Swinging away from Japan, I want to talk a bit about St. Clement’s Philadelphia today.
I had blogged about St. Clement’s last November, here, and I had an opportunity to revisit that post when the topic of St. Clement’s came up over at David Virtue’s Virtue Online, a website of what is called conservative Anglican orthodoxy. This means that they don’t go in for any of those newfangled, post-1959 social changes, except maybe the civil rights movement as it applied to race.
David Virtue is perhaps the #1 read Anglican commentator on the internet. (Funny how many commentators [I follow] have the first name of David, by the way.) So I like to visit his site not because I agree with everything printed on it, but because he is just so die-hard and adamant about promoting the Anglican orthodoxy. This, in the face of numerous forces within the Episcopal Church (Episcopal = Anglican in a way, from Church of England) who are keen on wiping his kind out. They will take over the conservative parishes one by one, if they have to, so that they can get their hands on the trust fund money, the property, and anything else they can sell.
So I definitely am going to root for the underdog in this one, even though, honestly, I can’t agree with the whole agenda. In fact, when I pointed out exceptions several months ago, I got routinely beaten down. So there.
While I have been off blogging about Japan, it turns out there have been some developments in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania. The diocese had had a bishop whose brother was also an Episcopalian priest. The brother had had sex with a minor in the 1970’s, out in California. It was made into something sometime later, and apparently the Bishop, then as some lesser official, helped to cover up the brother’s bad deed. This is what the story is.
Sexual abuse via the cover of religion is no new thing in the Episcopal Church, the Catholic Church, or any other. It is this open ground for predators. They can do their bad thing, and have the religion covering for it. So it’s no surprise that Bishop Bennison’s brother was up to something, as any random predator might be; and that the brother covered it up.
As Bishop Bennison’s popularity sank in Pennsylvania during the 2000’s, the people there decided to make an issue of the Bishop’s actions in prior times. So he was “deposed” sometime in the last couple years, which meant he lost his bishop’s mitre and hat, and whatever other accouterments and nice things a bishop gets, and even knocked out of the priesthood. The real problem seemed to be that
his he was a lousy administrator with money, and had a habit of speculating on the extreme Christ-as-man end of Christianity. But his role in the coverup was not exactly the most reassuring behavior from a so-called man of the cloth.
Well, as is so typical in contemporary Episcopalianism, the Bishop got his attorney and fought back. This is a religion where your attorney is your right hand man (or woman.)
After due course, the Bishop’s attorneys got him off on a technicality. The internal statute of limitations for the offense which the Bishop had been accused of—maybe this was something about covering up the bad sexual deed–had passed. So some of his fellow Bishops, sitting as an appellate trial, sprung him. He was free and clear to be a bishop again, the Bishop. Oh no!
So lately, this theme is popping up again and again in David Virtue’s blog. “Oh shit! We’re stuck with Charles Bennison again! We thought that we got rid of him!”
In a way, if you want a laugh, it’s really funny. Because the conservative wing really despises the guy, and the more left-moderate, modern church Episcopalians there don’t think much of him, either. But they can’t get rid of him.
Just when they think that they are going to come up with some plan of ostracization, the St. Clement’s people appear in the story. Particularly, the current rector of St. Clement’s, Gordon Reid, who I have never met and only had small internet contact.
If you read the earlier posts, I know all about St. Clement’s Church Philadelphia, and so I have a 75% sense of what Canon Reid is all about, too. And, you know, it’s neither here nor there. But in a sense, to me it’s no surprise that he would be inviting Bishop
Bartlett Bennison into the St. Clement’s Church and making every excuse for him. It’s just really no surprise. To me.
St. Clement’s has run itself as its own thing, and has accepted or rejected bishops as they chose. St. Clement’s Philadephia is really its own religion, having taken Episcopal Church property, and they write their own rules. So here is a man after their own heart: a guy who covered up sexual abuse that was done by his brother under the cover of religious trappings. Apparently, even, I don’t have to elaborate on shit that has gone on at St. Clement’s, up to at least 20 years ago. Even if it doesn’t involve the kind of minor abuse that Bennison’s brother did, but just the generic line-crossing that you just don’t do if you truly honor the humanity and integrity of all people.
In its 1990 incarnation, this was part conservative High Church Anglicanism, part pick-up club for coworkers who wanted a different kind of slice on the side. Like I said, some bad shit. We’re all God’s children, you know, but . . . Christ!
So David Virtue’s got a piece up, saying like, “oh my God! The presumed conservative High Church parish of St. Clement’s has a rector who sees no wrong, not only in what the ‘homosexualists’ (i.e. gay people) do, but is inviting Bishop Bennison to minister there and thus enhance his reputation, when both Pennsylvania left and right have been keeping it down where we think it belongs!” I know the place, so my own feeling is, “Yeeee-ahh? The rector of St. Clement’s probably couldn’t do his job there, or have it, if he wasn’t out there, kind-of ‘out’, for the people who are paying his salary. Why is this a surprise?”
For the conservatives, yes, it is a shame that St. Clement’s was “lost”. They thought it was a very conservative and doctinaire place; it was not. It wasn’t really twenty years ago, but it had a better act back then, because it had more sucker families. Now, it’s probably going down in the money because the families are gone and no one wants to give in. So the political strategy would be to kiss up to the guy with power–Charles Bennison–and have him as the ecclesiastical sugar daddy. They legitimize him; in turn, he legitimizes them. Again, why is that a surprise?
I just want to make it clear: this isn’t a knock on gay people. But it is about what bad people do when they use religion as a cover, which is really equal opportunity when it comes to people who would do it.
I feel sorry for the conservative Anglo-Catholic/Anglicanism, because they are going to be sucked dry for money by this other element. You see how they do it, and where the politics, if you’ll excuse me, make strange bedfellows. This is contemporary Episcopalianism.
It has little to do with Christianity.