Skip to comments.Depravity [in the ECUSA Diocese of California]
Posted on 05/26/2006 5:03:49 PM PDT by sionnsar
Roman Catholics who think their church inadequately handled its sexual abuse scandals should realize that a church cannot possibly handle a sexual abuse scandal any worse than the Episcopal Diocese of California has handled one for the last thirteen years:
A priests history of sexual misconduct is coming back to haunt him. This is not a Catholic priest, but an Episcopal priest who had sex with members of his own flock and at least one young girl, while he was married.
This story is different than the Catholic priests weve exposed over the years. These arent just accusations -- this Episcopal priest admits having sex with an underage girl in the 1970s. So, why didnt the bishop ever take action?
A word of caution -- were being careful in our wording, but some of the descriptions from the victims are graphic.
John Bennison has been the pastor at Saint Johns Episcopal Church in Clayton for 25 years, but its his sexual misconduct during two previous jobs thats now sparking demonstrations from the survivors network of those abused by priests.
In case you're wondering, John Bennison is the brother of Pennsylvania Episcopal Bishop Charles Bennison. John's current congregation defends him.
So far, members of Bennisons congregation support him and theyve lashed out at the protesters. They tell us the priests been open about what he describes as a one-time mistake -- "a consensual affair with a young woman many years ago."
Even though he hasn't told them everything.
But Bennison hasnt told his congregation the whole story, and he refused to address the complaints for this report.
Weve traced his sexual misconduct by combing church documents, by speaking with his victims and his first wife.
Who was also one of his victims.
Maggie Thompson says shortly after they arrived at St. Marks in Upland, Bennison announced he wanted to have an open marriage.
Maggie Thompson: "And he also said all along with all the women that he was involved in, it wasnt that he didnt love me, it was just that he loved them, too."
"Monster" is far too tame a word for John Bennison.
Bennisons first affair -- a 19-year-old girl from the church youth group he led.
Muriel, Bennison victim: "Being young, I was still used to doing what someone in authority tells you to do. You know, you dont think of saying no."
Muriel doesnt want to use her last name or show her face. Shes concerned about the repercussions of speaking out.
She went to Bennison for counseling, but she says it quickly became a bizarre sexual relationship, including threesomes with his wife. One time when they were alone, Muriel says the priest tied her face down on the bed and forced himself on her.
Muriel: "I did tell him no. I did tell him I didnt like it, but he did it anyway. And then afterwards, hed be all, Im sorry, but I couldnt help myself."
Dan Noyes: "Some people would call that rape."
Muriel: "Yeah, I realize now it was."
Next, Bennison began courting a 13-year-old girl. The sexual abuse began when she was 14 and continued for four years, often in his church office or the choir loft. He even brought the girl to bed with his wife.
Maggie Thompson: "It was his fantasy to have a threesome. It was not anything the rest of us wanted to do, but we were pretty heavily controlled by him."
The Diocese has known all this since 1993.
All this information appears in documents from a 1993 church investigation. They show that Bennison had sex with other vulnerable women he met at St. Marks, including a 35-year-old mother of three going through a divorce.
The behavior continued at his next job at All Saints by the Sea in Santa Barbara with a 21-year-old who went to Bennison for marriage counseling. The documents also show he paid for an abortion for an 18-year-old girl with church money.
Margo Maris, the person who investigated Bennison, just might be having serious doubts about her church right now.
Dan Noyes: "How do you see what he did, how serious is this."
Margo Maris, Episcopal priest: "Oh, I see it as a high crime. I mean, its treason."
Margo Maris has been an Episcopal priest for almost 30 years, and she investigated Bennisons misconduct for the church. She is shocked that the bishop of California, San Franciscos William Swing, has allowed Bennison to remain at Saint Johns in Clayton after reading all the sordid details.
Margo Maris: "Im not talking about revenge, Im talking about justice. And for me, it touches my soul in terms of what I think the priesthood is about and what I think the church is about."
William Swing had nothing to say.
Bishop Swing also refused to speak with us about the case. The victims and their families believe that Bennisons father and brother, both bishops, were able to influence Swing to go easy on the priest.
A plausible claim since Charles Bennison attempted to cover for his brother at least once.
In fact, his brother was pastor at St. Marks when the scandal first erupted. In 1979, Chuck Bennison sent a letter to Johns first wife, urging her to keep quiet: "a public scandal here... could cost me my job."
Since no one in the Diocese appears to be interested, this is what sexual abuse can do to a young person.
Andy, victims brother: "It was a huge betrayal of the whole family."
Andy is the brother of Bennisons youngest victim. He doesnt want to use his last name to protect his sisters identity.
For the church investigation in 1993, she wrote, "not only did John violate my body, he also took my soul." Shes battled alcohol abuse, anorexia and thoughts of suicide.
Now, Andy says shes terribly upset that Bennison remains a priest.
Andy: "All were really asking is that he be removed from the priesthood and I think thats appropriate considering that he admitted to sexually molesting a 14-year-old girl."
Maris also can't figure out why Bennison hasn't been defrocked.
And the woman who investigated Bennison for the Episcopal church agrees.
Margo Maris: "My concern is for the safety of young people or young women in this case. For him to still be there, if I were a member of the parish, I would be concerned."
A serial sexual abuser. A child molester. A rapist. A case the Episcopal Diocese of California has known about for thirteen years. And John Bennison still has a parish. I've often joked about how there are only five or six sins left in the Episcopal Church. I never realized that in the Episcopal Diocese of California, that's apparently true.
I don't know if presentment charges can be filed against Swing or not but it would be wonderful if someone were to bring this case up at GenCon. And it would be very helpful if somone were to ask incoming Bishop Mark Andrus what he intends to do about Bennison, preferably before the vote to approve his election. That is, if ECUSA doesn't want people to think that it has left apostate and taken up residence in demonic.
UPDATE: The video report is here. Requires Windows Media Player.
Why hasn't some aspiring young ambulance chasing lawyer in northern California looked into this? Sure, this doesn't involve sexual abuse of boys by Catholics priests, it's only about an Episcopalian priest (boring!), but why aren't these female victims and their lawyers suing him and the diocese for everything they can?
I have no idea. Yes, it's apparently a singular case (unlike the Roman Catholic situation), but to me it looks quite actionable.
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