The trial of Charles Bennison, suspended bishop of Pennsylvania continued with his testimony and that of his brother's ex-wife. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports:
Episcopal Bishop Charles E. Bennison Jr., on trial within his church for concealing his brother's sexual abuse of a minor, testified yesterday that he learned about the abuse only when the girl was 17 and at the time believed he had "acted appropriately."
"I never thought my conduct was problematic," Bennison, 64, said during direct examination by his attorney.
Bennison was the young rector of St. Mark's Parish in Upland, Calif., in 1973 when his brother John, a parish youth minister, began having sex with a 15-year-old girl, Martha Alexis.
In response to questions from his attorney, James A. Pabarue, Bennison defended his failure in not informing his diocesan superiors about his brother's abuse, telling the girl's parents, or offering her any counseling.
"I was confused," he said, adding that he "didn't want to embarrass or shame" the girl, who was then 17, by telling her parents.
"People would see it as immoral activity, not sex abuse," he said. "I wasn't thinking about her age."
He said he did not ask about his brother's relationship with her or offer her counseling because he thought she would probably deny it - as John Bennison had - and because he did not feel she particularly liked him.
Read more here.
John Bennison's former wife testified:
...that her ex had had affairs with five women - three while he worked at St. Mark's and two after he left in 1975 to work in a Santa Barbara, Calif., church.
Regarding John Bennison's reinstatement to the priesthood:
In 1977, John Bennison renounced the priesthood, but he asked to be reinstated two years later - without the knowledge of his brother and the Alexis family, Bishop Bennison said yesterday.
"I had no idea that you could come back in," said Bennison, whose father was also a bishop.
Wearing the same outfit he had worn all week - a dark jacket over a purple vest and clerical collar - Bennison testified that no one had contacted him about his brother's reinstatement.
Bennison said he had assumed that the bishop of Los Angeles, Robert Rusack, had known about the sexual abuse before Rusack restored his brother.
"I thought we all had sort of moved forward," he said.
The press finds it extraordinary that anyone can attend the trial and that it is all being held in public in contrast to other churches and sex abuse. Ronnie Polaneczky of the Philadelphia Daily News writes:
Something extraordinary is going on at the Philadelphia Marriott Hotel: A bishop is being called on the carpet for not alerting church authorities, parents or police that a church youth-group leader at his church was having sex with a teenage member.
More extraordinary still is that the proceedings are public. Anyone can enter the Marriott ballroom and see the robed, nine-member jury of Episcopal leaders presiding over the church trial of Bishop Charles Bennison.
They can wince as the victim, now 50, haltingly describes her childhood abuse as "degrading."
They can hear her abuser's ex-wife describe the horror she felt when she realized her former spouse was actually a sexual abuser, not a philanderer.
They can watch as a distraught Bennison explains why he didn't help the young victim.
No matter what the trial's outcome, its transparency alone makes it historic.
How ironic that it's unfolding in a city where Catholic bishops responsible for covering up past sex abuse in the Philly Archdiocese have yet to be held publicly accountable by name, by their church, for the pain their complicity perpetuated.
Read more here.
Jerry Hames is reporting the story for Episcopal Life. Read his coverage here. He reports Bennison saying:
... he did not seek help elsewhere, either from his bishop or health care professionals. "If it was true, it was yet another affair. I didn't call the bishop [Robert Rusack] about all the affairs. I was fairly intimidated by Bishop Rusack. The attitude was it was your job as a priest to help the bishop, not to take him problems."
Bennison admitted he was also concerned about his own future. "Any disturbance in the parish would reflect poorly on my leadership in the parish at that time."
A letter he wrote in 1979 to Margaret "Maggie" Thompson, John's ex-wife, was introduced in which he asked her not to return to Upland, or St. Mark's Church. He said he sought to "soothe animosities which could cost me my job" and asked her not to call Martha. "Every time you phone Martha all the old wounds are opened. We need to move on," it said.
Bennison said there was a secret in the parish and that he was trying to manage the secret. "Maggie was an irritant," he said.
UPDATE: from the Philadelphia Inquirer:
On the last day of a very unusual trial, Episcopal Bishop Charles E. Bennison Jr. continued to defend himself against charges that he concealed his brother's sexual abuse of a minor decades ago, saying today that he acted within the standards of the times.
"As poorly as I handled it," he said, "if I had applied today's protocols then, things might have turned out worse."
Bennison, now 64, was rector of St. Mark's Parish in Upland, Calif., when his brother John, a parish youth minister, started a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old member of the parish.
When a judge asked Bennison whether he had been aware then of statutory rape laws, he said he was "not familiar" with the term in the 1970s and "never heard the word minor" used in connection with sexual misconduct in those days.