PENNSYLVANIA: Diocese could bring new charges against Bishop Charles Bennison
By David W. Virtue
October 4, 2010
The Standing Committee of the Diocese of Pennsylvania could bring new charges against Bishop Charles E. Bennison under changes to the Title IV Canons which go into effect next July 1.
At the upcoming Diocesan Convention in November, a resolution announcing that the See of Pennsylvania is vacant could also be initiated by any number of Pennsylvania Episcopalians in good standing. Once the see is declared vacant, they could declare that the Standing Committee is the ecclesiastical authority of the diocese.
The House of Bishops could also declare the See of Pennsylvania vacant and ask the Standing Committee to take over.
A canon lawyer familiar with the situation in the Diocese of Pennsylvania said Bennison can be cited for "conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation," -- he is currently maintaining that the witnesses against him at his trial all perjured themselves.
"He could also be cited for 'habitual neglect of public worship, and of the Holy Communion, according to the order and use of the Church'," he said.
Bennison also sanctions a non-standard form of the Communion service in certain churches. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori could then restrict him once the charges are filed.
Once charges have been filed, The Standing Committee could then begin a search process for a new bishop. "I believe strongly that a vacancy will occur," said the canon lawyer.
A priest familiar with the case said a resolution would only need a simple majority to pass at the November diocesan convention. Bennison could still be history.
The following is a proposed resolution:
Concerning the Vacancy of the Office of Bishop: A Resolution in Response to Charles Bennison's Address to Convention
Whereas Charles Bennison has been shown by his recent ecclesiastical trial to have condoned and furthered the statutory rape of a minor female through his failure to take appropriate action;
Whereas Charles Bennison's insistence that he handled the noted situation correctly has contributed to both an irreparable breakdown in his pastoral relationship with the Diocese of Pennsylvania and an inability to lead this Diocese in a trusted and effective way;
Whereas his recent remarks to Diocesan Council that he believes all witnesses against him at his recent trial had perjured themselves are slanderous, defamatory, and retaliatory, and have dishonored his office and his Church;
Whereas Charles Bennison remains unrepentant in these matters;
Whereas the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church, the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, and various other persons and bodies have called for his resignation as Bishop of Pennsylvania, which call he has not heeded;
Therefore be it resolved: this Convention of the Diocese of Pennsylvania discern and declare that the office of Bishop of Pennsylvania is vacant;
Be it further resolved: this Convention of the Diocese of Pennsylvania henceforth regard the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Pennsylvania as the sole Ecclesiastical Authority of the Diocese until such time as the vacancy is filled;
Be it further resolved: this Convention of the Diocese of Pennsylvania request the Standing Committee immediately to begin the process of filling the vacancy in the office of Bishop;
Be it further resolved: this Convention of the Diocese of Pennsylvania request the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Pennsylvania to take all necessary measures to protect Diocesan assets, information, and property of whatsoever kind from misuse, misappropriation, and trespass by any person or persons.
Be it finally resolved: the terms of these resolves not be amended, repealed, or annulled by any ecclesiastical body or person save Convention itself.
Discussion: The Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Pennsylvania place on the Convention of the Diocese both the responsibility for discerning who is to be bishop of the diocese and the responsibility for determining how that discernment shall be exercised. While national church consents are required for the consecration of a Bishop elect, none would be required for these resolves. There is nothing in The Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Pennsylvania which precludes Convention from taking the actions resolved above. These resolves speak only to the vocation of Charles Bennison to exercise the office of Bishop in this Diocese, and not his fitness to be a Bishop. These resolves thus do not place him in double jeopardy, they are not part of a canonical disciplinary proceeding, and they are not appealable to any person or body (e.g., Standing Committee, Diocesan Council, or any regional or national entity) except the Convention itself. Should these resolves pass by a simple majority, the President of the Standing Committee would immediately assume the Chair of Convention.
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