For units in the United States and Canada, the term administration office in this section refers to Church headquarters in Salt Lake City.
For units outside the United States and Canada, the term administration office refers to the Presiding Bishopric administration office or service center that serves the unit.
In this section, references to transgressors are in the masculine gender but also include the feminine.
Purposes of Church Discipline
The purposes of Church discipline are (1) to save the souls of transgressors, (2) to protect the innocent, and (3) to safeguard the purity, integrity, and good name of the Church. These purposes are accomplished through private counsel and caution, informal probation, formal probation, disfellowshipment, and excommunication (see pages 93-95).
Save the Souls of Transgressors
When a person sins, the demands of eternal justice require repentance or punishment (see Alma 42:13-22; D&C 19:16-18). The first purpose of Church discipline is to save the souls of transgressors by helping them repent (see D&C 1:31-32; 19:13-20; 42:37; 64:12-13). When they repent, God forgives them, granting them mercy through the Atonement of Jesus Christ (see Alma 42:23; D&C 58:42). Through this process a person may once again become clean and. worthy to inherit the kingdom of God (see 3 Nephi 27:19; Moses 6:57).
Church discipline can facilitate repentance by helping transgressors recognize and forsake sin, seek forgiveness, make restitution, and demonstrate a renewed commitment to keep the commandments. Informal Church discipline often is adequate for this purpose (see pages 93-94). However, in some instances the only way to encourage true repentance is to convene a disciplinary council (formerly called a Church court) and consider formal discipline (see pages 94-95). Without formal discipline, some transgressors may never experience the change of behavior and change of heart necessary to qualify them for redemption through the Atonement, for "none but the truly penitent are saved" (Alma 42:24).
Protect the Innocent
The second purpose of Church discipline is to protect the innocent. With inspiration, a priesthood leader should act to protect Church members when a transgressor poses a physical or spiritual threat to them, such as by physical harm, sexual abuse, drug misuse, fraud, or apostasy (see Alma 5:59-60).
Safeguard the Integrity of the Church
The third purpose of Church discipline is to safeguard the purity, integrity, and good name of the Church. Consequently, transgressions that significantly impair the good name or moral influence of the Church may require the action of a disciplinary council.
Responsibility for Church Discipline
God does not overlook sin, and His servants cannot ignore evidence of serious transgressions (see Mosiah 26:29; D&C 1:31). Stake presidents, bishops, mission presidents, district presidents, and branch presidents are called and set apart to be judges in Israel (see D&C 107:72-74). They are to "judge ... by the testimony of the just, . - . according to the laws of the kingdom which are given by the prophets of God" (D&C 58:18).
Church leaders are to help members avoid transgression. If a member commits a serious transgression, leaders administer Church discipline in a spirit of love so it can bless the life of the transgressor. To do this, leaders must be guided and inspired by the Lord.
Church discipline is administered in the ward that has the transgressor's membership record (see page 92 for exceptions). Church leaders' responsibilities for initiating and administering Church discipline are outlined in the following paragraphs.
The stake president has authority over the Church discipline of all members in a stake. However, bishops normally administer Church discipline unless evidence indicates that a person who holds the Melchizedek Priesthood is likely to be excommunicated. In that case, the stake president convenes the disciplinary council.
The high council participates whenever a stake president convenes a disciplinary council (see pages 97,99-100, and 105).
The bishop administers most Church discipline. He has authority for the discipline of all members in his ward, except the excommunication of a member who holds the Melchizedek Priesthood.
The bishop must confer with the stake president and obtain his approval before convening a disciplinary council. If evidence indicates that a Melchizedek Priesthood holder is likely to be excommunicated, the bishop immediately transfers the matter to the stake president.
Branch President in a Stake
A branch president in a stake may administer Church discipline as authorized by the stake president. He may receive general authorization to administer informal Church discipline. He must receive authorization in each case to convene a disciplinary council and administer formal discipline.
If evidence indicates that a Melchizedek Priesthood holder is likely to be excommunicated, the branch president immediately transfers the matter to the stake president. If a branch disciplinary council recommends excommunication of a member who does not hold the Melchizedek Priesthood, the stake president's approval is required before the decision is final.
The mission president administers or oversees Church discipline of members in mission branches and districts. If time or distance prevents him from personally convening a disciplinary council for one of these members, he may authorize three Melchizedek Priesthood holders to convene it as outlined on page 98. If this disciplinary council recommends excommunication, the mission president's approval is required before the decision is final.
The mission president also administers Church discipline for full-time missionaries who commit serious transgressions in the mission field. Before convening a disciplinary council for a full-time missionary, the mission president reviews the matter with a member of the Area Presidency and must receive authorization from a General Authority in the Missionary Department (see page 86).
District President and Branch President in a Mission
A district president or branch president in a mission may administer Church discipline as authorized by the mission president. The guidelines under "Branch President in a Stake" apply, with the Mission president fulfilling the same responsibilities as the stake president.
Jurisdiction in Special Circumstances
If a member who needs Church discipline moves to another ward before action is taken, the bishops of both wards consult to determine where the disciplinary action should be taken. They consider such matters as the accessibility of key witnesses and the need for continuing efforts to encourage repentance and restoration to full fellowship. If the bishops determine that the bishop of the former ward should take the disciplinary action, he retains the membership record until the action is taken. Otherwise he transfers the membership record and confidentially informs the bishop of the current ward of the circumstances that warrant Church discipline.
If a member is living away from home temporarily (attending school or serving in the military, for example), his bishop at the place of temporary residence may counsel him or place him on informal probation. However, this bishop should consult the bishop of the home ward before initiating formal disciplinary action.
If a full-time missionary commits a serious transgression that is not revealed until after he has been released, the bishop of his current ward confers with the stake president and mission president. If evidence indicates that the member is likely to be excommunicated, the stake president convenes a disciplinary council. Otherwise he may authorize the bishop to convene a disciplinary council.
Repentance requires that all sins be confessed to the Lord. "By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins-behold, he will confess them and forsake them" (D&C 58:43). Members also should confess to their presiding officer if they have committed serious transgressions. Members who voluntarily and completely confess transgressions demonstrate that they have begun the process of repentance.
Presiding officers should respond to confessions with love and understanding. If a sin that is confessed may be serious enough to require formal Church discipline, the presiding officer explains this to the member.
Presiding officers should encourage members to seek the Lord's forgiveness, forsake the transgression, and make restitution.
As part of the restitution required for repentance, transgressors should do all they can to restore what their transgression has taken from others. They also should seek forgiveness from the people they have wronged. The repentance of a married person who 'is involved in a sexual transgression usually should include confessing to and seeking forgiveness from his spouse. A young unmarried person who commits a sexual transgression should be encouraged to inform his parents.
Repentance may include disclosure to government authorities. If confidential information indicates that a member has violated applicable law, the bishop or stake president should urge him to report the matter to appropriate government authorities. To obtain guidance on local laws that govern reporting abuse, see the instructions on page 158.
Disclosure of the identity of others who participated in a transgression should be encouraged as part of the repentance process, especially when this can help Church leaders encourage the repentance of those participants.
Disclosure of the identity of others who participated in a transgression may be required when it is necessary to restore or protect persons who have been or may be seriously injured as a result of the transgression. For example, a sexual transgressor who has been exposed or who has exposed others to a sexually transmitted disease must make the disclosures necessary to protect others. Predators may need to be identified to protect potential victims. A transgressor who holds or has held a prominent position of trust may need to be identified to Church leaders for the spiritual protection of members.
A bishop interviews any member of his ward who is accused of a serious transgression. If the member denies an accusation that the bishop has reliable evidence to support, the bishop (or the stake president if he will preside over the disciplinary council) gathers further evidence that would confirm or disprove the accusation. The presiding officer may conduct the investigation himself, or he may assign two reliable Melchizedek Priesthood holders to do so. He instructs them not to use methods that are unbecoming to priesthood holders or that could result in legal action. For example, they must not use electronic surveillance devices, hidden cameras, or tape recorders. They also must not maintain a watch on a member's home.
Bishops, stake presidents, and counselors in a stake presidency have a solemn duty to keep confidential all information that members give them in confessions and interviews. The same duty of confidentiality applies to all who take part in Church disciplinary councils. It includes what is said in the presentation of evidence and in deliberations. Confidential information must not be shared with anyone except authorized ecclesiastical leaders.
Information received in a member's confession cannot be used as evidence in a disciplinary council without the member's consent. When necessary, a bishop attempts to persuade the member to give this consent. He explains that refusal reflects a lack of contrition and repentance, preventing justice and mercy from operating fully for the good of the transgressor. If consent is not given, the bishop can still impose informal discipline on the basis of the confession. A lack of consent to use a confession in evidence does not prevent a disciplinary council from proceeding on the basis of other evidence.
If a bishop learns that a Church member outside his ward may have been involved in a serious transgression, he informs that member's bishop confidentially. When members of different wards transgress together, and when one has disclosed to his bishop the identity of the other transgressor, the bishop to whom the disclosure was made consults with the bishop of the other member.
If civil authorities challenge the confidentiality required of a clergyman, the priesthood leader who is challenged should seek legal advice from the Office of Legal Services at Church headquarters (telephone 1-801-240-6301 or 1-800-453-3860, extension 6301) or from local legal counsel in Church area offices.
Informal Church Discipline
A bishop or branch president normally administers informal Church discipline. His counselors do not participate, and no disciplinary council is held. Except for the most serious transgressions, informal discipline may be sufficient for genuinely repentant persons (especially those who have confessed voluntarily), first offenders, those who have not violated temple covenants by their transgression, and those with significant mitigating circumstances. (See D&C 42:25-26 and pages 103-4.)
Informal Church discipline includes (1) private counsel and caution and (2) informal probation.
Private Counsel and Caution
Private counsel and caution may be sufficient discipline for members who have committed minor transgressions and are genuinely repentant.
Presiding officers counsel members to resist temptation and help them take preventive action to resist specific temptations. For example, such counseling often helps members who have committed minor moral transgressions guard against major transgressions. In addition, members who are courting, are having difficulty in their marriages, or are separated or divorced are often protected and strengthened by counseling designed to help them resist temptation. Presiding officers need not wait for members to seek such help, but may call them in for counseling.
For more information about counseling, see pages 21-22.
Informal probation is a means for a presiding officer to restrict some of a transgressor's privileges of Church membership in ways that the officer specifies. Such restrictions may include suspending the right to partake of the sacrament, hold a Church position, exercise the priesthood, and enter a temple. If the privilege of entering a temple is suspended, a member should give his temple recommend to the presiding officer for the period of suspension. Wisely administered and humbly received, informal probation can be effective in helping a transgressor repent.
In less serious cases, a presiding officer may determine that a member needs a more active rather than a less active exercise of the privileges of Church membership. In these cases, informal probation may include positive conditions such as regular Church attendance, regular prayer, and reading selected scriptures or Church literature.
A bishop normally does not inform anyone of a decision to place a member on informal probation. No official record is made of such decisions, but the bishop may make private notes for his own use. He should keep these notes secure and destroy them after the probation concludes. If a bishop is released or if the member moves to a new ward before informal probation ends, the bishop may inform the new bishop to the extent necessary for the new bishop to supervise the remaining probation.
When a member who is on informal probation makes specified progress and meets prescribed conditions, the presiding officer may end the probation. If the member does not make this progress and meet the conditions, additional disciplinary action may be needed.
Formal Church Discipline
Formal Church discipline is administered in a disciplinary council (see "Disciplinary Councils," pages 95-103). This discipline is ecclesiastical, not civil or criminal. It can affect only a member's standing in the Church (see D&C 134: 10).
At times, formal discipline is the only way to help a transgressor repent, to protect the innocent, or to safeguard the purity and good name of the Church. A presiding officer who is unwilling to proceed in such cases is not fulfilling his responsibilities as a common judge. Presiding officers should approach formal discipline with a prayerful desire to help, not to condemn.
Formal Church discipline includes formal probation, disfellowshipment, and excommunication.
Formal probation is an action taken by a disciplinary council to restrict or suspend some of a transgressor's privileges of Church membership in ways that the council specifies. These restrictions could include or go beyond those imposed by informal probation. Positive conditions similar to those imposed by informal probation could also be prescribed.
When a member on formal probation makes specified progress and meets prescribed conditions, the presiding officer may convene another disciplinary council to consider ending the probation (see pages 104-6). If the member does not make this progress and meet the conditions, the disciplinary council may continue probation or take more severe disciplinary action.
A person who is disfellowshipped is still a member of the Church but is no longer in good standing. Disfellowshipment is a severe action that may be adequate for all but the most serious transgressions.
A person who is disfellowshipped may not hold a temple recommend, serve in a Church position, or exercise the priesthood in any way. He should be encouraged to attend public Church meetings if his conduct is orderly, but he may not give a talk, offer
a public prayer, partake of the sacrament, or participate in the sustaining of Church officers. The presiding officer may impose additional restrictions, such
as staying away from pornographic materials and other evil influences. He also may impose positive conditions such as regular Church attendance, regular prayer, and reading selected scriptures or Church literature.
Disfellowshipped members are encouraged to pay tithes and offerings, to continue wearing temple garments if endowed, and to seek a return to fellowship in the Church through sincere repentance and righteous living.
Disfellowshipment is intended to be temporary but usually lasts at least one year. When a member shows true repentance and satisfies the conditions imposed, the presiding officer may convene another disciplinary council to consider restoring him to full fellowship (see pages 104-6). If a member does not repent, the disciplinary council may continue disfellowshipment or consider excommunication.
A person who is excommunicated is no longer a member of the Church. Excommunication is the most severe Church disciplinary action. As directed by the Spirit, it may be necessary for:
A person who is excommunicated does not enjoy any of Church membership. He may not wear temple garments or pay tithes and offerings. He may attend public Church meetings if his conduct is orderly, but his participation in such meetings is limited the same as for disfellowshipped members.
If a person shows true repentance and satisfies the conditions imposed while -he is excommunicated, he may be readmitted by baptism. The readmission process is explained on pages 104-6.
For information about the effects of excommunication on temple sealings, see pages 74 and 76.
Because formal Church discipline is ecclesiastical, not civil or criminal, court procedures of the state or nation do not apply. However, procedures in a Church disciplinary council must be fair and considerate of the feelings of all who participate.
When a Disciplinary Council Is Mandatory
A disciplinary council must be held when evidence suggests that a member may have committed any of the following transgressions.
As used here, murder refers to the deliberate and unjustified taking of human life. It requires excommunication. Abortion is not defined as murder for this purpose. If death was caused by carelessness or by defense of self or others, or if mitigating circumstances prevail (such as deficient mental capacity or wartime conditions), the taking of a human life might not be defined as murder. Bishops refer questions on specific cases to the stake president. He may direct questions to the Office of the First Presidency if necessary
As used here, incest refers to sexual relations between a parent and a natural, adopted, or foster child or stepchild. A grandparent is considered the same as a parent. Incest also refers to sexual relations between brothers and sisters. It almost always requires excommunication. Bishops refer questions on specific cases to the stake president. He may direct questions to the Office of the First Presidency if necessary.
As used here, child abuse refers to a sexual offense against or serious physical abuse of a child. If priesthood leaders learn of or suspect child abuse, they should follow the instructions on pages 157-58.
As used here, apostasy refers to members who:
Priesthood leaders must take disciplinary action against apostates to protect Church members. The Savior taught the Nephites that they should continue to minister to a transgressor, but "if he repent not he shall not be numbered among my people, that he may not destroy my people" (3 Nephi 18:31; see also Mosiah 26:36).
Total inactivity in the Church or attending or holding membership in another church does not constitute apostasy.
Serious Transgression While Holding a Prominent Church Position
A disciplinary council must be held for a member who commits a serious transgression while holding a prominent Church position, such as Area Authority Seventy; temple, mission, or stake president; patriarch; or bishop. As used here, serious transgression is defined as a deliberate and major offense against morality. It includes (but is not limited to) attempted murder, rape, forcible sexual abuse, spouse abuse, intentional serious physical injury of others, adultery, fornication, homosexual relations, deliberate abandonment of family responsibilities, robbery, burglary, theft, embezzlement, sale of illegal drugs, fraud, perjury, and false swearing.
Transgressor Who Is a Predator
A disciplinary council must be held for a member who commits a serious transgression that shows him to be a predator with tendencies that present any kind of serious threat to other persons.
Pattern of Serious Transgressions
A disciplinary council must be held for a member who demonstrates a pattern of serious transgressions, especially if prior transgressions have resulted in Church discipline.
Serious Transgression That Is Widely Known
A disciplinary council must be held for a member who commits a serious transgression (as defined under "Serious Transgression While Holding a Prominent Church Position" on this page) that is widely known.
When a Disciplinary Council May Be Necessary
Formal Church discipline may be necessary for any member who commits a serious transgression as defined under "Serious Transgression While Holding a Prominent Church Position" on this page.
Presiding officers review carefully the circumstances of members involved in abortions. Formal Church discipline may be necessary for members who submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for abortions. However, Church discipline should not be considered for members who were involved in an abortion before they were baptized or because (1) the pregnancy resulted from forcible rape or incest, (2) the life or health of the mother was in jeopardy, or (3) the fetus was known to have severe defects that would not allow the baby to survive beyond birth (see page 157). Bishops refer questions on specific cases to the stake president. He may direct questions to the Office of the First Presidency if necessary.
Church leaders counsel against elective transsexual operations. If a member is contemplating such an operation, a presiding officer should inform him of this counsel and advise him that the operation may be cause for formal Church discipline. Bishops refer questions on specific cases to the stake president. He may direct questions to the Office of the First Presidency if necessary.
Request for Name Removal
If a member requests that his name be removed from the records of the Church, a disciplinary council may still be necessary if he has committed a serious transgression. Name removal should not be used as a substitute for or alternative to Church discipline. For instructions in these circumstances, see page 130.
When a Disciplinary Council Is Not Necessary
A disciplinary council normally is not necessary in the following instances.
Failure to Comply with Some Church Standards
A disciplinary council should not be held to discipline or threaten members who do not comply with the Word of Wisdom or whose transgressions consist of omissions, such as failure to pay tithing, inactivity in the Church, or inattention to Church duties.
Business Failures or Nonpayment of Debts
Leaders or members should not use the threat of Church discipline as a form of harassment or as a device to settle business controversies. Business failures and nonpayment of debts are not reasons for convening a disciplinary council. However, a disciplinary council may be held for deceptive practices, false representations, or other forms of fraud or dishonesty in business transactions.
Disciplinary councils should not attempt to resolve disputes over property rights or other civil controversies. However, if such a dispute involves accusations that a member has committed acts that would justify Church discipline, the accusations should be treated like any other accusations of transgression.
IF Church leaders are asked to help settle civil disputes, they should act as unofficial, private advisers and should not involve the Church.
Passage of Time
If a member voluntarily confesses a serious transgression that was committed long ago and his faithfulness and service in the intervening years have demonstrated full reformation and repentance, a disciplinary council often is unnecessary, See also "Time between Transgression and Confession," page 103.
A disciplinary council can reach any of the following decisions:
Leaders Who Are to Participate
Stake Disciplinary Councils
All three members of the stake presidency and all twelve members of the high council participate in a stake disciplinary council. If a counselor in the stake presidency is unable to participate, the stake president calls a member of the high council to take the counselor's place. If a high councilor is unable to participate, the stake president calls a high priest in the stake to take the high councilor's place. If the stake president is unable to participate, the First Presidency may authorize one of his counselors to preside in his place. If filling one vacancy creates another, the presiding authority fills it as prescribed in this paragraph.
Ward Disciplinary Councils
All three members of the bishopric participate in a ward disciplinary council. If the bishop is unable to participate, he refers the case to the stake president. The bishop may not assign a counselor to convene or preside over a disciplinary council. If a counselor in the bishopric is unable to participate, the bishop may ask a high priest in the ward to take the counselor's place. If a high priest is unavailable, the bishop refers the case to the stake president.
The bishop always consults with the stake president and obtains his approval before convening a disciplinary council.
Branch Disciplinary Councils in a Stake
A branch president in a stake may convene a disciplinary council when authorized by the stake president. All three members of the branch presidency participate in the disciplinary council.
Mission Disciplinary Councils
When a mission president holds a disciplinary council for members or full-time missionaries under his jurisdiction, he appoints two Melchizedek Priest
hood holders to assist him. A disciplinary council in a mission follows the procedures and exercises the authority specified for a disciplinary council 'in a stake, except that a high council does not participate.
If time or distance prevents a mission president from personally holding a disciplinary council for a member under his jurisdiction, he may authorize three Melchizedek Priesthood holders to convene a mission disciplinary council. Normally the presiding officer is the member's district president or branch president (see "District and Branch Disciplinary Councils in a Mission" below).
A mission president must preside over disciplinary councils for full-time missionaries in his mission.
District and Branch Disciplinary Councils in a Mission
A district president or branch president in a mission may convene a disciplinary council when authorized by the mission president. A district council does not participate in disciplinary councils.
General Instructions about Participation
If a transgressor objects to the participation of a counselor in the bishopric or stake presidency, the presiding officer evaluates the objection. If the presiding officer concludes that the objection is reasonable in fact or appearance, the counselor should not participate. If the transgressor objects to the bishop, the disciplinary matter must be referred to the stake president. If the transgressor objects to the stake president, or if the stake president feels that he cannot be impartial in the matter, he consults the Office of the First Presidency.
If a member of a bishopric, stake presidency, or high council or a clerk has a legal duty because of his occupation (such as a law enforcement officer) to report to government authorities facts that are likely to be disclosed in a disciplinary council, he should not participate.
Notice and Scheduling
Presiding officers should not schedule a disciplinary council until (1) they have had adequate time to determine the relevant facts and (2) they and the transgressor and the aggrieved parties have had adequate time to give unhurried consideration to the consequences of the transgression.
Notice of a Disciplinary Council to Consider Imposing Church Discipline
The presiding officer gives a member written notice of a disciplinary council that will be held in his behalf. This notice should be addressed to the member by his full name and signed by the presiding officer. It should state:
If the notice cannot be delivered in person, it may be sent by registered or certified mail, with a return receipt requested.
A member who is incarcerated when the council is to be held is notified as specified in the preceding paragraphs, with one exception: since he would not be able to attend, he should not be invited. However, the letter should invite him to send evidence in his behalf, including a written response about the crime with which he has been charged and, if applicable, convicted. The letter also may invite him to tell how he feels about continued fellowship or membership in the Church.
Notice of a Disciplinary Council to Consider ending Church Discipline
Councils to Consider Imposing Church Discipline
The stake president, bishop, mission president, district president, or branch president conducts the
disciplinary council. He also rules on the procedures that are followed and the evidence that is presented.
A clerk records the proceedings of the council as a basis for completing the Report of Church Disciplinary Action form, but he does not participate in the discussion or decision.
The presiding officer helps the member prepare for the disciplinary council by explaining its purpose and procedures. If the member has confessed and given consent, the presiding officer explains that the confession will be used in the council. He also explains the consequences of the decisions the council may reach.
Immediately before the council begins, the presiding officer tells his counselors (and the high council if it is a stake disciplinary council) whom it is for and what the reported misconduct is. if necessary, he explains the procedures of the council to these leaders. The person is then invited into the meeting and introduced.
The council is opened with prayer. Then the presiding officer or someone designated by him states the reported misconduct and asks the member to respond by admitting or denying it.
If the member denies the reported misconduct, the presiding officer or someone designated by him presents the evidence of the misconduct. This evidence includes the written or oral statements of witnesses, reliable documents, and the substance of the member's confession (if he has confessed and given consent), The member must be given an opportunity to question the witnesses against him. (If witnesses are unable to attend, see page 102.)
The member then presents his response. He may bring in witnesses one at a time, submit other relevant evidence, comment on the evidence, and make any other statements he wants to make.
Witnesses should be Church members unless the presiding officer has determined in advance that a nonmember witness will respect the purposes and procedures of a Church disciplinary council. Witnesses wait in a separate room until they give their evidence. The presiding officer asks them not to talk with each other about the matter either before or after they testify.
The presiding officer and his counselors may ask questions of the member or witnesses in an orderly, polite manner, avoiding argument. Questions are to be brief and limited to the essential facts of the case.
When all relevant matters have been presented, the presiding officer excuses the member and, with his counselors, prayerfully deliberates over what action to take. The presiding officer is the judge, and he makes the decision through inspiration. if his counselors have a different opinion, he listens and seeks to resolve the differences so the decision can be unanimous.
If there is not enough evidence to justify formal Church discipline but the presiding officer feels that the matter should not be concluded at that time by a decision of no action, he may adjourn the council temporarily to seek additional evidence.
After reaching a decision, the presiding officer may invite the person back into the council meeting to inform him of it. If the decision is formal probation, disfellowshipment, or excommunication, the presiding officer explains the terms and conditions imposed by the decision, tells the person in a spirit of love how to overcome those restrictions, and offers other appropriate instruction and counsel.
If the person holds a valid temple recommend and the right to enter the temple has been withdrawn, he gives the recommend to the presiding officer at this time, unless he has already done so.
The presiding officer explains the person's right to appeal (see page 101) and closes the meeting with prayer.
If the person does not attend the council, the presiding officer informs him of the decision and gives instruction and counsel by meeting with him or by other means if necessary.
Disciplinary councils should not be recorded on videotape or audiotape.
Councils to Consider Ending Church Discipline
Stake disciplinary councils always include the high council. The basic principles governing the participation of the high council, including the casting of lots to determine the order of speaking, are stated in Doctrine and Covenants 102:12-23.
The following paragraphs provide additional instructions on questions that have arisen as stake presidencies and high councils have applied these principles. For example, it should be remembered that a Church disciplinary council is not organized as a criminal trial and does not follow the procedures of such a trial. The high council is not a jury.
Except as stated in the following paragraphs, up to the time of deliberation the procedures for a stake
disciplinary council are the same as those prescribed for other disciplinary councils.
During the presentation of evidence, any member of the high council may ask questions in an orderly, polite manner, avoiding argument with the member or witnesses. Questions are to be brief and limited to the essential facts of the case.
After all the evidence has been presented, the appointed high councilors present their views of the matter. They are not prosecutors or defenders. They are councilors, responsible to see that the evidence is examined in its true light before the council. Each is to speak "according to equity and justice" (D&C 102:16). One-half of those appointed to speak are responsible "to stand up in behalf of the accused, and prevent insult and injustice" (D&C 102:17).
The accused member and the accuser (if any) are then given another opportunity to speak, after which they are excused from the council room.
After hearing any additional comments from the high council, the stake presidency withdraws from the council room to confer in private. After consultation and prayer, the stake president makes the decision and invites his counselors to sustain it.
The stake presidency then returns and announces the decision to the high council. The stake president asks the high councilors as a group to sustain his decision. The high council cannot veto the decision; it is binding even if it is not sustained unanimously. However, if one or more high councilors object to the decision, the stake president should make every effort to resolve the concerns and achieve unanimity. He may recall witnesses for further questioning. If necessary, the disciplinary council may again review the evidence, but not in the presence of the member.
Written Notice of the Decision
After a Council Has Imposed Church Discipline
The presiding officer ensures that a person who is placed on formal probation, disfellowshipped, or excommunicated by a disciplinary council receives prompt written notice of the decision and its effects, even if he has been advised orally. This notice should consist of a general statement that the person has been placed on formal probation, disfellowshipped, or excommunicated for conduct contrary to the laws and order of the Church. It also could include counsel to help the person come back into full fellowship in the Church. The presiding officer does not give the person a copy of the Report of Church Disciplinary Action.
After a Council Has Ended Church Discipline
When announcing Church discipline, leaders must consider the feelings of the transgressor's innocent family members and the needs of innocent potential victims,
A decision to place a member on informal probation is not announced.
A decision to place a member on formal probation may be announced to those who need to know if the presiding officer determines that an announcement is necessary.
A decision of disfellowshipment or excommunication is announced only to those who need to know. The principles and procedures in the following paragraphs govern such announcements.
No announcement is made if a decision is being appealed, unless the presiding officer of the disciplinary council concludes that an announcement pending appeal is necessary to protect potential victims, to support the healing of victims (although victims' names are * not announced), or to safeguard the name of the Church.
The bishop announces the decision in confidence in ward priesthood executive committee meeting to guide priesthood officers who might otherwise consider the disciplined person for Church service, offering prayers, or giving talks or lessons.
The bishop advises the ward Relief Society president in confidence when a member of the Relief Society has been disciplined or was a victim.
If a case concerns (1) the preaching of false doctrine, (2) a transgressor whose predatory tendencies seriously threaten other persons, or (3) other flagrant transgressions (such as ridicule of Church leaders, plural marriage, or cultist teachings to attract a following), then, with the approval of the stake president, the bishop announces the decision in meetings of the elders quorum, high priests group, and Relief
Society in his ward. In such cases the stake president also may need to authorize a broader announcement,
such as in a stake priesthood meeting or to the Melchizedek Priesthood brethren and Relief Society sisters of other wards in the stake. In some cases the
presiding officer may find it beneficial to notify some or all of the victims and, when necessary, their families that the transgressor has been the subject of a disciplinary council.
When an announcement of Church discipline is necessary, it is limited to a general statement that the person has been disfellowshipped or excommunicated for conduct contrary to the laws and order of the Church. The officer who makes the announcement asks those who hear it not to discuss it with anyone. Announcements of disfellowshipment or excommunication do not require a sustaining vote.
To dispel rumors, a bishop or stake president may need to announce that a disciplinary council considered charges against a member but that no action was taken.
A person who has been excommunicated, disfellowshipped, or placed on formal probation by a disciplinary council may appeal the decision. An appeal of the action of a ward disciplinary council is to the stake presidency (and high council). An appeal of the action of a stake disciplinary council is to the First Presidency. An appeal of the action of a branch or district disciplinary council is to the mission president. An appeal of the action of a disciplinary council presided over by a mission president is to the First Presidency.
If a person who has been disciplined wants to appeal the decision, he should specify in writing the alleged errors or unfairness in the procedure or decision. The person should present the appeal within 30 days to the presiding officer of the disciplinary council that made the decision. If a bishop or branch president presided over the council, he forwards the appeal with the Report of Church Disciplinary Action and other relevant documents to the stake or mission president. If the stake or mission president presided over the council, he forwards the materials to the First Presidency.
The decision on the appeal may be to (1) let the initial decision stand, (2) modify the initial decision, or (3) direct the disciplinary council to rehear the matter. In addition, the First Presidency may refer an appeal to another priesthood officer or body for review (with or without receiving additional evidence) and resubmittal to the First Presidency with a recommendation.
Reports on Disciplinary Councils
The presiding officer asks a clerk to summarize the proceedings of the disciplinary council on a Report of Church Disciplinary Action form. The form provides instructions on how to complete it, whether to retain or submit it, and how to submit it.
Membership Records After Discipline Has Been Imposed
Members Placed on Formal Probation
Formal probation is not noted on a membership record. However, the record may be annotated if a person is placed on formal probation for one of the reasons explained on page 129.
Disfellowshipment is noted on a person's membership record. The administration office makes this note and provides an updated record after receiving the Report of Church Disciplinary Action.
If a disfellowshipped member moves, the bishop transfers the membership record to the new ward. The record will notify the new bishop that the person has been disfellowshipped The bishop may also contact the bishop of the new ward to communicate relevant information about the disciplinary action.
When a person is excommunicated, his name is removed from the membership records of the Church. The administration office takes this action after receiving the Report of Church Disciplinary Action.
Although a person who is excommunicated no longer has a membership record, the presiding officer of the disciplinary council asks for his consent to retain his name and address so Church leaders can continue to assist him. The presiding officer does this with genuine love and concern at a time when the excommunicated person is most likely to consent. This may be immediately after the person is told of the excommunication decision or at a later time. If the person consents, this is noted on the Report of Church Disciplinary Action.
If an excommunicated person moves after consenting to have the Church maintain contact with him, the bishop contacts the bishop of the new ward, giving him the person's name and address and communicating relevant information about the disciplinary action.
If an excommunicated person moves after not giving consent to have the Church maintain contact with him, the bishop contacts the bishop of the new ward, identifies the person involved, and indicates that a disciplinary council has been held and that the person has requested that no further information be shared and no contact be made. The request of
the excommunicated person should be respected until I there is a change of mind.
Records with Annotations
Conduct Examined in Civil or Criminal Courts
Normally a disciplinary council is not held to consider conduct being examined by a criminal or civil court until the court has reached a final judgment and until the period of appeal has expired or the appeal has been rejected. However, priesthood leaders should proceed with informal or formal Church discipline when evidence of transgression is available and they have persuasive reasons not to wait.
Criminal charges may or may not necessitate Church discipline. Acts that constitute serious crimes under local law normally would be considered serious transgressions. However, minor offenses under local law, such as traffic violations or unintentional failure to comply with technical government regulations, normally would not. Criminal charges that have serious moral overtones may warrant Church discipline even if a criminal court dismisses these charges for technical reasons. Acts such as fornication, adultery, or abortion are serious transgressions though they may not be crimes under local law.
When a member is convicted of a crime or found guilty in a civil action for fraud or other dishonest or immoral conduct, the judgment of the criminal or civil court is a sufficient basis for holding a Church disciplinary council. A finding of guilt in a court may be considered as evidence of guilt for purposes of Church discipline. Reliable evidence submitted to a court may also be considered in a Church disciplinary council.
To avoid implicating the Church in legal matters to which it is not a party, leaders should avoid testifying in civil or criminal cases reviewing the conduct of members over whom they preside. For specific guidelines, see page 151.
Church leaders should not try to persuade alleged victims or other witnesses either to testify or not to testify in criminal or civil court proceedings.
Notice of Criminal Court Conviction
If a member has been convicted of a crime involving conduct that might threaten the well-being of other persons or of the Church, the presiding officer of the Church disciplinary council should promptly send to the Office of the First Presidency a written statement about the nature of the offense and the sentence imposed by the criminal court, even if a disciplinary council does not impose formal discipline.
Reporting Embezzlement of Church Funds
If a person is disciplined for embezzling Church funds, the presiding officer should report it as outlined on page 139.
Party or Witness Unable to Attend
If a party or essential witness is unable to attend a disciplinary council, the presiding officer invites him to submit a written statement. Such statements may be considered as evidence. When necessary, the party or witness may be questioned further, in writing or orally.
If a witness will not likely be available for a possible future disciplinary council, the presiding officer invites him to write his testimony for use when needed.
Evidence When Adultery Is Charged
If a person who is accused of adultery denies the charge and the matter is being considered in a disciplinary council, revelation requires that "every word shall be established against him or her by two witnesses of the church" (D&C 42:80). "Two witnesses" means two separate sources of evidence. This could include the personal evidence of a participant and some other source of evidence of the member's guilt.
Questions about Procedure
If a bishop is unsure of the procedures to follow in administering Church discipline, he consults his stake president. If a branch president is unsure of procedures, he consults his stake or mission president. A stake or mission president should refer unresolved procedural questions to the Office of the First Presidency.
Questions about Decisions
Local presiding officers should not expect General Authorities to tell them how to decide difficult matters. Decisions on Church discipline are within the discretion and authority of local presiding officers as they prayerfully seek guidance from the Lord.
First Presidency Authority
The First Presidency has ultimate authority over all Church discipline. Decisions of the First Presidency take precedence despite any rules or procedures to the contrary
Considerations in Church Discipline
The following paragraphs list some of the factors that leaders may need to consider in reaching decisions on formal and informal Church discipline. These factors are listed in order from those that suggest stem discipline to those that suggest more lenient discipline. None of these factors dictates any particular decision. They are only aids to a decision that must be pursued prayerfully and guided by the Spirit of the Lord.
Violation of Covenants
If a transgressor has been endowed, he has made covenants to live a higher standard of behavior than applies to those who have not been endowed. Violating these covenants magnifies the seriousness of the transgression. Therefore, endowed persons who commit adultery or fornication (including homosexual relations) are subject to stern Church discipline.
Adultery is a more serious sexual transgression than fornication because adultery involves a violation of marriage covenants.
Position of Trust or Authority
If a transgressor occupied a position of trust or authority (such as parent, bishop, or teacher) that was violated by the transgression, the seriousness of the transgression is magnified. For example, incest is a most serious form of sexual transgression for a parent because it violates the sacred trust of parental authority. Embezzlement is a most serious form of theft because the transgressor has been trusted with funds; it is a particularly serious offense when it involves Church funds. See also "Serious Transgression While Holding a Prominent Church Position," page 96.
If a transgression that was previously confessed and seemingly forsaken is repeated, the repetition may be viewed as part of a, pattern of conduct, even though the earlier transgression has been resolved with Church authorities. As the Lord warned those he had forgiven, "Go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return" (D&C 82:7).
The seriousness of a transgression is measured in part by the number of sinful acts and the number of persons injured. The number of persons who are aware of the transgression also affects its seriousness.
Age, Maturity, and Experience
Presiding officers should consider a transgressor's age, maturity, and experience when administering Church discipline. The Lord revealed, "For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation" (D&C 82:3).
Leniency is often appropriate for those who are immature in the gospel. Leniency may also be appropriate for young members who are involved in a moral transgression if they forsake the sin and manifest sincere repentance. However, young members who persist in immoral conduct may require formal disciplinary action.
Interests of the Innocent
When administering and announcing discipline, presiding officers should consider the interests of innocent victims and the transgressor's innocent family members.
Time between Transgression and Confession
If a transgression occurred many years before it was confessed, the presiding officer carefully considers the intervening circumstances. If the sin was not repeated and the member has lived righteously in the interim, his conduct during the intervening time can show that he has forsaken the sin. In this instance, confession may complete rather than start the process of repentance.
Voluntary and complete confession demonstrates a repentant attitude, which may favor leniency. An admission of guilt after a person has been accused of or interviewed about a transgression is less indicative of repentance. A person who admits guilt when interviewed by a bishop shows greater repentance than one who tries to deceive and admits guilt only when confronted with evidence.
Evidence of Repentance
Normally, evidence of repentance is the most important single factor in determining how to accomplish the first purpose of Church discipline: saving the soul of the transgressor. Genuine repentance is demonstrated more reliably by righteous actions over a period of time than by intense sorrow during a single interview. Judgments about the adequacy of repentance require spiritual discernment. Factors to consider include the nature of the confession, depth of sorrow for the sin, success in forsaking the sin, strength of faith in Jesus Christ, faithfulness in obeying other commandments, truthful communications to Church officers, restitution to injured persons' obedience to legal requirements, and willingness to follow the direction of Church authorities.
The bishop's role as a common judge does not end when a member has been disciplined. It continues until the person returns to full fellowship and, when necessary, receives a restoration of blessings. Disciplinary action should be the first step on the way back to the full blessings of Church membership. Church leaders and members should be anxious to help a person who has been disciplined to repent so he can enjoy these blessings. The bishop oversees these efforts.
The time just after a person has been disciplined is difficult and critical for the person and his family. During this time, priesthood leaders and other Church members should be patient and sensitive to the needs of those involved and should give special encouragement and assistance. The bishop should interview the person frequently and, if necessary, his spouse.
The bishop sees that mature, caring home teachers and visiting teachers are assigned to a person who has been disfellowshipped or excommunicated and to his immediate family members. In some cases couples may be assigned. Home teachers and visiting teachers should make regular contacts and see that the person, his spouse, and other family members receive the counsel and fellowship they need during this critical period of anguish, repentance, and healing.
If a person who has been disciplined moves from the ward before he has returned to full fellowship and received a restoration of blessings, the bishop informs the person's new bishop of the discipline and what remains to bring the member back to full fellowship and blessings. The bishop makes this same contact for excommunicated persons who have consented to be assisted by Church leaders (see page 101 for guidelines in such situations).
Ending Formal Probation, Disfellowshipment, or Excommunication
Determine Jurisdiction and Participation
To consider ending formal probation, disfellowshipment, or excommunication, a presiding officer where the person currently lives must convene a disciplinary council. The council should have the same (or higher) level of ecclesiastical authority as the council that took the initial disciplinary action. For example:
Review the Proceedings of the Initial Council
The current presiding officer reviews the proceedings of the initial disciplinary council. These proceedings are summarized on the Report of Church Disciplinary Action form.
For disfellowshipped or excommunicated persons, the presiding officer requests a copy of the original report from the Office of the First Presidency.
For members on formal probation whose conduct has threatened the well-being of other persons or of the Church, the presiding officer obtains a copy of the report from the Office of the First Presidency. For other members on formal probation, the presiding officer obtains a copy of the report from the presiding officer of the unit where the initial disciplinary action was taken.
Interview the Person
The presiding officer interviews the person thoroughly to determine the strength of his faith in Jesus Christ, the extent of his repentance, and whether the
conditions specified in the initial disciplinary action have been met.
Determine Status of Civil or Criminal Court
Action (If Necessary)
If a person who has had Church discipline was convicted of a crime or found guilty in a civil action of fraud or other dishonest or immoral conduct, a disciplinary council should not be held to consider changing his Church status until he has fulfilled all terms and conditions of any sentence imposed by legal authorities. These conditions may include imprisonment, probation, parole, and fines or restitution. Exceptions require the approval of the First Presidency
Consult with the Presiding Officer Where Action
Was Taken (If Necessary)
If the presiding officer has questions or concerns as he reviews the report of the initial disciplinary council, he may consult with the presiding officer of the unit where the council was held to see if he can provide clarification.
When there is an aggrieved victim (such as for incest, child abuse, or spouse abuse) whose circumstances are known by the current presiding officer of the unit where the initial disciplinary action was taken, the disciplined person cannot return to full fellowship or be readmitted by baptism until his current presiding officer has consulted with the current presiding officer of that unit and obtained his opinion on the advisability of the proposed change of status.
Give Notice of the Disciplinary Council
The presiding officer notifies the person of the date, time, and place of the disciplinary council where his change of Church status will be considered so he can attend or submit a written statement if he desires.
Convene and Conduct the Disciplinary Council
The presiding officer convenes and conducts the disciplinary council. The person is invited into the room, the council is opened with prayer, and the presiding officer or someone designated by him states the purpose of the council. The presiding officer then asks the member questions about what he has done to repent and about his commitment to the Church and the strength of his testimony.
In a stake disciplinary council that is convened to consider ending Church discipline, the role of the high council is much the same as outlined on pages 99-100, but it is not necessary for high councilors to draw lots or to speak before the council.
When all relevant matters have been presented, the presiding officer excuses the member and, with his counselors, prayerfully deliberates over what action to take. See page 99 for instructions about these deliberations and about informing the member of the council's decision.
If First Presidency approval is not necessary to end the discipline prescribed in the case, the presiding officer may end it himself. If First Presidency approval is necessary (as outlined below), the conclusion of the council can be only a recommendation to the First Presidency and not a final decision.
Complete and Submit a Report
See page 101.
Apply for First Presidency Approval (If Necessary)
If the person was disfellowshipped or excommunicated for any of the following reasons, the approval of the First Presidency is required before he may be reinstated to full fellowship or readmitted by baptism:
To submit a recommendation to the First Presidency, the presiding officers complete each step on the Application to the First Presidency form. In the United States and Canada, this form is available
from the Office of the First Presidency. In other areas it is available from the Area Presidency.
The stake or mission president sends (1) the completed application form, (2) the Report of Church Disciplinary Action form, and (3) any necessary attachments (such as letters that are required on the application form) to the Office of the First Presidency or to the Area Presidency if the unit is outside the United States and Canada. The Office of the First Presidency will notify the stake or mission president of the decision.
Give Written Notice of the Decision
The presiding officer ensures that after the disciplinary council, the person receives prompt written notice of the decision and its effects, even if he has been advised orally.
Readmitting Excommunicated Persons by Baptism
When all approvals have been received, a person who was excommunicated may be readmitted into the Church by baptism. The bishop prepares a Baptism Record, noting on the form that the baptism is for readmission. After baptism, the person is confirmed a member of the Church and receives the gift of the Holy Ghost as in any other confirmation.
Church Activity after Readmission
Members Who Were Not Previously Endowed. From the time of their baptism, these members may participate in Church activity just as a new convert would.
Members Who Were Previously Endowed. From the time of their baptism until their blessings are restored by a General Authority assigned by the First Presidency, these members may participate in any Church activity that is permissible for an unendowed member who does not hold the priesthood. However, they may not participate in vicarious baptisms for the dead until their blessings are restored.
Ordination after Readmission
Brethren Who Previously Held the Priesthood but Were Not Endowed. After baptism, these brethren are ordained to the priesthood office they previously held.
Brethren Who Previously Held the Priesthood and Were Endowed. See "Restoration of Blessings" on this page.
Temple Recommends after Readmission
After Formal Probation Has Ended
No change is made to the membership record because formal probation is not recorded on it.
After Disfellowshipment Has Ended
After a person has been reinstated to full fellowship, the administration office removes the notice of disfellowshipment and provides an updated membership record.
After Readmission by Baptism'
After a person is readmitted by baptism, the stake president or bishop submits a copy of the Baptism Record, usually with the Report of Church Disciplinary Action.
If the member was not endowed before excommunication, the administration office provides the ward a membership record that shows the member's original baptism and other ordinance dates, with no reference to excommunication.
If the member was endowed before excommunication, the administration office provides the ward a membership record that shows the member's new baptism date and includes the message "Restoration of Blessings Required." After the member's blessings are restored, the administration office provides another updated membership record that shows the member's original baptism and other ordinance dates, including endowment (and current priesthood, if applicable,) with no reference to excommunication.
Although membership records do not mention formal probation and do not mention disfellowshipment or excommunication after discipline has ended, they may include annotations until the First Presidency authorizes their removal (see page 129).
Restoration of Blessings
Endowed persons who were excommunicated and later readmitted by baptism can receive their priesthood and temple blessings only through the ordinance of restoration of blessings. Such persons are not ordained to priesthood offices or endowed again, since all priesthood and temple blessings held at the time of excommunication are restored through the ordinance. Brethren are restored to their former priesthood office, except the office of bishop or patriarch.
Only the First Presidency can approve the performance of the ordinance of restoration of blessings. The First Presidency will not consider an application for this ordinance sooner than one year after the person is readmitted by baptism.
To submit a recommendation to the First Presidency, the presiding officers complete each step on the Application to the First Presidency form. In the United States and Canada, this form is available from the Office of the First Presidency. In other areas it is available from the Area Presidency.
The stake or mission president sends the completed application form and any necessary attachments (such as letters that are required on the form) to the Office of the First Presidency or to the Area Presidency if the unit is outside the United States and Canada. The Office of the First Presidency will notify the stake or mission president of the decision.
Performance of the Ordinance
If the First Presidency authorizes the restoration of blessings, a General Authority is assigned to interview the applicant. If the applicant is found worthy, the General Authority performs the ordinance to restore the person's blessings.
For the Dead
The presiding officer should destroy copies of paper and electronic records relating to a disciplinary action after the ward receives an updated membership record or other notification of action on the record. If a council has taken no action or imposed formal probation on a member whose conduct is not threatening, the presiding officer retains these records until the matter is resolved.
The presiding officer should destroy copies of records relating to the submission of an Application to the First Presidency form after he receives notification that Church headquarters has received the application.
Documents Required to Complete Confidential Actions or Applications