Deposed Montana Bishop Resigns

Episcopal News Service. March 1, 2001 [2001-50]

Jan Nunley

(ENS) Charles I. "Ci" Jones III, Episcopal bishop of Montana since 1986, submitted his resignation to the diocesan council on February 26. The resignation, effective Ash Wednesday, February 28, followed a February 14 decision by the Court for the Trial of a Bishop deposing Jones for sexual misconduct.

According to the Billings Gazette, Jones and diocesan officials came to an agreement in principle on February 23, working out details of the settlement over the weekend. Jones also moved his belongings out of his office. He had been on "emergency leave" since February 10.

His diocesan administrator, Suzanne Hunger, resigned as well.

In exchange for Jones' resignation, the Standing Committee and Diocesan Council agreed to give him a $170,000 settlement. The agreement includes forgiving his home mortgage with the diocese, which had a balance of slightly less than $55,000, and the remainder covering 15 months of his salary, minus travel pay.

In return, Jones agreed not to sue the Diocese of Montana, its members or other groups and individuals associated with it.

Amicable parting

Diocesan council member Jim Hunt, a Helena attorney who helped negotiate the settlement, said Jones was owed a severance package under his contract. "All that happened is that his severance package was increased to finally resolve the matter," Hunt said.

"Everyone involved said Bishop Jones' resignation was best for everyone involved," he added. "Ultimately, it was an amicable parting."

The Court for the Trial of a Bishop issued a 7-2 sentence of deposition for Jones on February 14. The case concerns sexual misconduct with a woman parishioner and employee of a parish in Russellville, Kentucky, where Jones was rector prior to his election as bishop of Montana. The misconduct took place from 1981-83.

After the court's sentence was pronounced, Jones asked Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold to allow him to undergo a process known as "voluntary submission to discipline," after which he could petition to be reinstated to the office of bishop. Title IV.2.9 of the church's canons provide that voluntary submission to discipline can be sought "at any time before Judgment by an Ecclesiastical Trial Court."

But that door closed for Jones when Griswold refused to consent, according to David Beers, chancellor to the presiding bishop. Jones may now move to modify or appeal his sentence, or both--which would delay judgment for another 30 days.

In any event, Beers said, Jones has lost his seat in the House of Bishops. The church's constitution limits full membership in that house to bishops who resign "by reason of advanced age or bodily infirmity, or who, under an election to an office created by the General Convention, or for reasons of mission strategy determined by action of the General Convention or the House of Bishops." The house's rules of order permit "non-voting" membership only for those who have resigned for reasons not "related to the Bishop's moral character."

A majority of bishops could vote to remit or modify Jones' sentence at a meeting of the House of Bishops. The next such meeting is set for the Kanuga Conference Center in North Carolina, March 9-14.

Blames liberal parishes

In a pastoral letter to the diocese, dated February 24, Jones blasted "the small group of twenty-five to thirty people who began and sustained the conflict among us...This conflicted group still exists, and is still in conflict as evidenced by Diocesan Council's written request that the Court depose me, and by the group's filing sworn statements against me in my trial. These statements led the current Presiding Bishop to ask the Court to depose me," he said.

"I feel a great deal of the energy for this action escalated with my pastoral letter a year ago in which I stated I would not ordain active homosexuals or allow the blessing of same-sex unions within the diocese until our church was settled on these issues," Jones alleged. "This position is not a popular one among the hierarchy of the national church nor in the diocese among the two most liberal churches in Helena and Missoula, Montana, where most of the statements against me originated.

"Although this does not seem to me to be what God is calling me to do, after nine years Ashby and I cannot emotionally continue to stand against the powerful forces seeking my ouster," the letter concluded.

Scapegoating charged

In a February statement posted on the online Montana diocesan newsletter, Jones called the decision "shocking to me, given that my sexual misconduct of which I was found guilty took place almost two decades ago."

"The lie that is at the root of our suffering as a diocese is perpetuated by a small group of 25-30 people among us," Jones wrote. "The lie is this: 'Ci Jones is a bad person and is the root of all of our troubles.' Stated another way, 'If we get rid of Ci Jones, we will be fine as a church.' Belief in this remedy for the problems we face is idolatry because it leaves God out of the equation."

Jones said Hunger's resignation represents "the first tragedy of the stress created by the blaming and scapegoating" in the diocese.

Skills of Solomon needed

"His accountant background and very considerable skills were a blessing to this diocese and if he must leave, he leaves us very healthy financially," observed the Rev. Donald Belcher, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Troy, Montana, who described himself as a friend of Jones. "He was not especially capable in the diplomatic area and thus angered a number of power brokers in the state.

"I think this decision was dead wrong, but Bishop Jones will survive; it is those who condemn him who must forever live with their weakness," Belcher added in an email to ENS.

"I feel that the Diocese of Montana and the Episcopal Church as a whole have lost a good person and a leader of great faith and conscience," commented Sandy Williams, a deputy from Montana, by email. "I still feel that the national church and the court did not hear from people that were not in conflict with Ci."

A Montana priest, who asked not to be identified, commented, "We will need years to get things settled. Our immediate need is for an interim bishop with the skills of Solomon and a steady hand."