Last month a court of bishops stripped the Right Rev. Charles I. Jones III of his office and gave Jones 30 days to appeal. Jones then asked Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold if he could undergo a process of ``voluntary submission to discipline'' after which he could apply to be reinstated. Griswold refused.
As part of the severance package -- which includes $55,000 to settle the mortgage on his house and 15 months of pay -- Jones has agreed not to sue his former diocese or members associated with it.
Still, the anger surrounding the Jones case is likely to continue among the diocese's 48 parishes. In a blistering pastoral letter to his flock, Jones blamed his ouster in part on ``liberal'' parishes in Helena and Missoula who did not agree with his decision not to ordain open homosexuals or bless same-sex unions.
``Although this does not seem to me to be what God is calling me to do, after nine years, (my wife) Ashby and I cannot emotionally continue to stand against the powerful forces seeking my ouster,'' Jones wrote.
Jones' resignation brings to an end an emotional ride for the Montana church, which had voted in 1994 to keep Jones as bishop. It also brings to an end a series of court trials on whether Jones should face punishment for his affair.
Jones conducted the affair with a female parishioner while he was serving as rector of a Kentucky church in the early 1980s. Jones admitted to the affair a decade later and agreed to undergo voluntary counseling at the advice of then-Presiding Bishop Edmund Browning.
Last December, the same court ruled Jones had not been properly disciplined in the case, saying his decision for counseling was a pastoral one and Browning had no authority to discipline him. The court reconvened to consider possible punishments, with Griswold pushing for Jones to be defrocked.
In a third ruling last month, the nine-member court voted to ``depose'' Jones -- the harshest possible sentence -- and strip him of his office and his seat in the House of Bishops.
Jones still has an option to appeal his case to another court for his sentence to be overturned or modified, but his 30-day window for appeal is rapidly shrinking. A majority of church bishops could also vote to modify Jones' sentence when the bishops convene in North Carolina March 9-14. Church members in Montana who still support Jones told Episcopal News Service the case will continue to divide the diocese long after Jones' departure.
``I think this decision was dead wrong, but Bishop Jones will survive; it is those who condemn him who must forever live with their weaknesses,'' said the Rev. Donald Belcher, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Troy, Mont.
For his part, Jones said he knows ``forgiveness in not possible'' from those who sought his ouster, but he continues to love the church.
``Although my future is uncertain at this time, please be assured that I am very grateful for all your prayers and loved poured out to me and my family over these past 15 years of my tenure as your bishop,'' Jones wrote. ``Also be assured of my continued prayers and love for you as you strive to do Christ's ministry in Montana.''