The African Methodist Episcopal Church has assigned a new bishop to its Texas area after granting Bishop Robert Lee Pruitt a leave of absence to appeal a felony conviction for possession of crack cocaine.

The denomination's Council of Bishops met with Pruitt in Washington on Jan. 9 and granted his request for a leave of absence and appointed Bishop John R. Bryant to lead the church in his stead.

Bishop John H. Adams of Atlanta, the denomination's senior bishop, said in an interview Tuesday that Pruitt maintains his innocence, plans to appeal his conviction and believes an appeal would best be pursued while on leave.

Adams said the Council of Bishops granted Pruitt's request and also assigned a small committee of bishops "to meet with him and be in touch with him . . . as he works through the problems."

Pruitt, based in Dallas, was convicted in December on the crack cocaine charge and was sentenced to two years' probation.

Dallas attorney Walter Knowles, representing Pruitt, could not be reached for comment.

Asked if there were concerns that Pruitt's problems might have a negative effect on the 2.2 million-member church, Adams said, "We always are concerned both about the well-being of the church and the person involved."

Pruitt remains a bishop during the leave of absence, but will receive a salary of $25,000 per year instead of the normal $45,000.

Adams said no question had been raised about Pruitt's clergy credentials and predicted, "I suspect if he addresses his problem it will not need to be raised."

Bishops of the AME Church are elected by vote of the church's General Conference, which meets every four years.

As such, Adams said, Pruitt is an internationally recognized figure in the church with a "broad base of support and respect."

Bryant, who was named to head the church's 10th Episcopal District in Texas, also will maintain his position as bishop of the 14th district in West Africa, based in Monrovia, Liberia.

Adams called Bryant "an extremely gifted and productive pastor" and said he will "do a great deal to heal the wounds" in Texas.