From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Court deposes Montana bishop

Date 15 Feb 2001 12:20:44


Court deposes Montana bishop

by Jan Nunley

     (ENS) The Court for the Trial of a Bishop of the Episcopal Church issued a 
sentence of deposition for Bishop Charles I. "Ci" Jones III of Montana 
on February 14. The vote on the sentence was seven to two. 

     According to the canons of the Episcopal Church, deposition, the heaviest 
penalty applied to a member of the clergy, would strip Jones of his ordained 
status entirely.

     The case concerns sexual misconduct with a woman parishioner and employee of 
the parish in Russellville, Kentucky, where Jones was rector prior to his 
election as bishop of Montana in 1986. The misconduct took place from 1981-83. 

     Jones was declared guilty of immorality and conduct unbecoming a member of 
the clergy in an earlier summary judgment and was judged subject to discipline 
by the court in a December 8 ruling. The court heard testimony regarding 
possible sentences on January 30.

     In a press release, the court "noted the serious nature of the sexual 
exploitation and abuse of power and trust that underlie the Offenses Bishop 
Jones committed. The Court found that Bishop Jones has not demonstrated 
an understanding of or a genuine repentance for the Offenses committed." 

     In the release, the Court said it "also found a continuing pattern of 
abusive and exploitive behavior and a risk of future exploitation. For those 
reasons, the Court was unpersuaded that the passage of time since Bishop Jones' 
relationship with the Complainant mitigated the serious circumstances of the 
Offenses committed." 

     The court's decision was sent first to the woman bringing the charges, to 
Jones, to the presiding bishop, and to the standing committee of the Diocese of 
Montana, as church canons require.

Dissents called for admonition, suspension with conditions

     One member of the court, retired bishop Robert Johnson of the Diocese of 
North Carolina, called instead for a sentence of admonition. Admonition is the 
lightest possible sentence under the canons, and would have consisted of a 
"public and formal reprimand" but would not have deprived Jones of his episcopal 

     New Hampshire Bishop Douglas Theuner issued a second dissent calling for 
Jones to be suspended, but only if he met certain conditions. Theuner argued that 
Jones has apparently not engaged in sexual misconduct in the 15 years since 
leaving Russellville, and that deposition places him out of reach of the 
disciplinary canons of the church.

     The conditions proposed in Theuner's dissent would have suspended Jones from 
ordained ministry for at least five years, with the presiding bishop to determine 
when Jones could resume his ministry, as long as he resigned as Bishop of Montana 
within 30 days. 

     Within 60 days, he would have had to present the presiding bishop with "a 
plan and letter of intent to pay restitution" to his accuser, including $40,000 
for medical and therapeutic expenses and all of her "reasonable costs" associated 
with the trial. He would also have had to "apologize fully and completely to the 
Complainant" in person or in writing--her choice--and to arrange for therapy at 
his own expense. Failure to comply within 60 days would automatically have 
resulted in Jones' deposition.

     The court noted that some members would have agreed with Theuner's dissent, 
but "felt limited" by Title IV, Canon 12.13, which states that a sentence of 
suspension does not terminate a bishop's administration of the temporal affairs 
of a diocese.  "Because these Members of the Court agree with the majority of the 
Court that the Sentence imposed should terminate the Respondent's authority 
altogether," the judgment said, "these members join in the majority decision to 
issue a Sentence of Deposition."

Appeal or modification possible

     Jones may now file a motion with the court seeking to have the sentence 
modified. He will also have 30 days in which to appeal the sentence, which will 
be "stayed" while that appeal is pending. An appeal would be sent to the Court of 
Review of the Trial of a Bishop, composed of nine bishops, who could uphold the 
trial court's sentence or could modify it in some way. 

     The court's members are Bishops James Coleman (West Tennessee); Clifton 
Daniel III (East Carolina); John Lipscomb (Southwest Florida); Bruce MacPherson 
(Dallas); Larry Maze (Arkansas); Richard Schimpfky (El Camino Real); Chester 
Talton (Los Angeles); Franklin Turner (Pennsylvania); and O'Kelley Whitaker 
(Southern Virginia).

--The Rev. Jan Nunley is deputy director of the Episcopal Church's Office of News 
and Information. 

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