Former Bishop of Pennsylvania Launches Appeal

By George Conger
Religious Intelligence

November 14, 2008

The former Bishop of Pennsylvania has asked a church appellate court to reverse its order defrocking him from the ordained ministry. On Nov 11 attorneys for the Rt Rev Charles E Bennison, Jr, asked the nine-member court meeting at a Philadelphia hotel to modify its sentence, saying that deposing their client was tantamount to an ecclesiastical “death penalty.”

Former Bishop of Pennsylvania launches appeal

In June, the Episcopal Church’s Court for the Trial of a Bishop convicted Bishop Bennison of conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy, and conspiracy to cover up the sexual abuse of a teenage girl committed by his brother in the 1970s. While a parish rector in California, Bishop Bennison had engaged his brother John Bennison to be his youth minister. Testimony presented to the court showed Bishop Bennison had been aware of the abuse, had taken no substantive action, and had subsequently covered up the crime.

Deposing Bishop Bennison, however was “unjust, unduly harsh and unsupported by the evidence," attorney James Parabue said in his client’s behalf, noting the abuse had been perpetrated by his brother, not by his client. Conviction on the conduct unbecoming and conspiracy charges, had been a stalking horse advanced by the bishop’s enemies within the Diocese of Pennsylvania, the attorney alleged.

Church Attorney Lawrence White urged the judges to uphold their decision, noting the question of Bishop Bennison’s guilt was not at issue before the court, but the appropriateness of their sentence. He argued the former Pennsylvania bishop had "failed to demonstrate he comprehends and takes responsibility for the damage he caused" and deserved to be deposed.

The appellate court may impose three possible sentences --- deposition from the ordained ministry, censure, or suspension. Given the “gravity of the offence,” Mr White urged the court to uphold its original sentence.

The victim of John Bennison’s abuse, now an adult in her late 40s, and her mother, urged the court to uphold its sentence against Charles Bennison, saying removing the bishop from office was a proportionate punishment for his actions. The court’s ruling is expected shortly.


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