Trial begins today


The Ecclesiastical Trial of the Right Reverend Charles E. Bennison, Jr., Bishop of Pennsylvania began today.

The charges outlined in the Presentment dated October 29, 2007 by the then Presiding Bishop, Frank Griswold, accuse the Bishop of concealing the sexual abuse of a 14-year-old girl by his brother, also a priest, who worked for him in a California parish in the 1970s.

The Associated Press reports:

The church indictment, called a presentment, charges that Bennison reacted “passively and self-protectively” and “failed to take obvious, essential steps to investigate his brother’s actions, protect the girl from further abuse, and find out whether other children were in danger.”

The church indictment also charges that Bennison continued to “fail in his duties” by knowing about the abuse but not stopping his brother’s 1974 ordination. John Bennison, who never faced criminal charges, left the priesthood two years ago.

The Standing Committee of the Diocese describes the composition of the panel and the process of an ecclesiastical trial here:

The trial will be held at the Philadelphia Marriott, 12th and Market Streets and is expected to take four days. The Court for the Trial of a Bishop consists of five Bishops, two Priests and two adult lay communicants chosen by the General Convention:

The Rt. Rev. Andrew Donnan Smith, Bishop of Connecticut (Chair)

The Rt. Rev. Bruce Edward Caldwell, Bishop of Wyoming

The Rt. Rev. Gordon Paul Scruton, Bishop of Western Massachusetts

The Rt. Rev. George Wayne Smith, Bishop of Missouri

The Rt. Rev. Catherine Elizabeth Waynick, Bishop of Indianapolis

The Rev. Marjorie Ann Menaul, Diocese of Central Pennsylvania

The Rev. Karen Anita Brown Montagno, Diocese of Massachusetts

Ms. Maria Campbell, Birmingham, Alabama

Ms. June Freeman, Akron, Ohio

Within 30 days of the conclusion of the trial, the Court votes as to whether the Bishop committed a canonical offense. For a judgment to be entered against the Bishop, a vote of 2/3 of the members of the Court is required. If fewer than 2/3rds of the members concur in the finding, the Presentment is dismissed.

If there is a vote of a canonical offense, the Bishop, Church Attorney, each Complainant and each Victim will have 30 days to provide the Court with comments regarding the sentence to be imposed.

The Court then votes upon the sentence, which also requires a 2/3rd vote. The Judgment and Sentence are then communicated to each party listed above plus the Standing Committee.

After entry of the Final Judgment, the Bishop may appeal within 30 days to the Court of Review of the Trial of a Bishop. This is a different group of individuals and consists of 9 Bishops elected by the House of Bishops. The Presiding Judge of the Court, upon receiving the Notice of Appeal, shall appoint within 60 days the time for the Hearing on the Appeal.

Read the AP Story here and the Diocesan Web-page here.

Earlier The Lead coverage here.

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One Response to "Trial begins today"
  1. Bishops behaving badly?:

    "Mr. Pabarue [Bishop Bennison's lawyer] argued that bishops who were aware of John Bennison’s sexual behavior either cooperated in Mr. Bennison’s reinstatement to the priesthood or did not use those facts to stop Bishop Bennison from being consecrated in 1997. For example:

    • The Rt. Rev. David E. Richards, formerly of the Office of Pastoral Development, and the Rt. Rev. Robert C. Rusack, Bishop of Los Angeles from 1974 to 1986, both knew of John Bennison’s previous activities when Bishop Rusack reinstated him to the priesthood in 1979.

    • The Rt. Rev. Frederick Borsch, Bishop of Los Angeles from 1988-2002, helped the victim’s family disclose the scandal to the members of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, and gave consent to Bishop Bennison’s consecration.

    • The Most Rev. Edmond L. Browning, Presiding Bishop from 1986-1997 received a detailed letter from the victim in 1993 and four years later served as Bishop Bennison’s chief consecrator."

    Bennison's defense: What I did met the standards of the day. Great defense: everybody did it.

    Perhaps. I would rather believe that few bishops then or now live by such standards. A dark chapter in the church's history in any event.

    At least it is bringing brought to light -- I like to think this is so because we have women in leadership positions. No more old boys club, may there never be an old girls club.

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