Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Litigation - Diocese of Pennsylvania

Until it was surpassed recently by the Potemkin "Diocese of San Joaquin", the Diocese of Pennsylvania has the dubious distinction of engendering both the greatest number of lawsuits and the longest-running legal feud in Episcopal Church history. The dispute began in 2002 when Father David L. Moyer, rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Rosemont, notified Bishop Charles E. Bennison, Jr. that he would not be welcome to visit his parish, because of his heretical statements. (It was Bishop Bennison who famously said, "The Church wrote the Bible, and the Church can rewrite it.") Bishop Bennison responded by charging Father Moyer with "abandonment of the communion of this Church", and inhibited him for six months under Canon IV.10.

As explained in the series of posts linked on this page, the Abandonment Canon had never been used before to remove an active member of the clergy from the priesthood without a trial, but that is what Bishop Bennison did, in September 2002, despite calls for restraint from both Presiding Bishop Griswold of ECUSA and from the Archbishop of Canterbury. Father Moyer went into civil court, and sued Bishop Bennison for fraudulently depriving him of his orders. The rest of that sorry tale, and the subsequent developments between Father Moyer and his own attorneys, can be read in this post.

Relations between Bishop Bennison and the diocesan Standing Committee deteriorated as more questions arose about his expenditures on the Diocese's behalf. In addition to the litigation with Father Moyer, Bishop Bennison also sued the Church of St. James the Less for trying to withdraw from the Diocese. That costly litigation resulted in the beautiful empty shell of an historic building (see the "Dog in the Manger" post linked below), useless to the Diocese without any congregation to fill it.

In 2006, charges were brought to the Presiding Bishop against Bishop Bennison. These eventually resulted in his inhibition and trial for conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy, as described in this ENS series of articles. While Bishop Bennison was inhibited, the Standing Committee on its own filed a new suit against the Church of the Good Shepherd to recover its property in the same manner that had been done with St. James the Less.

Bishop Bennison was convicted by the Court for the Trial of a Bishop, and took an appeal. As described in the post on this topic below, the Court of Review reversed his conviction on the grounds that the statute of limitations had run on the charges against him. He returned on August 16, 2010 to take up his position as Bishop of Pennsylvania again, and there has been consternation in both the Diocese and among the Standing Committee. He has stated his intention to serve as the diocesan until he reaches retirement age in 2015.

As further developments take place, I shall add to the posts below.

Bishop Bennison's Deposition of Father Moyer for "Abandonment"

Abuses of the "Abandonment" Canons (Second Part)

Bishop Bennison's Appeal and Return

Court of Review Dismisses Charges Against +Bennison

Is +Bennison Disqualified from Serving Further?

Oh, Good Grief, Bishops -- WHEN Will You Act Consistently?

Subsequent Lawsuits Involving Good Shepherd and its Rector

The Dog in the Manger Series: St. James the Less

The Dog in the Manger (St. James the Less)

Back to Litigation and the Episcopal Church (USA)

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