The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
SNAP Press Release
For immediate release: Monday, Aug. 16
For more information: David Clohessy 314 566 9790
Clergy sex victims challenge 8 bishops
Episcopalian officials reinstate top prelate
SNAP urges denomination leaders to blast cover ups
It also wants church hierarchy to lift statute of limitations
Letters are sent on Bennison’s first day back in office in PA
As a once-ousted Episcopal bishop resumes his office today, a support group for clergy sex abuse victims is challenging eight of his colleagues across the US to reform church policies and educate church staff and members about child sex crimes.
The organization is also urging the controversial prelate, Bishop Charles Bennison, to voluntarily step aside.
Leaders of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, are sending letters today to each of the bishops who recently concluded that the church statute of limitations on Bennison’s misdeeds had expired. At the same time, the same bishops (serving on a church panel called The Court of Review) ruled Bennison had engaged in “conduct unbecoming a minister.” For years, Bennison kept quiet about his brother, a now-former Episcopalian priest, who sexually violated a girl in California.
“You have an obligation to protect the innocent children and vulnerable adults (and) a duty to help educate and guide your congregation,” said SNAP in its letter to the eight. “Will you use this opportunity to send a clear, powerful public statement to everyone who will listen – that each of us has a duty to expose, not conceal, sexual assaults on the young?”
The prelates head the following dioceses: East Carolina (Kinston, NC), Maine (Portland), Western Louisiana (Alexandria), North Carolina (Raleigh, NC), Mississippi (Jackson), West Tennessee (Memphis), Eastern Michigan (Saginaw), and El Camino Real (Monterey, CA).
Specifically, SNAP wants the bishops to address clergy sex crimes and cover ups from their pulpits and in their church publications, specifically excoriating Bennison for his “decades of reckless cover up,” and urging their flock and staff to report any suspicion of possible child abuse to secular authorities immediately.
The group is especially upset that Bennison won reinstatement based on what it calls “an absurd legal technicality,” the statute of limitations.
“This is an archaic, arbitrary deadline that only protects predators and their allies,” said SNAP’s letter. “It’s an unfair rule that gives wrong-doers incentive to intimidate victims, threaten witnesses, fire whistleblowers, destroy evidence, stonewall prosecutors and deceive parishioners – so that they can protect their reputations while ‘running out the clock’ on devastating crimes.”
SNAP believes there should be no statute of limitations on child molestation, in criminal, civil or church law. The group would also like to see Bennison voluntarily relinquish his position.
Last week, according to one prominent Episcopal blogger, “the rector and vestry of St. David's Episcopal Church in Wayne, PA, the largest Episcopal parish in the Diocese of Pennsylvania,” called on Episcopal Bennison to resign. It’s reportedly the second diocesan parish “to call on Bennison not to return to the diocese.” http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/content/2010/A-51%20Final%20Judgment.pdf
SNAP leaders welcomed the announcements.
“The silence of others is what child molesters want and need. We just think it’s wrong for Episcopalians – whether church members or staff – to do nothing in the face of the terrible misdeeds of the Bennison brothers and the terrible outcome of the church’s internal process.”
SNAP believes that regardless of what the denomination’s bishops or leadership structure does or doesn’t do, Bennision should voluntarily give up his position.
“And if he does, good can come from this whole sordid situation if these eight individual bishops show some courage and publicly denounce the cover up of child sex crimes and reform church policies,” said Clohessy.
If Bennison persists in returning to his post, Clohessy maintains, he’ll show “that basically, he’s interested more in accumulating and exercising personal power above everything else.”
A copy of SNAP’s letter, sent today by fax and/or email to each of the eight bishops, is below:
We are sure you feel you have done your legal (or what in Catholic circles would be called your “canonical”) duty by serving on the church panel which recently reinstated Bishop Charles Bennison as head of the Pennsylvania diocese. But at the risk of seeming presumptuous, what about your moral duty?
Given what you heard, read, and learned before and during those proceedings, we strongly suspect that you understand the severity of Bishop’s Charles Bennison’s recklessness, callousness and deceit surrounding his brother’s horrific child sex crimes against a vulnerable girl. And given what we’ve read about your decision, we suspect that you feel that your hands “were tied” and that current church policies essentially mandate Bennison’s return to his post.
We of course feel strongly that Bennison should never hold any position of authority in any denomination. But we write today not to dispute your ruling, but rather to raise a simple, personal question: What are you, as an individual bishop, going to do now?
You have an obligation (first and foremost, we submit) to do everything you can to protect the most powerless among your flock – innocent children and vulnerable adults. You have a duty to help educate and guide your congregation. You have resources, including a “bully pulpit,” with which to do this.
Will you use those resources, and this opportunity, to send a clear, powerful public statement to everyone who will listen – that each of us has a duty to expose, not conceal, sexual assaults on the young?
To those of us who have been sexually violated by clergy, the Bennison reinstatement is a depressing and disturbing development. But it’s also what educators call a “teachable moment.” – a chance for you and your peers to make a real difference for the safety of children.
It’s also a chance that you and your colleagues are likely tempted to walk away from, or at least not publicly discuss, because the subject matter is so horrific and because it’s much easier to be quiet and complacent than to be outspoken and vigilant. But being quiet and complacent protects no one, least of all innocent children. And ignoring serious wrong-doing like Bennson’s will only encourage future wrong-doing.
Starting right now, we beg you to speak out – loudly, publicly and repeatedly – and condemn the misconduct of Bishop Bennison, so that others in leadership positions might think twice before ignoring or hiding knowledge or suspicions of child sex crimes. We urge you to address clergy sex crimes and cover ups from your pulpit and in their church publications, specifically excoriating Bennison for his decades of reckless cover up, and urging your flock and staff to report any suspicion of possible child abuse to secular authorities immediately. (These messages can’t be repeated too often, even if you believe your employees and church members have heard them before.)
The past cannot, of course, be “undone.” But the future can be shaped. Having heard the evidence against Bishop Bennison, you have the knowledge and background and credibility to do this. You have the position and resources to do this. We believe you have the duty to do this. The only question is: Do you have the courage to do this?
And, we believe, you have another legal or canonical duty – to seriously reconsider whether any statute of limitations on committing or concealing clergy sex crimes is moral and practical. It protects only two groups of people: those who commit and those who conceal these devastating acts.
Based on our 22 years of experience, we are firmly convinced that eliminating or extending the statute of limitations on child sex crimes and cover ups is the quickest, simplest and most effective way to protect vulnerable children right now. It was established long before anyone understood just how damaging child abuse is, how shrewd child predators are, how easily silenced their victims can be, and how extraordinarily incapable many offenders are at ever stopping their deeply-rooted compulsive and heinous acts.
It is an archaic, arbitrary deadline that only helps predators and their allies. It’s an unfair rule that gives wrong-doers incentive to intimidate victims, threaten witnesses, fire whistleblowers, destroy evidence, stonewall prosecutors and deceive parishioners – so that they can protect their reputations while ‘running out the clock’ on devastating crimes.
We strongly urge you to consider spearheading an effort to extend or remove the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse, in both the secular and church legal systems.
We hope to hear from you soon. And we hope your answer will be “Yes, I accept your challenge and have already started vigorously speaking out – in public – against complicity and inaction in child sex cases.”
Rt. Rev. Clifton Daniel, III
Rt. Rev. Chilton R. Knudsen
Rt. Rev. D. Bruce MacPherson
Rt. Rev. Michael B. Curry
Rt. Rev. Duncan M. Gray, III
Rt. Rev. Don E. Johnson
Rt. Rev. S. Todd Ouseley
Rt. Rev. Mary Gray-Reeves
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests