are not properly before this court, and it is not to be implied from this opinion that a cause of action for such damages could be stated. The issue is not presented, and we do not reach it.

By the Court. — Judgment affirmed.

Summaries of

Olston v. Hallock

Supreme Court of Wisconsin
Oct 3, 1972
201 N.W.2d 35 (Wis. 1972)

In Olston, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that, under the clause, the decision of an Episcopal diocese to discharge a priest because of "differences" between the priest and the congregation was "outside the province of judicial review."

Summary of this case from L.L.N. v. Clauder
Case details for

Olston v. Hallock

Case Details

Full title:OLSTON, Appellant, v. HALLOCK, Bishop, and others, Respondents

Court:Supreme Court of Wisconsin

Date published: Oct 3, 1972


201 N.W.2d 35 (Wis. 1972)
201 N.W.2d 35

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