jQuery Slider

You are here

PENNSYLVANIA: Bennison Face Growing Opposition from Orthodox Priests


By David W. Virtue

PHILADELPHIA, PA—The revisionist Bishop of Pennsylvania, Charles E. Bennison is facing increasing pressure from orthodox priests in his diocese who disagree with him over the faith, ECUSA’s liberal positions on sexual morality and the way he runs the diocese.

“Diversity is disappearing, instead we have a liberal narrowness. It’s a paradox. Genuine liberalness is slowly vanishing and becoming deliberately narrow,” said the Rev. Don Sehulster, the evangelical rector of Good Shepherd, Hilltown, PA.

At a recent meeting of the Bucks Deanery Clericus at Grace Church, Hulmeville, several priests raised their voices at the direction the Episcopal Church was going, and specifically at the way Bishop Bennison was running the diocese.

Following a Bible study, Sehulster weighed in on the topic of Episcopal pastoral oversight, offering up that the Episcopal Church was sick. “We cannot heal ourselves; we need intervention from the outside. We need a pastoral leader from outside of ECUSA to help us – a Primate.”

At the clergy meeting Bennison revealed that he had had discussion with 14 bishops of Province 3 and in their discussions they revealed their strategy as to what they would do if a parish did not want them to make a pastoral visit.

“Bennison said that two of the bishops would not make a pastoral visit, two more said they didn’t know and 10 said they would go, and if they were not allowed into the church, they would hold a service outside on the parish grounds, (shades of Bishop Jane Dixon at Accokeek in the Diocese of Washington). Bennison said we have learned from the 60s that we must confront evil wherever we find it.”

The Rev. Larry Snyder rector of St. Luke’s Newtown, voiced his opposition to remarks Bennison made saying that everyone who disagreed with him on theological issues was “evil”.

“I took offense at that remark” said Snyder. Fr. Sehulster also voiced his opposition to the bishop’s remark. Bennison scrambled for an explanation saying he didn’t mean people but those “who believed in the heresy of schism.”

Snyder told the Bishop that he was using the canons to beat us who don’t agree with him into submission.

Snyder, an Anglo-Catholic priest has repeatedly asked Bennison for another bishop to do confirmations, and only recently was allowed to have Quincy Bishop Keith Ackerman to come into the parish for a teaching mission. He was allowed to celebrate but not to confirm. But Bennison exacts a heavy price for cooperation. “I ask three or four times a year, but with little success. I am hoping the new ruling from the House of Bishops for Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight will give us some freedom,” he told Virtuosity.

In a letter Snyder wrote to Bennison on March 12, the priest castigated the bishop reminding him of his promise that when elected he would continue the practice established under Bishop Alan Bartlett of permitting traditionalist bishops from outside the diocese to make Episcopal visitations.

Bennison said he promised not to change the arrangement with words, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it.”

Snyder accused the bishop of breaking that promise saying, “I lack confidence in your word, your revisionist theology, your insensitive approach and your unperceived pastoral concern for the spiritual needs of traditionalists [which] have caused some congregations to attempt to secede from the Episcopal Church, to withhold voluntary mission giving, and to walk away from their buildings to start a new congregation under the A.M.I.A and with some Rectors to decline to agree to visitations you demanded.”

Snyder then blasted the bishop saying he had continually demonstrated the power of his office by “upping the ante” adding more demands to be met before an outside bishop would be considered for a supplemental visitation.

“When you phoned me on February 23, to remind this parish that they had not made a pledge to the mission program of the diocese, you asked what you could do to convince us to do so. I suggested that you permit an outside traditionalist bishops to make epsicopal visitations.”

Snyder said that such a visitation would not be in place of Bennison or his assisting bishop, only in addition to his visitations – one for one.

“Bennison responded saying that he would only permit such additional Episcopal care after he and other bishops assisting in the diocese had made a visit, plus the parish now had to give a tithe of their income to the diocesan mission program.”

“That was never part of the deal,” said Snyder in a phone call to Virtuosity. “Bennison just keeps upping the ante for one thing – money and power.”

Snyder said he told Bennison that he was not seeking to leave the Episcopal Church, nor even deny his position as the diocesan bishop, “only to live our faith and to meet the spiritual needs of the congregants.”

Snyder then blasted the bishop’s personal views saying, “Due to your well-publicized positions on faith and morals, your visitations have always caused stress and turmoil within the parish. Parents have told me that they will not have their children confirmed if you are the bishop celebrating the Laying-on-of-Hands, and others have stated they will not be present, or will not receive if you are the celebrant of the Eucharist.”

Snyder said that no debate regarding the Articles of Religion and Anglican polity will change this.

The orthodox priest said that the tithe Bennison was exacting was now 10 percent of the diocesan budget of the previous year.

The traditionalist priest said he had handed out a questionnaire to his parish after the consecration of V. Gene Robinson in New Hampshire and his parish voted 90 percent for biblical views on human sexuality. “We have gay couples who are welcome here in the parish, who know they are welcome, but we will still accept the biblical teaching on all aspects of sin.”

At the clergy meeting, Bennison said he was toying with the idea of dropping retired clergy medical benefits, saying that it was a large chunk of change - $40,000 - and he wanted to drop it.

Questions have been raised as to the extent of monthly legal fees unnecessarily being spent to attack traditionalist parishes in the diocese.

Sehulster said Frank Griswold had shown poor leadership. “If I had done what he had done I would have been asked to resign. His actions have harmed the church, and knowing the consequences he went ahead and consecrated Robinson. He is a poor leader.

I don’t want the church to break up; I just want to see it get back on track.”
At the clergy meeting, Bennison revealed that he had had discussions with the 14 bishops of Province 3, and in their discussions they revealed their strategy as to what they would do if a parish did not want them to make a pastoral visit.

Virtuosity was also told that a number of lay people from Emmanuel Holmesburg, who presently have no priest, but only a supply priest, said Bennison recently made the statement, "I am a heretic. I am a universalist...I just don't believe that God would condemn any of his children to the damnation of hell."


Get a bi-weekly summary of Anglican news from around the world.
comments powered by Disqus
Trinity School for Ministry
Go To Top