Over the Internet came the following from KGO San Francisco:
“A priest’s 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 we’ve exposed over the years. These aren’t just accusations – this Episcopal priest admits having sex with an underage girl in the 1970s. So, why didn’t the bishop ever take action?
“A word of caution – we’re being careful in our wording, but some of the descriptions from the victims are graphic.
“John Bennison has been the pastor at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Clayton for 25 years, but it’s his sexual misconduct during two previous jobs that’s now sparking demonstrations from the survivors network of those abused by priests.
“Joey Piscatelli, clergy abuse activist: ‘Right now, we want him removed from ministry. I think the Episcopal Church is being irresponsible by leaving him in ministry; I think they’re rolling dice with the safety of kids.’
“So far, members of Bennison’s congregation support him, and they’ve lashed out at the protesters. They tell us the priest’s been open about what he describes as a one-time mistake – ‘a consensual affair with a young woman many years ago.’
“But Bennison hasn’t told his congregation the whole story, and he refused to address the complaints for this report.
“We’ve traced his sexual misconduct by combing church documents, by speaking with his victims and his first wife.
“Maggie Thompson, Bennison’s first wife: ‘Oh, I think it was just horrible, you know, I’ve spent years of my life now trying to come to terms with it.’
“Maggie Thompson says shortly after they arrived at St. Mark’s 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 wasn’t that he didn’t love me, it was just that he loved them, too.’
“Another female acquaintance of Rector Bennison is Muriel who doesn’t want to use her last name or show her face. She’s 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 didn’t like it, but he did it anyway. And then afterwards, he’d be all, “I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help myself.”‘
“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.’
“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. Mark’s, including a 35-year-old mother of three going through a divorce.
“On Monday, the clergy abuse activists canvassed Bennison’s neighborhood, passing out fliers.
“Activist: ‘His target age group for molestation is 13.’
“There’s a middle school just a few doors from Bennison’s house in Walnut Creek, and his neighbors are now concerned about their own daughters.
“The family of the 14-year-old sexually abused by the priest decided not to press charges against Bennison, out of concern for the girl.
“We’ll stay on top of this situation, and tell you what – if anything – changes.”
The Rev. Bennison is the son of the late Episcopal bishop of Western Michigan, who, in 1968, was one of an ecclesiastical court called to try the Episcopal bishop of Colorado, Joseph Minnis for sexual misconduct in six states and Juarez, Mexico.
Instead of deposing (unfrocking) this adulterous sexual athlete, this court merely ordered him to leave Colorado – which he did. But Minnis continued functioning as a bishop, in San Francisco.
[Journalistic ethics require that I add the following footnotes:
- At this trial of Bishop Minnis, which I was covering for the San Francisco Chronicle and other dailies, I was ordered to leave the courtroom – in violation of church law – by this court of bishops. When I refused, they had me expelled by private detectives.
- Years later, I moved east, and when I agreed to minister to a group of Episcopalians in Silver Spring, Md., who had left the denomination due to church funding of terrorist groups in Africa and New Mexico, I was ordered by Bishop C. Kilmer Myers of San Francisco to disassociate from this congregation, which I refused to do. So, I was deposed (unfrocked) for the “crime” of unauthorized worship. But this was after I had been received into another Episcopal denomination.]
This case now also involves another Episcopal bishop, as reported by Episcopal columnist David Virtue:
“A group of survivors of clergy abuse have called on Pennsylvania Bishop Charles E. Bennison to “resign immediately” as bishop because he was a party to his brother the Rev. John Bennison’s sexual misconduct.
“Victims of clergy abuse wrote a letter to Bennison, a copy of which was sent to VirtueOnline saying he should resign ‘for healing and to obtain closure after many years of profound suffering.’ The letter was sent to Bishop Bennison, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, Bishop Clayton Matthews and the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Pennsylvania:
“‘We have unequivocal proof that you never reported your brother’s sexual molestation of a minor to law enforcement or to the Episcopal bishop of Los Angeles, even though you were mandated by law to do so. You feared for the safety of your own job and sought to protect yourself and your brother, as evidenced by the letters you wrote in 1979 and 1992, which are now in the possession of the presiding bishop, your Standing Committee and the press.
“‘The sexual abuse perpetrated by John Bennison 30 years ago still has very far-reaching effects today. It has not only affected the victims, but has affected their parents, spouses, children, friends, parishioners from the parishes where the abuse occurred (both adults and youth), and those conscientious clergy and therapists who have sought to facilitate healing and justice over the years. More deeply, it has profoundly affected the victims’ religious faith, and shaken or destroyed their trust in clergy and the institution of the church.’
“VirtueOnline was informed this week that John Bennison has no intention of resigning despite being asked by Bishop William Swing to tender his resignation and go.
“When SNAP leaders went to St. John’s Parish with signs and flyers, they found John Bennison to be more unrepentant than ever.
“‘He gave a sermon about forgiveness, and told the congregation that the survivors outside want to be victims. He has absolutely no intention at all of resigning, and he was bold and cocky, and said that the survivors slander him, and the relationship was a long time ago, and Jesus is all about forgiveness,’ said Joey Piscatelli, a SNAP official. ‘His vestry told us that the stories are not true, and we were called names the whole time by most of them.'”
Update June 13 at 1:45 p.m. Eastern: KGO has informed me that Bennison has been deposed (unfrocked) and has resigned his post.