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82 year old priest guilty of child abuse: The Church of England Newspaper, April 15, 2011 p 7. April 20, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Abuse, Church of England Newspaper, Montana.
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First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

An 82 year old Episcopal priest pled guilty last week to two counts of child abuse.

On April 8, the Rev. Donald Belcher pled guilty in the Cecil County Maryland Court to molesting in 2006 a 15-year old girl and molesting an 8-year old girl in 2010.  In return for his guilty plea prosecutors dropped other pending sex crime charges against the retired clergyman.

In November a grand jury indicted the retired priest on sex crime charges and he was extradited to Maryland from his home in Montana for trial.  From 2001 to 2007 Mr. Belcher served as an associate for pastoral care at St. Mary’s Church in Abingdon, Maryland and also served as vicar of the Church of the Holy Cross in Street, Maryland.

Ordained in 1997, the second career priest, who came to the ministry after working as a wine broker, tavern owner and pharmaceutical company executive, in 2006 Mr. Belcher and his wife, purchased the Dirty Shame Saloon in Yaak, Montana.

In an interview with their local newspaper, the couple said that though they were teetotalers, they purchased the bar located in the Kootenai National Forest to preserve the frontier heritage of the region.  “We want to keep the history, the reputation. We like people, we love the Yaak and want to make sure it’s here for the next 100 years,” Mrs. Belcher said.

In a statement released following his arraignment in January, the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland said it took “very seriously our church’s commitment to maintaining a safe environment for all who come to us seeking pastoral care and God’s sacraments.”

The Rev. Canon Scott Slater said the diocese was “saddened and dismayed even when allegations are first made. So we pray for all concerned and will continue to work diligently to make sure we have safe churches for all who come seeking God.”

Mr. Belcher faces up to 25 years in prison for each count.  A sentencing date has not yet been set by the court.

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American Bishop found guilty of charge of ‘sexual exploitation’: The Church of England Newspaper, Dec 1, 2000. December 1, 2000

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Ecclesiastical Trials, Montana.
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An American church court has found the Rt Rev Charles I Jones, III, Bishop of Montana, guilty of “conduct unbecoming of a clergyman” in the first ecclesiastical legal proceeding of its kind since the mid-19th Century. The Trial Court of Bishops of the Episcopal Church held that Bishop Jones violated Church law by committing adultery with a parishioner 17 years ago. This conduct, the Court held, was “sexual exploitation” under the Canons of Church law.

The Court of nine bishops heard argument on November 20 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, by attorneys for the Bishop and the National Church in proceedings made open to the public. The penalty the court may impose ranges from simple admonishment to being deposed and defrocked.

In a series of extraordinary rulings the Court announced before trial on August 28 that Bishop Jones was guilty. The Rt Rev Edward Jones, retired Bishop of Indianapolis and president of the Trial Court, stated that Bishop Charles Jones’ guilt or innocence would not be considered at the November 20 trial. What was at issue for the Court was whether or not Jones was to be punished. The Court was to decide if the “pastoral discipline” imposed by Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning in 1993 was sufficient punishment.

In 1993 Bishop Jones confessed his affair to Bishop Browning. Bishop Browning directed Jones to offer financial restitution, seek psychiatric counseling, and take a leave of absence from his duties.

Attorneys for the Church argue that Jones’ contrition and the 1993 “pastoral discipline” constituted therapy and not punishment. They argue that Jones was insincere in his contrition, though no new charges of adultery have surfaced in the last 17 years, and should now be “legally” punished.

Jones’ attorneys hotly denied the charges of “sexual exploitation” and questioned the legality and fairness of the proceedings. Edward Curry, Jones’ lead attorney, argued that the charges of sexual immorality were unproven. Many of the witnesses against Jones, including his accuser, refused to answer questions from Jones’ attorneys. Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, also refused Jones’ requests to answer questions and turn over documents. Curry also alleged that the Rt Rev Harold Hopkins, former director of Pastoral Development, and David Booth Beers, Church Chancellor, had committed perjury by making “deliberate deceptions… and falsehoods about material facts”.

The prosecution’s brief against Bishop Jones, which seems designed more to embarrass Bishop Jones than to make a case for adultery, cites in graphic detail acts of masturbation, oral sex, coerced sexual relations, “phone sex”, and threats and intimidation by the then Reverend Jones. Jones is even charged with having had sexual intercourse “in his pool four or five times, including when her children were present.” Bishop Jones denies these charges.

Critics of the proceedings argue that punishing Jones for the affair in an Ecclesiastical Court, after he had made an act of contrition and underwent pastoral discipline with the Presiding Bishop, would send a dangerous message. Rather than confess their indiscretions and seek forgiveness or counseling, a priest would be foolhardy to make any statement in a pastoral setting that might later be used against him in an ecclesiastical tribunal. The threat of legal jeopardy would have a chilling effect on the pastoral and sacramental relationship of a priest to his superior.

A further wrinkle to this case is that between 1996 and 1998, the Church altered its Canons to drop any statute of limitations against cases of sexual immorality. Prior to 1996 Jones could not have been legally disciplined for his affair as 13 years had at that time passed since his offence.

The crime of “sexual exploitation” is not defined by the Canons of the Church. The American Church’s insurance carrier defines sexual exploitation as “the development or the attempt to develop a sexual relationship between a cleric, employee or volunteer and a person with whom he or she has a pastoral relationship, whether or not there is apparent consent.” Critics argue that Jones is being held accountable not to Canon law but to insurance underwriting criteria.

Jones’ attorney, in Court documents filed in 1999, argued that “the Church’s purpose in pillorying Bishop Jones is to ‘send a message’… that the Episcopal Church is somehow politically correct… and will make an example of one of its own to prove it.”

A decision is expected from the Trial Court by the end of the year.

Montana bishop brought to trial on sexual abuse charges: The Church of England Newspaper, Nov 22, 2000. November 22, 2000

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Ecclesiastical Trials, Montana.
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In the first trial of its kind since the Nineteenth century, nine bishops heard oral argument on November 20th in Minneapolis, Minnesota in the trial of the Rt. Rev. Charles I. Jones, III, Bishop of Montana for “sexual exploitation”.  Accused of conduct unbecoming of a clergyman, Bishop Jones risks being deposed from office and defrocked for having had an adulterous affair with a parishioner almost twenty years ago.

In a preliminary ruling filed on August 28th, the Ecclesiastical Trial Court held that “there is no genuine issue of fact concerning the charge that [Bishop Jones] engaged in conduct that constitutes conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy and immorality under…the Canons.  Specifically, there is no genuine issue of material fact on the question whether the conduct of [Bishop Jones] constitutes sexual exploitation.”  The Court further added that “even if there is a factual dispute concerning whether [Bishop Jones]’s sexual relationship with the [female parishioner] was consensual, that factual dispute is…immaterial.  The sexual nature of the relationship, which is undisputed, was exploitive under the circumstances and constitutes both immorality and conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy.”

The Court instead heard argument on Monday on the issue of “double jeopardy”.  The Rt. Rev. Edward Jones, retired Bishop of Indianapolis, stated that Bishop Jones’ guilt or innocence would not be considered.  What was at issue was whether Jones was still to be punished, or whether the  “pastoral discipline” imposed by Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning in 1993 was punishment enough.

In 1993 Bishop Jones admitted his affair to the then Presiding Bishop, Edmond Browning, offered financial restitution to his former parishioner, underwent psychiatric counseling, and took a three month leave of absence from his post as Bishop of Montana.  No allegations of sexual misconduct have been leveled against Bishop Jones in the intervening seventeen years since the conclusion of the affair.

Attorneys for the Church argue that Jones’ contrition and the pastoral discipline that he undertook with Bishop Browning constituted therapy and not punishment.  They argue that Jones should be punished now.  “Pastoral discipline” is not the same as legal punishment they stated.

Jones’ attorney’s hotly denied the validity of the Court’s August ruling and questioned the legality and fairness of the proceedings.  Edward Curry, Jones’ lead attorney, argued that the charges of sexual immorality were unproven.  Many of the witnesses against Jones, including his accuser, refused to answer questions from Jones’ attorneys.  Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, refused Jones’ requests to answer questions and turn over documents Jones’ attorneys argued would clarify the issues.  Curry also alleged that the Rt. Rev. Harold Hopkins, former director of Pastoral Development, and David Booth Beers, Church Chancellor, made “deliberate deceptions…and falsehoods about material facts” in the proceedings.

Trial observers have also questioned other issues in this highly unusual proceeding.  Not only has Jones not been allowed to challenge his accuser, critics argue, the presentment against him seems designed more to embarrass Bishop Jones with its graphic sexual detail than to establish whether a sexual relationship took place.

The presentment against Bishop Jones details acts of masturbation, oral sex, coerced sexual relations, “phone sex”, and threats and intimidation by the then Reverend Jones.  One paragraph from the presentment states that Mrs. XXX and “Reverend Jones had sex in his pool four or five times, including when her children were present.  Reverend Jones and [Mrs. XXX] also had intercourse on his farm.”

Bishop Jones denies these charges.  He also argued that the affair was consensual.  Bishop Jones and Mrs. XXX are remained married to their spouses following the conclusion of the affair.

Other critics argue that punishing Bishop Jones for the affair in an Ecclesiastical Court, after he had made an act of contrition and underwent pastoral discipline with the Presiding Bishop would send a dangerous message to the clergy.  Rather than confess their indiscretions and seek forgiveness or counseling, a priest would be foolhardy to make any statement in a pastoral setting that might later be used against him in an ecclesiastical tribunal.  The threat of legal jeopardy would have a chilling effect on the pastoral and sacramental relationship of a priest to his superior.

A further wrinkle to this case is that between 1996 and 1998, the Church altered its Canons to drop any statute of limitations against cases of sexual immorality.  Prior to 1996 Jones could not have been legally disciplined for his affair as thirteen years had at that time passed since his offence.

The crime of “sexual exploitation” is not defined by the Canons of the Church.  The American Church’s insurance carrier defines sexual exploitation as “the development or the attempt to develop a sexual relationship between a cleric, employee or volunteer and a person with whom he or she has a pastoral relationship, whether or not there is apparent consent.”  Critics argue that Jones is being held accountable not to Canon law but to insurance underwriting criteria.

Jones’ attorney, in Court documents filed in 1999 argued that “the Church’s purpose in pillorying Bishop Jones is to ‘send a message’…that the Episcopal Church is somehow politically correct…and will make an example of one of its own to prove it.”

A decision is expected from the Trial Court by year’s end.