Pennsylvania: Standing Committee Files Complaint against Bennison

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Episcopal Church
November 10, 2006

[Episcopal News Service] The Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania is alleging that its bishop, Charles E. Bennison Jr., "has repeatedly usurped" its "canonical prerogatives and authority."

A so-called "verified complaint" sent to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori formalizes the Standing Committee's on-going dispute with Bennison over its claim that he has spent money and transferred funds without the Standing Committee's required consent.

The Rt. Rev. Charles E. Bennison

The complaint, signed by the five clergy and five lay members of the Standing Committee, claims Bennison has violated the canons of General Convention, the diocese's canons and engaged in "conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy" in violation of the Episcopal Church's Canon IV.1.1(e), (f), and (j).

"The complaints are without merit," Bennison told ENS November 9. "I have never spent any money in the diocese without the approbation of various governance bodies."

Bennison said the dispute between him and the Standing Committee turns on an interpretation of the diocesan canons as to which governing bodies must approve his use of which money. He says he has followed the interpretation of his former chancellor, an interpretation with which the Standing Committee disagrees.

In an email sent to ENS at Bennison's request November 9, William C. Bullitt, who was diocesan chancellor from 1990 to March 2006, said that the "diocesan canons direct that the Finance & Property Committee shall 'be responsible, under the direction of the Diocesan Council, for all the financial affairs of the Diocese.'"

Bullitt said also that "there was no support in the canons for a process that allowed the Standing Committee to control the annual expenditure of 40% of the Diocese's general endowment income."

"Bishop Bennison's action in shifting control of these expenditures to Finance & Property (which until this year was appointed by the Diocesan Council) was consistent with my advice. If the Standing Committee did not like my advice, its members could have tried to amend the canons at an annual convention," he said. "They have not chosen to do so."

In September, the Standing Committee hired the former chancellor of the Diocese of Newark, Michael Rehill, to help in its on-going dispute with Bennison.

A statement on the committee's website said it believes that it is entitled to have legal counsel independent of the diocese's legal advisors when it is involved in such a conflict.

In April, the Standing Committee reiterated its call for Bennison to leave office, saying it is troubled by a $350,000 drawdown from the diocese's unrestricted net assets.

The Standing Committee first asked Bennison to resign or retire by March 31. Bennison refused that request. Consultants from the Presiding Bishop's Office of Pastoral Development concluded earlier in March that they "cannot recommend any process of conciliation or any 'rigorous long-term process for addressing problems.'"

Delegates to a March 24 special convention approved the 2006 diocesan program budget, nearly three and half months after refusing to accept the budget that was presented at the diocese's regular convention. On November 5, 2005 the convention rejected a proposed $4.8 million 2006 program budget by a vote of 205-175. The use of unrestricted net assets in the budget was a major controversy.

-- -- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.


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