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The Historical Development of the PCA Book of Church Order

Chapter 32 : General Provisions Applicable to all Cases of Process

Paragraph 20 : Limitation of Time

32-20. Process, in case of scandal, shall commence within the space of one year after the offense was committed, unless it has recently become flagrant. When, however, a church member shall commit an offense, after removing to a place far distant from his former residence, and where his connection with the church is unknown, in consequence of which process cannot be instituted within the time above specified, the recent discovery of the church membership of the individual shall be considered as equivalent to the offense itself having recently become flagrant. The same principle, in like circumstances, shall also apply to ministers.

[DIGEST : The current PCA text remains unchanged from that of PCUS 1879, the only difference being the capitalization of "Church" in the latter. The substance of Paragraph 20 first appears in Chapter XI of the 1858 PCUSA revision drafted under the leadership of Thornwell and Hodge. Ramsay's exposition on the text (below) makes it clear that the purpose of the time limit is not to shield the offender, but to spur the prompt prosecution of the offence.]

ANTECEDENT TEXTS :
1. PCA 1973, RoD, 6-20, Adopted text, as printed in the Minutes of General Assembly, p. 148
2. Continuing Presbyterian Church 1973, RoD, 6-20, Proposed text, p. 45
3. PCUS 1933, VI-§212
4. PCUS 1925, VI-§212
Process, in case of scandal, shall commence within the space of one year after the offense was committed, unless it has recently become flagrant. When, however, a church member shall commit an offense, after removing to a place far distant from his former residence, and where his connection with the church is unknown, in consequence of which process cannot be instituted within the time above specified, the recent discovery of the church membership of the individual shall be considered as equivalent to the offense itself having recently become flagrant. The same principle, in like circumstances, shall also apply to Ministers.

PCUS 1879, VI-20

Process, in case of scandal, shall commence within the space of one year after the offense was committed, unless it has recently become flagrant. When, however, a church member shall commit an offense, after removing to a place far distant from his former residence, and where his connection with the Church is unknown, in consequence of which process cannot be instituted within the time above specified, the recent discovery of the church membership of the individual shall be considered as equivalent to the offense itself having recently become flagrant. The same principle, in like circumstances, shall also apply to Ministers.


PCUS 1869 draft, Canons of Discipline, VI-20
Process, in case of scandal, shall commence within the space of one year after the crime was committed, unless it have recently become flagrant. It may happen, however, that a Church-member may commit an offence after removing to a place far distant from his former residence, and where his connexion with the Church is unknown, in consequence of which circumstances, process cannot be instituted within the time above specified. In all such cases, the recent discovery of the Church membership of the individual shall be considered as equivalent to the crime itself having recently become flagrant. The same principle also shall apply to Ministers, if similar circumstances should occur.

PCUS 1867 draft, Canons of Discipline, VI-20
Process, in case of scandal, shall commence within the space of one year after the crime was committed, unless it have recently become flagrant. It may happen, however, that a church-member may commit an offence after removing to a place far distant from his former residence, and where his connexion with the church is unknown, in consequence of which circumstances, process cannot be instituted within the time above specified. In all such cases, the recent discovery of the church-membership of the individual shall be considered as equivalent to the crime itself having recently become flagrant. The same principle also shall apply to ministers, if similar circumstances should occur.

PCUSA 1858, Revised Book of Discipline, Chapter XI, Limitation of Time, paragraph 5
Process, in case of scandal, shall commence within the space of one year after the crime shall have been committed; unless it shall have recently become flagrant. It may happen, however, that a church member, after removing to a place far distant from his former residence, and where his connection with the church is unknown, may commit a crime, on account of which process cannot be instituted within the time above specified. In all such cases, the recent discovery of the church membership of the individual, shall be considered as equivalent to the crime itself having recently become flagrant. The same principle also applies to ministers, if similar circumstances should occur.

PCUSA 1789, Forms of Process, Chapter 1, paragraph 16

All processes in cases of scandal shall commence, within the space of one year after the crime shall have been committed ; unless it shall have become recently flagrant.

COMMENTARY :
F.P. Ramsay, Exposition of the Book of Church Order (1898, p. 207), on VI-20:

191.--XX. Process, in case of scandal, shall commence within the space of one year after the offense was committed, unless it has recently become flagrant. When, however, a church member shall commit an offense, after removing to a place far distant from his former residence, and where his connection with the Church is unknown, in consequence of which process cannot be instituted within the time above specified, the recent discovery of the church membership of the individual shall be considered as equivalent to the offense itself having recently become flagrant. The same principle, in like circumstances, shall also apply to Ministers.
The principle is that, if the Church neglects to commence process against scandal (which is any flagrant public offence of practice bringing disgrace on the Church) within a year, she is debarred from thereafter doing it. This is not to shield the offender, but to incite to the prompt prosecution of such offences. Offences not so serious or scandalous the Church may bear with the longer while seeking to prevent scandal ; but for no consideration is the Church to tolerate such offences as are scandalous.



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