The Midwest Diocesan Assembly allowed a needed discussion on the current situation with Bishop Matthias on administrative Leave of Absence. OCA Chancellor Fr. John Jillions did confirm that the allegations as reported on the Internet were accurate.
Some would say there was an emotional release as diocesan members expressed grief over the situation created by the bishop’s sexual harassment of a young woman. Several speakers reported that their parishes expressed strong sentiments calling for the bishop to resign after learning the nature of the allegations. Several noted that the bishop had violated trust in his behavior which would be difficult if not impossible to restore even if he successfully completes some treatment program. On the other hand, those in the diocese who have had only positive personal experiences with Bishop Matthias expressed their dismay over the readiness of so many in the diocese to believe the allegations against the bishop. Yet, the Response Team investigating the allegations apparently were convinced that sexual misconduct occurred, and the Synod of Bishops accepted their report and recommendations including the fact that the bishop had engaged in sexual misconduct as defined by the OCA’s policies. The bishops themselves in their rendered decision showed they believed the allegations were substantiated by the evidence and the investigation. So while a few maintain that there is just confusion about the bishop’s intentions and actions, the Synod of Bishops was convinced that misconduct occurred. The Bishops do not seem to think the situation was merely a misunderstanding, nor did the woman who filed the complaint.
Resolutions calling for Bishop Matthias to resign were ruled out of order as were ones calling for a “no confidence vote” by the assembly. Archbishop Nikon of Boston who presided over the assembly did affirm that no Synodal decisions have been made about what is going to happen except that Bishop Matthias must complete an intensive psychological evaluation and rehabilitation, and then undergo a peer mentoring time before he would be allowed to return to active ministry. ’Archbishop Nikon did not know how long the rehabilitation program would last, but he made it clear that no decision about the bishop’s return has been reached.
The assembly did vote by a wide margin to remove from the 2013 Budget a proposed 12.5% pay increase for the bishop – something the bishop himself had apparently requested. The sense was that it was extremely inappropriate to give a raise to a clergyman who was on administrative leave of absence for having engaged in sexual misconduct.
For the Diocese of the Midwest, the period of waiting continues as the bishop follows the steps laid out for him by the Synod of Bishops – steps he must successfully complete before the Synod will give consideration to whether he can be restored to ministry. A number of people expressed a notion that in many secular professions, the same misconduct committed by the bishop would have led to immediate dismissal. The issue for the Midwest is not just personal as some allege. It is principle and precedence and policy – how does the church respond to clergyman who have committed sexual harassment or other forms of sexual misconduct? Because how we respond sends a message to victims about whether the OCA has a zero tolerance policy for sexual misconduct by clergy.
Links to my other blogs on sexual misconduct in the church can be found at Blogs on Sexual Misconduct in the Church.