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PENNSYLVANIA: Standing Committee rejects bishop's chancellor choice

By Mary Frances Schjonberg

The Rt. Rev. Charles E. Bennison Jr.  

[Episcopal News Service]  The Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania has refused to consent to Bishop Charles E. Bennison Jr.'s nomination of Mary Kohart to be the chancellor of the diocese.
The Standing Committee said in a statement on its website that having the chancellor of the diocese come from the same law firm that represents the diocese in court proceedings "may be perceived as a conflict of interest even if it is not such."

The committee's statement said that Kohart is involved in pending legal cases involving the diocese.

The current chancellor, Frank Helminski, recently announced his resignation effective October 1, citing time conflicts between the position and his fulltime employment.

The Standing Committee has hired the former chancellor of the Diocese of Newark, Michael Rehill, to help in its on-going dispute with Bennison.

A statement on the 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 troubled by 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, 2005 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.