The Episcopal Bishop of Montana is likely to be defrocked as a priest. This is the sentence recommended by a panel of bishops after a church court found him guilty of sexual misconduct involving a married woman who was a parishioner and church employee.

If the sentence, given by the panel on February 14, is upheld, 58-year-old Bishop Charles I. "Ci" Jones will no longer be allowed to administer the church's sacraments—the strictest possible punishment under church law.

His attorney, Edward Curry, said Jones was considering appealing against the sentence. Jones has 30 days to file an appeal with a church court. Until that date, the sentence is "stayed" pending a possible appeal.

The 7-2 decision to defrock Jones as a priest follows a January hearing at which the woman asked for the strictest possible discipline to be applied. Jones had a sexual relationship with her from 1981 to 1983, when Jones was rector of an Episcopal church in Russellville, Kentucky. He became bishop of Montana in 1986. Jones was found guilty of the charges in December.

Jones has declined comment to reporters, though he gave a statement in the Evangel, the Montana diocese newsletter, in which he said the decision was "shocking to me, given that my sexual misconduct of which I was found guilty took place almost two decades ago."

The Montana Diocesan Council had unanimously supported Jones's removal, but he said he had been the target of unfair criticism within the diocese. "The lie that is at the root of our suffering as a diocese is perpetuated by a small group of 25 to 30 people among us. The lie is this: 'Ci Jones is a bad person and is the root of all of our troubles.'"

The decision to strip Jones of his clerical status was made by a panel of nine ...

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