Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Civil trial opens for embattled Episcopal bishop

The Bennison trial opened yesterday. A report form the Inquirer.

Lawyers in the civil trial of suspended Episcopal Bishop Charles E. Bennison Jr., who is being sued by a priest he defrocked, painted sharply different pictures yesterday of villain and victim in a decade-long feud.

The unusual trial could establish a precedent for clergy in hierarchical religious institutions to turn to civil courts to challenge their superiors over personnel matters.

In his opening statement at the Montgomery County Courthouse, lawyer John Lewis portrayed his client, the Rev. David Moyer, as the target of a cynical plot by Bennison to "fraudulently" remove him from the priesthood.

Bennison sat in the courtroom wearing a dark suit and red-striped tie instead of the traditional clerical collar and purple vest of a bishop.

Early this month, a special church court had ordered him stripped of his clerical status on the ground that he failed to intervene in his brother's sexual abuse of a girl in Bennison's California parish about 35 years ago.

Bennison has said he would appeal that sentence to a higher church court. Although he remains the nominal bishop of the diocese, the Episcopal Church USA suspended him in October from exercising the duties of his office when it ordered his church trial.


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