Montgomery County Court Judge Joseph Smyth, who is overseeing a unusual civil lawsuit brought by an Episcopal priest against his bishop, sent jurors home this afternoon after defense lawyers representing Bishop Charles E. Bennison Jr. rested their case.

John Lewis, who is representing the plaintiff, the Rev. David Moyer, told Smyth he was surprised by the suddenness of the defense's action and was not prepared to make closing arguments today.

Smyth ordered the trial to reconvene at 9 a.m. tomorrow for closing arguments and his instructions to the jurors, after which they will start deliberations.

Moyer is suing Bennison, head of the five-county Diocese of Pennsylvania, on grounds that he wrongfully defrocked Moyer six years ago. Bennison's lawyers have argued that the First Amendment bars civil courts from intervening in the internal affairs of a religious institution.

   - David O'Reilly