Bishop on Trial: Convicted of Covering up Sexual Abuse by Brother

by John McKiggan

Episcopal Bishop Charles Bennison is on trial in ecclesiastical court facing accusations that he covered up sexual abuse by his brother, who is also a priest, on a 14 year old girl.

The Bishop is not facing criminal charges, nor is he being sued in civil court. The trial is taking place under the rules of canon (church) law. A panel of 5 bishops, 2 clergy and 2 lay members will decide whether Bennsion violated church rules Title IV of the Canons of the Episcopal Church by failing to disclose that his brother, John Bennison was having sexual relations with an underage female parishioner.

The Philidelphia Bulletin has reported that :

The bishop’s younger brother John allegedly had illicit sex with a girl beginning in 1971 when she was a 14-year-old member of St. Mark’s Church in Upland, Calif., and he was a 24-year-old seminary student. The sexual relationship lasted until 1974, the year she departed for college.

The first day of the “trial” heard graphic testimony from the victim, who said:

…Bishop Bennison stumbled in on his brother John’s sexual activity with her, “saw his erection”, turned on his heel in the church office and walked away.

If Bishop Bennison is found guilty of violating Church rules, he will not face criminal charges, but the panel could remove him as Bishop of the Diocese.

The trial continues this week.

UPDATE JUNE 27, 2008

Bishop Bennison has been convicted of concealing his brother’s sexual abuse.

This case is only the third time in 232 years that a Bishop has been put on trial by the Episcopal Church USA.

You can read more here.

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