11 Jun 2008

Episcopal Bishop charged with concealing his brother's sexual abuse of a teenage girl

Philadelphia Inquirer - June 11, 2008

by David O'Reilly | Inquirer staff

The church trial of Episcopal Bishop Charles E. Bennison Jr., charged with concealing his brother's sexual abuse of a teenage girl decades ago, heard again yesterday from the victim, who said Bennison did nothing to protect her after he learned of the abuse.

In response to questioning from one of Bennison's lawyers, the woman, now 50, also told the special Court for the Trial of a Bishop that she had nothing to do with initiating the proceedings against Bennison and was testifying only reluctantly. The woman has been identified as Martha Alexis, her childhood name. She is now married and does not use either name.

"I haven't wanted him removed from his job," Alexis said tearfully. "I just want him to acknowledge his role" in protecting his brother and failing to protect her.

Charles Bennison was rector of her parish in Upland, Calif., in the 1970s. John Bennison was the parish's 25-year-old, married youth minister when he started a four-year sexual affair with Alexis when she was about 15.

But Charles Bennison did nothing to protect her after he discovered them, she said in response to questions from attorneys for the Episcopal Church USA.

And he allowed his brother to continue as youth minister even after he twice walked in on them and found them flushed and with their clothes in disarray, Alexis said.

"Was John Bennison still in control of you?" asked church attorney Larry White.

"Yes," she said, adding later that the sex not only continued but grew even more "degrading" until John Bennison, newly ordained a priest, left the parish about two months later to take a curate's job in another parish.

In October the denomination suspended Charles Bennison as bishop after a special church committee concluded that he knew or should have known about the girl's abuse.

Bennison, 64, is charged with "conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy" for failing to protect the girl or notify the Diocese of Los Angeles of his brother's crimes.

If the nine judges, who include five bishops, find him guilty, Bennison could be removed permanently from holding any clerical office in the 2 million-member church.

Ann Allen, a former rector's warden at the parish, told the court that she learned of the abuse when Alexis was about 15.

In Webcast testimony from San Francisco, where she now lives, Allen recalled how one of her teenage sons had told his parents that Alexis was "John's woman."

But when she apprised Charles Bennison that there might be "something going on" between the girl and his brother, Bennison "just kind of shrugged and said, 'That's the way it is,' or, '[That's] the kinds of things that are happening.' "
She said Bennison later told her in a phone conversation: "I appreciate your not telling other people about this because it could negatively affect my career."

Allen said she deeply regretted failing to tell the girl's parents or intervening in John Bennison's ordination to the priesthood in 1975.

She was followed on the witness stand by Gary R. Schoener, a Minnesota psychologist who specializes in clergy sexual misbehavior. He said the standard protocol for a rector who suspected abuse back then was to make inquiries and, if substantiated, immediately separate the victim from the abuser and inform the child's parents and diocesan leaders.

"The issue of needing to respond is not new," Schoener said.

Much of the late afternoon was taken up with an approximately three-hour taped deposition from Bishop David Richards, the retired head of the Episcopal Church's Office of Pastoral Development.

Testifying for the prosecution, he told the court that he believed Bennison's failures to protect the girl or report his brother's abuse constituted conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy.

Charles Bennison should have immediately separated his brother from Alexis, he said, informed the diocesan bishop and the seminary where he was training, and steered his brother into counseling.

"The good shepherd keeps away the wolves," Richards told the court.

The trial, which is being held at the Downtown Marriott Hotel, resumes this morning.

This article was found at:

http://www.philly.com/inquirer/local/
philadelphia/20080611_Woman_in_Bennison_
trial_testifies_reluctantly.html

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