Abused Teen's Mother Joins Other Critics of Area Bishop

By David O'Reilly
Philadelphia Inquirer
November 5, 2006

The mother of a teenager sexually abused decades ago by the brother of Episcopal Bishop Charles E. Bennison Jr. yesterday renewed her allegation that Bennison knowingly concealed his brother's abuse, and she said it was "up to the diocese" to decide whether he should stay on.

At a forum at St. Thomas Church in Fort Washington, she said Bennison's version of events surrounding the abuse contained "many inaccuracies, if not lies."

She said she had traveled reluctantly from California to the Philadelphia area to "set the record straight."

The woman, a white-haired widow who asked that her name not be used, still lives in the Upland, Calif., parish where, the Rev. John Bennison has admitted, he abused her daughter in the early 1970s.

She was joined at a dais in the sanctuary by her son, Andrew; Maggie Thompson, John Bennison's former wife; and others familiar with the case.

"We are here to put our truth before you," said Thompson, who recited a long chronology of her former husband's affairs, and what she said were efforts by Charles Bennison and several California bishops to protect John.

"We hope the bishops of the Episcopal Church will start to take child sex abuse more seriously," she said.

At the close of the forum - one of three held around the diocese by a group calling itself Concerned Pennsylvania Episcopalians - several members of the audience called for Charles Bennison to resign.

"He no longer has the trust of the clergy," said the Rev. Marek Zabriskie, rector of St. Thomas.

The Rev. William Wood III, president of the diocesan standing committee, declined to comment yesterday on reports that the committee presented a formal complaint to the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church U.S.A. last week, asking that Charles Bennison be removed.

Since January, the 10 members of the standing committee, a leading administrative body of the diocese, has been asking Charles Bennison to resign or retire. They allege he has mismanaged diocesan finances and failed to share important audit information with them.

"I have no plans to resign," Charles Bennison said yesterday as he drove home from the installation in Washington of the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, the new presiding bishop of the 2.4-million-member denomination.

Charles Bennison, 62, has been bishop since 1996 of the 55,000-member diocese, which includes Philadelphia, Montgomery, Chester, Delaware and Bucks Counties.

He also said he "had not heard anything" about the standing committee's formal complaint to the presiding bishop.

Under canon law, a bishop can be removed from office only by trial judged by other bishops and only for immorality or malfeasance - crimes of which Charles Bennison is not accused.

Although the standing committee and others have sharply criticized him for using diocesan endowment money to develop a summer camp and retreat center in Maryland and to pay diocesan operating expenses, he has said diocesan finances are sound.

The annual diocesan convention will meet Saturday to adopt a budget for 2007.

Last week, The Inquirer reported that in 1972, while rector of St. Mark's parish in Upland, Charles Bennison hired his brother as youth minister.

A married seminarian in his mid-20s, John Bennison soon began sexual liaisons with several female parishioners, including a 14-year-old. That abuse lasted until the girl was 18.

The mother and Charles Bennison have disagreed sharply on when he learned about the abuse. It is a charged topic because John Bennison was ordained a priest while the abuse was going on and had sexual relationships with young women in several other parishes.

Yesterday, the girl's mother was also sharply critical of other Episcopal bishops who, she said, knowingly reinstated John Bennison to priesthood several years after the abuse was revealed, and assigned him to a parish in another diocese without advising the parish.

The bishop's critics say that Charles Bennison may have committed a felony by failing to report his brother's crimes to civil authorities, and that he exposed children and parishioners to danger by failing to report to church authorities.

Charles Bennison issued a "heartfelt apology" last week for failing to report his brother's abuse to civil or church authorities, but repeated his assertion that he learned of the abuse years after it ended.

The victim's mother and the other panelists will hold a third and final forum on the abuse from 5 to 7 p.m. today at St. George Episcopal Church in Ardmore.

Contact staff writer David O'Reilly at 215-854-5723 or


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.