Archdiocese of Indianapolis in
The Episcopal Bishop Failed to Report Abuse
By David O'Reilly
Philadelphia Inquirer [Pennsylvania]
November 1, 2006
Episcopal Bishop Charles E. Bennison Jr., in an e-mail to diocesan clergy and lay leaders, said yesterday he was "profoundly sorry" for failing to report or properly investigate his brother's sexual abuse of a minor three decades ago.
"I sincerely apologize if any lack of action on my part 30 years ago has caused hurt or distress," he wrote in the electronic message.
"... Had I known in the mid-70s what I know about clergy sexual misconduct... I would have immediately sought to find out the truth of the situation from the victim herself, would have reported the facts of the case to the proper civil and ecclesiastical authorities, and would not have allowed family and job considerations to impair my judgment," he wrote.
His apology came in response to a report in Sunday's Inquirer that, while a young rector at a California parish, Bennison had failed to contact either law enforcement or church officials after he discovered that his brother, John, had sexually abused a 14-year-old parish girl. His brother was serving as parish youth minister. The abuse continued for at least three years.
Bennison's critics have raised his handling of the situation as one of a number of reasons they say he should step down. The diocesan standing committee has been calling for his resignation, saying he has misspent millions of dollars from diocesan endowment funds to develop a camp and retreat center on the Chesapeake Bay.
Bennison, 62, is the leader of the church's Diocese of Pennsylvania, which covers Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery Counties.
In an interview yesterday, Bennison said the revelation of his brother's case was timed for the annual diocesan convention of Nov. 11.
"This is a way to dishonor a bishop in order to create a lack of trust," he said.
Ray Kraftson, a Villanova lawyer and venture capitalist who is leading the charge to force Bennison's ouster, called Bennison's message "an apology without an apology."
"He never stops spinning," Kraftson wrote in an e-mail.
In yesterday's e-mail, Bennison asserted that "to the best of my memory," he learned of the abuse in 1974 when the girl's mother informed him. He said he immediately confronted his brother and "told him to leave the parish's employ."
That assertion runs counter to a letter Bennison wrote to the girl's family in 1978.
"By the time I found out about what John had done... they had broken up - as far as I knew," he wrote. "To have told you then would have been a case of drudging up dirty history... ."
The victim's mother yesterday challenged what she called "disparities" and "lies" in the bishop's letter of apology. She contends that Bennison learned of her daughter's abuse before her family but chose not to inform them.
She noted that John Bennison did not leave his brother's parish until 1975, months after he was ordained as a priest by his father, who was a bishop.
In his e-mail yesterday, Bennison said he chose not to report the brother's abuse to civil or church authorities because the girl's parents had not chosen to do so. "I did not think it was my prerogative to do so on my own," he said.
The victim's mother said she planned to attend three "forums" on Bennison's handling of the situation, to be held in three parishes of the diocese Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Asked whether he planned to attend any of the forums, Bennison said he had heard about them but had "not been invited."
He said he had received about a dozen e-mails and two phone calls in response to the Inquirer story. Two e-mailers urged him to resign, he said, and two were critical of The Inquirer. The rest, he said, "were supportive - told me they were praying for me and to hang in there."
"It's clear they are not able to get rid of me," Bennison said of his critics, adding that he anticipated he would be criticized at this year's convention "for my priorities of spending."
"Money is power," he said, "and this is a power struggle over power and money in the diocese."
Contact staff writer David O'Reilly at 215-854-5723 or email@example.com.
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