Pennsylvania bishop inhibited from ordained ministry
Measure to take effect after November 3 convention
By Mary Frances Schjonberg
October 31, 2007
Episcopal Life Online
[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori on October 31 inhibited Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania Bishop Charles Bennison from all ordained ministry pending a judgment of the Court for the Trial of a Bishop.
The Title IV Review Committee issued a presentment for conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy against Bennison on October 28.
The two counts of the presentment center on accusations that Bennison, when he was rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Upland, California, did not respond properly after learning sometime in 1973 that his brother, John, who worked as a lay youth minister in the parish, was having a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old member of the youth group. John Bennison was also married at the time, according to the presentment.
The bishop is accused of not taking any steps to end the affair, not providing proper pastoral care to the girl, not investigating whether she needed medical care, taking three years to notify the girl's parents, not reporting his brother to anyone, not investigating whether his brother was sexually involved with any other parishioners or other children, and seeking no advice on how to proceed. The presentment says Charles Bennison reacted "passively and self-protectively."
The second count of the presentment accuses Bennison of continuing to fail in his duties until the fall of 2006. John Bennison became ordained during this time and the bishop is accused of not preventing his brother's ordination, or his ultimately successful application to be reinstated as a priest after having renounced his orders in 1977, or his desire to transfer from the Diocese of Los Angeles to the Diocese of California. John Bennison was forced in 2006 to renounce his orders again when news of his abuse became public.
The Standing Committee of the diocese met in special meeting October 30 at St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Wayne, Pennsylvania, and consented to the inhibition, as is required by the Title IV, Canon 3, Section 45 of the Episcopal Church.
Bennison must cease "all episcopal, ministerial, and canonical acts" effective at 12:01 a.m. November 4, according to the inhibition Jefferts Schori sent to Bennison. The diocese is set to hold its 224th annual diocesan convention November 3. At that time, the Standing Committee will become the ecclesiastical authority in the diocese.
Bennison will continue to be paid during the time that he is inhibited. He will have an opportunity to respond to the presentment's charges. A date for the trial will be set.
-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.