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Sunday, October 03, 2010

Clerical Error

Will this never end?

The story of Bishop Charles Bennison and the Diocese of Pennsylvania has become more and more like a Greek Tragedy played out on The Episcopal Stage.

The latest entry at ENS includes a letter from the Standing Committee to Bishop Bennison which accuses him of "inconsistency between his words and action."
According to ENS:
The Standing Committee also termed as "shocking" a report it said it had received indicating that the bishop had told a Sept. 25 meeting of the Diocesan Council that "'it is known now that all the witnesses at my trial intentionally perjured themselves.'"

The committee members said that Bennison had "managed to ignore or discount the opinions and conclusions of three courts, two Presiding Bishops, the House of Bishops, and untold numbers of lay and clergy in the diocese of Pennsylvania, and now all the witnesses at your trial."

"We find it amazing that you are able to think that this is in any way normal behavior," the letter said.
You are right, my friends. This is not "normal behavior" for a bishop or, for that matter, any person with a balanced interior life.

Yes, I know what I'm staying by inference. It's really the only conclusion one can draw from the bishop's behavior.

The Standing Committee's letter
" . . .included examples of why the Standing Committee believes the bishop was pursuing an agenda that runs contrary to the work the committee says it has done in his absence to begin a visioning process for the diocese and deal with financial problems it has said were caused at least in part by earlier decisions made by Bennison.

Those concerns surround the level of his support of the work of a Diocesan Mission Planning Commission paired with the committee's belief that Bennison is investigating possible real estate transactions involving the diocese's camp and cathedral, and what the committee says is the bishop's intention to spend $70,000 from a trust fund to publish a history of the diocese for which $133,000 has already been spent.

"We are extremely concerned that your apparent insistence on putting everything back the way it was before you left will cause a large number of parishes to hold back funding to the diocese, both assessments and pledges," the committee said in the letter.

The diocese is due to meet Nov. 6 in its annual convention and a narrative report on the 2011 program budget refers to "our ever shrinking base of pledged parish support" and notes that 2010 income from congregations "fell well short of the goal."

The Standing Committee's letter comes a week after Bennison said that he would not honor a House of Bishops request that he resign his position.
This is evidence of something more than hubris or arrogance. Something else is going on here that has all the distinct markings of pathos.

I suspect that, in a larger sense, we are seeing something in the Diocese of PA that is part of what God is doing to reform her church. Over and over and over again - from the Roman hierarchy to Don Armstrong and the so-called "orthodox Anglicans" to the sad case of the bishop of PA - we are witnessing what can happen when there is abuse of institutional power.

It is said that "Absolute power corrupts absolutely." That applies not only to the absolute corruption committed but the corruption of the person with absolute power.

I trust The Episcopal Church will begin to address the issues raised by the Bennison case at General Convention, 2012. I suspect, even now, resolutions are being proposed which will change the canons regulating the power of bishops.

This is a good thing. I fear, however, that it is too little too late for the diocese of PA.

It may not even be enough to save the church from itself.


Paul (A.) said...

There's a canon for that: III.12.8(p):

"(p) When it is certified to the Presiding Bishop, by at least two licensed medical doctors, psychologists or psychiatrists, who have examined the case, that a Bishop Diocesan is incapable of authorizing the Bishop Coadjutor, if there is one, or a Bishop Suffragan, if there is one, or the Standing Committee to act as the Ecclesiastical Authority, then, upon the advice of five Bishops of neighboring Dioceses selected by the Presiding Bishop, the Presiding Bishop shall declare the Bishop Coadjutor, or a Bishop Suffragan, if the Constitution and Canons of the Diocese so provide, or the Standing Committee to be the Ecclesiastical Authority for all purposes set forth in these Canons and to retain such canonical authority until the Presiding Bishop, acting upon a like certificate, declares the Bishop Diocesan competent to resume official duties."

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Yes, I know, Paul. I fear this guy is so border-line that you'd have trouble finding two licensed MDs to declare him incompetent to be bishop.

I fear it's going to take another kind of canonical change - similar to what we have for other clergy.

Kaliputra said...

While, on the basis of most reports, I hold no brief for Bp Bennison, Lord Acton's maxim applies equally to a Standing Committee which has enjoyed episcopal power for nearly three years. There have been cases (though I doubt this is another) where such standing committees have so undermined and maligned their bishop that he had to resign, even though in no wise incompetent (except to fight at the Committees level).

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Harry - I understand your point which is well taken. That being said, I think the preponderance of evidence strongly suggests, as you note, that this is not the situation with this particular SC.

I pray that the inevitable canonical changes will take into consideration the balance of power which was intended by our founders.

I also continue to pray for Charles and the Diocese of PA. I trust others will join me.

James said...

I think the preponderance of evidence strongly suggests

I agree, Elizabeth. I also think that he is crazy enough to fool the psycologists.

I also lived though a situation wherein the Standing Committee did all it could to undermine the bishop and that was a sad situation. Once a SC gets episcopal power, they do not relinquish it easily.

Unknown said...

Some of my best friends are bishops :-), buttttt
it is also my experience that the standards for reasonable behavior are so low for bishops that certification of incapacity is almost impossible.

Paul (A.) said...

Either Bp. Bennison believes the things he keeps saying, in which case he may well be so distanced from reality as to be certifiable, or he does not, in which case he certainly is guilty now of conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy.

In either case there are grounds for suspension and/or deposition.