Appeals court affirms guilt, reduces sentence in Montana sexual misconduct case

May 8, 2002

The Court of Review for the Trial of a Bishop on May 1 reaffirmed that former Montana bishop Charles I. 'Ci' Jones is guilty of immorality and conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy because of a sexual relationship with a parishioner which ended prior to his election as bishop. But the appellate court reduced Jones' sentence from deposition to a five-year suspension.

The action means that Jones remains a bishop of the Episcopal Church, but without seat in the House of Bishops. Jones resigned his position as bishop of Montana in February 2001, and appealed the lower court's sentence that May.

The decision marks the first time that such a Court of Review has been convened in the history of the Episcopal Church in the U.S.

Boundary violations not all sexual

The appeals court ruled that affidavits, submitted during the sentencing phase, which sharply criticized Jones' 'leadership or management performance' as a bishop were 'inadmissible' because they were irrelevant to the issue of his sexual misconduct as a priest. The lower court 'seems to have assumed that one form of abuse is equivalent to another form of abuse,' the appeals court said. 'While all sexual exploitation may be a boundary violation, all boundary violations are not sexual exploitation.

'This Court notes (with some relief) that being an ineffective bishop or having difficulties as a bishop in management and leadership is not, in and of itself, a violation of the Canons; nor is it a violation to have a group of people in a diocese upset with the diocesan,' the court said. The court added that none of the affidavits alleged any other sexual misconduct by Jones, or indicated that he was at any future risk of such misconduct.

The appeals court specifically denied Jones' assertions that either Presiding Bishops Browning and Griswold or their staffs exerted 'undue influence' on the lower court's decision.

Conditions set for suspension

In reducing the sentence, the court set a series of conditions which Jones must meet. If he fails to comply, the original sentence of deposition will be automatically reinstated.

Within 90 days, Jones must undergo a multi-disciplinary examination by a health care provider selected by the presiding bishop and paid for through his office. Jones will have to pay for any therapy required as a result of this examination. That therapist must be selected by Bishop Clay Matthews, executive director of the Episcopal Church's Office of Pastoral Development, and by the original examiner.

Jones and Matthews will also agree on a reimbursement of the cost of the complainant's therapy. If they can't come to an agreement, they will ask the court to determine the amount and payment schedule.

After the five years are up, Jones must have a medical and psychological exam determining that he is fit for service before his suspension can be terminated. He has to request the exam and it must be performed by an examiner appointed by the presiding bishop and paid through his office.

Pronouncement by Griswold

According to the order by the court, the presiding bishop will pronounce Jones' sentence by May 31 at a location Griswold determines. Jones can choose whether or not to attend. Griswold then directs the clerk of the appeals court to show the date and time sentence is pronounced on the documents. Griswold then notifies the appropriate parties that the sentence has been pronounced.

In a cover letter to Griswold, presiding judge O'Kelley Whitaker expressed thanks for the 'beautifully collegial fashion' in which the review court worked and remarked that 'in many ways it has been a painful task, yet we have all experienced God's grace throughout.'

The review court consisted of bishops Clifton Daniel III (East Carolina); Dorsey F. Henderson (Upper South Carolina); John B. Lipscomb (Southwest Florida); D. Bruce MacPherson (Dallas); Larry E. Maze (Arkansas); Richard L. Shimpfky (El Camino Real); Chester L. Talton (Los Angeles); Franklin D. Turner (Pennsylvania); and presiding judge O'Kelley Whitaker (Central New York).

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