An appeals court of the United Methodist Church has upheld the conviction of the Rev. John P. Carter on a sexual harassment charge, but it reduced the sentence given to him by 12 ministers following a week-long trial last fall, according to sources close to the case.
Carter will be suspended from the ministry for two years, instead of three, according to last week's ruling by the appeals panel of the church's Northeast Jurisdiction. The panel also dropped the requirements that Carter undergo psychological counseling and ask for forgiveness at a public worship service.
The 36-year-old minister was convicted in September of one of two charges related to the sexual harassment of five women who worked with him or had applied to him for jobs. Three of Carter's five accusers were black, as is Carter, but the case nevertheless became tinged with racial accusations. His conviction was unanimous.
The trial marked the first time a United Methodist minister had been tried on charges of sexual harassment, but it was not the first time such charges have been pursued, according to national church officials.
Neither Carter nor the Rev. Irvin Lockman of Baltimore, who represented him at the Silver Spring church trial, could be reached for comment.
Elaine deColigny, one of Carter's accusers, said she had not received formal notification of the ruling and wanted to speak with the other women before making a statement.
The Rev. Miriam H. Jackson, who acted as a counsel for the church at the trial, said, "Of course, I would have liked to have seen the jury penalty upheld, but I don't in any way see it as a defeat."
Jane Dolkart, cocounsel to Jackson, said she felt "victorious," despite her belief that removal of the psychological counseling requirement ignores the serious nature of what happened. "They still gave him a two-year suspension, which is not a trivial sentence," she said.
Dolkart said the case could have a significant impact in the religious community, adding, "Hopefully, this is just the beginning -- that the institutional church and not just necessarily the Methodist church will begin to deal openly and correctly with ministers who sexually harass women."
The Rev. Kathy J. Penrose of the Baltimore Conference of the United Methodist Church, who counseled the five women before the trial, said, "It's an indication that, on some level, the women were taken very seriously."
Neither Dolkart nor Penrose has seen the ruling, but both said parts of it had been read to them. Dolkart said the appeals panel apparently believed that the original jury lacked the power to impose counseling or a public confession. She called it a "technical ruling," adding that she did not know whether it had been unanimous.
Also unavailable yesterday was Bishop Joseph Yeakel, who heads the area's Methodists. Yeakel is expected to release the eight-page ruling or make a public statement about it today.
Under the appeals ruling, Carter, who has not practiced ministry for a year, has one more year of suspended sentence to serve before becoming eligible to be considered for reappointment, the women said.