From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Board of Pensions Amends

Date 04 May 1996 20:49:34


95401               Board of Pensions Amends  
                  "Relief of Conscience" Process 
                         by Julian Shipp 
PHILADELPHIA--Accepting the recommendations of its special task group, the 
Board of  Pensions (BOP) has revised its controversial "relief of 
conscience" process, a procedure  designed to give peace of mind to 
churches and employing organizations opposed to abortion while providing 
payment for abortion procedures through the BOP's Major Medical Plan. 
     Three years ago, the Board introduced a  "capture of dues" method to 
assure that major medical dues paid by employing agencies that have been 
granted relief of conscience would not be used to pay for abortions.  But 
critics have complained that simply diverting "captured" dues to other 
parts of the major medical fund is an inadequate salve to their 
consciences.  So a task group of the Board was established last year to 
develop refinements in the process.     
     According to D. Eugene Sibery, BOP chair from Cape Coral, Fla., 
churches and employing organizations that have been granted "relief of 
conscience" will now have their dues placed into a separate account. The 
new process becomes effective Jan. 1, 1996.      
     Major medical benefits costs for those members employed by churches 
and employing organizations that have been granted relief of conscience 
will be paid out of the separate account.  Sibery said a semiannual report 
will be prepared (without reference to medical procedures) that will 
identify those expenditures. 
      If dues paid into the separate account exceed medical benefits costs, 
the excess money will be applied toward the administrative expenses of the 
Major Medical Plan. 
     Beverly T. Dodson, Relief of Conscience Task Group chair from 
Birmingham, Ala., said task group members sought to "maintain the integrity 
and the community nature of the [Major Medical] Plan" and develop an 
administrative practice that "refines the  capture of dues' process to be 
more responsive to the conscience needs of those seeking relief. 
     "The big difference is that this process deals with [medical benefits 
costs] and not a fund specifically designated for abortions," Dodson said. 
     In addition to Dodson, task group members include the Rev. John 
Buchanan of Chicago; David Johnson of Kirkwood, Mo.; and Madelyn Matlock of 
     "We have studied this issue very carefully from a parliamentary 
standpoint and this is a very important step for us," Sibery said. "This is 
as far as we feel we can go on this issue because we do believe it gives 
relief of conscience." 
     Anticipating protest from pro-life supporters, the Board docketed time 
at its Oct. 28 to hear opposing views, but nobody appeared to speak to the 
revised proposal. Board members and others interviewed by the Presbyterian 
News Service reacted to this with guarded optimism. 
     "Board members need to know that strong voices on either side do not 
particularly like this issue," Buchanan said. 
     "I like the idea that probably no one is going to be entirely happy 
with this process -- it indicates that it's a pretty good [procedure]," 
said Beach B. Hall from Rogers City, Mich., vice chair of the BOP's 
Healthcare Committee. 
     "I think this policy is the best we can do.  I also think that it will 
be helpful to the church in saying there are issues that are seen 
differently by different groups and different people and that we want to 
stay in conversation with all those groups and not develop policies that 
weed out one group or one perspective," said the Rev. William D. McIvor, 
General Assembly Council chair from Spokane, Wash., who is also a 
corresponding member of the Board. 
     "As difficult as that is, and as aggrieved as those groups may still 
feel, we are one church and want to stay in conversation with each another 
and move ahead as best we can," McIvor said. "This is a very specific 
issue, but I think it has symbolic value for other issues that the church 
has raised." 

For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
  phone 502-569-5504            fax 502-569-8073  
  E-mail   Web page: 


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