Bennison reinstated

The Living Church has the ruling or view here. Key passage:

For that reason, while we agree with the Trial Court that Appellant was guilty of conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy, those actions do not constitute sexual abuse and, therefore, a Presentment for that offense cannot be made because it is bared by the applicable statute of limitations. The Trial Court was clearly erroneous in failing to apply the statute of limitations and, therefore, its judgment against Appellant on the First Offense is hereby reversed.
Key question: Is the definition of sexual abuse too narrow?

It appears obvious Bennison should step down. It appears unlikely he will without a buyout. A buyout would be appalling.

4:36 pm - Philadelphia Inquirer

Bennison said in a teleconference call from Michigan, where he is vacationing, that he will return to his duties as bishop on August 16.

"I hope I am a changed person," he said, and that he had no immediate goals other than to listen to the men and women who have led the diocese since he was suspended in October, 2007.

5:15 pm - Mark Harris provides his analysis. An excerpt:

Bishop Bennison's argument that those bringing charges against him were doing so for reasons other than the content of the charges seems to have made some impression on the Court of Review.
...
So apparently Bishop Bennison is reinstated, the inhibitions against him lifted and no court determined punishment against him. But the stinging condemnation remains: The Court of Review found that he had indeed engaged in conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy and that he had impaired judgment.
Harris identifies another key passage of the ruling:
The tragedy of this conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy is exacerbated by the fact that, during the trial of the case, Appellant testified that, upon reflection on his failure to act, he concludes that his actions were "just about right." They were not just about right. They were totally wrong. Appellant's testimony on this subject revealed impaired judgment with regard to the conduct that is the subject of the First Offense and that is clearly and unequivocally conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy.
The actions refer to his failure to provide pastoral care for the victim. The court also said Bennison showed poor judgment in not confronting his brother who was a staff member under his supervision in his parish. His brother later became a priest himself.

8:00 pm - Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests has a statement. An excerpt:

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.
The Episcopal Church has adopted that policy. Go to the civic authorities immediately. The Bennison case illustrates the wisdom of this policy.

ENS report here. ENS goes over the tensions in the diocese apart from the charges:

The Pennsylvania Standing Committee has been at odds with Bennison since the mid-2000s over concerns about how he has managed the diocese's assets and other issues.

More than once in the past, the Standing Committee has called for his resignation.
...
The diocese referred media inquires to its chancellor, Michael Rehill.

When asked what the transition might look like, Rehill told ENS, that people in the diocese had had strong feelings about the bishop and that the leadership was clearly divided between those who supported Bennison and those who questioned his leadership and his care of the finances. Rehill said that Bennison took one of the wealthiest dioceses in the Episcopal Church and made it one of the poorest.


Early reports:
* Philly Episcopal bishop's church conviction overturned says the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
*The AP also has a brief report.

Previous stories from The Lead on the Bennison case here.

As the Diocese of Pennsylvania website indicates Bennison has remained bishop in title if not authority throughout the trial period. The Standing Committee has been in charge since his conviction.

The bishops composing the Court of Review for the Trial of a Bishop in the Bennison case are Michael Curry (North Carolina), Clifton Daniel (East Carolina, president), Duncan Gray (Mississippi), Mary Gray-Reeves (El Camino Real), Don Johnson (West Tennessee), Chilton Knudsen (Maine, retired), Bruce MacPherson (Western Louisiana) and Todd Ousley (Eastern Michigan). Delaware Bishop Wayne Wright recused himself.

From the Diocese of Pennsylvania website July 7, 2010:

Governance news posted Wednesday, July 07, 2010 A Letter from the Standing Committee

Dear Diocesan Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

As we await word from the Court of Review for the Trial of a Bishop, we would like to share some thoughts with you. Last week the Standing Committee sent an invitation to you to gather at the Cathedral on the Sunday afternoon following the announcement of the Court of Review.

Our intention is to provide an opportunity for those who wish to gather together, to share concerns or hopes, to ask questions and to answer them to the best of our ability, and to offer our prayers for Bishop Bennison, for all who have participated in or been affected by this trial, and for the people of this Diocese. We will begin our gathering with Evening Prayer and conclude with refreshments.

We do not know how the Court is going to rule, neither do we know when the Court is going to rule, nor do we know if the Court’s ruling will be the last word on this trial. But we do know that when the Court rules – whatever that ruling may be – it will be good for the faithful people of this Diocese to have an opportunity to come together in mutual support, in Christian love for one another, and in prayer.

In addition to this initial gathering, the Standing Committee is planning several gatherings to be held this fall at different venues around the Diocese. In consultation with the Presiding Bishop’s office and with full support from Bishop Michel, the Standing Committee has been mapping out several paths for us to take as a Diocese, depending upon the verdict of the trial. We have spoken with members of Standing Committees in other dioceses that have gone through challenging chapters to learn from their experience. We are meeting with the Executive Committee of Diocesan Council, with the Chairman of the Diocesan Planning Commission, and with others in positions of diocesan leadership.

As soon as the trial has concluded, we will be inviting all who wish from through-out the diocese to help shape and plan our mission and ministry together. Our hope and intention is that working together to shape our future will be an opportunity to address some of our differences and seek reconciliation; to share grievances and forgiveness, to share vision, to build hope, and to discern together the leadership needs we face as a Diocese in these times.

We certainly thought we would have heard from the Court of Review by now. As soon as we receive word, we will forward that to you, and with it a date certain for the opportunity to gather at the Cathedral – the first of several gatherings to come.

Please keep us in your prayers as we keep you in ours.

Samuel Adu-Andoh, Christopher Hart, Jo Ann Jones, Ledlie Laughlin, Glenn Matis, Norman MacCausland, Arlene McGurk, Isaac Miller, Joy Segal, and D-L Wormley

Comments (18)

Speechless!

I am praying for the Diocese of Pennsylvania as this protracted and painful situation continues.

Peter Carey+

Would Anne Rice quit The Episcopal Church if she were a member?

I'm ill.

My prayers are for the real victim, and for the people of the diocese.

Well, vis-a-vis trying to make a clear distinction between us and the Romans, this can't be good.

JC Fisher

[I join Peter C w/ prayers for DioPenn]

A comment from Facebook,

Peter Nessen
Not being Episcopalian, I need some education before reaching an opinion on this. In civil courts (including criminal cases) factual findings of the lower court are only reversed if they are unreasonable, whereas legal findings are reviewe...d de novo. What is the standard in a "church court." Did the appellate body find a procedural or legal error? Or did it determine that Mr. Bennison was actually telling the truth? And what is the burden of proof? Beyond a reasonable doubt? Preponderence of the evidence?

If you hadn't already guessed, I'm an attorney and I find this case, and the reactions to it, intriguing.

The Living Church has posted online the ruling (39 pages) from the Court of Review for the Trial of a Bishop: http://bit.ly/cqc8Hc

[Thank you! - JBC]

I hope the Court of Appeals issues a written ruling and explains itself; this is a very controversial decision.

And oh, that poor diocese, stuck with a tainted bishop. Who would let their teenager walk up for confirmation?

Lord have mercy, it's all about the statute of limitations. His brother molested a 14-year-old member of the parish youth group and this guy hushed it up.

Bennison, resign now!

From the "StClementsBlog" comes this reaction:


y saintclementsblog
The news that a Church appeal court, consisting of eight Bishops (a ninth recused himself) has reversed the findings of the verdict against Bishop Bennison has burst upon an astonished Church.

But I cannot understand why this should be so. As the appeal court said, 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.

It may well be that Bishop Bennison should have been more suspicious of his brother and made more vigorous attempts to find out what was really going on, but this hardly constitutes condoning immoral (and criminal) actions.

http://saintclementsblog.wordpress.com/2010/08/05/bishop-bennison-wins-his-appeal/

Posted by Peter Carey

A certain amount of knickers-in-a-twist among the commenters, which is entirely understandable, but I think that folks should hold their peace until they have read the entire 39-page ruling by the Court of Review. Tragic, and a little tedious, as legal rulings tend to be, but it seems to me (as a non-lawyer!) that it is very careful and thoughtful. (As I reload this Lead page I see that Mark Harris has now commented, and as usual wisely.) The Trial Court was in error for confusing two issues, and thus reaching an erroneous verdict. Deep thanks to the Court of Review for what seems to be a correct, albeit painful, ruling. They have provided the Church a valuable resource for understanding our canon law. Bishop Bennison has not been exonerated; on the contrary he has been judged guilty, but not of a charge on which he can any longer be presented. I agree with Mark that Bishop Bennison's prompt retirement would be the most appropriate next step.

FYI, how Survivors of Clergy Abuse see this:

SNAP Press Statement

For immediate release: Thursday, August 5, 2010

Philly Episcopal bishop's church conviction overturned; SNAP responds

Statement by Barbara Dorris, outreach director of SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314-862-7688 home, 314-503-0003 cell)

(Suspended Episcopal Bishop Charles Bennison, who ignored and/or concealed his brother's child sex crimes, has won reinstatement because a church court has deemed his offenses to be beyond the statute of limitations.)

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.

Our hearts ache for those victimized by both Bennison brothers - one who committed child sex crimes, the other who concealed child sex crimes. This must feel like a terrible blow to those brave victims. We hope that they will be comforted by the fact that their courage has helped show thousands of people what sick men these two alleged 'men of God' really are.

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.

(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world's oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We've been around for 22 years and have more than 9,000 members. Despite the word "priest" in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)

Contact David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell), Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747 cell), Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688 home, 314-503-0003 cell)
.......................................................................

Having been reinstated after this awful, controversial situation, the gracious thing for the Bishop now is to resign.

My prayers are with Bishop Bennison, his brother, the Diocese of PA, and the victims of the abuse.

There are no winners in this. Only losers. Every one.

"As the appeal court said, 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."

Quite honestly, I cannot see why this event would mean that the Bishop needs to resign. Would that "fix" anything? We always seem to need to see "heads roll" to satisfy some sort of desire to find a scapegoat for events like this.

Granted, for the girl, this was a tragic event, but should the bishop have ignored the parents requests and "gone public" immediately in spite of what they wanted? That would have been great for the "survivors" movement, maybe, but a real tragedy for the child and family, I suspect.

How would his resignation now help? It seems to me that he was caught in a moral "damned if you do, damned if you don't dilemma." I am all for fighting child rape (let's call it what it really is) and doing our very best to prevent it and appropriate remedies and punishments as required. I am not sure that a "gracious resignation" would do more than "sweep things under the rug." It might make _us_ feel better and be better "publicity," but the very finding of the court will be every bad publicity we could have wanted. His resignation won't solve anything, I think.

I'll tell you why it's a problem. This is perhaps the one area where you had better be more strenuous then the canons say you have to be.

Because souls are at stake.

If Bennison had learned anything from this whole affair, he would have realized the damage that he contributed to by his own inaction and resigned as an attempt to atone for his inactions.

But he didn't, falling back on cold legalism to save his pointy hat. As a result, no Episcopalian ever again has the right to criticize any other Christian church for their responses to their own sexual abuse scandals.

Exactly, Christopher. Thanks

Personally, I didn't swim the Thames to hear Romish-sounding excuses like "statutes of limitations." This is completely embarrassing and troubling.

Joe Brewer

I guess, if it's possible, I might feel better about the whole thing if he would resign. Graciously. I can't blame him for "falling back on cold legalism" and trying to "save his pointy hat." He's done that. He's won. Now, he needs to recognize that the moral authority of his episcopacy has been called into question by a great majority of his flock. He's won. Now, he needs to let the diocese heal. Anything else looks like cold arrogance.

As to 'Romish-sounding excuses like "statutes of limitations,"' in a legal proceeding, statute of limitations is an entirely appropriate factor when deciding guilt or lack thereof. Rules like the statutes of limitation are what make up law, canon or otherwise. What's the point of having a proceeding at all if one ignores the rules? Legal proceedings are all *about* the rules, including statutes of limitation.

That having been said, having legitimately gotten off the legal hook because of the way the rules are constructed and must be applied in this case, Bennison's wisest choice at this time is to retire so as not to embarass TEC any more.

phballou - please sign your name next time -- ed.

Yes, phballou, I should have expanded my thought. I realize statutes of limitation are rules in law Roman Catholic law, criminal/civil law, the canons of TEC, etc., that were properly applied in this case.

Perhaps our canons need changing to remove these. Maybe statutes of limitations are inappropriate in cases of misconduct with children. Maybe our church can go a step further than civil law or Roman canons.

Joe Brewer

Add your comments

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Reminder: At Episcopal Café, we hope to establish an ethic of transparency by requiring all contributors and commentators to make submissions under their real names. For more details see our Feedback Policy.

Advertising Space