The legality of deposing clergy without a church trial through the use of the “abandonment canon” will be tested before a Pennsylvania civil court. In a ruling handed down on Jan. 25, Montgomery County Judge Thomas Branca permitted a suit for damages against the Rt. Rev. Charles E. Bennison, Jr., Bishop of Pennsylvania, brought by the Rt. Rev. David L. Moyer to proceed to trial.
A former priest of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, Bishop Moyer was inhibited and then deposed on Sept. 4, 2002. by Bishop Bennison under Title IV Canon 10 “Abandonment of Communion” for refusing Bishop Bennison permission to make a visitation at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Rosemont, a Philadelphia suburb. This dispute was grounds for use of the canon, Bishop Bennison argued, as the Rosemont rector had “abandoned the Communion of this Church” by an “open renunciation of the…discipline…of this church.”
Lawyers for Bishop Bennison argued the court should dismiss the lawsuit saying the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Pennsylvania case law discouraged state interference in internal church disputes.
Bishop Moyer’s lawyers countered that equity and justice required a trial as Bishop Bennison had improperly used a canon to remove him from the ministry that did not provide for a church trial or redress. They further argued Bishop Bennison had misled the standing committee, which had affirmed the deposition, by fraudulently withholding documents necessary for their deliberations.
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