Priest booted after sex-abuse reports

Bennison removed from Bay Area church on past Upland suspicions

Daily Bulletin, Upland, CA/July 18, 2006
By Caroline An

Upland -- A former priest at St. Mark's Episcopal Church was removed from his current position at a Bay Area church following news reports that he had a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl in Upland more than 30 years ago.

The Rev. John Bennison, an assistant priest at St. Mark's Episcopal Church from 1971 to 1975, resigned under pressure as pastor of St. John's Episcopal Church in Clayton.

Allegations against the former St. Mark's pastor first were revealed by church officials to parishioners in 1993, St. Mark's Senior Warden Serena Beeks said Monday.

The four-year relationship with the girl was detailed in an Oct. 8, 1993, letter from Frederick Borsch, bishop of the Episcopal Church's Diocese of Los Angeles, to St. Mark's parishioners.

"We planned a meeting right away to inform the parish and provide support in case of other victims we didn't know about,'' Beeks said.

The meeting included members of the church and parents of the Episcopal school's students, as well as the victim and her family.

Members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) handed out leaflets to St. Mark's parishioners Sunday, including information about Bennison's sexual misconduct with the girl.

"A friend of the victim contacted SNAP to see if we could help in any way,'' said Pat Olivas, SNAP Inland Valley director. "That's what prompted us to leaflet the Upland parish.''

Olivas said the victim's family never contacted the police or pressed charges against Bennison. The organization wrote Bishop J. Jon Bruno on June 22, asking for the diocese's help in visiting parishes where Bennison worked, posting his photo and offenses on church Web sites, and using the diocese's Web site and newsletters to warn others about Bennison.

In the 1993 letter sent to St. Mark's parishioners, Borsch said the victim "has decided to come forward with her complaint, hoping to resolve these issues and help the Church hold Father Bennison accountable for his behavior.''

Beeks said the church community is concerned about the allegations and will support victims who haven't stepped forward.

"We will continue to provide and be supportive and open in case there are victims of John Bennison or anyone else,'' she said.

Bennison left St. Mark's in 1975 for a new position at a church in Santa Barbara, Beeks said.

"Young priests typically move fairly often in their career,'' she said.

Bennison later moved to Clayton, in the East Bay near Walnut Creek, where he had served for 25 years at the time of his resignation in June.

Bennison's affair with the girl in Upland was first detailed by a San Francisco television station in late May.

Bishop William Swing of the Diocese of California told Bay Area parishioners that he had asked for Bennison's resignation May 29 because of the publicity about the affair.

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