Twelve United Methodist ministers convicted another minister yesterday of one of two charges related to sexual harassment, and suspended him from the ministry for three years.
In a decision that church officials said could have significant impact on the treatment of women in the church, the church court in Silver Spring found that the Rev. John P. Carter had disobeyed church law, which he had pledged to uphold when he was ordained a minister. The vote was 12 to 0, with one abstention.
The court acquitted Carter 10 to 3 on a charge of immorality.
The court unanimously recommended that Carter, 36, undergo counseling during his suspension. The court also said that prior to returning to the ministry, Carter should ask for forgiveness at a public worship service.
The sentence is in the form of a recommendation from the trial court, but such sentences generally are upheld by the Baltimore Annual Conference, officials said.
The Rev. Miriam Jackson, counsel for the five women who testified they had been harassed by Carter, said she was "very pleased with the court's decisions." Jackson said the court had "sent a message to the whole church . . . other men will think twice" before they harass women.
Carter, who is black and maintains that his prosecution is racially motivated, appeared saddened by the court's decision, but would not comment after sentence was pronounced about 6:45 p.m. at Good Shepherd United Methodist Church.
Immediately after the trial ended in prayer, a group of about 25 blacks gathered around Carter to console him. A short time later, Carter's wife Deborah walked up to Bishop Joseph Yeakel, who had brought the charges, and called him "a racist."
"You have ruined the reputation of a black man," she said. "This is not over."
Yeakel, who appeared surprised by her outburst, only nodded his head in response. Later, he told a reporter, "I don't believe I am a racist ."
The Rev. Irvin Lockman, Carter's counsel at the trial, said he would appeal. He called the sentence "too severe," saying that the church had lost its "most sensational issue," the immorality charge.
The conviction on the charge of disobedience apparently means the jurors believed Carter was guilty of the accusations brought by the women and thus disobeyed church law, but that his actions were not necessarily immoral, according to several church officials. Church law does not define immorality, and the jurors did not want to get into the position of defining it themselves, one official speculated. None of the jurors was available for comment.
In finding Carter guilty of what amounted to a lesser charge, yet handing down a stiff sentence, the church may have done "irreparable" damage to relationships between blacks and whites in the church, Lockman said.
Lockman said the rift between blacks and whites in the conference, which has been exacerbated by the trial, "may not be healed without the removal" of some people. When asked to whom he was referring, Lockman said, "Those people who testified, Carter's supervisors and beyond," apparently meaning Yeakel.
A division has existed since the black and white congregations merged into one conference in 1965. The Baltimore Annual Conference includes the District of Columbia, most of Maryland and parts of West Virginia.
Yeakel has called for a worship service for black and white congregations on Sept. 28 in an effort to reconcile differences stemming from the trial.
Lockman said the church's Book of Discipline does not require the type of public confession recommended by the trial court.
The trial has made public issues of sexism and racism that have dogged the church for years, according to church officials. The five women, two whites and three blacks in their twenties and early thirties, claimed that Carter made sexual advances to them either on the job or while he was interviewing them for employment.
The three women who worked for Carter said that once they refused his advances, he dropped his support for their work. The five women went to Bishop Yeakel with their allegations in April. Yeakel convened an investigating committee, which was racially and sexually mixed, and it found there was reason to prosecute Carter.
The five women are Elaine de Coligny and Janece Patterson, both of Washington, and Brenda Bratton Blom, Cheryl Winston and Rochelle Francis, all of Baltimore.
Carter denied the women's charges at the trial, which began Sept. 9. He and a large number of supporters, most of whom are from black churches, said Carter was treated differently than white ministers against whom similar charges have been brought.
Carter was dismissed June 30 from his job as a staff member of the Baltimore Annual Conference on charges unrelated to this trial.
This is the first time a United Methodist minister has been tried on charges of sexual harassment, but it is not the first time such charges have been pursued, according to national church officials.
Earlier this summer, a white minister in the Baltimore Annual Conference charged with immorality opted to take a leave of absence and undergo counseling rather than go to trial.
The Rev. Morris Bratton, father of one of the five women complainants and a conference official, said in an interview yesterday that since Carter's trial began, he has heard of 20 instances in which ministers allegedly harassed either their employes or parishioners.