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“Behold a Great High Priest”

2010 November 7

That’s what the choir will sing (Elgar’s version, I hope) as Bishop Charles Bennison processes down the aisle of St Clement’s on our Patronal Festival, Tuesday November 23.  The congregation will go down on their knees as he passes, like sheaves of corn before the reaper.

Poor Bishop Bennison was not treated with quite so much respect yesterday at the Diocesan Convention of the Diocese of Pennsylvania. In fact, over two thirds of the delegates voted Yes on a motion asking him to resign. When the result was announced, the Bishop simply moved on to next business, making no attempt to defend himself.

In the debate, I spoke on the side of those who wanted him to stay on as Bishop.  This is what I said:

“As a Brit, I have always admired the respect Americans have for the Constitution and the rule of law. The highest Church court found that the lower court which heard the case against Bishop Bennison had made many errors of fact concerning his dealing with a delicate matter of sexual misconduct in the 1970s. They also found that the statute of limitation had long passed the time when such a charge could even be considered.

U.S. civil and criminal law values the statute of limitation very highly. It protects accused people from faulty  memories from forty years ago, from evidence that has been lost, etc. Surely our Church should not suffer a lesser standard of law to prevail. And the House of Bishop’s vote was simply a voice vote – not in any way appropriate for such an important expression of opinion.

So those who have called for Bishop Bennison’s resignation should have the grace and courage to change their minds. It also seems to me very odd that at no time have we ever heard from the Standing Committee that even one of their members was going to resign on this matter of conscience!

It is time for us to  move on with Bishop Charles. Of course we don’t agree with everything he says or does – I’ve never yet had a Bishop with whom I agreed on everything.

Father Zabriskie has just quoted Scripture at us to say that, as St Matthew’s Gospel recommends, having pulled the Bishop up before the Church for his faults, we should now treat him as a tax collector and a sinner. Well, Jesus would agree – and He would treat the Bishop  to a great meal, befriend him and work with him for the sake of the Gospel. And that is what we should all do from today on.”

Come to St Clement’s on St Clement’s Day (Tuesday, November 23 at 7 p.m.). The Bishop will preside from the Throne and preach the Sermon. The Choir will sing a glorious Mozart setting (with orchestra). St Clement will be honoured; God will be glorified; and the Bishop will be treated like a tax collector by having his hand kissed a lot during the Mass, and  then welcomed with open arms at a sumptuous reception afterwards.

12 Responses leave one →
  1. November 8, 2010

    Well spoken, Father. Thank you for your bold witness to the truth and your demonstration of Christian love and mercy. Thank you also for reminding us that our mission and ministry is of far more importance than these squabbles over who is in and who is out. May we move forward with +Charles as our Bishop confident in the gifts he will bring us and ever mindful that it is God alone who perfects and enlivens those gifts in our midst.

  2. November 8, 2010

    Thank you Gordon for sorting this out with charity and good sense. As an old Irish farmer Austin O’Malley used to say to his sons when they were making mischief (the middle son being our beloved Fr. Tom O’Malley of blessed memory) “Ye have little to do.” This, I fear is obviously true of the members of Standing Committee, Fr. Zabriskie and a host of others.

  3. Paul Goings permalink
    November 8, 2010

    It would be interesting to have a survey that would tell us, of those clerical members of the Standing Committee who are pastors of parishes, whether the daily offices of Mattins and Evensong are being publicly observed, and whether the Holy Eucharist is being celebrated with all due solemnity on all of the holy days indicated in the Prayer Book. If not, perhaps they could work on that, rather than try to undermine the legitimate juridical process which has already concluded.

  4. James Oppenheimer permalink
    November 9, 2010

    I believe the point of asking the Bishop to resign has nothing to do with whether he is or is not a good person; the point is that by virtue of what has transpired, he no longer has the credibility to lead as bishop. The suggestion has been made for him to step down not because he is a terrible person but because his continued presence inhibits the Church from functioning as it must. A good man should be able to discern when the time has come to move on, not considering whether or not he might be right or wrong, but whether his staying or leaving is a positive action, of help to the Church.

    Painful though it may be, it appears that the good Bishop, in consideration of the good of the Church, ought to move on.

    All considerations here are simply looking at the question, “Did he do wrong?” It’s no longer about that at all. It is distressing that people seem unable to see beyond the crude right-or-wrong question to the deeper question of what actually benefits the Church, regardless of who is right or wrong.

    Frankly, while the responses do not surprise me, the reflection of a rector with so little apparent consideration of the depth of the issue does surprise me.

  5. Paul Goings permalink
    November 9, 2010

    It is distressing that people seem unable to see beyond the crude right-or-wrong question to the deeper question of what actually benefits the Church, regardless of who is right or wrong.

    Mr Oppenheimer is incorrect. It is largely immaterial to me, and I should think to the Father Rector, whether or not Dr Bennison is guilty in some way of the crimes ascribed to him. The essential issue is whether we are or are not a church of bishops and a church of laws. If we are, then the attempted action of the diocesan synod was farcical, and was rightly ignored by Dr Bennison; if not, then we should leave aside all claim to being catholic.

    And, in fact, the resolution introduced at synod did refer to Dr Bennison’s presumed guilt as the driving factor. It’s reasoning is that, “Bishop Bennison has yet to acknowledge and respond to the unanimous opinion of a Review Committee, a Trial Court, and the Court of Review for the Trial of a Bishop that his actions constituted conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy.”

    And who is it that has determined that, “he no longer has the credibility to lead as bishop,” and that, “his continued presence inhibits the Church from functioning as it must?” Is it not a few individuals who themselves are likely to stand for election if Dr Bennison leaves office? If these persons cannot work with the lawful Bishop of Pennsylvania, why have they not resigned from their offices and sinecures?

    • James Oppenheimer permalink
      November 11, 2010

      I don’t know whether the good Bishop’s staying or leaving would be good for the Church (Amos 7.14), but it seems that this ought to trump other considerations. We can only pray that those directly involved are giving that question the consideration it deserves.

      It is not a simple matter. The offense, if indeed it happened, must have happened a long time ago, and the Bishop is certainly not the same person he was then. Still, for ill or for ill, the way the matter was ultimately disposed of gave it the look of evasion. Plainly this should not be a consideration, but if it is a constant issue, how can the man lead his diocese?

      “It is not fair,” you can say, and I will agree. It also is what it is. Life is unfair. Sometimes, for the good of the many, you have to make a sacrifice that seems patently unfair. Whether or not this is one of those times can be discerned by the good bishop now, or by history later.

      • Paul Goings permalink
        November 11, 2010

        Plainly this should not be a consideration, but if it is a constant issue, how can the man lead his diocese?

        It is only a constant issue because of those in the diocese who would arrogate to themselves the bishop’s authority make it so. I am not at all persuaded that it is a source of concern to the vast majority of the faithful. It may well be that they are acting from noble motives and truly want to help the diocese, but I think that they are wrong.

        Life is unfair. Sometimes, for the good of the many, you have to make a sacrifice that seems patently unfair.

        Indeed. And as I said previously, let the members of the Standing Committee and other clergy who cannot work with the lawful Bishop of Pennsylvania resign their offices and parishes, even if this is patently unfair in some sense.

  6. Paul Emmons permalink
    November 9, 2010

    Ten or fifteen years ago, I was on the verge of transferring from S. Clement’s to another of the cardinal Anglo-Catholic parishes in the diocese, more for reasons of convenience than out of any dissatisfaction. I’m gladder than ever now to have stayed. Yet I don’t quite understand how our various Anglo-Catholic parishes have come to such diametrically opposed positions on this issue. At least two others were at conspicuous loggerheads with the bishop years before the trial was ever mooted.

    Is it just personality differences? It is tempting to think that when Rodney King sighed, “can’t we all just get along?” he was expressing a classically orthodox attitude, and that is why the orthodox are orthodox; whereas those who enjoy picking fights end up in schism (and then typically go on to further schism, as history shows). But maybe there is more to it than that.

  7. James Oppenheimer permalink
    November 11, 2010

    My comment should have read “for good or for ill.”

  8. Anonymous permalink
    November 27, 2010

    Father Zabriskie has recently announced to his parish that he will “wear a ROOSTER SUIT to church on January 16th if we have $1 million in pledges” (St. Thomas, Whitemarsh Newsletter).

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