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.'"You are right, my friends. This is not "normal behavior" for a bishop or, for that matter, any person with a balanced interior life.
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.
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.This is evidence of something more than hubris or arrogance. Something else is going on here that has all the distinct markings of pathos.
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.
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.