Church sets trial date for suspended bishop

Posted: March 01, 2008

The Episcopal Church USA has set a June 9 trial date for Bishop Charles E. Bennison, the suspended head of its Diocese of Pennsylvania, on charges that he concealed his brother's sexual abuse of a minor decades ago.

Bennison, 64, was pastor of a California parish in the early 1970s when he hired his brother, John Bennison, as its youth minister. John Bennison soon began a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl that lasted several years.

Last year, the girl's family complained that Charles Bennison knew of the abuse but did not act to prevent it, and failed to inform his superiors when John Bennison sought ordination. John Bennison resigned from the priesthood in 2006 after a Los Angeles TV station reported the abuse.

In November 2006, Charles Bennison apologized to the victim, her family and the diocese for his inaction.

Bennison, a liberal theologian, led the Philadelphia diocese for 11 years until November, when the denomination's presiding bishop informed him that he was "inhibited" from performing episcopal and ministerial duties, and would face a church trial.

A site for the trial, which will be judged by a panel of bishops, has not been set. If found guilty, he could be removed from ministry.

The 10-member diocesan standing committee has been running the bishop's office since Bennison's inhibition.

In November 2006, it filed a formal complaint with the presiding bishop's office alleging that Bennison appropriated millions of dollars from the diocesan endowment funds without its authorization to develop a summer camp in Maryland.

Yesterday, the Rev. Glenn Matis, president of the committee, said it had not heard from the presiding bishop's office about those charges.

Contact staff writer David O'Reilly at 215-854-5723 or doreilly@phillynews.com.

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