The church trial of Episcopal Bishop Charles E. Bennison Jr. - charged with concealing his brother's sexual abuse of a minor many years ago - resumed at the Downtown Marriott Hotel today with the testimony of another bishop, who acknowledged that church leaders have known about the abuse and coverup for decades.
Testifying for the defense, Bishop Harold Hopkins, former head of the Episcopal Church's Office of Pastoral Development, acknowledged receiving several letters from the victim's mother in 1992 and 1993. Hopkins said he discussed the charges with the then-presiding bishop of the church, Edmund Browning.
He said that, in 1993, he also participated in a special intervention that included Bennison's younger brother, John, who began abusing the girl in the early 1970s, when she was about 15 and he was the parish youth minister.
Charles Bennison had been rector of the parish, St. Mark's in Upland, Calif., when the abuse occurred. He is now charged by the Episcopal Church U.S.A. with "conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy," for failing to protect the young victim or notifying his church superiors.
If found guilty, he could be barred from holding any clerical office in church. In October, he was suspended as head of the five-county Diocese of Pennsylvania, which he had lead for 10 years.
Hopkins said the 1993 intervention had also included the victim, her mother, and Bishop William Swing, then-head of the San Francisco-area diocese, where John Bennison serves as parish rector.
His acknowledgment of the letters and meetings are important to Bennison's defense strategy. His lawyers are not attempting to defend Bennison's admittedly poor handling of his brother's abuse and his failure to protect the girl. They are seeking instead to establish that there is no valid reason to charge Bennison now when the facts of the case have been known for so long.
Their strategy ran into difficulty, however, when the church's lead attorney, Larry White, acting as prosecutor, asked Hopkins whether church leaders had had all the facts of the case years ago.
"No," Hopkins replied.
White then asked whether Hopkins would have voted for Bennison to become a bishop if he had known all the facts.