lundi, octobre 06, 2008

My article from the Washington Post this afternoon

Guest Voices-->Elizabeth
Clergy Leadership on Trial
A church court's determination that Episcopal bishop Charles E. Bennison should be deposed after he was convicted of covering his up brother John's sexual abuse of a minor in the 1970s is another signal that the "gentleman's agreement" that for so long bound the denomination together continues to unravel.
The sentence last week by an ecclesiastical court against the head of the Diocese of Pennsylvania followed a public Philadelphia trial in June. His lawyers have said that Bennison, who was suspended last November from acting as bishop, will appeal. The wrenching testimony of the victim and her family, long in search of justice and a hearing, lent weight to the judges' verdict and sentence. Yet it is hard to avoid the feeling that it was a whole era of clergy leadership, now disappearing, that was on trial.
Rent by lawsuits, political maneuvering by the denomination's conservatives, and defiance by the church's liberal core, the Episcopal Church is currently in turmoil over issues of doctrine and sexuality. But it is also roiled by a phenomenon that has affected other sectors of the American workplace-the passing of a generation of predominantly white, male leaders.
The upper-class and upper-middle class environment that spawned previous generations of Episcopal clergy is perhaps one reason that this branch of the Anglican Communion has, until the past few decades, succeeded in papering over the theological and cultural divisions that have long existed. To their credit many were, and are, men of great moral integrity.
Although most were not physically present, long-retired and dead bishops were invoked by the defense to make the case that various bishops and lay leaders had become aware of John Bennison's misconduct over the course of the last three decades. Because those leaders knew about the misconduct, and did not challenge him personally or bring charges against him, his lawyers argued, that also made Bennison's response to his brother's misconduct appropriate.
Apparently the judges didn't buy that argument-or didn't find that it exonerated Bennison.In fact, it can be argued that culpability extends well beyond Charles Bennison.Even allowing that church leaders didn't have all the details, their inaction was morally problematic. It is also symptomatic of an entrenched church culture that seemed to value discretion and unity above accountability or justice. After all, shockingly, this was the denomination that didn't split over slavery before or during the Civil War.
It is possible that if his own bishop and clergy colleagues had exercised true pastoral care for Charles Bennison, it might have changed the course of his own ministry.But as it was, their silence set the stage for Bennison's election as bishop of Pennsylvania, and the mayhem that has followed. From the beginning, the bishop found himself mired in controversy.
Although they vehemently disagreed with his liberal churchmanship, conservative clergy, in an extraordinary show of political chutzpah, helped to elect him. The bargain they thought they struck with him would have allowed them to stay in the diocese (and maintain control of their property), while having a pastoral relationship with a bishop more sympathetic to their cause. But that apparent "gentleman's agreement" quickly fell apart.
It wasn't long before cries of betrayal morphed into open acts of defiance. Many liberal clergy have also become embittered. At first they embraced the affable Bennison as a champion of a progressive theological agenda, someone who would advance the goals they held dear. But as the diocese became mired in disputes between the bishop and other diocesan leaders, many of his supporters became disillusioned. Neither side found in him the leader they sought. Nor, perhaps inevitably, did they find a way to maintain fellowship in the midst of great doctrinal and social divisions.
While the picture in other Episcopal dioceses may not be quite as turbulent, many are in the grip of internal strife. Katherine Jefferts Schori, the Episcopal Church's first female Presiding Bishop, has taken a hard line with the traditionalists that does not auger well for future tranquility here. The fractiousness in the American church is mirrored internationally, where African and Asian conservative bishops have pitted themselves against the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury in a power struggle for the heart and soul of the Anglican Communion.
Here or abroad, it is hard to lament the passing of the vaunted Anglican 'via media.'Sadly, the historic badge of Anglicanism became another term for the overtly genteel, avoidant leadership that ignored problems in its own backyard. It was heartening to see the denomination's current diversity echoed in the five-women, four-man panel currently deliberating Bennison's sentence. But whether the more democratic, litigious, and diverse generation of church leaders that has replaced those who came before them can produce a healthier, more vibrant, or even a truly viable denomination remains to be seen.

4 commentaires:

concerned advocate for victims of abuse a dit…

There are so many things about your article that are accurate; but, unfortunately, so many that are not. There are too many incorrect statements and assumptions to deal with here. However, some major misstatements need to be addressed.

Bennison's trail for conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy had nothing whatsoever to do with the liberal vs. conservative controversy. As a matter of fact, caring, particularly brave, and resolute liberals and conservatives alike are in agreement that it was more than necessary for The Episcopal Church to bring Charles Bennison to justice. That is just how serious his acts and failures to act were and his unrepentant stance continues to be.

Legal and evidenciary documents concerning the situation that devastated far too many lives for far too many years can be found at numerous web sites including:

Read those documents as well as additional ones at other sites for yourself and make your own assessment of the situation. Charles Bennison's own words convicted him. No matter what his attorneys claim, the trial transcript is indisputable.

As the mother of the victim so eloquently stated, "Charles Bennison was the architect of his own demise".

For me, one of the most damning elements is that while the abuse was going on, Charles Bennison as well as his brother, were supposedly "good friends" with the parents while their child was being sexually groomed and molested in the most "unspeakable" of ways.

Admittedly, Bennison knew what was going on and neither did anything substantive about it nor informed the parents....self-servingly covering up the crimes for many years to the advantage of his own career and allowing his brother to become first a deacon and then a priest, not once but twice, failing repeatedly in his sworn duties promised to God Almighty as an ordained member of the Episcopal clergy.

At trial in June, the witnesses were devastated, broke down completely, and were cruelly and brutally revictimized again when Bennison said the same thing at trial that he had said in a pretrial interview....that he would do the same thing all over again. Read it for yourself in the trial transcript.

Also read the latest comments from SNAP, an organization all too knowledgeable about clergy abuse. They know what they are talking about. They are experts in the field. Consider carefully their remarks.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Episcopal bishop defrocked in cover-up

For immediate release: Friday, October 3, 2008

Statement by Barbara Blaine of Chicago, national president member of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (312-399-4747)

We believe this is a first in US history: a clergyman defrocked for concealing a pedophile priest's crimes. We believe it should happen far more often.

This long overdue but crucial move sends a strong signal to Episcopalian officials: child sex abuse should be reported and disclosed, not minimized and hidden. More importantly, it sends the message that you will be punished, not promoted, for covering up for criminal colleagues. If this signal had ever been sent in the Catholic hierarchy, perhaps thousands of kids and their families would have been spared devastating pain.

Unacknowledged wounds rarely heal, so we hope this important validation can help those so deeply wounded by the Bennison brothers to recover from the horrific betrayal they've experienced. We commend them for being brave and wise enough to come forward, speak up, cooperate with authorities, and expose both a dangerous child molester and a corrupt church supervisor. Episcopalian families are safer and Episcopalian churches are healthier because of these courageous victims.

(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the nation's oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We've been around for 17 years and have more than 8,000 members across the country. Despite the word "priest" in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is

Contact David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, 314-645-5915 home), Peter Isely (414-429-7259) Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747), Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688), Mary Grant (626-419-2930), Mark Serrano (703-727-4940)

Offcenter a dit…

I usually don't like publishing anonymous comments, but in this case, there is some useful information here. I am puzzled by this comment, since I certainly never argue that Charles Bennison wasn't guilty- in fact, I believe he was. My point was that he was protected by other bishops for years with an investment in keeping the good ol' boy network going. For various reasons, some of which are about doctrinal disagreements, that is no longer possible. I think you misread my article, possibly for benign reasons.

David Clohessy a dit…

I'm glad if this kind of "gentleman's agreement" is, in fact, unraveling. The safety of kids is far more important than the unity of adults. Any 'pact,' formal or informal, that leads to secrecy surrounding child sexual abuse is immoral.

David Clohessy
National Director, SNAP
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
7234 Arsenal Street
St. Louis MO 63143
314 566 9790 cell, 314 645 5915

Offcenter a dit…

I'm glad it's gone, too, for all sorts of reasons. I think, as we saw in the Roman Catholoic Church, the folks who run institutions protect themselves and their power. That doesn't mean they are all bad people, but it can lead to terrible abuses -- as in the John and Charles Bennison story.