A special court of the Episcopal Church announced yesterday that it has unanimously reaffirmed its decision to defrock the Rt. Rev. Charles E. Bennison Jr., 65, and remove him as bishop of the 55,000-member Diocese of Pennsylvania.

Bennison's lawyers said that they were disappointed and that he would appeal.

In June, following a four-day trial, a seven-member Court for the Trial of a Bishop found Bennison guilty on two charges of "conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy" for concealing his brother John's sexual abuse of a minor girl about 35 years ago.

John Bennison was the youth minister in his brother's parish in suburban Los Angeles, where the teenaged victim was a member. He became an Episcopal priest and served in the San Francisco diocese until 2006, when the abuse became public.

Last September, the church court unanimously issued a sentence of "deposition" for Charles Bennison. He would be removed from clerical orders, meaning he would become a layman. Bennison asked for a hearing to reconsider the sentence, the harshest the court could have issued.

The judges reconvened in Philadelphia on Nov. 12. Bennison's lead attorney, James A. Pabarue, and several supporters urged them to reduce the sentence, but John Bennison's victim and her mother were emphatic that it be sustained.

The court's announcement yesterday noted that Bennison had not only failed to protect the girl from his brother's abuse and notify her parents, but that he later presented his brother for ordination. The judges also reaffirmed their belief that Bennison had not shown sufficient remorse.

Since Bennison was suspended in October 2007, the diocese - comprising Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery Counties - has been led by the diocesan standing committee.

He has 30 days to appeal to a special panel of nine bishops, to convene within 60 days of the filing.

The panel could uphold the trial court's judgments, reverse the guilty verdicts, or reduce Bennison's sentence to a temporary suspension or reprimand.

Contact staff writer David O'Reilly at 215-854-5723 or doreilly@phillynews.com.