The Covenant text itself represents work done by theologians of similarly diverse views, including several from North America. It does not invent a new orthodoxy or a new system of doctrinal policing or a centralised authority, quite explicitly declaring that it does not seek to override any province's canonical autonomy. After such a number of discussions and revisions, it is dispiriting to see the Covenant still being represented as a tool of exclusion and tyranny."
It is sad to see such a bright fellow reveal himself to be delusional. This blind trust in the covenant designers and promoters reminds me of 1938 and a certain Neville Chamberlain...
My good friends, this is the second time there has come back from Germany to Downing Street peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Now I recommend you go home, and sleep quietly in your beds.
Ah yes, sleep quietly in your beds Anglicans around the world... (but only with members of the opposite sex)
The phrase "thinking out of the box" nas been grossly overused for a long time now. What it means is looking for solutions to problems in unusual ways, from different angles, that don't involve doing the same old thing because that's the way we learned to do it. Today I stumbled on a fantastic story that illustrates this kind of smart thinking. It's from Tom Brackett, who is the Program Officer for Church Planting and Redevelopment for the Episcopal Church. Quick excerpt from the story...
As the medic and I called the Emergency Room physician to ask for advice, one of the Fire Department personnel started up the engine on their new Jaws of Life. The physician heard it as well and fairly yelled into our ears, “Stop everything! We have to have a plan before you cut him out of that car. We’ll only have a few minutes before he’ll bleed to death once you free him from the car -- it’s holding him together right now!”
My UK readers will no doubt be well aware of the cartoons of Dave Walker. Those in the US not so much. The inestimable Mr. Walker has a new book of cartoons out (his third, I believe) called The Exciting World of Churchgoing - available Sept 30 on Amazon in the US.
I could try to describe Dave Walker's style or the book myself, but Simon Jenkins of Ship of Fools (the (web) magazine of Christian unrest) fame did the job for me.
Dave’s visual style is deceptively simple – with childlike drawings of bishops, people in pews and church architecture – and reminds me of Tim Hunkin’s Rudiments of Wisdom cartoons from the Observer in the 1980s. But what takes these above Hunkin is the humour, which is delivered through flatly factual text.
For example, a cartoon on the responsibilities of the church sound desk operator: ‘Moving the slider up a bit. Moving the slider down a bit. Every now and then pressing the “sudden unexpected feedback” button.’
The deadpanning and the simple drawings conceal an artful and inventive brain at work.
Not all humor crosses the Atlantic in either direction, but I find Dave's work to be uniquely British, but also easily understood universally. Oh, and funny as heck... and licensable for use in your church bulletins and newsletters for a very reasonable fee.
Apparently one of Charles Bennison's other failings is a lack of comprehension of the English language. Whereas the recent Court of Review found in no uncertain terms that he had been guilty of conduct unbecoming a priest (i.e. failing to disclose or address his brother's sexual misconduct) they determined that the statute of limitations applied and that he could not be appropriately punished. In Bennison's midn this somehow translated to "innocent of all charges".
I sincerely appreciate the prayers of my peers in the House of Bishops and understandthat they are concerned for the welfare of my soul.
However, they have no cause to be worried. I am, and have always been, innocent of thecharges against me. And now the Court of Review of the Episcopal Church has reversed the erroneous decision of the Trial Court, and I have been restored to my position as Bishop of Pennsylvania.
As the Court of Review clearly determined from its review of the facts, I was unaware ofmy younger brother's inappropriate relationship with a minor member of our church until late 1977, after the relationship was over, and the young woman was legally an adult.
From the actual Court of Review report:
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.
The mind boggles at the sheer self-delusion. And he wants to run a diocese?
Sadly, he's not mentally competent enough to run a hot dog stand.
Considering all that's happened since a decision was rendered clearing the way for his reinstatement, today's Philadelphia Inquirer asks, "Where does Bishop Bennison belong?" (Other than "under a cloud of suspicion," the article seems to ask.) One thing's for sure: the bishop appears to have a post-exilic mindset.
Having once lived and worshiped in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, and with many friends still there, it has been painful to see the Bishop Charles Bennison case drag along. Bennison and the Diocese have been at odds for several years (see his wikipedia entry for a reasonable summary) at first between him and several conservative churches, and more lately, a broader cross-section of the diocese over financial issues.
One of the frustrating things about the Episcopal Church is the imbalance in the relationship between clergy and their "constituents". Once a parish calls a priest, or a diocese calls a bishop, the rule is your stuck with them until they decide to leave. I've been in parishes where the parishioners just have to wait out a priest. And, of course, the terrible ones (and let's not sugar coat this - there are plenty of them) have no intention of leaving until they're good and ready, no matter how awful the situation gets. This is bad enough at the parish level, but it's really not uncommon and people kind of get used to it. If you've been through it, then it makes you appreciate the good ones all the more.
On the diocesan scale, though, it's pretty much a disaster all around, and generally high profile. I'm sure in Pennsylvania the Bennison opponents that developed over the years were looking for anything that could get him out of their diocese. It just so happened that Bennison did have a substantial skeleton in his closet - covering up of his brother's sexual abuse of a minor dating back to at least 1973.
Charles Bennison had hired his younger brother John Bennison as his youth minister back in 1972 when he was rector of St Mark's, Upland CA. All of the subsequent story glosses over this part, but here's an example of really bad judgment - hiring your brother to a potentially sensitive post in a relatively small church. The Bennisons' father was a bishop, by the way.
Things really started to go off the rails when this brother started a sexual relationship with a 15 year old member of the youth group. The following details and all subsequent are from the Bennison's recent ecclesiastical appeals court ruling and are not in dispute (the Appellant is Charles Bennison). I recommend you read the whole thing if you can stand it:
In the Spring of 1973 a minor (age 15) female member of the St. Mark's congregation was active in one of the youth groups for which John Bennison was responsible. John Bennison began having sexual relations with the minor female. The sexual relations continued over the next 3 years until the relationship was terminated by the minor female in November, 1976. John's wife knew that her husband was engaging in sexual relations with the minor female during much of this time. She even discussed the situation with John and with the minor female, but she took no action to stop the relationship. John insisted that neither his wife nor the minor female tell anyone.
John and the minor female met frequently during the week in the afternoons after the minor female got out of school. As time passed, John, wearing his clerical collar, began picking up the minor female at school in his green Porsche automobile.
Furthermore, also not in dispute:
When John and the minor female were together in the afternoons after she got out of school, they used various rooms in the parish facilities for their sexual encounters. They also met on church property during the summer months when the minor female was not in school. Appellant was often not at the Church in the afternoons. That was the time he regularly made hospital calls.
Okay, so John is a child molester. But what of his brother? The record also includes:
During the summer of 1973 John Bennison and the minor female were together in a Sunday School class room with the door closed, engaged in some type of sexual activity not described in the record. They heard Appellant callng for John Bennison and walking down a hall toward the room. When Appellant entered the room they were both fully clothed. Appellant saw the two of them in the room, and turned and left the room.
On another occasion during the summer of 1973 John Bennison and the minor female were engaged in sexual activities behind closed doors in a room that was par of the church office suite. They heard Appellant coming up the walkway to the building, so they quickly dressed. The minor female's recollection is that, at the time Appellant found them, she and John Bennison both had a "disheveled" appearance, but they were fully clothed. Once again, Appellant left the room almost immediately after entering it. On one of these two occasions, Appellant asked John Bennison something about Sunday School matters and, upon receiving an answer, left the room.
Now, I have to say there are only two realistic interpretations here. One is Charles Bennison knew exactly what was going on and turned a blind eye. Here's why it was a godawful reason to hire his brother in the first place - divided loyalties. One also has to wonder just how much his brother's sexual preferences were unknown to Charles Bennison before this. His brother was picking up 15 year old girls from school in a Porsche? How much of a tip off (not to say cliche) was that?
The other interpretation is that Charles Bennison is a clueless idiot. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but it's a pretty bad foundation for being in a profession that requires a great deal of understanding, discernment and wisdom, never mind being a bishop.
John Bennison's story is pretty sordid in itself and well documented here. To be honest, it paints a lot more people in the Episcopal Church than Charles Bennison in a poor light for covering up John Bennison's many abuses. One of the leading contenders for runner-up behind Charles Bennison is the recently retired Bishop Swing of California. Given the fact that the brothers Bennison are sons of a bishop, the old boys network was obviously working overtime.
The trial court of 2007 found that Charles Bennison had indeed committed conduct unbecoming a priest in covering up his brother's crimes, and that the statute of limitations did not apply because the offense was related to sexual abuse. Charles Bennison's appeal, heard in May 2010, hinged on the technicality of the nature of his own offense and whether the statute of limitations should apply. The appeal court came to the following conclusion:
CONCLUSION 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.
In other words, guilty of both offenses, but not guilty on a technicality - namely that the statute of limitations does apply to conduct unbecoming a priest, aka covering up sexual abuse. So the moral of the story is - if you do cover up sexual abuse, make sure you cover it up for at least thirty years so you can walk away scot free.
It seems incredible that Charles Bennison can look at that trial report and decide that he is fit to resume his duties as a bishop in the Episcopal Church, let alone lead his old diocese. It's hardly an exoneration, and it certainly appears to me that the old boys network gave him one last hurrah on as slim a technicality as possible.
Where the diocese and Bennison go from here is anyone's guess, but the Bennison brothers are a flat out disgrace to the human race and it's sad that they got to perpetrate their shameful behavior on the Episcopal Church.
The one thing I am glad for is that we have female bishops and priests and in particular a female Presiding Bishop who should use this example to demolish the old boys network once and for all.
The sorry, sordid story of the Bennison family refuses to die, as Bp Charles Bennison refuses to step down. The Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania pleads for help from the Presiding Bishop.