Episcopal court finds bishop guilty of sexual exploitation

Posted: Friday, September 22, 2000

HELENA, Mont. (AP) -- A rare Episcopal Church court has ruled that Montana Bishop Charles I. Jones III sexually exploited a female parishioner years ago, which could result in his suspension or removal from office.

The bishop contends he is being punished twice for the same offense and intends to fight the conviction. A second church court will convene Nov. 28 on that issue.

Jones was a priest in Russellville, Ky., in 1981 when he began an affair with a woman parishioner. Both were married at the time. In 1993, Jones, by then Montana's bishop, admitted the affair. The following year Montana church delegates rejected a call for his resignation.

But in 1997 the Kentucky woman filed a complaint against Jones after the church revised canon law to lengthen the statute of limitations for complaints against clergy.

The church's Ecclesiastical Trial Court ruled Jones guilty of immorality and conduct unbecoming the clergy. The decision was based on legal briefs, without hearing testimony.

Jones' attorney said the court's decision constitutes double jeopardy, since the bishop was already required to apologize and undergo therapy. The church contends that did not amount to punishment.

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