Bishop Bennison guilty, but time ran out.

The Court of Review for the Trial of a Bishop has rendered its verdict. 

Its conclusions are these:

For the reasons stated herein, we find that Appellant committed conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy. Because the statute of limitations has run on that offense, we have no choice under the canons of the Church but to reverse the judgment of the Trial Court finding that
Appellant is guilty of conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy under the First Offense.
Prosecution is bared by the applicable statute of limitations and, for that reason, alone, we are compelled to order and we hereby order that the judgment of the Trial Cour is reversed and judgment is rendered here in favor of the Appellant on the First Offense.

The Judgment ofthe Trial Court finding that Appellant is gulty of conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy under the Second Offense is reversed and judgment is rendered here in favor of the Appellant on the Second Offense."

The Court of Review states quite clearly that "we find that the Appellant committed conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy."  The Court of Review made this stinging comment, 

"The tragedy of this conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy is exacerbated by the fact that, during the trial of the case, Appellant testified that, upon reflection on his failure to act, he concludes that his actions were "just about right." They were not just about right. They were totally wrong. Appellant's testimony on this subject revealed impaired judgment with regard to the conduct that is the subject of the First Offense and that is clearly and unequivocally conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy."

 On the second offense there were problems and the Court of Review dismissed the findings of the Trial Court. 
"The record establishes that each party to whom the Church contends Appellant should have disclosed his knowledge already had that knowledge. The failure to disclose that which is already known, under the circumstances of this case, does not constitute conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy. The Trial Court was clearly erroneous in finding Appellant was guilty of the Second Offense of conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy. The Judgment of guilt of the Second Offense must be reversed."

The problem is that the Trial Court applied that verdict to actions of the Appellant (Bishop Bennison) that took place some years ago.  Most charges must be made within a specified period of time following the actions taken by the accused, (the statute of limitations). An exception is that there is no limitation on charges of sexual abuse against a minor. The Trial Court apparently applied the unlimited time rule to this case. The Court of Review ruled that that was out of order and that the statue of limitations had run out. 

In its findings the Court of Review also opined that "The Sexual Abuse Exception Cannot Be Used To Solve Other Problems."  

 D. The Sexual Abuse Exception Cannot Be Used To Solve Other Problems

The sexual abuse exception to the statute of limitations, if improperly applied, can wrongfully label a Respondent a sexual abuser. Title IV cours must guard against allowing that exception to be used without proof of actual sexual abuse. This is especially true under circumstances where the exception is invoked not so much to deal with sexual abuse but, rather, as an effort to use events in the distant past when the Respondent was a priest to remove a bishop during current times of strife within the diocese. To allow Title IV and the sexual abuse exception to the statute of limitations to be used in this maner diminishes the monumental efforts of the Church to address, punish and remove incidents of actual clergy sexual abuse. It runs the risk of labeling a bishop as a sexual abuser when the origin of the charges is based upon the individual's alleged poor performance as a bishop and not upon the individual's being a sexual abuser. For that reason Title IV courts must be vigilant when confronted with charges against a bishop of sexual abuse based upon conduct as a priest many years earlier.

Thus Bishop Bennison's argument that those bringing charges against him were doing so for reasons other than the content of the charges seems to have made some impression on the Court of Review.  

The Court of Review agreed with the lower court that Bishop Bennison was guilty of conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy.  But time had run out.

So apparently Bishop Bennison is reinstated, the inhibitions against him lifted and no court determined punishment against him.  But the stinging condemnation remains:  The Court of Review found that he had indeed engaged in conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy and that he had impaired judgment.

We can only hope that Bishop Bennison will now take the opportunity to retire so that the Diocese of Pennsylvania can move on. 


  1. Thanks for sharing this, Mark. A few commenters over at The Lead seem to have gotten their knickers in a twist when the word of the ruling first came out, but without having yet read the actual ruling from the Court of Review. (TLC has it posted, in an only-moderately-awkward format.) I'm not a lawyer, but the ruling seems to me to be very good and thoughtful work. The whole business is just very tragic, and of course especially for the young woman who was the victim. It seems to me that the Court of Review is telling us that we absolutely must take the sexual abuse of minors and related offenses very seriously, but with justice in accordance with (canon) law.

  2. A man who hung on to his office through out a cascade of antipathy from opponents on the Standing Committee and in our D of P deaneries for close to a decade is not likely to retire.

    But there seems to be a larger point here -- that a lot of the anger at Bishop Bennison in the diocese had nothing to do with a cover-up. The cover-up allegations became another stick to beat him with.

    I'm not a defender of hmmm...my bishop, but I do wonder if, given the motives of the various actors, it would have been possible for ANYONE to emerge with clean hands.

    And, indeed, no one has, have they? Even the ecclesiastical judges, not to mention the PB, look silly if not inept.

  3. Outside Observer6/8/10 9:05 AM

    I think the recent past history of the Diocese of Southern Virginia is instructive here. The fact is that there are levers that can be pulled to deal with priests who have committed no crime or immoral act and yet who through their ineptitude or arrogance or financial mismanagement have caused enormous harm to the community of faith. With respect to bishops, however, I don't know of any levers that can dissolve the pastoral relationship under those circumstances. In Southern Virginia, their Annual Council publicly appealed to the Presiding Bishop as a plea for help during the rocky episcopate of David Bane.

    This is one of the greatest weaknesses in our system of ecclesiastical governance. When it works, it works well. When it doesn't, it can result in a disaster of Titanic proportions.

    In the case of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, I think a rational person would graciously resign as bishop at this point and look forward to retirement with a monthly check from the Church Pension Fund. The likelihood of that not happening will be difficult to watch, even as an outsider. Lord, have mercy.

  4. Why on earth wouldn't a bishop who helped cover up a sexual abuser's work not be considered an accomplice after the fact? The fact that Bennison isn't the one who seduced the girl doesn't mean that he didn't aid and abet that abuse by trying to shield his brother.

  5. SNAP opines: 'It's also more proof that statutes of limitations only protect wrong-doers and should be abolished'.

    TEC has to date avoided the withering media scrutiny visited upon RC dioceses and archdioceses. Yet many of the same justifications for arbitrary Statues of Limitations exist here, as in the Roman communion.

    Here is a golden opportunity to do the right thing.

    Get rid of them now, entirely, and be more vigilant in protecting kids and vulnerable adults.

    John Iliff
    parent-member of SNAP

  6. The message of this history of abuse and trial is exactly the same message which the Roman Cahtolic Church has sent. It seems to me that the Court of Review is saying that it is more concerned with protecting the institution and the powerful than providing justice for the victims of sexual abuse.

    Astonishingly, the Bishop continues to see himself as a victim in all this and can not admit that he did anything wrong.

    Kevin K.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.