THINKING ANGLICANS

Presiding Bishop inhibits Pennsylvania bishop

Updated again Friday evening

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori on October 31 inhibited Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania Bishop Charles Bennison from all ordained ministry pending a judgment of the Court for the Trial of a Bishop. The Title IV Review Committee issued a presentment for conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy against Bennison on October 28.

Read the full ENS report: Pennsylvania bishop inhibited from ordained ministry.

The two counts of the presentment center on accusations that Bennison, when he was rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Upland, California, did not respond properly after learning sometime in 1973 that his brother, John, who worked as a lay youth minister in the parish, was having an affair with a 14-year-old member of the youth group. John Bennison was also married at the time, according to the presentment.

The bishop is accused of not taking any steps to end the affair, not providing proper pastoral care to the girl, not investigating whether she needed medical care, taking three years to notify the girl’s parents, not reporting his brother to anyone, not investigating whether his brother was sexually involved with any other parishioners or other children, and seeking no advice on how to proceed. The presentment says Charles Bennison reacted “passively and self-protectively.”

The second count of the presentment accuses Bennison of continuing to fail in his duties until the fall of 2006. John Bennison became ordained during this time and the bishop is accused of not preventing his brother’s ordination, or his ultimately successful application to be reinstated as a priest after having renounced his orders in 1977, or his desire to transfer from the Diocese of Los Angeles to the Diocese of California. John Bennison was forced in 2006 to renounce his orders again when news of his abuse became public.

Updates

The Standing Committee of the Diocese of Pennsylvania has issued a statement. TitusOneNine has a copy of it here.

Episcopal News Service has a detailed report: PENNSYLVANIA: Standing Committee upholds Presiding Bishop’s decision to inhibit bishop.

The Standing Committee website has more links.

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NP
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NP

All this has been known for years…..why has this taken so long??

Stephen Roberts
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Stephen Roberts

“John Bennison was forced in 2006 to renounce his orders again when news of his abuse became public.”

Hardly known about for years. It is policies of keep it under your mitre that have allowed child abusers to move from parish to parish across all – there can be no shelter for child abusers in the church.

Pat O'Neill
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Pat O'Neill

What bothers me about the timing of this is that it all hits just two days before the diocesan convention for Pennsylvania. (I’m a parish delegate.)

The real issue in this diocese has been financial and political–with certain parishes withholding monetary support of the diocese over disputes with Bennison regarding his “liberal” policies and others over the purchase of a campsite for children’s summer camp and retreats. In 2007, the diocese was forced to cancel virtually all outreach mission for lack of funds.

I suspect those who oppose Bennison’s policies will use this as a reason to force him out of office.

Ford Elms
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Ford Elms

“All this has been known for years…..why has this taken so long??”

Probably for much the same reasons that abuse by members of the CofE was ignored for so long. Also, NP, note who is now doing something about it. I don’t think this can be seen as some sort of liberal conspiracy.

Lapinbizarre
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Lapinbizarre

Clearing the decks for the seemingly inevitable deposition actions against Duncan, Iker, et al, if and when they jump ship, NP. The Radical Right Secessionist faction will no longer be able to hide behind the slogan “What about Bennison?” whenever the topic of depriving separatist bishops is raised. And there’s clearly a case against Bennison, just as there is against Duncan and Iker.

Steven
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Steven

Hi Ford: RE: Liberal Conspiracies Hmmm. I’m wondering whatever happened to the “case” against that priest in Colorado who withdrew his church from TEC. His name was Armstrong wasn’t it? I suppose the police have him safely behind bars by now. Of course, TEC was sure to press for state prosecution of his “crimes” to the limits of the law given the vast amounts of church money he supposedly absconded with. Simultaneously, I suppose they have instituted civil suits to recover the moneys he misappropriated from his parish and the larger church. What?!! TEC HASN’T DONE THIS YET?!! I wonder… Read more »

John Robison
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John Robison

Steven-
The IRS is still looking into Armstrong’s financial misdoings.
Presentments against Bishops take a long time and there was an ongoing review of Tittle IX. I think that some of this is also a difference in how the current PB looks at these matters from her predesesor.

Ford Elms
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Ford Elms

Steven, As I remember, when the Colorado case came to the fore, it was the more Conservative Evangelicals on this site who were baying for his blood, the only ones who used phrases like “not fit” to describe him. The only call for any kind of compassion for the man came from liberal quarters. Your confidence that TEC would definitely have wanted to go to court with this just shows your understanding of sin as lawbreaking and punishment as the only option. I have no idea, but might it just be TEC doesn’t want to go to court? Also, in… Read more »

NP
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NP

Ford…I don’t think there is “a liberal conspiracy” just that our miserable organisations (including the RC) have failed kids

+Armstrong has been cleared by an independent audit……let’s see what other hoops he has to jump through to prove himself but so far he is is still innocent until proven guilty……as I have always said, if he is proven guilty, he should step down.

Pat – says “I suspect those who oppose Bennison’s policies will use this as a reason to force him out of office.”
SO, you don’t think there is reason to force him out of office????

Lapinbizarre
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Lapinbizarre

“…. for what appears increasingly to have been made-up financial malfeasance.”

Bull-poop, Steven! Go to the diocese of Colorado’s presentment against Fr. Armstrong – http://www2.gazette.com/interactives/pdf/Presentment.pdf – and read that section (pp 3-5) of it that pertains to the Bowton Trust – the purpose of the Trust and the uses to which Armstrong put it.

Steven
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Steven

Lapinbizarre: If it is necessary for TEC to protect the financial assets of TEC by suing parishes that withdraw from TEC, why aren’t they suing Armstrong for his alleged conversion of large sums of money? More importantly, why hasn’t the state preferred criminal charges and why has he just been cleared by an independent audit? If he’s guilty, go after him. But, if TEC doesn’t go after him–especially after making such a fuss over preserving the assets of TEC in other contexts–one cannot help but suspect that the charges were a trumped up load of . . . hmm, how… Read more »

Pluralist
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Comment combining this and the comments of Archbishop Fred Hiltz here:

http://pluralistspeaks.blogspot.com/2007/11/reality-and-abstraction.html

And a cartoon.

ettu
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ettu

I second Lapinbizzare – to the best of my knowledge the “independent” audit was paid for by the defense in this case – it was most emphatically not done by the court authorities so cannot be said to have been done in such a fashion that the court outcome is preordained – in fact I believe court proceedings are planned although I am not ceertain if a date has been selected – I will be happy to be corrected if the FACTS are otherwise ettu

Malcolm+
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Malcolm+

NP claims: “+Armstrong has been cleared by an independent audit” Wrong on three counts, NP. First, Armstrong isn’t a bishop . . . yet. I’m sure he will be soon, since the schismatics seem to like giving out pointy hats. Second, an auditor hired and instructed by an interested party (CANA) hardly constitutes independence. CANA and (+)Minns have a major stake in having Armstrong cleared. Third, the audit actually did find there was wrongdoing, financial irregularity and fiduciary negligence. It just blames layfolk vice the rector. I’m still curious to know what sort of rector figures it’s okay to use… Read more »

Malcolm+
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Malcolm+

The comment was made about the length of time it has taken for this to happen.

It appears that the first formal accusation presented to the Church was in early September (or perhaps late August) of last year. The accusations deal with offenses which originally occured 32 years ago.

In this context, no investigative authority is going to rush to judgement. A 14 month process, including investigation and then the decision to charge and on which charges does not seem overly slow in a 32 year old case.

We should all pray for “the 14 year old.”

JCF
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JCF

Has there ever been another inhibition (or other form of severe condemnation, e.g., defrocking) of an Anglican bishop ANYWHERE for (lack of oversight regarding) sexual abuse?

[It’s not like anyone can pretend that similar things haven’t happened, in dioceses throughout the AC!]

May this act of justice, however delayed, be the first of many in the AC…

Ford Elms
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Ford Elms

“If he’s guilty, go after him.” You would do well to consider that this may not be the most Christian response to this, or indeed any, issue. And I ask again, it is one thing to accuse those one considers one’s enemies of various schemes and misstatements, quite another to suggest that the leaders of TEC are willing to actually fabricate a criminal offence, to actually frame someone, because they do not agree with his theology. Are you actually saying this? Other than paranoia, what is your evidence for such a serious charge? Have you really fallen so far into… Read more »

Cheryl Va. Clough
Guest

JCF There’s been things happening globally in pockets, South Australia had some nasty stuff go down the other year. The main problem seems to be that souls often going into “denial” and try to avoid the problem, and then once they’ve been part of the problem for a while, find it hard to backtrack as they have become complicit. It is a similar dynamic to what has happened at some theological colleges and boarding schools. The interesting thing is once the cat is out of the bag, there’s usually a few confessions from the more gentle souls who weren’t happy… Read more »

Steven
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Steven

Ettu: CANA’s audit is certainly as likely to be “independent” as the audit paid for by TEC. As you may recall, there are two sides here–TEC is not an unbiased third party. However, unlike the TEC audit, the recent audit was a complete audit with full access to the information required. Perhaps I should have said complete and independent (inasmuch as the earlier audit was also carried out–I believe–by an independent auditor). Ford: You’re being a bit silly here Ford. TEC has already gone after Armstrong, and done what they could safely accomplish in-house with a kangaroo court. The fact… Read more »

Robert Ian Williams
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Robert Ian Williams

The one thing TEC has in its favour is a presiding Bishop who is so shrewd and clever.

Just go to the American conservative blogs and contrast the vile and unChristian comments…some of which are nearly as bad as Westboro Baptist.

Pat O'Neill
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Pat O'Neill

“Pat – says “I suspect those who oppose Bennison’s policies will use this as a reason to force him out of office.”
SO, you don’t think there is reason to force him out of office????”

I don’t know at this point. Presumption of innocence and all that. But I don’t think those who oppose him on grounds of a liberal/conservative split should be permitted to use a completely different set of arguments to get what they want.

Because even if found innocent, these charges will continue to haunt Bennison and make it virtually impossible for him to function as a diocesan bishop.

EmilyH
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EmilyH

For Steven… On the Armstrong+ case in Colorado Springs. No, the allegations are far from made up and they are very real and as someone very well versed in not-for-profit tax law particularly as it affects such things as when is a “scholarship” a “tax free” scholarship vs. taxable compensation/fringe benefits, I would not want to be Fr. Armstrong facing an IRS audit. Fr. Armstrong’s accountant (H & R Block tax preparer) states in his letter reviewed by Grace/St. Stephen’s vestry’s forensic accountant that Fr. Armstrong told him of a “church” scholarship. Apparently he neglected to tell him the details… Read more »

ettu
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ettu

Steven – please re-read my post – no where in it do I mention a TEC audit – I did not even remember there had been one (thanks for jogging my memory) I said there had not been a truly independent audit since the defendants had paid for this audit and that it would not control the legal outcome – which I stil believe is pending – if he has been found totally innocent then why are legal proceedings still a possibility? I repeat I am happy to learn from FACTS but am not dissuaded by opinions –especially when words… Read more »

Steven
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Steven

EmilyH: Yes, these are all very serious charges. And, when and if the IRS comes after Armstrong I’ll know that, like millions of other Americans, he has run afoul of the IRS. However, barring a civil or criminal prosecution leading to a definitive resolution of the issue of his guilt or innocence I will continue to consider him to be “under a cloud” but still presumed innocent of theft, breach of fiduciary responsibilities, tax fraud, conversion, embezzlement, or etc. My primary interest is in the fact that TEC seems so indifferent to prosecuting its “claims” against Armstrong before a neutral… Read more »

trog
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trog

As morals in Anglicanism seem to follow secular law closely, it will be interesting to discover if a crime was committed: what was the age of consent for that locality at the time? Was adultery actually illegal in that locality at the time?

If no crime occurred, any outrage can only be ascribed to the “ick” factor. If crimes did occur then the Bishop should be treated as all other criminal Bishops are treated.

NP
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NP

I love it…..for a money related sin, Malcolm is not willing to give Armstrong much benefit of the doubt (because he is a “conservative”?)………….but we have a serious accusation (which is not new) and involves a child but Pat is willing to give Bennison some benefit of the doubt (because he is a liberal?) Sure, both are innocent until proven guilty. I would have wanted both suspended from the allegations, to prove their innocence or go…..but I would worry most about crimes against a child and certainly not wait a year (at least) to inhibit someone with such poor judgment.… Read more »

Ford Elms
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Ford Elms

“the fact that TEC seems so indifferent to prosecuting its “claims” against Armstrong before a neutral tribunal.” You are a lawyer, is it really reasonable in your jurisdiction for a case to come before the courts this fast? A case like this in Canada would not be ready for trial for years, so unless you have evidence to the contrary, why do you think it is delayed? I still think your “if he’s guilty, go get him” attitude is pretty far from the Gospel, whether or ont you, or TEC, agree with me. And NP, as far as defending the… Read more »

Pat O'Neill
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Pat O'Neill

NP: The charges involve something that happened three decades ago. Despite programs like “Cold Case,” such investigations are not resolved in a few days. They are also incredibly difficult to prove…human memory being what it is. I’m greatly saddened by all of this…not least because I think Bennison is a good man who–early in his career–found himself caught between family loyalty and moral conscience. I wouldn’t want to be in that place myself. My concern is that–no matter how the trial comes out–the people in my diocese who have been fighting to get rid of Bennison practically since he was… Read more »

Anthony W
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Anthony W

I doubt that the Diocese of Colorado can make a civil case against Armstrong because of their own negligence in not reacting to footnotes in five annual parish audits claiming weak internal controls and severely innacurate bookkeeping. This was followed by several years when no parish audits were performed. The diocese should have taken action. TEC cannot demand internal controls from parishes when it does not have corresponding controls at the diocesan level. The parish’s audit does not really “clear” anyone. Instead, in a discursive series of “explanations” of the diocesan audit’s findings, it distributes blame widely to everyone involved… Read more »

NP
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NP

Pat says “My concern is that–no matter how the trial comes out–the people in my diocese who have been fighting to get rid of Bennison practically since he was elected will finally have their way.”

You are concerned your opponents may get their way, Pat? If the guy hid child abuse, whatever side he is on, he should go….and he should have gone a long time ago – before he was found out if he had any integrity.

Lapinbizarre
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Lapinbizarre

Steven, just for a few minutes quit grandstanding and READ the diocese’s presentment against Armstrong (URL above), in particular the pages (3-5) that concern the Bowton Trust. “Kangaroo Court” accusations are pretty strong stuff (FYI the diocesan committee that approved the Armstrong presentment contained a disproportionate number of “conservatives”) and only muddy the waters. Sheri Betzer, the independent forensic auditor on whose report the presentment is based, is one of the most highly-regarded US professionals in her field and not one against whom charges of cooking the books should be lightly aimed ( http://www.bccllp-cpa.com/deux.jsp?content=502&decider=betzerc ). The author of the Grace… Read more »

Steven
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Steven

Ford: There has not been time for any kind of judicial decision, but there has certainly been time for a case to be filed by TEC. Anthony W.: You are correct, I have made a serious accusation. As a preliminary matter, I certainly don’t believe that every ecclesial court is a Kangaroo Court, or that every TEC court is a Kangaroo Court. However, aside from any questions I may have about the motives in prosecuting the case initially, I am particularly disturbed by the local diocese’s decision to continue prosecution of the case when the issue had become moot as… Read more »

EmilyH
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EmilyH

For Steven, as a lawyer which I am not, it seems to me that there are multiple levels of government and therefore venues for action regarding Armstrong+ On the question of criminal charges, the diocese has turned over everything to the District Attorney . He will appoint a special prosecutor as he is/was? a member of the church if a complaint moves forward. On the issue of civil litigation, who is tbe injured party that has standing to file a complaint? On the alleged misapplication, misuse, of the scholarship funds, it would seem that only the heirs have standing and… Read more »

NP
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NP

http://www.kendallharmon.net/t19/index.php/t19/article/7304/#comments

sadly, maybe some knew earlier than we have been led to believe….

Malcolm+
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Malcolm+

Steven said: “My primary interest is in the fact that TEC seems so indifferent to prosecuting its “claims” against Armstrong before a neutral tribunal. When the Armstrong matter first came up I observed that this would be a key indicator to me, as a lawyer, of whether TEC actually thought that it had a case worthy of prosecution in a real court (as opposed to the home cookin’ accorded Armstrong in TEC’s inhouse proceedings). I am still waiting, and growing increasingly suspicious.” Good Lord, Steven, what exactly are you expecting here? In what perverse legal system would anyone proceed with… Read more »

Malcolm+
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Malcolm+

I’m not willing to give Fr. Armstrong much benefit of the doubt because, based on what evidence I have seen, the balance of probabilities leads me to believe he is likely guilty. Were I to see further evidence suggesting otherwise, I’d probably shift my position. And at the end of the day, my personal opinion is irrelevant anyway. For what it’s worth, I’m not willing to give Bishop Bennison much benefit of the doubt either because, based on the evidence I have seen, the balance of probablilities leads me to believe he is likely guilty as well, Again, further evidence… Read more »

Steven
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Steven

Lapinbizarre: Your first point is off target. I have never accused the auditor for the diocese of “cooking the books”, as you put it. My concern is with the diocese, not with either of the professionals involved in auditing Armstrong. As far as I can tell, they both have done professional jobs based on the information they had access to at the time. The diocese’s auditor did not have access to all of the information desired, and, I believe, noted the fact at the time (which is a very professional way of handling such situations). (BTW-You are the one casting… Read more »

Steven
Guest
Steven

EmilyH:

Excellent post, as before. If you’re not a lawyer, you are certainly trained in a related field (and might want to consider adding a JD at some point or another as “icing on the cake”).

Unfortunately, work calls, so I can’t say more at this time. I’ll try to respond later today. You’ve certainly made some good points.

Steven

Thrice Broad
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Thrice Broad

If you want to talk about Armstrong — why not start a thread on him. Otherwise, it all seems like a bit of a red herring. We are all Christians before we are liberals and conservatives. Christians of any stripe, last I checked, — do not believe in exploiting the vunerable, nor in condoning an authority that allows an exploiter continuing access to the vunerable. Most Christians are also not big fans of financial mismanagement. For a long, long time, it appears that Bennison has not been open with his diocese and perhaps with himself as well. To many of… Read more »

Paul Davison
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Paul Davison

I am a lawyer and have been a judge on my diocese’s ecclesiastical court (not Colorado) for 5 years. Speaking only for myself, I would be offended at a characterization of us as a “kangaroo court.” TEC has a fairly open disciplinary process and I would certainly want to see some supporting evidence before a label like that was tossed about.

Cheryl Va. Clough
Guest

Ettu This is the second time in two weeks that I’ve seen people quoted as saying something in a thread that they actually hadn’t. It happened to me last week. http://www.thinkinganglicans.org.uk/archives/002708.html#c963331 See the exchange between myself and someone else on 30 & 31 October, at this stage they have not responded to my defense. Et al, be aware that this kind of gutter politics is going on and that they are purporting you have said things that you have not. Call their bluff and cite that it has happened. They won’t stop doing it unless they realise the collateral damage… Read more »

Pat O'Neill
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Pat O'Neill

“You are concerned your opponents may get their way, Pat? If the guy hid child abuse, whatever side he is on, he should go….and he should have gone a long time ago – before he was found out if he had any integrity.” But it’s not the abuse his opponents really object to, NP. It’s his theology. They were trying to get rid of him based on that from the time he was elected. Just as it’s not really the financial matters that came up at last year’s convention that they object to…that was just a way to get him… Read more »

Anthony W
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Anthony W

Steven, OCICBW, but I don’t think Fr. Armstrong ever formally “left” the roster of the Diocese of CO. I think he was waiting for them to fire him, meanwhile, collecting whatever perquisites accrued, such as benefits. If I am wrong please set me straight on this. Did they have any other canonical means to dismiss him? If yes, I kind of agree with your view. As I think I mentioned on another blog at the time, never underestimate the importance of health insurance in the USA.

Lapinbizarre
Guest
Lapinbizarre

Steven. Echoing you, I will also say “point taken”. Sometimes, used to endlessly repeating discussion to no effect, one makes the mistake of thinking that a sledge-hammer needs to be taken to every issue. Sorry.

Cholo
Guest
Cholo

I am so happy to read about the bishop’s misfortune! I am sorry that it took so long but delighted that he is no longer in a position to allow anyone to sexually abuse children. He has been spared a bullet!

NP
Guest
NP

Pat says “But it’s not the abuse his opponents really object to, NP. It’s his theology. “

Pat – the two are unrelated. Those who agreed with his “theology” should certainly object to his alleged behaviour with regard to his brother’s involvement with a child – and most “liberals” will not defend him in any way, I am sure.

Steven
Guest
Steven

EmilyH: Still no time to respond decently, especially since some legal research would be involved–which I’m discinclined to do since I spend time here in order to involve the legal research I should be doing on other matters. You’re right, though. There could be some complicated matters that make it difficult for TEC to sue. (Malcolm’s point is also true, to the extent there is a serious criminal investigation going on, which seems somewhat doubtful to me). Thricebroad: VG post. There is definitely a tendency to get into sneering matches at TA. Mea Culpa. Pat Davidson: I know these are… Read more »

Steven
Guest
Steven

AnthonyW.: I’d really like to figure this thing out. If there was a good and legitimate reason for continuing the process after Armstong withdrew, I might have to pull an “Emily Latella” and say, “oh, . . . nevermind” very sweetly. OTOH, what I might define as a good reason might not be what the diocese would consider a good reason. And, once again, this would still leave open the question of why Bennison escaped for so long when, as a counter example, Armstrong was pursued so diligently. Lapinbizarre: Thank you for your gracious post. I really appreciated what both… Read more »

Ford Elms
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Ford Elms

“maybe these guys are really worth every perk and penny”

My problem with these kinds of deals is that people actually see it in terms of whether or not their priest is “worth” some amount of money or another. Sorry, it ain’t just a job, and anyone who frames it in these terms is speaking another language. It’s the same thing as a “clergy union” or some such, to defend the rights of the “worker” against the impositions of the “employer”. It’s an incredibly worldly attitude.

Steven
Guest
Steven

Ford: I hear ya, and I don’t quite know how to approach these things. On the one hand, these guys are qualified and gifted professionals who could potentially be making a very good living doing something else (aside from the call of God), and who also have families and financial needs like the rest of us. On the other hand, when it comes to the point that everyone is fudgin’ with various accounts and trust funds to try and make sure the preacher and his family gets oodles of benefits, something is obviously wrong. The problem is, I don’t really… Read more »