PENNSYLVANIA: Standing Committee asks for help in getting bishop to leave
Bennison resumed his role as diocesan bishop Aug. 16, some 11 days after the church's Court of Review for the Trial of a Bishop overturned a lower church court's finding that he ought to be deposed (removed) from ordained ministry because he had engaged in conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy. The review court agreed with one of the lower court's two findings of misconduct, but said that Bennison could not be deposed because the charge was barred by the church's statute of limitations.
The decision by the Court of Review for the Trial of a Bishop is here.
The lower court, the Court for the Trial of a Bishop, had called for Bennison's deposition after it found that 35 years ago when he was rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Upland, California, he failed to respond properly after learning that his brother, John Bennison, was "engaged in a sexually abusive and sexually exploitive relationship" with a minor parishioner. At the time, John Bennison was a 24-year-old newly ordained deacon (later priest) whom Charles Bennison had hired as youth minister. The abuse allegedly lasted for more than three years from the time the minor was 14 years old.
Charles Bennison was found to have failed to discharge his pastoral obligations to the girl, the members of her family, and the members of the parish youth group as well as church authorities after he learned of his brother's behavior. The court said that he suppressed the information about his brother until 2006, when he disclosed publicly what he knew.
"There was a wide range of reactions within the Diocese of Pennsylvania to the decision of the Court of Review: shock, surprise, anger, confusion, hurt, approval and support," the Standing Committee members said in their letter to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Diocese of Kansas Bishop Dean Wolfe, House of Bishops vice president. "To date the Standing Committee has noted that negative reactions to the decision and to Bishop Bennison's resuming his office have far outnumbered the positive."
The letter was copied to the Rev. Gregory Straub, the church's executive officer and secretary of General Convention; the bishops of Province III and House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson, who recently said that she wished Bennison would have the "wisdom and generosity of spirit to resign."
The Standing Committee members said they asked for help from Jefferts Schori and Wolfe because Bennison "does not have the trust of the clergy and lay leaders necessary for him to be an effective pastor and leader of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, nor that he can regain or rebuild the trust that he has lost or broken." The members were repeating a statement they made the day of the bishop's return.
Committee members also attributed their request to "the fact that the Court of Review has taken the position that its hands are tied," adding that the diocese is now in an "untenable situation."
"It is our profound concern that the healing and progress of the diocese are now at risk and so we request that this letter and our request for your concern and support in chartering a way forward be placed on the agenda for the September meeting of the House of Bishops," the letter concluded.
The bishops are scheduled to meet in Phoenix, Arizona, Sept. 16-21. The sessions are closed to the public. Daily accounts written by house members will be released and there are plans for a post-meeting news conference on Sept. 21.