Sexual abuse is a crime, not an affair

Dr. Westley Byrne of Beaufort, South Carolina, a pubic health doctor and nurse practitioner in pediatrics writes in Episcopal Life Online regarding the charges against Bishop Charles Bennison and the wording of news reports of his actions that brought on the charges.

My first reaction to the news about Bishop Charles Bennison (Pennsylvania bishop inhibited from ordained ministry, Oct. 31, 2007) and his brother John was a mixture of anger and sadness.

As I read further, though, another reaction set in. This second response wasn’t so much to the news itself but to the way that news was described.

Seminarian John Bennison’s criminal acts toward a child under his lay pastoral care are variously characterized as initiating a “sexual relationship,” having a “relationship,” and engaging in “sexual relations.” As an ordained Episcopal deacon and then priest, John is said to have continued a “sexual relationship with the 14-year-old.”

Charles, then a priest and John’s supervisor during much of this time, knew that “his brother was conducting a sexual affair with an underage member of [his] church’s youth group.” It’s said that Charles even came upon John Bennison and the 14 year-old-girl “while they were engaged in sexual relations.”

Charles is charged with doing nothing, however, “to hasten the end of the affair.”

But this wasn’t an “affair.” Neither was it a “relationship.” What it was was child sexual abuse.

The first hint at that awful truth in the Presentment against Charles Bennison doesn’t come until the bottom of page 3, where it’s termed sexual misconduct. Well into page 5, John Bennison’s behavior finally is labeled correctly as sexual abuse.

Sexual abuse is a crime, not an affair. (emphasis added)

Read it all here.

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