By David W. Virtue

The Anglo-Catholic priest of one of the last remaining “high” Episcopal churches in the Diocese of Pennsylvania said he has personally invited disgraced Bishop Charles E. Bennison to say Mass for him on some of the weeks he has to be in the hospital for hip surgery.

He did this despite the fact that Bennison, 66, stands convicted of conduct unbecoming a priest or bishop. Bennison has returned as bishop with a cloud hanging over him because of a narrow, legalistic reading of the statute of limitations that let him off on a technicality.

Bennison had been charged with covering up the sexual abuse of a minor by his brother and failing to discharge his pastoral obligations to the girl, the members of her family, and members of the parish youth group as well as church authorities after he learned of his brother John’s sexual abuse.

When VOL challenged Fr. Gordon Reid of St. Clements, an Anglo-Catholic parish in the heart of Philadelphia as to why he would allow a man like Bennison to say mass, he said, “He [Bennison] frequently attends our daily Mass and so is well acquainted with the rite we use.”

VOL wrote the priest again and asked how he could possibly invite a bishop like Bennison who: Denies the bodily resurrection of Jesus… Does not believe in the atonement… Wrote a Visigoth rite to marry gays… Said Jesus was a sinner who forgave himself. (Not even Arius said that)… likened the growth of the Anglican Church in Africa to the Nazi Party… Has allowed Spong to deliver his “12 [heretical] Theses” in the cathedral and much more… with House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson saying that when the HOB meets later in Sept. the bishops are going to find a way to get rid of him (Bennison)…what in God’s name were you thinking of? Is structure and form more important than truth?”

Reid replied, “As you must know, there are many other Bishops who believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, but not in the precise way it has been defined by the Church. And, thank God, the Church has never tried to define an exact doctrine of the Atonement. As for the internal struggle of Jesus with sin and temptation “(in all things as we are”) none of us can penetrate this mystery. I love the Episcopal Church because it allows a wide variety of interpretations of doctrine, while holding to the Catholic norm in its Creeds and Prayer Books.

“Some of the pronouncements of some of the African Anglican Bishops against homosexuals have indeed sounded pretty similar to Nazi rants against the unclean and subhuman Jews. I prefer the pastoral kindliness of a Charles Bennison or even the confused Bishop Spong to any of them.

“The Anglican Churches in Canada, the USA and even my homeland of Scotland are in the process of composing rites suitable for blessing the faithful, lifelong commitment of two people of the same sex to each other. I have not seen such an effort by Bishop Bennison, but wonder what element in it could be called Visigoth? Maybe Vandal would be a better metaphor.

“As for the president of the House of Laity of the Episcopal Church, I am surprised that you would consider any threats from her as of any great importance. I seem to remember wild statements from her on doctrine and morals that make Bishop Bennison sound as old-fashioned as Thomas Aquinas.

“Structure and form are certainly not more important than truth, but, as St Paul said, charity is greater than either faith or hope. I think it is time we started showing it towards each other.”

On the St. Clements blog, Reid sided with the Court of Appeals’ decision to reverse the Bennison charges writing, “Bishop Bennison was never at any time accused of an immoral act, and it has now been shown (as he always asserted) that he had no knowledge of his brother’s crime until long after the event. Then, he remained silent at the request of the parents of the girl involved, who felt that publicity would hurt her.

“It may well be that Bishop Bennison should have been more suspicious of his brother and made more vigorous attempts to find out what was really going on, but this hardly constitutes condoning immoral (and criminal) actions.

“After all, it was only when another court found that there was no evidence of Bishop Bennison’s misusing Church monies that the present charges were brought.

“The Bishop may choose to return as our Diocesan, or he may choose to retire and pursue his ministry as a Bishop of the Episcopal Church elsewhere. I, for one, am glad that the ludicrously severe sentence of (purportedly) reducing him to the lay state has been shown for the nonsense it always was.”

The pro-gay priest went on to opine that if the Diocese of Pennsylvania has to choose a new Bishop in the near future, “We could do much (and I mean Much.) worse than the Very Reverend Jeffrey John.”

Jeffrey John is the homosexual Dean of St. Albans who made headlines in 2003 when he was the first person in a gay relationship to be nominated as a Church of England bishop. Owing to the consequent controversy, he withdrew his acceptance of the nomination. He recently entered into a civil relationship with his married partner.

The tragedy of Reid’s position to allow Bennison to return and perform sacramental duties at an Anglo-Catholic parish with the bishop’s actions in covering up his brother’s sexual abuse of a minor, still acknowledged as “unbecoming a member of the clergy,” is that he undermines any ability the Standing and Diocesan Committees may have in their continuing efforts to rid themselves of this meddlesome bishop.

The walking tragedy that is Charles Bennison will continue his march to drive the orthodox out of the diocese with parishioners across the diocese beginning to leaving Episcopal parishes because of the court’s decision. Actions like that of Fr. Reid mock Anglo-Catholicism and only hasten the inevitable pushing of the diocese into oblivion.


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