8.14.07 The Secret Report: Part 1
Additional Allegation Surfaces
• Report Prepared for unnamed OCA Hierarch Cites Another Instance of Alleged Physical Abuse
• Report Claims Paul Sidebottom Has Been Advised To Retain Counsel
• Report Recommends Alaskan Chancellor, Bishop be Suspended Pending Investigation
A report prepared for a senior, unnamed hierarch of the OCA prior to the recent Synod of Bishops meeting providing an overview of the issues, pastoral and legal, involved in Paul Sidebottom's allegations against Fr. Isidore (Brittain), and his report of Fr. Isidore's allegations against Bishop Nikolai of Alaska, appeared on the Orthodox Forum internet site yesterday. The report contains a reference to another allegation of physical abuse, this time against a sub-deacon, in addition to the two priests previously mentioned by Sidebottom.
OCANews.org has confirmed that this report, posted by Peter Zwick, (who has been responsible for posting other insider information from Syosset in the past two years) is indeed the report presented to most of the members of the Lesser Synod, in a meeting held a week before the entire Synod meeting at the end of July. According to sources which did not wish to be identified, the report was written at the request of a senior hierarch because the allegations against Fr. Isidore are a class C felony in Alaska, (Attempted Sexual Assault in the Second Degree), while the allegations of Fr. Isidore against Bishop Nikolai (assault, domestic violence, neglect & malpractice ) are equally serious. Bishop Nikolai has been dismissive of the allegations, referring to them as mere 'rumors' in the OCA's report of the Synod meeting, and indicating they were being exaggerated to concerned hierarchs.The report was an attempt to counter that perception.
While the report is unsigned, sources confirm to OCANews.org that the author is an active Orthodox priest, who while disclaiming to be either "a lawyer or psychologist" is, in fact, an accredited counselor, holding multiple degrees in the field, and one who has done extensive pastoral work in domestic violence and substance abuse. And while the author writes the document is not a legally reviewed brief", it was reviewed for the accuracy of the legal claims made in it by two attorneys.
The Report begins with a brief introduction:
The following document is the result of a request by a member of the Holy Synod for a clarification on certain types of issues that are related to allegations against Archimandrite Isidore (Brittain) and Bishop Nikolai (Soraich), as well as a compilation of resources.
Under no circumstances should this document be viewed as a clinical psychological assessment of either of the two individuals. Nor should this document be viewed as a legally reviewed brief. The author is neither a lawyer, nor a clinical psychologist. Nor is the author attempting to present themselves as a lawyer, psychologist, or an expert in any field.
Listed below are assessments of the first-hand written account by Paul Sidebottom of the words and actions of Archimandrite Isidore. Archimandrite Isidore's words and actions took place during the evening and day of the Ascension Feast 2007, and additions were made where information was orally given concerning other allegations.
The letter cited was apparently written to His Beatitude Metropolitan Herman on the 25th of June 2007 by Mr. Paul Sidebottom, Associate Dean of Academics, St. Herman's Orthodox Theological Seminary in Kodiak, Alaska.
It is known, at this time, that Archimandrite Isidore (Brittain) is undergoing inpatient substance abuse rehabilitation."
It then moves to a discussion of the issues involved: civil, canonical, legal, financial and pastoral. The Report warns:
If only a portion of the events detailed by Mr. Sidebottom are accurate, then there are serious pastoral, canonical and legal issues at hand, any one of which demands immediate and decisive action. This response must necessarily encompass the moral and religious situation of the persons named, but also must guarantee their physical safety and well being. The health and integrity of the church, and its legal and financial standing, are obviously at great risk unless the correct actions are taken, and without hesitation.
- Civil law
The potential civil legal issues are presented first because they represent potential transgressions and concerns that must be addressed and cannot be 'pastorally' swept away. Several civil and criminal legal issues are immediately evident within the context of the events that are presented. In some instances, the civil legal issues are violations of local, state and federal laws.
These legal issues, among other issues presented, are, at a minimum, workplace sexual harassment, domestic violence, assault, neglect, malpractice, and suicidal ideation.
In addition to allegations in the letter, further verbal allegations have been made. It is the nature of the verbal allegations and how they are connected to the written allegations that make a thorough investigation of all allegations simply unavoidable.
- Sexual Harassment
It is clear is that Mr. Paul Sidebottom was allegedly sexually harassed by the Chancellor of the Diocese of Alaska and the newly appointed Rector of Saint Herman's Seminary . This fact was clearly stated in several places throughout the letter.
Mr. Sidebottom understands the seriousness of the alleged actions by Archimandrite Isidore and has been advised to retain legal counsel for this reason."
Mr. Sidebottom has returned to Kansas, and OCANews.org has no confirmation as to whether he has actually retained counsel. At the time this report was written, Paul Sidebottom had not yet been terminated from St. Herman's. The Report, in fact, specifically states he should not be. However, since the report was written Bishop Nikolai terminated Sidebottom's employment at the seminary, ostensibly for "budget cuts". The prospect of not only a sexual harassment lawsuit, but also a wrongful termination lawsuit, may now beckon especially in light of the Report's subsequent paragraph:
"On April 2, 2003, the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America compiled and subsequently published a list of policies, standards and procedures on sexual misconduct. It is believed that, according to civil law, the OCA is now legally bound to act in accordance with his policies, standards and procedures. It is also believed that the OCA can be held legally accountable in civil court to adhere to and to implement, as legally necessary, these policy standards and procedures."
The Report continues, with the names of witnesses edited out, and letters of the alphabet used to identify them. The names appeared in the original, but not in the version released by Peter Zwick.
"- Ecclesiastical and canonical
However, what can and should be stated immediately and is fully in accordance with the OCA policies and standards for sexual misconduct is the following: Archimandrite Isidore must be suspended by no one less than Bishop Nikolai. However, it is recommended that, in fact, if possible Archimandrite Isidore be suspended by Metropolitan Herman. This is because, as will be described in more detail later, Bishop Nikolai is implicated in such a manner on other allegations that he should be suspended immediately as well.
In addition, because of his position as Chancellor of the diocese and Rector of the seminary, ultimately Archimandrite Isidore has impact and influence, analogous to a priest in the parish. Therefore, Archimandrite Isidore must be removed from the diocese, both canonically and geographically, pending the results of the investigation of the allegations of sexual harassment directed against him.
Witnesses may exist, such as Father X and others, that can verify the extent of the accounts given in the letter. In addition, there are probably many other witnesses to the public intoxication of Father Isidore. Some people may have witnessed Father Isidore's inappropriate touching, groping, or attempts at touching Mr. Paul Sidebottom.
Mr. Paul Sidebottom's allegations of sexual harassment by Archimandrite Isidore are alleged to have taken place during a prolonged episode of public intoxication by Archimandrite Isidore. Due to the state of intoxication of Archimandrite Isidore, he would not be able to present himself as a credible witness to the night's events. Therefore, it is unlikely that an investigation could produce results more favorable to Archimandrite Isidore's circumstances than what is referred to by the OCA policy as http://www.oca.org/DOCmisconduct.asp-Mixed Results.
In addition, the OCA guidelines refer to the possibility that both the complainant and the respondent are members of the same parish. If this is the case the bishop may require that both individuals may be removed for a time from the community until an investigation is completed and the issues are addressed and resolved.
In this case, if Mr. Paul Sidebottom were to be removed temporarily from the diocese, ethically and morally, he must be done so with full pay and benefits as well, until the investigation is resolved. This is because Mr. Paul Sidebottom is an employee of the Seminary, and therefore, the Church. Dismissal of Mr. Paul Sidebottom without a full, thorough, and complete investigation not only would be unethical and immoral, but it would potentially be a violation of Federal and State Laws regarding Sexual Harassment."
It is here that the author reveals the additional allegation of physical abuse by Bishop Nikolai. The Report continues:
Additionally, it is clear is that there are at least two allegations of physical abuse by Bishop Nikolai (Soraich) towards two members of the clergy, Archimandrite Isidore (Brittain) and Father Z (although Father Z is not named in the letter, his name was given as the name of the 'alleged physical abuse victim' in the letter. This fact was disclosed by Father X). A verbal allegation of physical abuse by Bishop Nikolai against Subdeacon A exists as well.
To verify or disprove these allegations of physical abuse by Bishop Nikolai, at a minimum, all of the following will have to be interviewed: Archimandrite Isidore (Brittain), Father Y, Father X, Father Z, Subdeacon A , Matushka Z and any other witnesses that maybe found. Each of them will have to be reminded that the spirit of their cooperation is to be the same as that which is expected in the OCA policies and procedures regarding investigating allegations of sexual misconduct.
Needless to say, any potential allegations of assault are serious, and any actions involving assault carry serious canonical and civil penalties. Obviously, an investigation must be carried out on these allegations as well.
There seems to be a potential for personal neglect here, bringing into question the ethical, moral, canonical, and the legal liability of the Bishop's alleged comments and directives.
Mr. Sidebottom himself showed genuine concern and an understandable ignorance of the full implications of the Archimandrite's condition. However, the alleged comments of Bishop Nikolai call into question not only the Bishop's judgment but his concern for the health and well-being of the archimandrite. Failure to render or inhibiting rendering of proper aid in many cases can be seen legally as neglect.
Malpractice is typically and legally defined as acting grossly outside the scope of one's competence, training, and certification. The allegation of the Bishop recommending or perhaps commanding that Archimandrite Isidore be allowed to sleep off his ingestion of drugs and alcohol falls within the areas of neglect and malpractice. This is particularly poignant because the alleged information and communication received was simply telephonic. Therefore, Bishop Nikolai was in no position to personally assess the archimandrite's physical condition or potential for harm. In fact, the responsible pastoral Christian action and the responsible actions of an ordinary citizen would be to recommend that the Archimandrite be brought to a competent medical authority for examination.
However, how the allegations of the judgment and the conduct of a hierarch are reviewed is up to the Holy Synod. If the allegations are true, and this type of reprehensible lack of episcopal pastoral concern is not publicly corrected, the lack of action by the holy Synod most likely would have a devastating impact on the already fragile trust and morale amongst the faithful."
The Report continues, exploring the difficult issue of domestic violence:
" - Domestic Violence
Domestic violence has been brought up as an issue for two reasons: First, because there is an allegation of physical violence by Bishop directed towards the archimandrite. Second, because the Bishop and the archimandrite share a residence. Therefore, by definition, a domestic arrangement of some sort exists between Bishop Nikolai and Archimandrite Isidore.
A domestic partnership does not have to be sexual in nature. However, domestic violence is defined as something that happens between people who live under the same roof. This is the applicable definition of domestic violence in the laws of the State of Alaska.
- Psychological dynamics
Cycle of Violence
Included below are two descriptions of the cycle of domestic violence, as well as descriptions of Stockholm and battered persons syndrome. They are included because it would seem that there is enough evidence to suggest that a cycle of violence could exist in the relationship between the Bishop and the archimandrite. If, in fact, such a relationship of domestic violence did exist, then it is completely plausible that the archimandrite could be suffering from battered person syndrome. It would, therefore, be perfectly normal for the archimandrite to be unhelpful in addressing matters concerning health or safety within their household.
The articles start immediately below and continue for four pages."
The articles referened include citiations on the cycle of domestic violence and battered person (Stockholm) syndrome. Writing of Stockholm syndrome, the Report states:
"- Stockholm syndrome
There is a strong possibility that in a relationship that includes domestic violence, the victim can suffer from Stockholm syndrome or battered person syndrome. In this case, the alleged victim most likely afflicted with the syndrome would be Archimandrite Isidore and potentially any other alleged victims of the alleged violence by Bishop Nikolai.
- Battered person syndrome is a physical and psychological condition that is classified as.... as a sub-category of ....post-traumatic stress disorder. This condition has been used as a defence by women who have experienced long psychological abuse, and have killed their abusers. "
Fr. Isidore, in fact, (in a posting puporting to come from him through an agent this past weekend), has denied any abuse by the Bishop, and stated that he himself is not accountable for anything that he may or not have said while "impaired". He lamented, rather, that it is he who has abused the Bishop. Fr. Isidore writes:
"Accusations against His Grace, Bishop NIKOLAI have also been attributed to me but here is the truth: I have made no accusations. I can't be held accountable for what I may or may not have said while I was impaired, but I certainly am not impaired now and I categorically attest that there has been no abuse and I am making no such allegations..... If anyone has been abused, it has been His Grace, Bishop NIKOLAI: abused because he had to see me, his own spiritual child, deteriorate from the disease of alcoholism and refuse all avenues of help he offered me."
If the first section of the Secret Report was not enough to convince one that a full investigation by the OCA was required, let alone prudent, surely Fr. Isidore's letter raises enough questions in its very denials to assert an investigation, rather than an 'exploration', should be launched to resolve the terrible situation that has been alleged.
(Friday, in Part Two of the Secret Report, the Report continues its discussion of the issues involved in the case, and makes specific recommendations based on pastoral, canonical and legal requirements.)