BISHOP CHARLES E. BENNISON: PERPETRATOR BY OMISSION
Bennison Faces Presentment Charges
By David W. Virtue
PennsylvaniaBishop Charles E. Bennison knew his brother John was having sexualrelations with a 14-year old girl when they both lived in California,and he did nothing about it. Bennison was a priest at the time andwould later become a bishop. His brother was an ordinand for thepriesthood.
What Bennison did was statutory rape. He later rapeda 19-year old woman, his ex-wife said. Charles Bennison covered up hisbrother's sin and told the mother of the 14-year old girl to get lostwhen the ex-wife wanted to visit the church to talk to Charles whom sheaffectionately called Chuck. Bennison committed a felony by failing toreport his brother's crimes to civil authorities, and for that alone heshould be fired from office. Charles Bennison winked and nodded evenwhen he stumbled in on his married brother's sexual misbehavior at hishome at that time.
While the statute of limitations has run outfor civil prosecution, the ecclesiastical and moral consequences of hisacts live on. The long chronology of John Bennison's sexual sins andhis brother's complicity in them, erupted with full force this week inPhiladelphia when family members, victims of John Bennison came to townto tell their stories.
But now Charles faces Presentmentcharges, unanimously brought by the Standing Committee for financialmismanagement. It will be the new Presiding Bishop Katharine JeffertsSchori's first test of leadership. Sources tell VOL that she will actquickly and none too favorably against Bennison. We shall see. Even ifhe does resign he will still face the two lawsuits brought by Fr. DavidMoyer.
Roman Catholic prelates have had to deal harshly withwayward priests, and have themselves suffered at the hands of civilauthorities and been disgraced in public eyes. There is no reason whyit should not be done in the case of Bishop Bennison despite his"heartfelt apology." Lives have been ruined and Bennison mustultimately be held accountable. His failure to report his brother tothe authorities means that he exposed children and parishioners to openand further danger.
And all this while The Episcopal Church saysit has mandatory workshops for The Prevention of Child Abuse and ThePrevention of Adult Sexual Misconduct in Church. It must have slipped'Chuck's' mind. Ironically attendance at these workshops is mandatoryfor all employees (including clergy) and for all volunteers whoregularly supervise children and youth outside Sunday morning.
Julia,the mother of the daughter, blasted the bishop in an open letter,saying she had a "paper trail" of letters from a number of bishops andfrom Bennison himself to prove he covered up his brother's sexual sin."I have the witness of my daughter that when you unexpectedly walked inon compromising scenes in a Sunday school room and the church office,you must have suspected something. If you were, as we thought, ourpastor and friend, you should surely have told us. But as you wrotelater on March 30, 1978; 'I have to be, not a pastor, but John'sbrother in this situation'; so please don't deny your part in this."
Ina series of forums across the Diocese of Pennsylvania, culminating inthe church sanctuary of St. George's in Ardmore on Sunday, Bennison'sdetractors, some followers and a number of attorneys got an earfulabout the salacious world the Bennison brothers inhabited for more than30 years with the family's dirty laundry and the deep, dark secretsexposed for all the world to hear. What they told was a horrible litanyof cover-up and denial.
Bennison himself said he knew nothingabout his brother's sexual activities till a year later, but he's aliar. He knew all along, and the mother of the girl flew 3,000 milesfrom California to tell Pennsylvania Episcopalians her story, becauseBennison keeps lying to the media about what happened and won't tellthe truth. He apologizes then says he didn't know anything. Hisbehavior is sociopathic.
Bishop Bennison has winked and noddedover past sexual misbehavior in the diocese. In the Diocese ofPennsylvania he was informed about another priest who had pushed thesexual boundaries and he did nothing, allowing him to move from oneparish to another in the diocese, till he was fired and left foranother diocese.
He glibly brushed off another priest who wasarrested and paid a fine of $300 dollar for masturbating in a publicpark in front of two park rangers. He was out leading a youth group atthe time. The priest is still in his parish; and at a theological levelhas allowed a Wiccan priestess to carry on in her role as a priest inThe Episcopal Church even though she admits dabbling in the occultworld. Her husband became a full-fledged Wiccan and left the priesthood.
Bennisonis not able or willing to uphold the faith of the church, and whenasked to affirm a number of doctrines by a traditionalist priest couldnot do so. He has written a Visigoth Rite for same-sex marriages andsaid Jesus was a sinner who forgave himself. He said the church wrotethe Bible and could rewrite it to include homogenital behavior. He hashad Jack Spong, former Bishop of Newark mislead the faithful in thecathedral with his 12 Theses, all the while he plans to file lawsuitsagainst two orthodox priests to seize their properties because theydon't want to have anything more to do with him.
But Bennison'sday is coming. This Saturday he must face his whole diocese at theannual PA Diocesan Convention and calls for his resignation will be thefirst order of business, VOL has been told. He now faces presentmentcharges raising the ante against him.
The Standing Committeewants him gone and has repeatedly called for his resignation. Theyhired former Newark Diocesan attorney Michael Rehill who filed formalcharges with the Title IV Review Committee. A group calling themselvesConcerned Pennsylvania Episcopalians also wants him gone saying thathis mismanagement of the diocese's finances, the purchase of CampWapiti has put the diocese in serious financial straits. An orthodoxpriest has two law suits filed against Bennison, and even his ownliberal camp followers have called him "untrustworthy". The DiocesanCouncil made up of party hacks and failing parish priests still believein his "mission" but even there support for Bennison is waning.
BishopBennison is now seen fighting for his ecclesiastical life. Bennisonsays repeatedly that he will not resign. For the moment it is a Mexicanstand off to see who will blink first. But he now faces civil andecclesiastical action.
While it is difficult to fire a bishop,it is not impossible. The grounds must be gross immorality. Jo Mo Doss,the theologically feather-weight and worthless Bishop of New Jersey gota large pay off to go away. He was accused of racism, but was basicallyincompetent. This was engineered by PB Frank Griswold. Montana Bishop"Cy" Jones was forced to step down over allegations of adultery.
IfBennison is tossed out with a large payout, it will sadly not be forthe right reasons, that is, his inability to uphold the faith oncedelivered to the saints, but for a tawdry period in his life when hefailed to do his duty to bring his brother to account.
In the end Bennison must face the fact that bad morals flows from bad theology and now he faces the consequences.