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Episcopal Bishop Reinstated Despite Sex Abuse Failure

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Two years ago an Episcopal church court defrocked the Bishop of Pennsylvania, Charles Bennison, after finding that in the 1970s he failed to act on information that his brother, while youth minister at his parish, sexually abused a 14-year-old girl in the congregation.

But on Aug. 4, a church appeals board overturned that verdict and said Bennison could be reinstated as head of the Philadelphia-based diocese, in part because the 10-year statute of limitations on the charges against him had expired.

The appeals panel overruled the original court on one of two judgments of "conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy." On the second charge, while agreeing that Bennison was "totally wrong" in his actions, it said "because the statute of limitations has run on that offense, we have no choice under the canons of the Church but to reverse the judgment of the Trial Court."
Episcopal Bishop Charles Bennison
"Accordingly, the inhibition of Bishop Bennison has been dissolved, and he is free to resume his role as Bishop of Pennsylvania," the board said in its 39-page decision.

A day after the ruling Bennison, 66, welcomed the decision, saying "I always thought the charges were without merit." He said he planned to return to his office on Aug. 16 and would lead the 55,000-member diocese as bishop until the mandatory retirement age of 72, "if it seems appropriate and in the best interest of the church."

Bishop Bennison told The Philadelphia Inquirer he believes he is "a changed person," but he still thinks the prosecution in 2008 was politically motivated because many clergy and laity in the diocese had been upset with his leadership and wanted him gone. "This process should never have begun," he said Thursday.

The proceedings against Bennison were sparked by the 2006 revelation that while he was rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Upland, Calif., he failed to tell civil or church authorities that his brother, church Youth Minister John Bennison, was "engaged in a sexually abusive and sexually exploitative relationship" with a 14-year-old girl. John Bennison, 24 at the time, was a newly ordained deacon, hired by Charles Bennison in the early 1970s as youth minister. The alleged abuse lasted for three years.

John Bennison was later ordained a priest though he was deposed in 1977 for an unrelated offense, and then was restored to the priesthood in 1980. He was defrocked again in 2006 when the earlier abuse charges became public.

Victims of clergy sexual abuse, who spend much of their time denouncing similar episodes in the Catholic Church, blasted the rehabilitation of Bishop Bennison.

"This is just what shrewd and corrupt church officials do -- relentlessly fighting, exploiting every possible legal maneuver, to cling to their precious power, even when their wrong-doing has been so clearly proven," said Barbara Dorris, outreach director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "This is yet more proof that internal church processes are highly flawed and that it's best to report child sex crimes and cover ups through the criminal and civil justice systems. It's also more proof that statutes of limitations only protect wrong-doers and should be abolished."

While stories like this are usually associated with the Catholic Church, there seem to be increasing indications that all denominations have skeletons in their sex abuse closets.

Last month it was revealed that the former head of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Edmund L. Browning, learned in 1993 that Bishop Donald Davis of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania had sexually abused as many as nine girls. Browning told Davis (who has since died) to resign as bishop, refrain from public ministry, and seek counseling, which Davis did. But Browning, who is retired, never alerted civil authorities or investigated the charges.

Also last month, the first woman ever elected as a Lutheran bishop resigned as head of her northern German diocese over charges that she failed to thoroughly investigate reports of a sexually abusive pastor, though the bishop, Maria Jepsen, 65, said she could not recall being told of the abuse cases.

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22 Comments

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ndlxs

"it has now been shown (as he always asserted) that he had no knowledge of his brother’s crime until long after the event."

Simply not true. The victim is my sister; one thing that is not widely known is that there were more than one minor victim and more than a few adult victims as well who have not come forward. Trial testimony by a vestry member ("Anne") stated that she had told Charles what was going on in 1975, 3 years before my parents knew. My sister testified that Charles actually walked in on them in a state of undress several times on church property, as well. His statement that the parents did not want it known was a stretcher; they did request that, but not until 1978, after it had been going on for 4 YEARS. As it is, my sister told my parents on Good Friday, 1978; when they called Charles, he told them "I know why you are calling". Read the trial transcripts if you have any doubt.
Andy

August 10 2010 at 1:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
pkatcher

wow another cover up and this man has the nerve to say thre charges were false..NOPE the statue of limitations expired....typica lchurch cover up thereshould beNO statue of limitation on child abuse and the enablers

August 09 2010 at 8:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ettu

"On the second charge, while agreeing that Bennison was "totally wrong" in his actions, it said "because the statute of limitations has run on that offense, we have no choice under the canons of the Church but to reverse the judgment of the Trial Court.".................If this is so, then it is time to change the canons of the church. How on earth can any religious group justify what this man has done. You are not a religion, you are a political group as prone to protecting one of your own as are those that reside in DC. This ruling is disgusting, and the church membership should rise up in protest. If that doesn't take care of it, I say go find a religion that actually practices Gods' laws.

August 09 2010 at 1:00 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
eyeforeye42

Times are tough. Even compromised help is hard to find when there are qualifications involved. At least this is not a job that can get shipped off to China either.

August 08 2010 at 9:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jfarchonis

Far more Public School teachers are found out to be sexually abusing their students than any other group, so why are stories like this so closely associated with the Catholic Church and not the Board of Education or Teacher's Unions?

August 07 2010 at 11:46 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to jfarchonis's comment
laureenmt

This article is not about the Catholic Church but the Episcopal Church. You should read more carefully.

August 08 2010 at 12:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
No2Spam

Trenchant insight in the question posed by jfarchonis, Aug.7 11:46 PM. Here are my top-o-the-head thoughts on this. 1. Because the school boards and their district superintendents typically are responsive to their constituencies, primarily the parents, we see (in my part of the country, the mainly protestant Middle South) when a child is harmed by an employee of the school, the employee (teacher or not) is promptly placed on leave while the investigation proceeds; contrast with behavior of bishops whose common response seems to have been to intimidate the complainants, and cover for the criminal. 2. Parents in the public and private schools (non-parochial) know that they can get action by taking the charges into the public view; parents in parochial schools fear that they may be regarded as "rats," "squealers," "traitors to the faith" by the entrenched defenders of Holy Church, and thus intimidated into silence. 3. Sexual scandals that embarrass political office-holders and make for headlines that boost audience ratings are "raw meat" to most media, thus if the charges are taken public, the complainants are given careful hearing and facts (plus, frequently, some innuendo) are likely in the modern day to be reported, not buried, as editorial staff and management alike were devout in many parts of the country; until the modern day, scandals affecting Holy Church usually were suppressed by judicious application of ecclesiastical pressure (ranging up to threat of subtle exposure of known sinners to denunciation from pulpits across the see, or even to excommunication) upon the top management/editorial management. 5. Police and prosecutors may or may not be in cahoots with Holy Church hierarchies, but TV/newspaper exposure, now, usually breaks down political resistance to pursuing parental complaints of this serious crime. 6. The Internet in recent years offers a means of support for the hesitant and unsure parents (and offended victim) that counterbalances societal pressures (simultaneously declining in strength) and reduces the fear of embarrassment and exposure to public censure, when one reports a crime by a popular authority figure (i.e., teacher or othe school employee).
7. But, let us take note, recently the news media have served the public interest well by investigating and reporting on colleges and universities where similar cover-ups of on-campus crimes of rape, other sexual assault, and even murders have been successful for many years.
8. jfarchionis makes an assertion of comparative culpability that may not be supportable, or may be quite correct. Are there no academic studies in the colleges of education (teachers' colleges), or Federal DoEd studies that analyze and report publically on crimes against our children in our taxpayer-supported public schools? Only public demand, maybe lawsuits and pressure on politicians (Congress, Legislature, Attorneys General) seems likely to elicit action by our self-aggrandizing rulers.
Comments, anyone?

August 08 2010 at 2:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
emeraldnebula

All organized religion is MAN"S religion, not GOD"S. Men, being imperfect creatures and desirious of power, have developed these religions to satisfy these needs. If you notice, in most religions the pastors and priests are men. Women are on the sidelines and are supposed to look up to and obey the men. Women are the nurturers. Men who "put on the cloth" seem to want the pretige and power it gives them, and the adulation of the women and children. they want society to look up to and listen to them for all the wrong reasons. Remember too, the Bible was written by MEN.

August 07 2010 at 10:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jwj31451

Her Grace Maria Jepsen singlehandedly debunks the myth/theory that the presence and involvement of women, whether among the clergy or on Review Boards, is the key to resolving and preventing child abuse. She evidences that not only are cover-ups to be found in every religious tradition, but that they are/can be mishandled by women as well as men, whether celibate or married.

August 07 2010 at 10:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dsamg2002

Yet we seem to fear only the religion of Islam why is this? Have the churches of Christian faith been any better to America? Witch hunts, sex scandals with children, stealing from the pulpit, money laundering. Name one religion that does not have extremist that abuse the faith and the faithful. Jimmy and Tammy Baker stole millions from their flock. Catholic and now Episcopalian preachers abuse children and then hide the criminals. They tell you about sin and then do the most unimaginable things. No religion should be judged by the few who abuse their power yet that is what we are doing to the New York city Mosque. Do they have less right to build there than Catholics have to build churches next to schools? If you want to judge one religion harshly please be fair and judge them all equally for religion in of itself is the most destructive thing invented by man. The church used to torture witches in public and if you and your children did not attend you were most likely next. All religions are guilty of crimes against humanity. Faith is a wonderful thing, organized religion is a most heinous affliction. Love your GOD but abandon your church....we will all be better for it.

August 07 2010 at 10:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
howjonshaw

I had a boyfriend that was molested as a boy by a catholic priest. 15 years later he was still talking about it and had many problems! so sad

August 07 2010 at 10:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mike Sr

This is yet another black mark on the once-great Episcopal Church. I will never again darken the doorway of a church of this denomination, even if my family had a long history of attendance and even if my grandparents were interred in the churchyard cemetery. I'm sure my grandfather and grandmother would have the wisdom to leave the Episcopal Church if they were alive today and if they had witnessed such events as the ordination of gay Bishop, Eugene V. Robinson and this latest travesty of the reinstatement of Bishop Charles Bennison.

August 07 2010 at 9:42 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Mike Sr's comment
musculars

Absolute nonsensical conflation. The Episcopal church isn't perfect but has comparatively a pretty stellar record in removing errant priests and has no statue of limitations with sexual abusers. Bennison is not an abuser but may yet resign but because of a technicality with pension intact.
Browning, while he should have reported Davis to the authorities at least forced the Bishop to resign but didn't transfer him overseas.

This article is also misleading on the facts concerning Bennison as the appeals court ruled the Bishop was never at any time accused of an immoral act, and it has now been shown (as he always asserted) that he had no knowledge of his brother’s crime until long after the event. Then, he remained silent at the request of the parents of the girl involved, who felt that publicity would hurt her. While the bishop was not fully exonerated for bad judgment, It is too absolutist and facile to call him an acessory after the fact
SNAP makes some SNAP judgments in this case.

August 07 2010 at 10:55 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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