Episcopal Church asks Pennsylvania bishop to step down over allegations he covered up abuse

Episcopal Church leaders have asked for the resignation of a Pennsylvania bishop accused of covering up sexual abuse by his brother more than 30 years ago.

The House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church said in a resolution late Tuesday, issued after a meeting in Arizona, that it was asking the Rev. Charles Bennison Jr. to step down as Bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania.

"We have come to the conclusion that Bishop Bennison's capacity to exercise the ministry of pastoral oversight is irretrievably damaged," the statement said. "Therefore, we exhort Charles, our brother in Christ, in the strongest possible terms, to tender his immediate and unconditional resignation as the Bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania."

Spokeswoman Anne Rudig said the church had not gotten a response from Bennison, who released a statement to The Associated Press on Wednesday.

"Resigning my position as Bishop of Pennsylvania will not ease (the victim's) pain or remove the sting of the abusive relationship," he said in the statement. "Instead, I hope that the suffering I have endured during the past three years has strengthened me and will enable me to work for reconciliation within the Diocese."

But the Rev. Glenn Matis, president of the standing committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, said he hopes Bennison "heeds the advice of his brother and sister bishops" and tenders his resignation.

"I think that would go a long way toward helping the healing process in the Diocese of Pennsylvania," Matis said.

A church panel in 2008 found Bennison guilty of failing to respond to and covering up a sexual relationship that his brother, John, a fellow priest, began with a 14-year-old girl when Bennison was rector of St. Mark's Church in Upland, Calif.

In July, a church appeals court said it agreed Bennison was guilty of conduct unbecoming a clergy member because he failed to act after twice finding his brother and the girl alone behind closed doors, and after hearing a rumor that they may have been involved in an improper relationship.

But the appeals court said it had no choice but to reverse the lower court decision because too much time had lapsed before the charges were brought in 2007. That meant Bennison could resume his leadership of the Diocese of Pennsylvania.

"We respect the decision of the Court of Review and we share their disappointment and find the ultimate resolution of this matter unsatisfactory and morally repugnant," the House of Bishops said in its resolution. "The wholly inadequate response of our brother bishop to the sexual assault upon a minor is an inexcusable violation of his ordination vows."

Charles Bennison has said he learned of his brother's actions from his former sister-in-law only in late 1977, after the relationship with the girl had ended.

John Bennison gave up the priesthood in 1977 after his sex with the girl came to light, but he was reinstated two years later. He resigned in 2006 amid protests by Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

Charles Bennison has said he was being railroaded by other church officials who were trying to cover up their own involvement in his brother's case, and that some had been trying to oust him due to differences in theology and the handling of church finances.