Monday, February 9. 2009
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I am certain that some folk will criticize you for continuing to stir the pot, this time regarding the lack of transparency about clergy sexual misconduct. In fact, my own first reaction was to question your judgment in airing this problem--at this time. I reread your post, prayed about it, and I now think that you did the right thing.
I have worked for over 40 years in bureaucracies and find the OCA news release par for the course--in putting the best face forward. It is also similar to releases made by other churches caught in this predicament. And, that is exactly the problem, isn't it? The OCA is supposed to be above "par for the course"; it is supposed to have entered a new era of truthfulness, accountability and transparency.
Good luck at the MC meeting and God bless, Carl
#1 Carl on 2009-02-09 20:33
I am crushed... totally crushed...
not that I thought +JONAH was going to "fix" things...
but rather the culture of dishonesty and deception was in effect cleaned up or cleared out...
It is clear to me that Herman and Theodosius et al, Kondratic were not the only players of the past game of misdeeds and who knows what...
No... the entire climate of deception and deceit is quite healthy and flourishing... Satan's cold hand and club are right in the midst of those men who wear the garments of humility...
My faith that this will ever be healed or some semblence of trust ever returning is fading faster than the twilight of a winter sunset in Alaska.
Thank you Mark for using your position to bring light on this continuing sad saga that brings fear to my heart.
The words of Fr. Gerasim ring clearer than ever before....
"the time is coming when Bozinka will not be in the church, or the priests cross... the only place Bozinka will be is in your heart like your gramma taught you... pray hard... real hard"
#2 Ted Panamarioff on 2009-02-09 21:06
To be fair, it is my impression that the issue of sexual misconduct in the church (by anyone, to anyone) is something which +Jonah is personally passionate about, and its something he "came to the job" with. It's not something which has been foisted upon him and which he has grudgingly accepted. And, if I may be so bold, it may be that the press release said "Syosset decided to do this" because there are numerous clergy out there, even bishops, who do not think that this is something Syosset should even talk about. So if the announcement ran something like "well, some lawsuit made us do this" all of these storks with their heads in the sand would use that as an excuse to just bury their heads even deeper. In other words, I think Syosset is actually taking more of a risk in presenting this as a "we decided to do this because it is the right thing to do" (which, I believe, is the personal opinion of most people on the current staff at Syosset anyways) rather than a "hmmm, we have to look like we're doing something because some silly complainer is making us do it (please feel free to ignore what is done completely)." This is all very sad, but that's the politics surrounding this issue at the moment. Undoing the past 25 years of many of our Church leaders ignoring and/or facilitating sexual abuse isn't going to happen overnight.
As for psych evaluations and background checks, both are excellent ideas. There are obvious issues involved in psych evaluations, and we would have to use extreme caution on who performs them and how. I would like to suggest that the OCA use an outside agency, rather than someone's "friend" or someone else with a "personal recommendation." We could even, gasp!, ask the Catholic church what agency they use and work out an arrangement with them. At least then we could have some reassurance that the evaluation would be professional, independent, and objective. I would even make the further suggestion that psych evaluation and background checks not only be done before each ordinations but before each ecclesial award too. Having a looney deacon in a parish is one thing, having a looney archpriest running a deanery is another.
#3 Anonymous on 2009-02-10 06:31
Very well put. We're all traumatized to some extent by the way some of our leaders have treated us. It is, however, unfair to assume that the new administration, and +MJ in particular, suffers from the same vices as the previous ones. After reading Mark's post you have the feeling that he/they are actively seeking to pull the wool over our eyes for the sake of pulling the wool over our eyes. How do we know that? How do we know that they are not simply trying to create change as soon as possible, which includes making public what little they have been able to accomplish in the short time they have been in office? Why are we assuming that +MJ and his staff have already failed? +MJ has given us no reason to doubt his love, zeal, and committment to the betterment of our Church.
Mark, +MJ is not +MH or +MT. Fr. Garklavs is not RK. I hope your prayers for them are as fervent as your suspicion of them.
(Editor's note: I am not suspicious of them at all. I know them to be better men than their predecessors. But it doesn't take "time" to make public information that should be, because in this instance, the agreement could have been released the first week in December, or sometime in December, or January even. But it was not. It does not take "time", but a realization, understanding and commitment to transparency. )
#3.1 Anonymous on 2009-02-10 08:27
The reality is that you don't know why it was released when it was released, so why jump to conclusions? If you know these two men why not ask them, in good journalistic form, to their faces, instead of harpooning them from the internet, which does nothing but brood more mistrust and resentment. Then you could post with complete certainty the motives and reasons behind why and when they did what they did. Have you asked them, Mark? If not, why? If they are better then their predecessors, why not try a different approach with them? I don't think either of these men need to be brow-beaten into doing the right thing.
(Editor's note: If you are impugning my lack of journalistic skills, feel free. Unlike those I attempt to report on, this is not my day job.
But beyond that I sense a deeper motive. You attempt to make this personal - speaking of "motives" and "reasons why", of "them" and "me", of "brow-beating" and "harpooning", as if information and its release depended, on large part , on personal relationships, good or bad. From your perspective, perhaps it does. And I would suggest that is much of our problem - a pernicious legacy of the Time of Troubles that continues to infect our Church.
RSK tried to make the whole OCA scandal "personal" - remember his passionate denials of wrong-doing, his lashing out that this was all "disgrunted former employees", "people with agendas" and other ad hominen attacks, etc - until it was finally confirmed by the SIC that the OCA scandal was not about grudges ( real or imagined) but old-fashioned misuse of monies and position for personal gain and pleasures. (Then of course, the defense has since changed to it was all about "bad record keeping". And some people buy it....)
In truth, this is not about people, or relationships, but the role and purpose of information in an Information Age. As long as information about the life of the Church continues to be seen as a commodity that is to be rationed, hoarded, controlled, and dispensed only for "purpose" and for those with the "personal" relationships that fit those "purposes", the spiritual, moral and communal life of our Church will continue to wither, no matter who is in charge.
This has to change. We have been down this road before in the past 15 years - the desire for control and hypocrisy inevitably leads to convenient half-truths, which became even more convenient deceptions, and ommissions, which so easily become outright lies.... Let's not go there again. The best way to avoid that path is transparency through the timely, open and complete release of information.
And it matters not one twit who does it. In the age of the internet all that can be known, will be. Our as our Lord presaged it: "There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known." (luke 12:3)
One cannot win against the Lord, even if one is the Church. )
#3.1.1 Anonymous on 2009-02-10 15:59
No Mark, why don't you just ask them why. Is that so hard. If they refuse, then report they refuse to answer that simple question. If they grant you an interview (email, phone, personal), then you can report to us exactly what they said. Either way, we get the other side of this issue. Again, it seems you are working under the assumption the new administration is the same as old one and you treat them with the same contempt and mistrust. Why not try a different approach with them, Mark?
(editor's note: OK.You're right. I'll ask them for all personal interviews, special for OCANews.org! This will be interesting, and informative for everyone. Thanks for the suggestion.)
#126.96.36.199 Anonymous on 2009-02-11 08:39
Mark wrote: "In truth, this is not about people, or relationships, but the role and purpose of information in an Information Age."
Your prurient desire to know every detail of everything is simply not going to wash simply because we are in the "information age". There are thousands of matters, in thousands of arenas in this country that are personal and private and better left that way. Companies have lengthy privacy agreements with their employees, there are HR laws that prohibit private information about people from being released, no matter the cause of that information, and legal matters can legitimately be sealed from the public eye. That you, or the entire Church for that matter, were not informed of the agreement is and should be completely irrelevant, and seems to be only a cause for concern for you and your followers. This desire to know every matter has got to stop. Your motivations seem only to be to embarass, demean and destroy, after the fact. If people made mistakes, and agreed on a settlement, then let them have that agreement without your prying eyes.
(editor's note: Was "prurient" a Freudian slip? I found nothing in the Sidebottom settlement could arise "prurient" interest.... That being said, the Sidebottom case was not about "people making mistakes". It was about sexual harrassment and retaliatory discharge - and the settlement was intended precisely to be seen. Otherwise, friend, it would have been sealed. My "prying eyes" had nothing to do with that decision. Kudos to all who arranged that.)
#188.8.131.52 Anonymous on 2009-02-11 10:31
The anonymous from #3.1 raises a good point: why don't we see some comment from Syosset in these articles? It is a common journalistic practice to seek comment or explanation from the "other side," even if all you get is that they "declined to comment."
Of course, Mark raises a good point - this is not his day job, so we can only expect so much (and to be honest, we already get so much out of your volunteer effort.) But out of curiosity, would it be that difficult to communicate with Fr. Jarmus or Fr. Garklavs to get their commentary on these stories before publishing them?
This brings me to a larger point - why don't we ever see/hear official responses to the issues raised here (on OCANews) by Syosset? Do they really not care enough about what's being discussed here? Do they really think so lowly of the people involved in this discussion, that the concerns are not worth responding to?
A lot of people read this website, I am aware that there are many thousands of "lurkers" who read the articles and posts, but rarely post anything themselves. I am sure among those lurkers are the Syosset administrators, and perhaps even Metropolitan Jonah. Thus it would seem a no-brainer for them to respond to the proceedings on OCANews. I remember once seeing a reply posted in the comments section by Fr. Jarmus, and being very impressed. Why was it only that one time? Wouldn't it be an important part of his job to reach out to the readers of OCANews and communicate with them about their concerns?
So while controversy about sexual misconduct roils the pages here at OCANews.org, OCA.org affects an air of calm (apathy?)... announcing a photo showcase for the Sunday of Orthodoxy, and harping on the same tired slogans about the 15th AAC being "a watershed moment for the OCA."
Please. The only landmark event of November was that a crooked bishop (Herman) was finally forced into retirement. And that didn't even happen at the AAC. That a bishop, lacking the inconvenient baggage of a track record, was elected Metropolitan really isn't all that amazing, in retrospect. (I too was excited, but that was then...)
Syosset is out of touch, so much so that it is almost comical. All of this talk about a "new way forward" is turning out to be nothing but lip-service. And after the comedy fades away, I'm left with nothing but a sinking feeling that the OCA really is bankrupt after all.
Just some more business as usual.
(Editor's note: They are hardly " the other side"! As you point out, anyone, including those in Syosset have more than ample opportunity to comment on anything I write, before during or after, most pointedly as a "reflection". So it is not like anyone is being silenced.... They choose silence. Moreover, Syosset has a whole website to make comment, and has never chosen to avail themselves of the opportunity....
As for your other points, let us hope this is not the case. Actions speak louder than words, and the actions taken this coming fortnight will tell us much where the OCA is headed. )
#184.108.40.206 Rdr. Nilus Klingel on 2009-02-11 14:07
Yes, you're right, perhaps "the other side" was a poor choice of words. But as you recognize, the point still stands. Their lack of comment or explanation for these surprising developments... is disturbing.
#220.127.116.11.1 Rdr. Nilus Klingel on 2009-02-11 19:51
Also looked at the new issue of The Orthodox Church on-line at the OCA website.
Wow! So pretty, so self-congratulatory, so ready to say all must repent in their hearts, move on and forget.
What a piece of propaganda!
#18.104.22.168.2 Ever and anon. on 2009-02-12 06:07
I AGREE WITH RSK "HE DID NOTHING WRONG" i F YOU LOOK AT THE MONEY HE BROUGHT IN TO THE OCA FROM THE WEALTHY PEOPLE HE ATTRACTED. ( THERE IS A VALUE $$$$$$) I CAN SAY THIS MUCH, STOKOE HAS DESTROYED THE CHURCH BY HIS "GOSSIP" ( THIS IS A NEGATIVE VALUE HERE$$$$$) SO WOULD YOU RATHER HAVE SOMEONE BRINGING IN 2.000.000 FOR THE OCA AND TAKING 10% FOR HIMSELF( 200,000.00) OR WOULD YOU RATHER HAVE STOKOE AND HIS WEBSITE TELLING PEOPLE NOT TO GIVE? STOKOE COST THE CHURCH MILLIONS OF DOLLARS WITH HIS 'GOSSIP'! SO THE QUESTION IS WOULD YOU PREFER STOKOE OR RSK? I WILL STAND BEHIND RSK. ( ARE DONATIONS UP OR DOWN STOKOE I N THE OCA?) JUST THINK IF THIS PROBLEM WAS TAKEN CARE OF BEHIND CLOSE DOORS? THANKS TO BISHOP JOB AND COMPANY EVERY ONE HAS EGG ON THEIR FACES!
#22.214.171.124 Anonymous on 2009-02-13 12:55
Possibly the single most revealing post ever made by all-caps anonymous guy!
And useful as it actually focuses attention not on RSK as a person, and his personal faults or lack thereof, but on the attitudes and values against which we must remain on guard no matter how many personnel changes are effected.
Is the church to be measured by how much money it raises?
Is it good for the church to take money from the wealthy, without regard to how those wealthy persons are affected by the church and whether they are brought to faith?
Is theft and misuse of money immaterial so long as lots of money is flowing?
Finally, are we to measure our own righteousness by whether or not we suffer embarrassment by worldly standards?
A very telling portrait of the priorities and values that got us into the mess to begin with.
#126.96.36.199.1 Rebecca Matovic on 2009-02-14 12:48
I can't believe you are for real. Mark, is this a ploy from you or are there really people out there that think the top priest of the church can write his own compensation program and steal from the needy?
(Editor's note: I assure you, I could not make this up. Such people not only exist, they are vocal, and often occupy leadership positions, in our parishes, deaneries and OCA as a result.)
#188.8.131.52.2 Daniel E. Fall on 2009-02-14 21:30
At least All Caps states clearly that $2,000,000 is better than $200,000. His math proficiency evidently excels his verbal skills which, in their turn, surpass his ethical abilities. One may, indeed, wonder how many reason along the same lines, just have the brains to present it not quite so revealingly.
#184.108.40.206.2.1 Karina Ross on 2009-02-17 14:58
All Caps Anonymous Guy continues to amaze me. So, because ex-Fr. Bob has some rich friends who made donations, it's okay for him to skim some off of the top. All Caps, you have the moral code of the Mafia, which, i suppose, explains your attachment to the sorry little men who have disgraced themselves in their service to Mammon.
#220.127.116.11.3 Scott Walker on 2009-02-15 17:22
These evaluations should also apply to all candidates to the office of bishop. Hopefully, with an effective, professional, and truthful evaluation, (people) like +Tikhon (retired bishop of Los Angeles of the West) and +Nikolai (former persecutor of Alaska) would never again threaten the OCA, abuse priests, destroy parishes, and scatter the sheep.
Yes, and as others have said, there needs to be psychological screening from the beginning.
I have seen greater action in the field of education, and other fields, to make sure the institution runs well.
The Orthodox church just has so much catching up to do so that it can be taken seriously in such a fallen world as ours.
#3.2.1 Patty Schellbach on 2009-02-10 13:20
There were existing indicators that +Tikhon was not a prudent pick. He left St Vladimir Seminary at the end of his first year with nary a word. Just never came back. He departure from the US Air Force was involuntary, as a result of failing to be selected for promotion from Captain to Major, which at the time was a fate reserved for the bottom 11% of officers of that grade. He has offered explanations for both, always placing the blame on others.
The above alone should have raised red flags about his suitability for the responsibilities of the episcopate. It never needed to go so far as a psych eval.
But, as I have so often said, a major problem has been a general acceptance of consistently failing to live up to what were low standards to begin with.
#3.2.2 Overseas Observer on 2009-02-16 00:37
I thought it was well established that the later-to-become Bp. Tikhon didn't even complete a semester at SVS, but disappeared after Christmas break his first year?
#18.104.22.168 Rebecca Matovic on 2009-02-17 08:48
Dear Overseas Observer:
Regarding BT, here's the truth. (If this makes it to be posted) Fitzgerald was + Dimitri's deacon. Fitzgerald attended SVS in Sept. and had a number of head-butting incidents with others. His final was with the Dean of Students.... Fitzgerald left SVS shortly thereafter before the Christmas break. Shortly thereafter, + Dimitri announced he was going to ordain Fitzgerald to the priesthood. The Dean of SVS DID NOT recommend his ordination and actually tried to discourage it. His recommendation was ignored.
#22.214.171.124 Anonymous on 2009-02-17 15:11
I agree that Psychological evaluations are good but I'd go farther. Psychological evaluations should not be something optional. I actually consider the new policy a weakness, if I have read the release correctly. It should not be something done when deemed necessary, but something required of every single person applying to any OCA seminary. Yes, it should be done by someone not employed in other capacities by the OCA or AOCA or any other jurisdiction, should the student be from that jurisdiction. I know of non-Orthodox seminaries that require this for admittance and they are right to do so. Orthodoxy's failure to pre-screen is a problem even still at Orthodox seminaries. Perhaps, some day, we will want the healthiest people we can get. Until then, we should be thankful that at least this step has been taken. This is better than what the OCA has been doing.
#3.3 Fr. Oliver Herbel on 2009-02-10 09:53
While dean of St. Vladimir's, Fr. Schmemann said half the seminarians should never be priests. I also believe candidates should be screened prior to admission.
#3.3.1 Anonymous on 2009-02-11 19:16
All of these suggestions are great and I hope that the Church as a whole follow through with them. Could we all as a Church ponder the circumstances and conditions that exist in our parishes that contribute to the "formation" of our future priests, deacons, bishops, etc.? Or are our faulty leaders abberations, spontaneously appearing in the midst of our presitine communities? Here are some thoughts:
1. The OCA should get over its Messiah complex. I think this mentality creates a frenzy among our young men, especially converts. After only 2 or 3 years they want to rush off to seminary, be ordained and take over a parish and essentially become spiritual fathers of community. One of the unintended consequences of this mentality is that holding a seminary education becomes the single most important criteria to ordination. I'm not saying we should not make education a requirement, I'm just saying we should be more selective of who goes to seminary!
2. We should remove this pressure from our young men and women and children by having stricter age and experience requirements. Let let our young families enjoy being young families. Why put them under such crushing pressure to be the model family in the parish? Why not give them the freedome to raise their children, pay taxes, experience the ups and downs of life, and participate as they are able in the liturgical life of the church (together, both mom and dad taking care of the children). Having raised their children and gone through that time in their lives would, in my opinion, make them more prepared to help others who are going through that phase themselves.
3. Is it possible to borrow the Greek practice of having two "level" of priests: Level one: Associate priest, liturgical celebrant, preacher, teacher, visit the sick, charitable work, but absolutely does not hear confession or give spiritual advice. Level two: Everything that level one does, but because of his years of experience and progress in the spiritual life (as determined by the Synod of bishops, the laity, his brother priests, and his own spiritual father) he is able to hear confession and give spiritual advice. One of our biggest problems is that our young men are asked to do all those things regardless of their experience or spiritual maturity. Again, because they have a seminary education it is assumed they are ready for that responsibility. This is simply untrue, and in the long run very dangerous.
4. Let's slow down. Rome wasn't built in a day. Let's choose among us those men and women who have by their experience have proven themselves to be fit fathers and mothers, faithful and reliable servants of the Church, charitable hands, loving friends, in short: pillars of the local Church. Then lets fund them sufficiently so that they can, without stress, study the holy doctrines of our Holy Church. One thing I've heard time and time again, which makes me sick to my stomach is that seminary is supposed to be rough and difficult because it prepares you for the real world. This should not be, brothers and sisters! If we would let them face the "real world" before they go to seminary, then when they go to seminary they could actually go there to learn theology without having to go through all the financial hardships which make life stressfull, especially for the wives. We should all read Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev's letter to the Russian Bishops on the state of theological education in Russia. It was written ten years ago, but still applicable today, to the Russians and to us.
Maybe if we are more selective with who we lay hands on, we could avoid future scandals, or at least reduce their numbers. But, I think a good place to start is in choosing those among us who are mature, in age and experience.
#3.4 Anonymous on 2009-02-10 10:09
I enjoyed your thoughts, Anonymous. I think they were insightful and meaningful!
I do believe we do need a greater system of support and guidance that I find quite lacking right now in the OCA. I am in the field of education and there are constant supports for the teacher who does not have to struggle alone. They are routine, commonplace, and involve many people.
The whole culture of the OCA must become more conciliar if it is to become a flourishing example to the world.
The bishops of each jurisdiction need to really sit down in serious talk and build many more bridges.
I believe the Antiochians and Greeks have a yearly conference at some location. These types of things need to be advertised and promulgated for all the jurisdictions to attend and to learn from each other and have fellowship.
It just is too much like separate denominations how the Orthodox function in America. This is counter-productive.
#3.4.1 Anonymous on 2009-02-10 12:59
Please differentiate between "Messiah complex" and a positive sense of mission and purpose comprised of a zeal to lead people to Jesus Christ and the fullness of the faith, and a completely canonical vision of a self-governing Orthodoxy in North America united administratively. Doing what we're told (cf. Matt.28:19-20) and trying to be who the Master says we're supposed to be (cf. Jn. 17:21) is hardly psychopathology.
As for taking the pressure off young families, the Sacred Canons prescribe the minimum age for ordination to the diaconate as 25; the minimum age for ordination to the presbyterate is 30; and the minimum age for ordination to the episcopate is 35. These requirements are, sadly, routinely neglected all over the world. (I know one priest of another jurisdiction who was ordained when he was 19!!!) But the wisdom in these standards is self-evident, and the folly of neglecting these Canons is equally self-evident, particularly as we recognise the relatively recent phenomenon of delayed maturity in North American men.
Further, it is clear from 1 Timothy 3:6 that new converts are simply not to be ordained until they have become more fully acclimated to the Faith and the life of the Church.
So maybe Holy Tradition knows what it's talking about after all, hmmmm???
#3.4.2 Igumen Philip (Speranza) on 2009-02-12 05:30
In my opinion those are still young ages. As you note, men (and women) are maturing much later in life. Our holy canons were written in a society where people married at a younger age, were deeply rooted in their local communities, and had lived their whole lives in the bosom of the Church. I'm not harkening back to some good old days of Byzantium or any of that. Its just as you say: we are just maturing much later in life than earlier generations did.
I think what I meant about the Messiah complex is that I get the feeling that we in the OCA feel that because we have the "canonical" right to be at the head of the Orthodox Ship here in america, we see ourselves somehow as the ones who will save Orthodoxy here. Much of what people have said here about their leaders, parishes and communittee lives speaks volumes about how we do not have the "spiritual" right to be at the head of any ship.
I would just like to see families who have actually served the church for many year be chosen by their home communities to go off to seminary. So much of what I hear is, "I 'feel' this or that calling". I gues without spiritual elders to guide use through our feelings, we take our feelings for gospel and take upon ourselves a cross that, if I understand St. John Chrysostom and St. Gregory, we should not seek out willfully. But, I guess I'm venturing off into the treacherous sea of judgment and condemnation. Forgive me. I just feel greatly for the wives and children of young priests. They bear the brunt of it all. And no, a celibate priesthood is not the answer. A spiritualy mature one is.
#126.96.36.199 Anonymous on 2009-02-12 08:46
There is, I think, evidence of God's sense of humour in the issue of the age of ordination. 'Twould seem that emotional and spirtual maturity begin to flow exactly when physical energy begins to ebb. At 62, I long for the energy I had even ten years ago (especially when it comes to shoveling snow for the fifth time today, or in the services of Holy Week). Well, somehow we'll muddle through, I guess.
#188.8.131.52.1 Igumen Philip (Speranza) on 2009-02-14 15:32
fr.philip is right. we simply should adhere to the canons.our LORD began his ministry at the age of 30,that is also why the church sets the minimum age for priests at 30. no one younger then 30 should ever be ordained to the priesthood and sent off to a parish.converts should be orthodox for at least 10 years before being considered for the priesthood,even if they were clergy men in a heterodox community and have degrees.any candidate for holy orders should be a good standing and respected member of his community.the bishops should consult the candidate's community before ordination.but the decision is the bishop's,ultimately. it is a difficult problem.as the cherubic hymn prayer so well states: nikto zhe dostoin...oudeis axios...NO ONE IS WORTHY...
#184.108.40.206.2 Anonymous on 2009-02-16 17:44
Amen. Amen. Amen. I'm not a Russia basher. I love the Russian Church. We indeed have a great deal we can learn from her, but we also need to learn to avoid some of her needless growing pains. There is currently an uproar over a young (28) priest who recently converted to Islam. Pray for this young man. Clerical commentators attribute this disaster to his being ordained at a young age, lacking real life experience, being expected to be the spiritual leader of a community, not having the proper training before being ordained, and not having a solid support system.
We've had our share of priests who have left us for heterodox communities or been deposed, suspended, etc. Could these have been avoided if these persons had had the time to prove themselves as faithful mature laymen? Nothing is fullproof, but the "cost" (spiritual, mainly, but often material, too) of failed priests is too high to take chances.
#220.127.116.11.2.1 Anonymous on 2009-02-17 12:59
A few thoughts on psych evals. I agree with the poster who mentioned doing this BEFORE someone enters seminary. Waiting until someone completes a degree to tell him that he's not priest material is not fair, especially in light of the difficulties involved attendant to simply being at the seminary, financial and otherwise, which someone else mentioned. But I am in total agreement that absolutely NO ONE should be ordained without a full psych eval.
That said, I spent several years working for a major mental health provider in my community. People, there are huge issues of confidentiality when it comes to mental health patients and their records, and, yes, we would be asking every man who desires to enter seminary or be ordained to become, at least for one day, a mental health patient. We are not only asking them, we are asking that they invite a stranger into "the rag and bone shop of the heart, " as Yeats put it. It is necessary, it is prudent, it is the best sort of wisdom, AND ...... we are demanding that these folks (brother in Christ all) allow a psychologist or psychiatrist to go on a fishing expedition into their personality. For the sake of the dignity and the privacy of the individual, confidentiality is far more critical than transparency.
So we need to be clear; the psychological evaluation needs to be done, period. However, the rest of us need to be content in knowing that it has been done, and with NOT knowing the results, or who got disqualified, or even who came through with flying colors. I think part of what seems to be frustration on the part of Fr. Senyo may stem from the sense one gets that one is being singled out, without assurances that one's privacy and dignity will not be thrown out with the bathwater.
#3.4.3 Anonymous John Doe on 2009-02-12 08:58
This is all very interesting, but the reality is that if we want real presbyters (i.e., elders) to enter the priesthood after they have learned something of life and proven themselves in parishes, then we can’t require residential MDivs for ordination. You can’t expect men and women who have spent 10 or 20 years raising a family to give it all up and become student monks for three years, not when there’s no economic pay-off afterward. By the time they are mature enough to enter seminary, they are also mature enough to start sending their own kids to college. Who among us can afford to do both?
If we want mature priests, we need to think about alternates to residential seminaries: night schools and long-distance learning. That’s the future of education, and it makes great sense for what we should be producing. We want men to work in parishes, but we train them work in seminaries. We need elders, but we produce schoolboys. There is, of course, great value to the seminary experience, but how much of it is really needed to be a good parish priest, and how much of it can be acquired off campus, on line, by self-study and correspondence, mentoring and tutoring?
We need to think outside the quasi-monastic seminary box if we want better, more mature, more stable priests. As for “associate priests,” we already have something like that: they are called deacons. They can preach, teach, visit the sick, and do charitable work. They still need a priest to do almost anything liturgically, but they can sure take a load off the priest’s back, which can only be good for him, his family, the parish, and the Church. And deacons don’t require MDivs.
#3.4.4 Anonymous on 2009-02-12 20:38
I liked your comments, Anonymous.
I believe there should be more accommodation made to the adult learner who has experienced and learned so much that can be an asset to his (or her, lay leader) ministry.
I was able to go back to school as an adult learner because the university I attend was forward looking and knew there was a big enough and viable market of older learners there. I was able to keep a day job and go to class in the evenings and on Saturdays.
Now I am finishing up a doctorate because of the forward thinking of this university.
The mature adult has much to offer.
Thanks for your insights!
#18.104.22.168 Patty Schellbach on 2009-02-15 14:37
With respect, i think that your opinions here stated reflect far too worldly a view of things. Something you should realize is that the seminaries are filled with people who have spent 10 - 20 years raising a family. There are seminarians (myself included) who have sent children to college while themselves attending seminary. I must confess that I spent about two years in a state of despair and faithlessness, thinking that I would not be able to get my child off to college while I was still in seminary; but... it happened. What I see many seminarians doing is leaving their fate to God, following their vocation, and trusting that the Lord will provide; and in whatever way He chooses, he always does. As for your critique of the 'quasi monastic seminary experience'; this is something that provides every seminarian, whether 'cradle' or convert, with an 'intensive' period in which to learn the services well, get an academic/scholarly grounding in doctrine, Bible, etc., and (at St. Tikhon's anyway) get a true feeling for the monastic rhythm of life (something I believe all Orthodox should experience at some point in their lives, whether or not they have a calling to monastic life themselves.
Something you should know too, is that the seminaries do make provisions for previous study, online courses taken, life experience, etc. in figuring out how much time an older seminarian needs to spend at seminary in order to earn the M.Div. In my case, St. Tikhon's was very accomodating regarding Directed Studies courses I had taken, and even allowed me to take a semester off to teach full-time (in order to earn money for child's college expenses).
In sum; the seminaries are accomodating and work with the individual who is motivated, willing to make sacrifices and who has a true vocation. And, it is this sacrificial spirit that has shown time and again (to me anyway), the spiritual integrity of so many of my brother seminarians and now fellow priest.
Fr. Walter Smith
#22.214.171.124 Fr. Walter Smith on 2009-02-17 13:06
I think you made an astute observation:
"If, as Syosset asserts, “the Orthodox Church in America places a high priority in providing pastors, parishes, and religious institutions with all possible resources in dealing with these sensitive issues” why is the office created by the OCA to deal with these issues, its staff, and even its contact numbers not even listed by the OCA? One finds no mention of it on the OCA website under departments, programs, or ministries - or even in the OCA’s budget, where its expenses are not listed seperately, but grouped under the general heading of “Office of the Metropolitan”."
The OCA needs to make sure each and every lay person knows what phone numbers to call or persons to reach, without threat of retaliation, as the Sidebottom case settled, to be able to voice any sexual harrassment complaints.
There should be a hotline and web-site, too, much like Pokrov.org has set up.
We are witnessing a ton of re-active management from the woes of poor leadership of the last several decades.
It will take time, patience, resolve, caring, as well as much prayer and fasting to get the OCA to where it needs to be.
I believe we can do it. If there is committment to the goals.
#4 Anonymous on 2009-02-10 07:06
Take heart, Ted.
You're right that the problems go far beyond +MT, +MH, and RSK and about the pervasiveness of the culture that flourished under their leadership.
But I'm not ready to throw in the towel and declare +MJ and his administration a failure -- it will take lots and lots and lots of time and effort to shift this thing.
Also, we need to distinguish between the really nefarious stuff and the clumsy products of bureaucratic bumbling. The disingenuousness of the press release taking credit for the changes without noting the motivation strikes me as the latter. There are a few simple rules that standard PR folks in organizations play by, and one is never to imply anything or to remind people of anything negative about your organization. When organizations go through a crisis, they bring in a different breed of PR folks who have to break the regular folks of their habits and explain how SOP can be counter-productive and damaging in an environment where trust has been breached in a fundamental way. Really, in the context of the Church, one would hope this wasn't necessary because simply focusing on the truth and treating the members of the church as adults and with love and respect would have the same result.
#5 Rebecca Matovic on 2009-02-10 07:46
I know what you mean... It will take some time to see what comes of the church leadership... I can wait and see....
I just dont see what is thought to be gained PR or not by playing up a white lie... why not come clean and just be honest?
those of us who have tread the deadly path of addiction know no bounds when it comes to honesty as the foundation for faith, truth and deliverance... seems like those whose very vocation is based entirely on that would do the same?
#5.1 Ted Panamarioff on 2009-02-11 15:14
However it comes about, it's highly in our interests to raise awareness around this issue. It's the right thing to do for the sake of the victims (and the perpetrators, come to that), and it is also the legal obligation of every priest to report any incidences of suspected abuse. At least in New York, clergy (along with teachers and medical professionals) are required to do this by law and can be held liable if it can be demonstrated they failed to report cases of which they had knowledge. Teachers are required to undergo some training in this area as part of their licensing (not enough, in my view), and it wouldn't be bad for the church to follow--and improve on--this example, assuming such training isn't already in place.
#6 Morton on 2009-02-10 08:57
This is OCA Window Dressing, pure and simple. Why do I know? Because even as I write this, the OCA leadership is aware of an abuse case involving a top level cleric in the OCA. What is the new Metropolitan doing about investigating this top level cleric involved in the sexual abuse of minors? Is he making the OCA a safe place for additional victims to come forward? Is he investigating these allegations? Is he attempting to locate additional victims? Pedophiles rarely have only one or two victims. Why hasn't this cleric been suspended until a full and thorough investigation is completed? The people who don't know are the parents and the children who have been in danger all these years and remain in danger and don't have a clue of this predator in their midst. I see nothing has changed in the OCA. It's still all about cover-up and secrecy. The rumor is that this abuser will quietly retire in the near future. No one will know the difference.....except for the victims who are suffering in silence and the Almighty himself.
This new version of the sex abuse guide-lines will be the fourth for the OCA since my daughter and several other pre-school age children were molested at the OCA Cathedral in San Francisco. To the best of my knowledge, after doing the Pokrov site for ten years now, I know of not one case of abuse that has been handled using any version of the guide-lines.
I am concerned for the new, the vulnerable and the young who are not able to make an intelligent decision about their safety.
The rest, who continue to bury their heads, quite frankly, deserve exactly what they get.
i know from experience that what Ms. Larson writes is true.
#7.1 Anonymous on 2009-02-10 19:31
As I said, in part, on Mr. Dreher’s blog, Metropolitan Jonah has much work to do to clean up the moral sewer the OCA has become. Beyond that, the various Orthodox jurisdictions in North America also have issues with clergy sexual abuse.
That few people outside of Orthodoxy know about this scourge is largely due to the fact the Orthodox Church has largely “flown under the radar” of public and media scrutiny – unlike the Catholic Church in this country. It’s providential that Catholic victims have a Fr. Tom Doyle to stand with them. God bless him! [A Dominican canon lawyer, Doyle willingly sabotaged a promising career in that Church in his support for Catholic victims].
But where the HELL is the standard-bearer – a bishop, priest, or anyone else – with the stones to care about and effect real change for Orthodox Christian victims of clergy sexual abuse? [I’m well aware of Pokrov’s work, thank you very much. ]
Victims deserve more than the usual episcopal lip-service scripted from the yellow legal pads of the Bishop’s lawyers. Will the Metropolitan and Holy Synod even think to consult the victims? Or will this be more OCA business-as-usual Syosset “window dressing”? Metropolitan Jonah and Metropolitan Council are you listening?
For that matter, how many victims & their families have forever left the OCA (and Orthodoxy) intimidated & embittered because of the incompetence and seeming deception of the previous Metropolitans, Holy Synod members, former Syosset “insiders”, and most blatantly, Fr. Alexy Karlgut? [The ‘intimidated’ part appears to be changing, as Orthodox victims seem to be finding their voices, warning naïve Catholics, Anglicans and others of these very dangers tolerated in Orthodoxy]. One non-Orthodox commentator recently remarked: “American Orthodoxy advertises itself as ‘America’s best kept secret’, let’s hope it stays that way until the Orthodox genuinely clean up their act.’
I fully realize that for some readers of this website; if you, or a family member or church friend have not been scarred by clergy sexual abuse in this Church, this issue is a tiresome distraction (or perhaps ‘those people’ are merely regrettable “collateral damage”). Nevertheless, I hardly think our Lord Jesus Christ shares this opinion.
#8 (Please post as ANONYMOUS!) on 2009-02-10 11:01
The OCA would be going a long way to show that they are truly changing if they would stop requiring victims to sign waivers promising not to sue in order to be assured of a thorough and fair investigation, one where the truth is what matters most.
Imagine how things could have been different in the Sidebottom case, and Koumentakos case for that matter, if the proper procedures and priorities had been in place.
The OCA may also want to seek an investigator with the proper credentials needed to do such work.
The OCA may want to reconsider their position on having clerics investigate these matters, for obvious reasons.
The OCA may want to do the most outrageous thing imaginable: minister to the victims. Instead of throwing waivers and threats of retaliation in the midst of crisis. Yes, ministering to victims, as least as well as alleged abusers, would appear to be a Christ-like thing to do.
#9 anonymous on 2009-02-10 12:19
good faith discretion, my a**.....just the OCA continuing to try to protect the institution, to hell with the victims (but hey, we'll dress it up a little fancier, make it look like we care about doing the right thing for the right reason)
sorry for the *** but truthfully, there were no other words to describe my feelings when I read this
#10 anonymous on 2009-02-10 15:36
You are not shy in terms of addressing this issue, for which I am most glad. This problem is not going to go away without transparency and truth. If anything, this immorality undergirded and fueled the financial scandals....
#11 Rich on 2009-02-10 21:28
Everything must come out into the open. The laity, church council members are the ones who are called trouble makers when trying to find out the truth. Metropolitan Jonah and the rest of the bishops must come forward and tell the entire truth to the faithful. There will be no growth, spiritually and numerically if this is not done. People are upset that RFK and his wife are bringing lawsuits. Perhaps this is the only way for that part of the truth to come out in the open. I don't know RFK nor his wife, but he seems to be quite shewd and maybe those files he took are not shredded, but his evidence to bring to court.
#12 anonymous on 2009-02-11 10:05
Thanks for reminding readers what may have happened to some of the files in RSK's office. The use of those files in pursuing his wife's lawsuit might be problematic: the files may be considered the property of the OCA nad their removal from the Chancery without written permission of Metropolitan Herman or the Synod may be considered theft.
#12.1 MarkC. Phinney on 2009-02-12 04:37
While we're at it, why not propose psychological evaluations for the laity? For proposed members of parish councils? For the Metropolitan Council? For choir directors? Altar Servers? Why not those on the SIC? Those who demand perfection (or prison time)need to determine that these suggestions ought to work both ways, for the sake of real transparency.
I'll submit that many who post here ought to be seeing entire teams of psychologists and shrinks, starting with "the anonymous".
Archpriest Michael Senyo
(Editor's note: Actually, Fr. Michael, it is current OCA policy, at least in this diocese, that anyone who works with children in a parish - clergy or lay - must have a police background check, let alone a pyschological evaluation. It is just prudent - and if the inconvenience foils even one incident, it is worth it. As for the clergy, every major denomination in America requires pysch evaluations for their incoming seminarians, and most for new ordinands. I suppose the former would include choir directors, Metro Council members, altar servers and those on the SIC, since I know former seminarians in all those ministries. )
#13 Archpriest Michael Senyo on 2009-02-11 14:27
As a Cathedral Rector, I am quite aware of the policy and spend a large amount of time seeing to its implementation - the responsibility is clearly outlined in our by-laws. However, a police background check is not the same as a psychological evaluation.
Archpriest Michael Senyo
#13.1 Anonymous on 2009-02-11 19:27
Its your kind of attitude that the majority OCA members find unacceptable. There is a fresh wind blowing and moral uprightness is the order of the day. Being an archpriest, you of all people should be delighted that such high standards are being expected of the clergy. The days of dumbing down the standards are over.
#14 Rich on 2009-02-11 21:06
In the years that I was an OCA parishioner in four of the OCA dioceses, my charitable observation was that quite often, formal operations of the dioceses, as well as the central administration were rather amateurish, sophomoric, or perfunctory. Further, standards that were established by the Autocephalous Church, were not enforced nor complied with by its autocephalous dioceses and their autocephalous parishes.
For example, from the Diocese of the West Web Site, one finds this about the "Department of Education", established several years ago:
_The Education Department of The Diocese of the West (TDOW) exists to assist the diocesan Bishop in the promotion of Traditional Orthodox education materials within the diocese. This Department will serve as a clearinghouse of such available information, which may be found useful for Church schools and other Orthodox educational programs and classes.
The Education Department Director will collect and post useful, approved materials on this website. Edifying educational articles will also be posted._
Unfortunately, one will find that the use of the future tense, "will" is still appropriate.
Lofty aspirations, followed by marginal or no execution is a decades long hallmark of the OCA. Performance expectations by all, until recently, have been equally underwhelming. While I do not question the sincerity or ability of +Jonah or the current staff, they have a lot of institutional inertia, at every level, to overcome.
#15 Overseas Observer on 2009-02-12 03:53
Dear Overseas Observer,
I enjoyed your observation and I also believe the OCA must become more proactive, rather than re-active, in all areas of how they are running the church.
There is so much talent in our church to create many more effective programs that just seems to be going untapped.
I am not sure how to change that.
#15.1 Patty Schellbach on 2009-02-13 07:09
Oh, how I rued the wasted talent that so abounds in the OCA. The goal has always seemed to be mere sufficiency, and then no one was ever upset when that low a goal was routine missed!
There just seems to be no real vision of excellence. For example, why doesn't the OCA have mandatory continuing education for the clergy? Why doesn't the OCA have formal training programs for church school teachers? Why doesn't the OCA provide quality advanced adult education regionally or by distance learning? If there is no quest for learning, how can the OCA grow intellectually or spiritually? Education is not a silver bullet, but the situation in the OCA is indicative of a low standards, low expectations culture.
A diocese of perhaps 3,000 people, spread out over the entire West coast established a "department" of education, with one person and no resources. For what purpose, and with what potential? Can it create and publish materials? Can it train clergy? In some 7 or 8 years, has it done anything? Would that not be better to be centralized at the national level for now to obtain economies of scale? Obviously, no one must have cared, as this "department" continues to exist, producing nothing visible. My more cynical view is that a non-seminary educated parish priest (or in some cases, bishop) has no desire to see quality education in his vineyard. If he were concerned with rigorous education, he would be seeking to remedy his lack of same, both in terms of initial preparation (MDiv) and continuing education.
There are other examples, far too abundant to list here. When you make it up as you go along, you will never know where you are going. And if there is no concern as to where you are going, you tend to go nowhere of merit!
#15.1.1 Overseas Observer on 2009-02-15 04:46
In other words, there is a great opportunity here for the whole church to get its creative juices flowing. We don't need to reinvent the wheel here. We can borrow many great educational models from our Protestant and Catholic brothers and sisters. The content, of course will be, must be faithful to Orthodoxy. There should be, if there are not already, master's degrees at our seminaries that specifically train men and women to develop educational curriculum for our children and for adult bible/theological studies. Wouldn't it be nice to have a fully staffed full time Orthodox Educational Institute that has as its sole purpose for being the development of curriculum and training programs. That would be awesome. Then, again, we could just wait till the perfect administration drops down from heaven and does this for us.
#126.96.36.199 Anonymous on 2009-02-17 12:23
I find myself in some sympathy with Fr. Michael, but for, perhaps, a different reason. I'm a bit skeptical about psychological testing. I can easily think of many great leaders, both religious and secular, who would have been excluded from any position of authority had they been subjected to the ministrations of a shrink. Examples: the holy prophet Hosea: married a prostitute at the instigation of what he interpreted as the voice of the LORD. Not well adjusted, possibly clinically depressed. The holy prophet Ezekiel: saw bizarre visions and acted most eccentrically. Not well adjusted, possibly schizophrenic. The holy martyrs: chose death by torture over the social consensus. Stone freaking crazy. And in the secular realm? Abraham Lincoln: suffered from crippling clinical depression, suicidal ideation. Winston Churchill: bipolar, alcoholic.
I'm not knocking psychology. There is a place for prudence. The fact is, though, that a clever sociopath can slip by an army of shrinks undetected. Somebody like that knows the right answers and lies without compunction. And in the process of selecting only those who score well on tests, we may filter out a prophet or a Churchill. It is, unfortunately, impossible to make this dying and fallen world safe. I think Fr. Pius upthread had it right: Holy Tradition knows what it's talking about.
Beside all that, Freud was a junkie.
#16 Scott Walker on 2009-02-12 10:53
the idea that we should act on advice on educational matters for our children based on something for the TDOW is laughable. most of the oca bishops and many many priests have never been to an orthodox seminary. these revisions deal with only 1/2 of 1% of all the other issues that the oca can never deal with in an honest and effective manner. i wish someone will prove me wrong, but i know they cannot. we are in for the further dumbing down and monastification of the church. the pious crazies are everywhere. THE NIGHT OF THE PIOUS DEAD!
look, the oca was a great idea. will someone tell me in plain language how we will recover it, and don't give me that inner stillness stuff that HB is spooning out. With Schmemman we lived under grace, (today) we live under uninspired mediocrity.
#17 no name on 2009-02-12 17:31
Dear brother in Christ "no name" : Listen to the monks of Valaam singing the Beatitudes on Fr Stephen Freeman's blog http://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/ and see if you can still complain about "monasticization."
#17.1 Jane Szepesi on 2009-02-17 07:54
So? I listened, so!?? What does inspired singing have to do with the imposition of monastic practices, liturgics, fasting and spirituality on the local parish. I suggest that you get down and dirty in the local parish, get to love the local people for who and what they already are and not some convert driven ideal of what never was. That is of course unless your parish has been taken over by one of the many lack luster, low energy, high on dark piety-smoke and mirror priests so common in the oca today. This clergy type would rather be in a church with icons than people.
The sheep need to be fed with something edible, something nourishing, something they can digest.....
It doesn't have to be this way. His Beatitude can turn this around, but my guess is that he hasn't The Right Stuff.
My prayer...... is that I am wrong.
#17.1.1 no name on 2009-02-17 10:01
These days, our young are getting a thorough, if disturbing, tutorial -- via the mass media -- in how to defend oneself from bothersome charges or allegations. The variety and inventiveness of these offensive defensive strategies merits a sort of grudging admiration. Recall with me some of the most memorable:
The "They-Done-Me-Wrong" Defense
Remember former Washington, DC mayor Marion Barry, who famously intoned, "the b**** set me up," implying that he was entrapped into committing a drug offense? (Mr. Barry is now in hot water again over a question of several years of unpaid taxes, and may go back to jail.)
More recently, the Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was overheard saying (about a seat in the U.S. Senate), [it] "is a ****ing valuable thing, you just don’t give it away for nothing." -- leading me to paraphrase Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons, "It profiteth a man naught if he loses his soul to gain the whole world -- but for a senate seat?" Blagojevich's defense, on numerous talk shows, seemed to be to place himself alongside the persecuted innocents of history, by quoting deathless poetry and prose about standing up to the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune." Rod seems to have a great deal of trouble imagining that he might be in the wrong -- defensive strategy or certifiable narcissism?
The "Parsical" Defense (i.e., using tortured grammar to provide an out)
Best exemplar: William Jefferson Clinton: "I did not have sex with that woman" and "It depends on what the meaning of 'is' is" -- these phrases will live in law school and poli sci classrooms for generations to come.
So why is all this pertinent on an Orthodox blog, other than the fact that Blagojevich is Serbian Orthodox? It is germane because the church seems to have sponsored more than a few entrants in this same race, dressed in the colors of Orthodoxy:
The "The Burden-Is-on-Them" Defense
The O.J. Simpson murder trial gave us the undying words, "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit." Beyond-a-reasonable-doubt is sufficient for secular criminal justice, but should it be enough for ecclesiastical justice? (In fact, even in civil courts, a predominance of the evidence is all that is required.) Why have church leaders hidden behind the letter of the law or regulation? And where are the prosecutions for those offenses about which they is no longer any doubt?
The "Best-Defense-Is-a-Good-Offense" Defense
Recently deposed Bishop Nikolai has now brought a lawsuit of his own against the church, defending himself by putting his accusers on the defensive. Good luck with that; Syosset has proven itself to be pretty slippery.
The "Let-Bygones-Be-Bygones" Defense
Faulkner famously wrote, "The past isn't over. It isn't even past." Roundly contradicting that point-of-view, the Church (and many of its adherents) seem to take the position that here in the present, there should be no accountability for anything which happened in the past. We are admonished to "move on," "get past it," or to concentrate on forgiveness. Would the same people urge that we forget about pursuing Bin Laden, or sweep the Holocaust under the rug of history, as just yesterday's news?
The "Trust-Me" Defense
As we see with the recently-revealed terms of the Sidebottom settlement and what that suit has led to, a fairly convincing defense can be mounted, by pointing to a flurry of apparent action and a host of encouraging edicts (with a dearth of actual new requirements or commitments).
The Koumentakos lawsuit in Maryland has generated of a number of choice strategies:
The "Never-Saw-Her-Before-in-My-Life" Defense
The church's first line of defense in that matter was the bold, if rather mind-boggling, position that because "she is not a member of the Church" (having been driven away by the alleged priestly misconduct), the Church had no responsibility to act on her report of offenses.
The "It's-Not-Our-Policy" Defense
Next, the church put in writing the fact that the OCA has "no concept of clerical confidentiality" that would require what is said in pastoral counseling or within the mystery of confession to be kept from being aired in public. It appears that quite a few people within the Body of Christ had a somewhat different understanding (even citing church canons that support restraints on priestly broadcasting of confidences).
The "Never-Saw-Him-Before-in-My-Life" Defense
The term "private contractor" was applied to a custodial employee in the Koumentakos case, in order to argue that her organization had fewer than the requisite number of employees to bring an action in Maryland. When this was unsuccessful, the defense argued -- are you ready for this? -- that the priest himself is an "independent contractor, " thereby absolving the Church from any responsibility for his actions. The church itself was described, by its defenders, as being very like a "Holiday Inn franchise" -- not governed from any central authority. (And they call us a "hierarchical" church!)
The "My-Dog-Ate-My-Homework" Defense
For the church to have reached Ronald Reagan's "mistakes were made" formulation was a big step for the Holy Synod of Bishops and the Metropolitan Council, but is it enough? Can there be any credible repair of shattered confidence, if all offenses were either the fault of one man (Kondratick being chief among the chosen targets of shame and ridicule) or committed by some unnamed entity shrouded in the passive voice?
Some of us feel strongly that the only defense which matters is what we pray for each and every Divine Liturgy: "a good defense before the dread judgment seat of Christ." Are any of the above what St. John Chrysostom had in mind? When we ask that God grant us "victory over our adversaries," surely our prayer is not meant to protect us from those who call us to account for our sins and transgressions.
I must not say, like the Pharisee, "I thank God that I am not like that man." But I can say, in good conscience, that "our church right or wrong" is just as potentially destructive a mantra as "our country right or wrong." Either one neatly omits any necessity to make right what is demonstrably wrong -- in ourselves, our country or our church. In my humble opinion, for taking that easy out there can be no good defense.
#18 An Offended Orthodox Observer on 2009-02-13 10:52
I guess for me the part that saddens me the most is that it feels like the secular world has higher standards of conduct than the governing body of the church. The occurrences where this is obvious have been itemized in the past - why is it that the church does not simply take complete responsibility for their mistakes and make reparations where needed? Not to over simplify the issue but will the church continue to act like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens or Andy Pettite?
Sad to say these issues have led me to begin attending service at a non-OCA church and I am watching to see if the +MJ can undo the damage before I think about returning to the church that I grew up in.
#18.1 Sad and frustrated on 2009-02-18 04:16
I went back and read Mark's story about the Koumentakos matter last night. I also read the complaint itself which is posted on Pokrov.
Putting these legal issues aside, what I want to know is what is Metropolitan Jonah doing about the allegations of the violation of the confessional? What about information obtained in subsequent pastoral counseling? Was this priest trained as a counselor? The article and the complaint both speak to witnesses not contacted and the letter that Fr. Velencia himself wrote detailing Mrs. Koumentakos abuse history among other details. Legal issues aside, has the church addressed that? I want to know.
Until then, it would seem to me that going to confession to an OCA priest is not a prudent thing to do. That makes me angry and worried for my spiritual health. I don't think my priest would ever do what Fr. Velencia is accused of doing in this case, but one never knows and if the church is not taking a clear stand on this, then vulnerability to abuse of the pastoral relationship is clear.
How sad for us all. It seems that this situation could have been handled swiftly and clearly a long time ago.
#18.1.1 SAD AND WORRIED on 2009-02-19 05:39
If the Priest is an independent contractor, if the Diocese is a franchise (this one knocked me to the floor - I will have to think about obtaining court transcripts so that I can see that for myself), if the OCA has no control over any of them, then there would seem to be no heirarchical church. When did that happen?
And yet the defense attorneys (five of them?!) in the Koumentakos matter insist also on promoting the church's First Amendments rights, instead of trying to defend the (indefensible?) allegations of the above free agents.
So which is it? It cannnot be both, not for the church, not if accountability is the new era.
What is the main interest of the OCA? Correcting possible wrongs committed by a priest, supported by the hierarchy, so that something like this is prevented from happening in the future? Or protecting itself at all costs from liability?
#18.2 anonymous on 2009-02-18 07:20
How is it possible that the OCA website itself indicates that the Parish is subordinate to the Dicoese AND the Dean of the Washington DC Deanery as well as the Chancellor of the Diocese of Wash/NY say in sworn affadavits that they have no control whatsoever over one of their parish priests?
#18.3 confused on 2009-02-18 16:30
In 2005 the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a publication titled “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People”. In the preamble of the Charter, the bishops wrote: “We continue to have a special care for and a commitment to reaching out to victims of sexual abuse and their families. The damage caused by sexual abuse of minors is devastating and long-lasting. We apologize to them for the great harm that has been inflicted on them, and we offer our help for the future’.
Granted the Catholic bishops had to be drug kicking and screaming to the point where they began to acknowledge their fecklessness. Even a cursory stroll through www.bishopaccountability.org and www.snapnetwork.org shows that their problems are far from over. However, it is a beginning. Please note, they professed to have a special care for and commitment to reaching out to victims, they acknowledged the devastation the abuse caused, and - wonder of wonders - they apologized for the harm inflicted and offered help to the victims.
How about it Orthodox Christians? Must the OCA always tag along far, far behind the heterodox, when it comes to “doing the right thing”?
#19 Jmhem5 on 2009-02-13 14:04
While I have come to respect most of what Mark does here, I have to say that I think the article to which I am now responding falls well below the standards to which he aspires when it takes the Synod and Syosset to task over the way in which the revisions to OCA policy are described in a recently-posted statement on the official website.
What do I object to? The false dichotomy between what the statement says ("synod has initiated") and what Mark reports ("it is 'required' by the settlement"). The implication I think we are all supposed to glean from this report is that the statement is false and misleading.
There may be many reasons for imparting such a tone. But I do not think it is fair because it seems to rest on a fundamental misunderstanding or mischaracterization of the term "settlement."
In the context of EEOC proceedings, which I handled a couple of times over the decades, a settlement is something voluntarily arrived at between two sides as a resolution of the matter. It is not something imposed by a judge or one's opponent.
Now some "settlements" are thinly-veiled capitulations by one side or the other to avoid what could be worse consequences should the matter go forward to a contested conclusion. This one bears all the earmarks of something else. The complainant was on the verge of having to give up the matter or file an expensive and emotionally draining lawsuit to try to prove a point about some departed clergy about a situation which, as far as I could tell, the complainant's inner strength and the grace of God had protected him from any lasting damage flowing from the incident itself. To the extent that there was a real financial loss (I suspect that given the reports of wages paid to St. Herman's staff it was no big monetary loss to take a non-profit job in Kansas) someone of Mr. Sidebottom's maturity and good will no doubt saw a settlement calling for improved procedures as a desirable outcome.
But it was not his decision alone. After more than a year of firm resistance under the previous administration. Met. Jonah, the synod and the new administration agreed with Mr. Sidebottom on terms to settle the whole business within about a month of his election!! In other words it is true that BOTH Mr. Sidebottom and the hierarchy wanted and agreed upon these terms.
And let's look at the settlement terms a little more carefully. They give the OCA six months to do what it is going to do to revise AND vests SOLE DISCRETION in the OCA as to what it will do.
Now I negotiated literally hundreds of settlement agreements in my time and participated in the drafting of a great many of the written embodiments of the terms. I think it is extremely fair to conclude from the "sole discretion" language that the complainant and his attorneys had a very different view of what the OCA would do under the new administration to carry this out by contrast with what the ancien regime had done.
With days of the settlement being reached the essential terms were reported publicly here (12/09) and extensively commented upon. To the extent that two months later Mark spins the official announcement - which states a few basic facts and affirms a policy direction without referring to the publicly reported settlement - as lack of candor, in my opinion, is unfair.
I am reminded of the children in the marketplace to whom Christ referred. "We piped unto you and you did not dance, we played a dirge and you did not mourn." The OCA releases a pretty short, basic and businesslike digest of what it is doing. No loud, lengthy tooting of its horn. And gets criticized for it!
It is not difficult to imagine the chorus of groans about window dressing and self-congratulation that would have wafted past us here if there had been some wordy recitation in the press release of the details of how this process got underway once the new head took office. Since everybody paying attention already knew from this site and others that there had been a settlement that would lead to a new reworking of the policies and procedures, I think it is to the administration's credit that they wrote pretty briefly and to the point without a sonorous rehash.
The proof will be in what they write and how it is used. To the extent that we here are the Church, we must be realistic about how many obstacles there will always be, but remain constructively engaged through fairness,prayer and encouragement toward the best result possible.
I think Mark's piece and a number of the follow up comments did not pass the constructive engagement test.
(Editor's note: Since any praise, even back-handed, from Fr. George is an event, to disagree would seem, well, disagreeable. Let's just say we both agree that the proof is in the pudding. )
#20 Fr George Washburn on 2009-02-14 11:41
As an attorney, I had similar thoughts to Fr. George. I think that the press release was accurate. Let's not forget that settlement agreements, especially at the EEOC level, took the OCA's cooperation and agreement.
#20.1 Justin Bosl on 2009-02-17 18:05
I believe that you did the OCA a great justice with your webiste and through it you eventually were able to assist with the rooting out of much decay and hypocrisy in the leadership. But I now FIRMLY believe that the continued parcing of every word out of the chancery is now conterproductive and destructive. I do not believe that their statement that the synod initiated the abuse revisions is a lie or a covering up of the settlement. In fact it is even possible that the OCA suggested this as a remedy itself in the negotiation. Many of the people on this website now could not be satisfied if Jesus Christ Himself initiated a press release. And I'm not trying to be funny or disrespectful when saying this. The people on the website need to realize that there are many God-loving people in the OCA who love Christ and His Church and do not appreciate it being called a sewer and worse. There comes a time when one has reached critical mass with constructive criticism and then it is just demeaning and destructive. This website has reached that point. The boogeyman is not behind EVERY door.
layperson and 13 year convert, OCA
(Editor's note: I fully appreciate your upset and concern. However, if you assume that there are not boogeymen behind several more doors, a few to be opened this coming week, you are sadly mistaken. I did not create the boogeymen, but I try to make sure that when they jump out, you are not taken totally unawares.)
#21 Scott Yonkin on 2009-02-15 15:54
I didn't have a better place to put this comment, but I think Metropolitan Jonah's paper deserves an entire thread of its own.
I am commenting on the parts of the paper that I find relevant to the severe internal problems of the OCA, and I didn't pay much attention to the more global issues raised.
My first comment would be that the paper was very strategic in nature, which is generally good because strategy and not tactics ought to lead the way. Tactics must fit strategy, or things get messy fast.
My second comment is that while the paper lays out a good strategy, it doesn't necessarily help lay out a full strategy for problem resolution per se because there is a key element missing. That is, it doesn't say if a Bishop isn't pastoring to his clergy and is ordering them around and fear and intimidation rue the day (which the paper quite clearly defines as wrong), what ought to happen. The general strategy, it would appear is that because the Bishop had given the Metropolitan his role, the Metropolitan would have some authority in the matter and speak to the Bishop about his heavy handedness. Unfortunately, this is where the OCA's governance CONTINUALLY completely collapses. Here is a quote from the paper:
"The primate is one among the others, first among equals; yet
is given the responsibility of holding the others to accountability. The authority of the primate arises from the mutual consent of those who elect him, and his acceptance by the greater community of primates throughout the world. Real primacy is an active role of actual leadership, of responsibility and accountability, in the context of actual jurisdiction."
OK, to me, this is quite gray. It says because the Bishops elected a primate, he has the responsibility of holding the others to account. But what if he doesn't? Then to whom is he held accountable? Or, what if he himself is a bit beneath board? Three years of misery, public websites working to disclose the truth, hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal expenses, continued lawsuits? Is this the only course, that is a secular answer?
The paper makes a great outline for a general strategy of love and pastoral care which I must say is admirable, but it misses the tough questions of how to deal with serious problems, and how long love and pastoral care go on while the ship runs aground.
To be fair to the Metropolitan, I don't think he ever intended the paper to get to that tactical pinpoint. But, I also don't think he believes it ought to get there. He also says in the letter that and I paraphrase, hopefully not out of context..
'the reduction of the episcopacy to institutional administration' essentially eliminates the pastoral care role of the episcopacy. Hopefully I stated it correctly, and not too terribly out of context.
I find this to be both a good and bad statement. Clearly, the Metropolitan understands Bishops like Nikolai, for example, needed guidance. What I find to be bad is that today, the institutional administration can establish rules that assist with this very thing. That is, if an ethics complaint is made about a Bishop, that complaint would go to the primate.
Or to rephrase it, the organization can have rules in place that support the strategy of pastoral care.
For example, when upon learning about then Fr. Bob's misdeeds years ago, then Metropolitan Theodosius could have handled things in a different fashion, rather than firing Wheeler and replacing with Herman. The trouble was, all three of them decided pastoral care meant something entirely different! For former Metropolitan Herman pastoral care meant telling Dn. Wheeler to 'take it like a man'. This is sort of pastoral in a way...although some might not think so, let me point out, Herman did.
Why then can't the organization still manage to handle this problem within the guidelines of pastoral care? The Synod needed to hear a complaint from Wheeler and reinstate him and call RSK, Theodosius, and Herman to account. But, and here is the big but..... Within the context of the paper written by Metropolitan Jonah, this would have never happened. Least not by my read.
The OCAs governance troubles start and end with the episcopacy. The strategy is good, but when the primate fails, and no course of alternative action is allowed, chaos is the ultimate consequence. Alternative action doesn't necessarily mean the primate needs to step down, it just means someone needs to hold the primate to account.
Let me remind anyone readin my post. In the Orthodox church, the primate is not imfallible.
I would very much enjoy seeing the OCA develop a set of rules by which things like the Sidebottom complaint, the Koumentakos lawsuit, and the Nikolai lawsuit, and the Kondratick lawsuit have no chance of making it past a hearing because the church handles the matters with pastoral care. And no disrespect to Karlgut, but that is also before the liability waiver.
A step in the right direction would be a ethics complaint form on the front page of OCA.ORG to be handled within a set of rules and administered by the MC. FOS has a front page link on OCA.ORG.
Is financial stewardship more important than pastoral care?
Seems like the millions of dollars the OCA has burned in legal fees over the past 10 years might have been better handled within the context of pastoral care and for a lot less $$ and actually a penny saved following a good strategy is also a penny earned.
#22 Daniel E. Fall on 2009-02-18 18:36
Daniel, the bishops are held accountable by the community of believers. It is up to us. It will never be clean but always messy because we all sin. If we rely on rules to overcome sin, we will fail.
Read the Epistle of James lately?
#23 Michael Bauman on 2009-02-18 23:20
Sounds like according to you the SOP of the OCA ought to be USDC.
Metropolitans and Bishops need to be held accountable for their action or nonaction. It can be done in an orderly fashion, or it can be done as you suggest, with pitchforks and tort law and lotsa cash.
#23.1 Daniel E. Fall on 2009-02-19 16:19
The bishops are held accountable not only by the community of believers, but first and foremost, by their fellow bishops and primate. Brothers do not let brothers abuse their children, neglect their children nor let them lead them astray. That the people in Alaska had to basically revolt to get anyone's attention is inexcusable.
More fundamental in the OCA is the low expectations that the episcopate, clergy and the laity have had of the bishops. And that has been virtually "nothing". As long as one's parish was in "Happy Valley", no one cared. In the main, OCA bishops' parish visits were primarily ceremonial, when and if they even occurred.
+Jonah has written of the proper relationships and responsibilities of the bishops. Does your parish, or any other parish really want a bishop who "meddles" in your lives? Yes, +Nikolai and +Tikhon, for example, were brutes, but what about a bishop who steps in to correct truly improper practice or tries to encourage spiritual growth? Are they often equally unwelcome?
The problems that Daniel say "start and end with the episcopacy" really do not. They have been tolerated by clergy and laity as well. The problems are simply more readily manifest in the episcopacy.
#23.2 Overseas Observer on 2009-02-20 00:34
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