Wearing his clerical collar and ring, suspended Episcopal Bishop Charles E. Bennison Jr. tried to explain why he had not told anyone that his brother was sexually abusing a high-school student in the 1970s.
"People would not have seen it as abuse," Bennison, 64, said yesterday in a deep voice. "They would have seen it as immoral behavior on [the victim's] part."
It was the first time Bennison had taken the microphone in his ecclesiastical trial, which began Monday and will determine his fate as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania.
Until yesterday, he had quietly listened to witnesses testify about his handling of his brother's affair with a teenage parishioner.
Yesterday, Bennison said that when he was a 31-year-old rector of St. Mark's Church in Upland, Calif., he heard a rumor that his brother, John - whom he had hired as a youth-group leader - was having a sexual relationship with a teenage congregant, Martha Alexis.
The bishop said that he had confronted his brother about the rumor but that he had denied it. Still, he said, "I was angry at him and I said, 'Get your stuff and get out of here' " - presumably because he was uncomfortable with his brother's denial.
He told the nine-person panel judging him at the Center City Marriott that when he confronted his brother, "I actually wasn't thinking about her age."
When asked by his attorney James A. Pabarue why he had not informed Alexis' parents or the church, Bennison said he thought it would be unnecessary because he had "addressed the problem" and because the rumor had been "unfounded" and "unproven."
Bennison also said that he had wanted to avoid a church scandal and to protect the reputation of Alexis, who, he said, might be publicly ostracized if word got out about the abuse.
His testimony conflicts with that of Alexis, now 50, who on Monday told the court that the bishop had walked in on her and his brother twice while they were engaging in illicit activities inside the church.
Bennison said yesterday that he had not seen anything inappropriate.
John Bennison's ex-wife, Maggie Thompson, testified yesterday that her ex had had affairs with five women - three while he worked at St. Mark's and two after he left in 1975 to work in a Santa Barbara, Calif., church.
In 1977, John Bennison renounced the priesthood, but he asked to be reinstated two years later - without the knowledge of his brother and the Alexis family, Bishop Bennison said yesterday.
"I had no idea that you could come back in," said Bennison, whose father was also a bishop.
Wearing the same outfit he had worn all week - a dark jacket over a purple vest and clerical collar - Bennison testified that no one had contacted him about his brother's reinstatement.
Bennison said he had assumed that the bishop of Los Angeles, Robert Rusack, had known about the sexual abuse before Rusack restored his brother.
"I thought we all had sort of moved forward," he said.
The trial is expected to conclude today.