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PHILADELPHIA: Bennison' Lawyer Files for Dismissal Citing Statute of Limitations

PHILADELPHIA: Bennison's Lawyer Files Motion for Dismissal Citing Statute of Limitations.
Bennison Blasted by Church Attorney for Failure to Protect Victim

Day Four of the Ecclesiastical Trial of PA Bishop Charles E. Bennison

By David W. Virtue

Lawyers for Charles E. Bennison, the inhibited Bishop of Pennsylvania, filed a motion arguing that the trial against him should be declared null and void saying the Statute of Limitations has been violated because of "half truths and factual inaccuracies alleged in the Presentment."

James Parabue, Bennison's attorney walked across the courtroom, at the conclusion of the trial Thursday, and presented the court with a 22-page document claiming that the Presentment against Bishop Bennison for Conduct Unbecoming a Member of the Clergy was "within, or continued up to, ten years immediately preceding the time of receipt of a Charge."

"This belated attempt by political forces within the Diocese of Pennsylvania to force Bishop Bennison out of his position using decades old charges should be summarily rejected on the grounds that these charges were not brought within the acceptable time period."

Doctrine of Laches

Parabue said Bennison was entitled to a judgment as a matter of law based on the doctrine of laches, which has two elements:. (1) inexcusable delay in instituting suit and (2) prejudice resulting to the defendant from such delay.

The Presiding Judge, Connecticut Bishop Andrew Smith, said he would take it under advisement.

Today was the fourth and final day in the Presentment trial of Charles Bennison. Under heavy cross- examination by Ralph A. Jacobs, church attorney, Bennison admitted he had "amnesia" about the chronology of events leading up to his brother's expulsion from the Episcopal Church for sexually abusing a minor.

Questioned by his attorney, Bennison repeated that he kept silent about his brother's behavior because of "confidentiality" and to "prevent scandal."

He also argued that there were no protocols at that time to guide his behavior on how he should act. So, he never reported the abuse to his bishop, the girl's parents or to anyone in the church.

Years later, when he had an opportunity to talk to the victim and her parents, he begged off saying there was "no felt need". When June Alexis, mother of victim Johanna Alexis Oslovar, sent Bennison Martha's address, Bennison told the court he did not write to apologize for his part saying he was "too busy" and did not want to "breach confidentiality." He also said he was not sure that June and Martha were on the same page with what had happened and did not want to invade privacy between parents and children, a policy he set up in the church. "I did not think that Martha was receptive to it. I wanted to maintain Alexis's family privacy."

Bennison said he deeply regretted hiring his brother, John Bennison, as a youth minister in the church, but he did not apologize to Martha or her mother or to Maggie Thompson (Bennison's former wife). He said he would not change anything he had done pastorally in the situation.

When challenged about the two incidents where Bennison walked in on his brother engaging in sexual relations with Martha in the church, he said he could not remember the incidents and then denied knowing that it was sexual, even though Martha said Bennison appeared "very flushed" when he saw how disheveled both parties were.

Bennison publicly contradicted himself about "secrets", writing in his book that they lead to "selective amnesia", but Jacobs said Bennison himself practiced amnesia by not telling anyone about his brothers' abusive behavior. He also failed to tell the next church - All Saints in Santa Barbara -- John Bennison went to about his brother's sexual activities and admitted that he knew his brother had had five other intimate relationships with women, one of whom he later married.

When he learned of the sexual relations between John and Martha, Charles failed to alert the parish in Santa Barbara. When asked by Jacobs why he didn't, Bennison said, "John told me he would never do it again." Bennison said he believed his brother. Under a constant barrage of facts from attorney Jacobs about the time, place and nature of John's relationship and what he could and should have done to prevent it, Bennison again pleaded "amnesia."

In a convoluted exchange of times and dates about what Bennison knew and when he knew it, a clearly exasperated Bennison said, "I have not kept in my mind the chronology of the story. I do have an amnesia problem."

Bennison blamed the cultural mores of the time saying that in Upland County morals were collapsing and he found it "incomprehensible." When asked if he had spotted his brother's green Porsche outside the church knowing that Martha was with him, Bennison said he wasn't sure it was his brother's Porsche, but suspected it was. He said he had no reason to believe that anything untoward was going on between them, describing Martha as "wild and "adventurous" although her mother denied that charge saying she was a quiet, scholarly girl who did sewing for the church. Martha described herself as a nerd.

When challenged by attorney Jacobs as to why he had not stood up at his brother's ordination and said there were impediments to his becoming a priest, Bennison again pled that he hoped it would work out and John would stop his immoral behavior. When challenged, he told the court that their father, Charles E. Bennison, Bishop of Western Michigan was the ordaining bishop.

"You remained silent in the face of his (John's) depraved behavior and his conduct continued. You maintained confidentiality, but no one came to you and said anything was in confidence. They gave you information to act on," said Jacobs.

Bennison said he remained silent. "I didn't think it would help any. I viewed it as a private pastoral matter."

Judge June Freeman asked Bennison if he was familiar with the term "statutory rape". Bennison replied that he was not familiar with the term.

Judge Maria Campbell asked Bennison if he had a duty to John Bennison and Martha Alexis to bring them the sacrament of repentance of forgiveness. Bennison replied that he discerned John knew right from wrong. "If he had sinned, he should confess it and receive contrition and absolution." Bennison also said the church was low church, and that was not part of that church's tradition.

At one point in the proceedings, Pabarue asked the Diocese of Los Angeles for release of documents for the presentment, but they refused to release them.

In his closing argument, Jacobs said that on the two counts of the presentment, first, Bennison failed to protect Martha Alexis. Secondly, even after John Bennison left the church in 1975, that for more than 30 years, Charles Bennison kept it a secret in order not to affect his employment in the church even failing to mention it when he ran for Bishop of Pennsylvania.

"Psychologist Gary Schoener said that even in the 70s you could have stopped it, could have gotten help, informed the parents, told others and dealt with the perpetrator. You failed on all counts," said Jacobs.

Bennison failed, in even the smallest act, to provide pastoral care. He had to know. He did nothing about John's responsibility in the matter. He said he was too busy even as he was teaching pastoral care, said Jacobs.

"The church has ways of protecting itself. The church tries very hard to do this. Bishop Bennison undercut the church's efforts. He did not lift a finger to warn the people in Santa Barbara, that John's behavior was "reprehensible, criminal and sinful. This is about Charles Bennison's conduct."

Jacobs said Charles Bennison had a false sense of solicitude by justifying his conduct. "He used the 'they are different defense' protocol. This case does not implicate any subtleties;, detection was easy with a 'don't tell anyone' defense.

"Bennison has an answer to the Alexus family which is that he is unable to acknowledge his own personal responsibility. He is sorry only in that it happened on his watch. Bennison said he did the right thing. Bishop Richards held that you were responsible for telling the parents and the 'everyone knew it' defense. To invoke this you tried to keep it a secret and did not flesh out the facts. What kind of church do we want? Ordination vows are real. (This case) is about common sense. It is not a complicated case. Charles Bennison never felt guilty. He didn't say 'I'm sorry', he didn't pastor. Bennison put Martha at risk as well as the church and protected only his own reputation."

The court then adjourned. The nine judges have 30 days to render a decision.


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