The Philadelphia Inquirer reports on the opening statements in the Ecclesiastical Trial of the Rt. Rev. Charles Bennison, bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania:
A lawyer for the Episcopal Church told a panel of judges this morning that Bishop Charles E. Bennison Jr., leader of the five-county 55,000-member Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, failed to protect an underage girl from the predatory sexual behavior of his brother in the 1970s.
The lawyer, Larry White, told the nine-judge Court for the Trial of a Bishop panel, that Bennison, 64, compounded his wrongful inaction by shirking his responsibility in the matter, as he rose through the church's ranks in later years.
White said that Bennison's brother, John, then a 24-year-old married staffer in their church in Upland, Calif., had groomed a 14-year-old church parishioner as a "sexual target."
Bennison's attorney, James Pabarue, argued that his client had not been trained by the church to handle such matters and followed his own instinct to try to avoid scandal for the victim and the church.
Last October, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori suspended Bennison after the Title IV Review Committee concluded he had "engaged in conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy."
The committee's 12-page "presentment," or indictment, asserts that in the mid-1970s, Bennison, then rector of St. Mark's Parish in Upland, Calif., concealed his brother John's sexual abuse of a teenage girl. The abuse allegedly began in 1973 when the girl was 14 and John was the parish youth minister, and lasted nearly five years.
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Abuse victim testifies here:
Episcopal Bishop Charles E. Bennison Jr.'s church trial on the ground that he long ago concealed his brother's sexual abuse of a teenage girl ended its first day with the victim recounting how she had hoped Bennison would report the abuse to her parents and put an end to it.
"I wanted out," the woman, now 50, told the special Court for the Trial of a Bishop yesterday in Center City. "I wanted someone to help me."
But Bennison, who was then rector of her parish in Upland, Calif., remained silent, she said, adding that there was "no doubt in my mind he knew" that his brother, John Bennison, the church's youth minister, was having sex with her.
She described how twice, when she was 15, Charles Bennison had walked in on them and found them disheveled and breathless, with John Bennison visibly aroused on one occasion.
Both times, she said, Charles Bennison appeared flustered and embarrassed, but "turned around and walked out," and never questioned her about it or told her parents.