The Rector of Christ Church, Philadelphia, the Rev. Timothy Safford, writes to ask newly restored Bishop Charles Bennison to resign:
To the Friends and Member of Christ Church:
This past week, the Court of Review for the Trial of a Bishop effectively restored Charles Bennison as Bishop of Pennsylvania. Their new ruling allows Bishop Bennison to return to his office, which he intends to do on August 16. I have written a letter urging him not to, which is below. …
The Rt. Rev. Charles Bennison, Bishop of Pennsylvania
240 S. 4th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Now that the Court of Review for the Trial of a Bishop has overturned your sentence of deposition, and you may continue to be a Bishop in the Episcopal Church, you have the right to return as Bishop of Pennsylvania. But is it right to do so?
I urge you to give this question the deepest consideration with your best advisers before making your final decision on returning August 16.
Let me tell you my advice, so you know.
To be Bishop is to unify the Church, but your return would further divide our diocese. To be Bishop is to build up the Church, but your return would tear down the fragile foundations of trust and hope that have been built these past two years. My strong belief is that your return will do more harm than good, create more anger and less reconciliation, and hinder, not advance, the Church’s mission in our diocese. These realities may be unfair and unjust, but I believe them to be true.
Further, to be Bishop is to be a pastor, and for you to be a pastor, there must be enough trust and sense of security so that “the sheep may safely graze.”
As the opinion of the Court of Review said forcefully, accurately and rightly, you committed no acts of sexual abuse or exploitation of a minor. But that just doesn’t matter at this point. Then and now, the Church is guilty of sexual abuse and exploitation of the young and the vulnerable. Then and now, the Church, promises to be the guardian of a gated, protected sheepfold of pastoral safety for its members. But, the shepherds charged with protecting the fold have yet been able to keep sexual abusers out. Then and now, those abusers have not climbed into the sheepfold, like the robber and the thief, “some other way,” but have been let in by the very shepherds who promise that the sheep may safely graze. Consequently, the Church does not appear safe to those who might consider coming into our sheepfold, and it does not feel safe to those in the fold who have experienced the failure of the Church to protect our own.
It may not be right or fair, but you embody that failure. You were a shepherd then, and to those who have suffered abuse, or care about the safety of our Church, it will not matter that these crimes happened decades ago. If you return as our Bishop, many in your flock will not feel safe, and you will not be able to be our pastor. It doesn’t matter that so many others were part of the failure, or that others have viciously used the abuse the woman suffered so long ago to accomplish their own ecclesiastical ends. Truly, I believe the most pastoral act would be, as a sacrifice for the creation of pastoral safety, not to return as our Diocesan bishop. Now that your ministry is restored, serve the Church to rebuild the shattered trust and safety we need to serve the sheep entrusted to us.
You said after the ruling, “I think I have shared in Christ’s crucifixion.” First, a visceral comment: Trust me, the woman so abused and exploited in the Episcopal Church while a member of St. Mark’s, Upland has shared far more of the terror, shame, degradation, pain and humiliation of what Jesus experienced at Calvary. By His wounds, not by yours, will she be healed. We are obligated to her and the countless others who have suffered the reality of crucifixion at the hands, not of Pilate, but of our Church, to create a place of true safety within our sheepfold. Your return hinders, if not prevents, progress.
Second, Jesus willingly made the sacrifice of his life for the benefit of others. What Christ did for the world, we are called to do. To share in Christ’s crucifixion is to die to self and selfish needs so that Christ will be raised in us. I ask you to prayerfully consider making the sacrifice of not returning as Bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania for the benefit of many who want to believe that the Episcopal Church can be safe.
Your brother in Christ,
The Rev. Timothy B. Safford, Rector
Christ Church, Philadelphia
UPDATE: Story from Episcopal Life