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PHILADELPHIA – An Episcopal bishop has been defrocked after a church panel found him guilty of covering up his brother’s sexual assaults of a teenage girl in the 1970s.
Charles E. Bennison Jr., 64, deserved to be ousted from the clergy because of his “very significant failures to fulfill his responsibilities” and “a fundamental lack of professional awareness,” the special Court for the Trial of a Bishop said in documents released Friday.
The unanimous nine-person panel of bishops, priests and church members chose the harshest sentence for Bennison, who has been bishop of America’s fifth-largest Episcopal diocese for a decade. He could have faced a reprimand or a temporary suspension of his duties.
After Bennison’s four-day trial in June, the court found him guilty of two counts of “conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy.”
The victim, now 50, said she had no doubt Bennison was aware of the sexual contact between her and his married brother, John Bennison, which started when she was 14 and continued for more than four years. She testified that she turned from a self-described nerd who enjoyed school, sewing and church into a young woman battling depression, suicidal thoughts and alcohol abuse.
The Associated Press typically does not identify victims of sexual abuse.
Bennison’s attorneys said in a statement, “We fully intend to pursue a reconsideration of the sentence, and ultimately, an appeal of the entire case.”
Bennison was chosen in 1998 to head the Pennsylvania diocese, which has 53,000 members in Philadelphia and its suburbs. At the time of the abuse, he was rector of St. Mark’s Church in Upland, California, in the Diocese of Los Angeles, and his brother was a lay minister there.
John Bennison, who never faced criminal charges, left the priesthood two years ago.
The U.S. Episcopal Church is part of the 77 million-member Anglican Communion, a global fellowship of churches that trace their roots to the Church of England.
Associated Press – October 3, 2008
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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