Charles Bennison: the 1970’s Were Different

Episcopal Bishop Charles Bennison, on trial in his own church, comes up with a novel defence of his brother’s affair with a fifteen year old girl:

On the last day of a very unusual trial, Episcopal Bishop Charles E. Bennison Jr. continued to defend himself against charges that he concealed his brother’s sexual abuse of a minor decades ago, saying yesterday that he acted within the standards of the times.

"As poorly as I handled it," he said, "if I had applied today’s protocols then, things might have turned out worse."

In October, the Episcopal Church USA suspended him as head of the five-county Diocese of Pennsylvania on the ground that he engaged in "conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy" by failing to protect the girl or report his brother’s misbehavior. The church alleges that Bennison did so in order to advance his career.

The trial that resulted was just the third Court for the Trial of a Bishop in the 232-year history of the Episcopal Church USA.

Bennison said he was trying to guard the teenager’s reputation by not alerting her parents when he heard "rumors" of the sexual relationship.

In the 1970s, he said yesterday, most adults, including the girl’s parents, would have viewed her not as an abuse victim but as guilty of immorality. That would have caused her shame, he said.

"I was trying to protect her," Bennison said.

Bennison, now 64, was rector of St. Mark’s Parish in Upland, Calif., when his brother John, a parish youth minister, started a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old member of the parish.

I make the sexual mores of the 1970’s the theme of my novel The Ten Weeks.  However, as is frequently the case with Episcopal revisionists, Bennison is half-right.

To start with, it’s true that things like this weren’t subject to the draconian routine back then we put them through today.  The 1970’s was an era when people more often than not drifted through a moral vacuum.  The collapse of sexual standards in the previous decade lead to a more "wide open" situation.  How much "shame" would have been associated with such a relationship in those days was widely variable.  This went on without effective opposition until the Boomers started having children and self-righteously woke up to the fact that such relationships are exploitative, disgusting and, when a serial predator is involved, dangerous.

That realisation has led to the contradictory situation we have today where people on both sides of the 18 year divide are pushed by the culture to be sexually active only to find that life essentially ends when one hits the byzantine limits prescribed by law.

Bennison’s big mistake, however, is to blithely ignore the fact that his brother, supposedly a man of the cloth, was having conjugal relations out of wedlock, which is a patent violation of the Christian sexual ethic.  Same ethic is far more consistent and simpler to apply and live by than the system we have at law today.  His brother (and Charles Bennison for that matter) has no business professing and calling himself a Christian if he’s not prepared to uphold that, let alone be a minister.  But the Episcopal Church had for all intents and purposes abandoned the fort on that one, as New York Bishop Paul Moore’s daughter Honor’s life is a testament to.

If TEC gives Bennison the boot–and I hope they do–it will not only be a conviction of Bennison, but also of 40 years of open revisionism.  Liberals love to accuse conservatives of scapegoating, but that’s what’s going on here.  Bennison’s conviction should not be the end of house cleaning but only the beginning.

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