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PENNSYLVANIA: Diocesan Standing Committee hires lawyer

[Episcopal News Service]  The Diocese of Pennsylvania's Standing Committee has hired the former chancellor of the Diocese of Newark to help it in its on-going dispute with Pennsylvania Bishop Charles E. Bennison Jr.

A statement on the Standing Committee's website said it believes that it is entitled to have legal counsel independent of the diocese's legal advisors when it is involved in such a conflict.

In April, the Standing Committee reiterated its call for Bennison to leave office, saying it is upset over a $350,000 drawdown from the diocese's unrestricted net assets.

The Standing Committee first asked Bennison to resign or retire by March 31. Bennison refused that request. Consultants from the Presiding Bishop's Office of Pastoral Development concluded earlier in March that they "cannot recommend any process of conciliation or any 'rigorous long-term process for addressing problems.'"

Delegates to a March 24 special convention approved the 2006 diocesan program budget, nearly three and half months after refusing to accept the budget that was presented at the diocese's regular convention. On November 5, the convention rejected a proposed $4.8 million 2006 program budget by a vote of 205-175. The use of unrestricted net assets in the budget was a major controversy.

The Standing Committee's latest statement says it is trying to raise money to pay New Jersey attorney Michael Rehill a $2,500 retainer.

"We are asking for your support so that we may secure appropriate and competent counsel as we seek to carry out the responsibilities of Standing Committee on behalf of the Diocese," the statement said. 
Rehill is an attorney in private practice in Westwood, New Jersey, who is known to be well-verse in Episcopal Church canon law. His past clients have included bishops John Spong and Walter Righter.