Like Lord Voldemort, the embodiment of pure evil from the Harry Potter stories, Charles Bennison, the once defrocked Episcopal Bishop of Pennsylvania, is back. The Episcopal Church’s top appelate tribunal, the Court of Review of the Trial of a Bishop, last week issued an opinion that in effect exonerated Bennison of charges that he covered up the sexual misconduct of his own brother.
What is most remarkable to me about this story is that Bennison, during the time he served as Pennsylvania’s bishop, made a series of statements questioning fundamental tenets of Anglican faith, as embodied in the Nicene Creed, sufficiently frequently that one would be justified in questioning whether Bennison was fit to be called a Christian, let alone to serve as a bishop. But he was never called to answer for his apparent apostasy. And when he was finally brought up on charges that he had, years before being elected to lead the Diocese of Pennsylvania, concealed his own brother’s sexual improprieties – a prosecution that seems akin to charging Al Capone with tax evasion – he dodged the ultimate eccesiastical penalty on a legal technicality. The Court ruled that the statute of limitations had run out on the conduct forming the basis for the concealment charges.
The Bennison case tells us much of what we, I suppose, already knew about the Episcopal “Church”. That Bishop Bennison can repeatedly and publicly question foundational principles of the faith without fear of reprisal is bad enough. That the church hierarchy cares more about technical legal niceties than it does about whether its own bishops are in fact believers confirms that the Episcopalians have forfeited their right to claim to be any kind of church.