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House of Bishops writes to Charles Bennison

March 19, 2013
Office of Public Affairs

“We exhort Charles, our brother in Christ, in the strongest possible terms, to tender his immediate and unconditional resignation as the Bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania.”
September 21, 2010

The House of Bishop of The Episcopal Church, meeting in Phoenix, AZ, approved the following resolution:

Grace to you and peace in Jesus Christ our Lord.  As the bishops of The Episcopal Church, bound by solemn vows to share in the governance of the whole church, guard its unity, and defend those who have no helper, we are committed to safeguarding the dignity of every person entrusted to our care. We are devoted especially to the care of the young, the weak, and those most vulnerable among us. Because of the depth of these commitments, long held among us, we are profoundly troubled by the outcome of the disciplinary action against the Bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, The Right Reverend Charles E. Bennison, Jr.

In a lengthy judicial process Bishop Bennison was found guilty on two counts of conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy during a lengthy judicial process. Subsequently, the Court of Review reversed one count, upheld one count, but vacated the sentence because the statute of limitations had expired. We respect the decision of the Court of Review and we share their disappointment and find the ultimate resolution of this matter unsatisfactory and morally repugnant. The wholly inadequate response of our brother bishop to the sexual assault upon a minor is an inexcusable violation of his ordination vows. We note here two excerpts from the decisions of the ecclesiastical court:

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 Offence and that is clearly and unequivocally conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy.  (Court of Review, page 25).

… 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 . . . (Court of Review, page 38).

The bishops of this church stand in unequivocal solidarity with anyone who has been sexually abused or mistreated by a member of our clergy or by any member of our church. We apologize, out of the depths of God’s compassion for every human being, to the woman who has been victimized by Bishop Bennison’s lack of responsible action, and to all those who have in any way been hurt by our church. We are deeply sorry and we are committed to consistent discipline for those who bring shame upon the Body of Christ by sinful, demeaning, and selfish behavior that takes from another human being their God-given dignity.

As the House of Bishops, we have come to the conclusion that Bishop Bennison’s capacity to exercise the ministry of pastoral oversight is irretrievably damaged. Therefore, we exhort Charles, our brother in Christ, in the strongest possible terms, to tender his immediate and unconditional resignation as the Bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania. For the sake of the wholeness and unity of the body of Christ, in the Diocese of Pennsylvania and in the church, we implore our brother to take this action without further delay.

This matter has weighed heavily upon the hearts of every member of the House of Bishops and it has been held in prayer not only among us, but by the good and faithful clergy and people of our church. We will continue to pray for Charles, his family, and every person who has been hurt by the church. We pledge to continue to seek God’s guidance and we resolve to lead our church with compassion, justice, and mercy.