Saturday, June 14, 2008

Wolves Among the Flock

John W. Bennison, the younger brother of Episcopal Bishop Charles Bennison, claims to be an ethicist. The irony of this has become evident as his older brother’s trial unfolded this week in Philadelphia.

An ecclesiastical Court to determine whether Charles Bennison will remain bishop in the five-county region concluded on July 12. The Court received a “Presentment” against the Bishop of Pennsylvania containing 2 counts against Bennison of “conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy.” Church prosecutors allege that he (1) failed to protect Martha Alexis as a minor from sexual predation by his brother John in the 1970s and (2) kept the matter a secret from the girl's parents.

Martha Alexis testified that John Bennison repeated had sexual intercourse with her while she was a teenager. John served as youth group leader in St. Mark's Church in Upland, California. The elder Bennison, then rector of the church, hired his brother for the job while he was in seminary. According to Alexis, Charles twice encountered John and Martha in flagrante delicto, but did nothing to stop the abuse, fearing for his career.

The then 14-year-old victim described to the court how she was repeatedly sexually abused by the Rev. John Bennison, describing his acts as “persistent, intense and frequent” as many as “three or four times a week, for four years.”

“He groomed me over time to be his sexual toy. He was very exacting and specific in technique which grew more progressive over time, eventually growing to include everything you can possibly imagine.” Alexis, now 50, and the mother of three, said that what occurred between her and Bennison was “unspeakable perversion and too horrific to name.”

When Bishop Bennison learned of the sexual relations between his brother and Martha, he failed to alert the next parish to which John was called. When asked by attorney Jacobs why he didn't, Bennison said, “John told me he would never do it again.”

Jacobs also referred to a remark Bennison made to parishioner Ann Pottorff, who heard from her son in 1975 of the possibility that Martha and the younger Bennison had a sexual relationship. The future bishop thanked Ann for not telling Martha’s parents about the rumor because it could hurt Charles Bennison's career.

If the panel of nine priests and bishops finds that Charles Bennison failed in his priestly duties, he could lose his standing as bishop and face further sentencing. The court will issue its ruling by the end of July.

For more, go here and here.

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