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WAYNE, PA: Rector of St. David's Episcopal Church calls on Bennison to Resign

WAYNE, PA: Rector and Vestry of St. David's Episcopal Church calls on Bennison to Resign
This is second parish calling for Bennison to leave
Two Episcopal lawyers call for non-cooperation and active resistance

By David W. Virtue
August 13, 2010

The rector and vestry of St. David's Episcopal Church in Wayne, PA, the largest Episcopal parish in the Diocese of Pennsylvania has called on Episcopal Bishop Charles E. Bennison to resign. This is the second parish in the diocese to call on Bennison not to return to the diocese.

In a letter to the parish, the Rev. W. Frank Allen said, "we have sent a letter to the Bishop asking for his resignation or retirement in accordance with the conversation of Sunday morning and a previous Vestry conversation with Bishop Bennison present.

"This is not the first time that the Vestry or I have made this request, but we felt it was important to remind the Bishop that the best interests of the Diocese will be served by his resignation or retirement."

Allen said he was not sure the letter would have an effect on the situation, but felt this step was necessary for the health of the Diocese.

"As my most recent enews mentioned, this is disappointing at many levels, especially as it relates to the good work that has been done in the Diocese while he was inhibited from his ministry here."

In the letter signed by Allen and Dr. Joseph Bonn, the rector's warden, they wrote, "[we wish] to confirm repeated requests for you to resign as Bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania. Prior to your inhibition by our Presiding Bishop, I asked you on three occasions in private to step aside for the good of the Diocese and for the good of Charles Bennison.

As Dean of Merion, I was part of the group of Deans who asked you to resign when the national church office was working at mediation under the leadership of the Rt. Rev. Clay Matthews. At your last visitation to St. David's Church, the Vestry indicated to you that your leadership was no longer effective and that your resignation or retirement would be best for the diocese.

"With all Christian forgiveness and mercy in our hearts, we ask again. Please resign or retire as Bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania.

"Your continued involvement as Bishop will only return God's community in this place to the state of distrust and division that existed prior to your inhibition. A Christian community requires a level of trust and mutual accountability and servant leadership that has been absent in your tenure as Bishop. This trust is compounded by the findings of the three courts with regard to your conduct and makes it impossible for you to minister in this community.

"The swiftest path to reconciliation for the Diocese and for you requires your act of resignation or your decision to retire. We encourage you to take this step immediately.

"To be Bishop is to unify the Church, but your return would further divide our diocese. To be Bishop is to build up the Church, but your return would tear down the fragile foundations of trust and hope that have been built these past two years. My strong belief is that your return will do more harm than good, create more anger and less reconciliation, and hinder, not advance, the Church's mission in our diocese. These realities may be unfair and unjust, but I believe them to be true.

"Further, to be Bishop is to be a pastor, and for you to be a pastor, there must be enough trust and sense of security so that "the sheep may safely graze.

"As the opinion of the Court of Review said forcefully, accurately and rightly, you committed no acts of sexual abuse or exploitation of a minor. But that just doesn't matter at this point. Then and now, the Church is guilty of sexual abuse and exploitation of the young and the vulnerable. Then and now, the Church promises to be the guardian of a gated, protected sheepfold of pastoral safety for its members. But, the shepherds charged with protecting the fold have yet been able to keep sexual abusers out.

"Then and now, those abusers have not climbed into the sheepfold, like the robber and the thief, "some other way," but have been let in by the very shepherds who promise that the sheep may safely graze. Consequently, the Church does not appear safe to those who might consider coming into our sheepfold, and it does not feel safe to those in the fold who have experienced the failure of the Church to protect our own.

"It may not be right or fair, but you embody that failure. You were a shepherd then, and to those who have suffered abuse, or care about the safety of our Church, it will not matter that these crimes happened decades ago. If you return as our Bishop, many in your flock will not feel safe, and you will not be able to be our pastor. It doesn't matter that so many others were part of the failure, or that others have viciously used the abuse the woman suffered so long ago to accomplish their own ecclesiastical ends. Truly, I believe the most pastoral act would be, as a sacrifice for the creation of pastoral safety, not to return as our Diocesan bishop. Now that your ministry is restored, serve the Church to rebuild the shattered trust and safety we need to serve the sheep entrusted to us."

This is the second parish priest to call on Bennison to resign rather than return to the diocese.

The rector of the historic Christ Church in Philadelphia, the Rev. Timothy Stafford has asked Bennison to "prayerfully consider making the sacrifice of not returning" to the diocese as bishop.

Safford told Bennison, "Your return would further divide our diocese" and would "do more harm than good, create more anger and less reconciliation, and hinder, not advance, the church's mission in our diocese."

Two Philadelphia attorneys have also weighed in on the second coming of Charles Bennison.

Attorney Mark Jakubik, a former Episcopalian turned Roman Catholic runs a litigation blog and headlined his own take with "Episcopal Church Pokes Itself In The Eye Again" wrote, "Like Lord Voldemort, the embodiment of pure evil from the Harry Potter stories, Charles Bennison, the once defrocked Episcopal Bishop of Pennsylvania, is back. The Episcopal Church's top appellate tribunal, the Court of Review of the Trial of a Bishop, last week issued an opinion that in effect exonerated Bennison of charges that he covered up the sexual misconduct of his own brother.

"What is most remarkable to me about this story is that Bennison, during the time he served as Pennsylvania's bishop, made a series of statements questioning fundamental tenets of Anglican faith, as embodied in the Nicene Creed, sufficiently frequently that one would be justified in questioning whether Bennison was fit to be called a Christian, let alone to serve as a bishop. But he was never called to answer for his apparent apostasy. And when he was finally brought up on charges that he had, years before being elected to lead the Diocese of Pennsylvania, concealed his own brother's sexual improprieties - a prosecution that seems akin to charging Al Capone with tax evasion - he dodged the ultimate ecclesiastical penalty on a legal technicality. The Court ruled that the statute of limitations had run out on the conduct forming the basis for the concealment charges.

"The Bennison case tells us much of what we, I suppose, already knew about the Episcopal "Church". That Bishop Bennison can repeatedly and publicly question foundational principles of the faith without fear of reprisal is bad enough. That the church hierarchy cares more about technical legal niceties than it does about whether its own bishops are in fact believers confirms that the Episcopalians have forfeited their right to claim to be any kind of church."

Daniel J. Dugan, an attorney with Spector Gadon & Rosen, and a member of Church of the Holy Apostles, PA, weighed in on the return of Charles Bennison. Dugan, who has served for 6 years on the Diocesan Council said this turn of events results from the decision of Charles Bennison's fellow bishops adhering Pharisee-like, to the most narrow and legalistic reading possible of the statute of limitations, thus letting him off on a technicality.

"Bennison did not enjoy the confidence of this diocese when he was asked to resign three years ago, and his trial, conviction and his "successful" reliance on a legal loophole in the intervening time has only magnified the myriad problems he presents to the spiritual and temporal health and welfare of the diocese. The national church has washed its hands of the matter. We, the faithful members of this diocese, are left to deal with it.

"If Charles Bennison had the true Christian spirit and the best interests of the diocese at heart, he would heed the call of the Rev. Timothy Safford of Christ Church, to resign, as well as those hundreds of persons who took the time to attend the meeting at the Cathedral on August 9th and express the same sentiments. Indeed, he could declare victory and exoneration based on the statute of limitations and retire (at the expense of the Church). I will never recognize Charles Bennison as my bishop.

"This is a church that must be more concerned with doing the right and moral thing than in idolizing legalisms. It is neither right, nor just, to permit Charles Bennison to resume his position, and if he chooses not to see that, we must make him see that. He must go and we must make him.

"While the national church may permit him to resume his position, he cannot run the Diocese of Pennsylvania by himself. If he refuses to leave, there should be complete non-cooperation and active resistance. The Standing Committee, Diocesan Council and all officers of the diocese should resign.

"Parishes should not invite him to make any visits; if he nonetheless goes to a Parish uninvited or as a result of legal threats against the Rectors or the Parish, the parishioners should not attend the service, or better yet, attend and then walk out when he appears.

"As a last resort, Parishes should withhold their contributions to the diocese in protest. The good work that is done in this Diocese can continue to be done though organizations and Parishes themselves. It need not and should not be done through a hierarchy manipulated and controlled by Charles Bennison, who has been found guilty of conduct unbecoming a bishop." (See Dugan's story here: http://tinyurl.com/2bnf2cp)

Clearly stung by the court's decision, Bennison's attorney James A. A. Pabarue said in a conference call with "The Living Church" that he was disappointed the review court considered his client guilty of conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy, but he was thankful for its ultimate decision.


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