Thursday, August 26, 2010

Victim’s Family: End Statute of Limitations

Victim’s Family: End Statute of Limitations
Posted on: August 24, 2010

Two statements from opponents of Bishop Charles E. Bennison, Jr., have called for abolishing any statute of limitations for any allegations related to sexual abuse.

“An Open Letter from the Bennison Trial Witnesses” represents Martha Alexis — who was abused by Bishop Bennison’s brother, John, when she was a teenager — plus her immediate family and other supporters.

The other statement is by the Rev. Ann Nadine Grady, interim priest at Christ Church, Montpelier, Vt., where John Bennison’s ex-wife, Maggie Thompson, is a lay leader. Thompson, who was also a prosecution witness at Bishop Bennison’s trial, joined in signing the open letter.

The Episcopal Church’s Review Court for the Trial of a Bishop dismissed charges against the bishop in a ruling dated July 28. The court cited the statute of limitations regarding charges related to sexual abuse. While agreeing with the trial court that Bishop Bennison should have done more to stop his brother’s sexual abuse in the mid-1970s, the review court added that the bishop was never accused of committing sexual abuse himself.

“Along our journey, we have written impassioned letters to bishops and met with many of them face to face, only to hear the hollow refrain, ‘our hands are tied.’ … It is time to untie,” said the statement from Alexis and her supporters.

“The statute of limitations regarding sexual abuse needs to be removed entirely. The crime of complicity and cover-up needs to be regarded as equal in seriousness to that committed by the perpetrator because it allows the abuse to continue,” the Alexis statement added. “Further, in matters of clergy sexual abuse, there needs to be a church-wide mechanism that supersedes the autonomy of individual diocesan bishops. At stake are the safety of the people and the credibility of the Episcopal Church as a whole.”

The 1,000-word document, posted on Episcopal Café, is an open statement to the people of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, both houses of General Convention — and “Episcopalians Everywhere.”

The statement indicates the different paths in which Alexis and her family members have moved over the years. Alexis is identified as belonging to the Western Diocese of the Anglican Church in North America. Her mother, Julia, is an Episcopalian within the Diocese of El Camino Real, whose bishop, Mary Gray–Reeves, was a judge on the review court. Her brother, Andy, is a layman in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento.

The statement’s signatories call the Rev. Margo Maris, a longtime victims’ advocate, their “pastor, advocate and editor.” She is now a supply priest in the Diocese of Oregon.

Grady, who leads a parish where Maggie Thompson is co-chair of a ministry discernment committee, wrote a message in defense of Thompson.

“She forced the church hierarchy to deal with John Bennison’s actions and Charles Bennison’s cover-up,” Grady wrote. “Busting open secrets always takes courage because there are those who would just as soon not know the secret or deal with its aftermath. It’s often the truth-teller whose character and motives are questioned and who suffers in the court of public opinion.”

She too called for abolishing the statute of limitations in cases involving allegations of sexual abuse.

“Anyone who’s been the least bit involved in sexual abuse cases knows that statutes of limitations protect only the perps,” Grady wrote. “It is the accused that hope for dimmed memories, lost or destroyed documents and dead witnesses. Fear, shame and silence become the allies of those who abuse the most vulnerable among us, our children. For victims, the best statute of limitations is no statute of limitations at all.”

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