Diocese of the Midwest’s Discussion on Sexual Misconduct

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.

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10 Responses to Diocese of the Midwest’s Discussion on Sexual Misconduct

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  2. Pingback: Blogs on Sexual Misconduct in the Church | Fr. Ted's Blog

  3. cindy says:

    I support the assembly’s decision to reject the resolutions calling for Bishop Matthias’ resignation and calling for a “no confidence vote.” In my opinion, the adoption of such a resolution was timed only for the purpose of the impact that the All-American Council and Diocesan Assembly offered. Although the safety of our Orthodox communities are paramount, I have no reason to believe that the Holy Synod has failed to provide this by their decision to impose administrative leave on Bishop Matthias. After all, we are Americans and we all believe in due process, though as Orthodox Christians, discipline lacks efficacy without repentence. When Bishop Matthias completes his counseling and hopefully comes to the realization that his office as Bishop was compromised, I have confidence that he will make the right decision and resign. A voluntary resignation based on sincere repentance, I believe, is the goal of the Holy Synod and should be the church’s desire as well. I am disppointed by the actions of those who are missing the very essence of Orthodoxy, love.

  4. 123 says:

    Everyone is for ‘zero tolerance’ until they or someone they know is caught up in the inevitable situation that isn’t directly addressed by the written policy or officially but nonsensically falls under a definition in the policy, cf. oddball suspensions in zero tolerance regarding drugs, weapons, hate speech, etc. policies in schools.

    That isn’t to say this is what has taken place with His Grace, but it’s worth noting that we know very little about the situation as a whole, and those who know the whole story – the investigators, the Synod, the Chancellor – think Bp Matthias perfectly capable of returning to active duty in the Diocese once he has gone through the prescribed steps successfully.

    • Fr. Ted says:

      How do you know what each and all of those folk think? or are you just presuming to speak for them?

      We do know some things – the complaint itself was made public. We know the young woman was uncomfortable enough with what the bishop was sending her so as to file a complaint. She was uncomfortable both with his text messages and to his reaction to her when she confronted him about her own feelings about the inappropriateness of the messages. We know what he responded to her. We know that the investigators did not dismiss the allegations as a misunderstanding but made certain recommendations. We know the Synod also was convinced by what the investigators wrote to recommend a serious course of evaluation, therapy and mentoring for His Grace. Apparently they did not think it was all a misunderstanding but something that warranted further evaluation and if possible treatment. By their actions the Synod was acknowledging the validity of the complaint and the seriousness of what the bishop did. The bishops didn’t give him a pass, didn’t dismiss the allegations as unfounded and didn’t lift the Leave of Absence. At least from what we were told at the Diocesan Assembly they have reached no conclusion about his ability or fitness to return to active ministry. They seem to be taking quite seriously the mandated evaluation, therapy and mentoring – all of which he must successfully complete before they would consider returning him to active ministry.

      So what we know is the bishops themselves believe something serious transpired and have not concluded that Bishop Matthias automatically will return to the diocese.

      • psiosifson says:

        We know the young woman was uncomfortable enough with what the bishop was sending her so as to file a complaint. She was uncomfortable both with his text messages and to his reaction to her when she confronted him about her own feelings about the inappropriateness of the messages.

        One can produce any number of examples when one person was wrongly uncomfortable with comments and actions made by another, when intentions were assumed wrongly. I would be shocked if you can’t think of a single example when you offended someone without intending to. This doesn’t mean she was wrong, it just means we do not in fact “know” this and cannot say it is proof of anything in particular.

        We also don’t know the motivations of those perhaps trusted advisers who may have convinced her to make a formal complaint. Could their advice have been colored by other factors relative to Bishop? One need not assume ill-intent, either, to acknowledge the possibility that other factors played a part.

        We know what he responded to her.

        I don’t believe we do. I’ve seen what purports to be the transcript of a text conversation between the Bishop and a young woman that have been posted to a muckraking website, but we don’t know if or whether they are complete, unedited, whether other texts are available, etc. That transcript may be accurate, but we can’t really know except in the way we “know” gossip is true or not.

        We know that the investigators did not dismiss the allegations as a misunderstanding but made certain recommendations.

        We know the investigators agreed the actions that took place met the statutory definition of sexual misconduct as laid out in the Guidelines. We do not know if those Guidelines were well-drafted enough to take into account this or every situation. That is, it could have met the letter of the law, but not the spirit. Again, that’s not to say the Bishop is innocent, but so far we’ve heard from everyone except the Defense, so to speak, and are simply assuming all other parties and policies are correct and unimpeachable.

        We know the Synod also was convinced by what the investigators wrote to recommend a serious course of evaluation, therapy and mentoring for His Grace. Apparently they did not think it was all a misunderstanding but something that warranted further evaluation and if possible treatment. By their actions the Synod was acknowledging the validity of the complaint and the seriousness of what the bishop did. The bishops didn’t give him a pass, didn’t dismiss the allegations as unfounded and didn’t lift the Leave of Absence.

        The Synod also found that his actions did not necessarily mean he should be defrocked, that he could not necessarily continue to function as a diocesan bishop or as the diocesan bishop of the Diocese of the Midwest. That is, they found he is quite possibly redeemable – and not just forgivable as a person, but redeemable as a diocesan bishop.
        We also don’t know what is pastoral, political and legal CYA (Cover Your Ass) and what is necessary treatment, evaluation, and training. Assumptions can be made many ways on that score.

        At least from what we were told at the Diocesan Assembly they have reached no conclusion about his ability or fitness to return to active ministry.

        The Synod not yet making a decision as to whether His Grace would return as Bishop of Chicago and the Midwest says nothing about whether they think him guilty of misconduct that would preclude him from remaining a Bishop or returning to the DOM (or any Diocese) as its Bishop. If we’re going to trust their view on the seriousness of the misconduct, we need to also trust their view of his redeemability as Bishop – as well as the fact that no one is talking about his misconduct rising to a level requiring his deposition (or even suspension) from Holy Orders.

        So what we know is the bishops themselves believe something serious transpired and have not concluded that Bishop Matthias automatically will return to the diocese.

        We know that something covered under the Guidelines transpired, but we do not know whether this was in fact a “serious” infraction – and there are gradations in this sort of thing: rape is worse than adultery, pedophilia is worse than fornication, fondling is worse than intimating something but never saying it, etc. – or whether it merely met the letter of law of the accepted Guidelines rather than its spirit or intent. For instance, is a person’s complaint at being uncomfortable enough to warrant an investigation and a leave of absence? Is an accuser’s perception so objectively true that we can immediately, unreflectively cry “Guilty!” on the accused? No one thinks so. Neither should the accused be assumed innocent, unquestioningly. That’s why an investigation is needed. Given the OCA’s problems in Canada (and allegations of undisciplined sexual misconduct by past Metropolitans), it would not be surprising if a process had to be followed even if common sense would have determined what really happened amounted to an unwise lack of discretion and common sense on the part of the Bishop. Again, I’m not saying that’s what happened, none of us who are not on the Synod or the investigative team, or those who have read their full 100+ page report are in a position to say we “know” much of anything. The fact the Bishop was not simply retired and fired, and perhaps defrocked by the Synod (on the recommendation of an independent investigatory team) points more to this being minor than major. However, too much of the response to this issue amounts to little more than emotional projection either for or against the Bishop based on what we fill in the (substantial) gaps with, and whether we like the Bishop or his views on other things. We haven’t seen the entire report (nor should we, necessarily, given the rights of all involved and the presumption of innocence) and don’t even know what the recommendations of the investigators were or whether they thought this an obvious or simply marginal case that only just made it across the line to count as “misconduct”. We don’t know, at least not yet.

        Gossip isn’t always what other, bad people do.

      • Fr. Ted says:

        I guess I’m not sure what to tell you. You express often enough that there are many unknowns and there has been a process put into effect whose results we don’t know. But then you go on to write what I would call speculation. The process is continuing to unfold. The hardest thing to do is be still and know the Lord.

        You are rehearsing a lot of arguments which might sound as if you are trying the case hoping to get a result that is satisfactory to you, or even that you want to shift the blame off the bishop and onto others – the young woman, her advisers, those who dislike the bishop, those who wrote the policies, etc. The process has moved beyond our trying the case. The Investigative Team offered an opinion, the bishops rendered a decision. The bishop agreed to follow the process, somewhat admitting to having made mistakes. I don’t know what has happened, but maybe he is now being evaluated and perhaps therapy is being formulated for him.

        I’m not sure where you are hoping to go with your comments. If he is in the process of coming to repentance, we should pray for him. We need also to pray for the members of the diocese who also have been put to the test by what transpired.

        Why are you writing under a different screen name than on your previous post?

      • psiosifson says:

        Not sure why the screen name changed.

        What I’m hoping to do is ratchet down the expectations and the rhetoric surrounding this situation. People talking about the Bishop as a predator and pedophile, etc. and claiming they wouldn’t be comfortable in his presence are wagging the phrase “sexual misconduct” around as if what’s being talked about it is rape, molestation of children, free-wheeling fornication, etc., and that’s not the case. The speculation I provided is merely counter-speculation that is equally plausible given the facts and situation as we have them now, rather than filling in the picture with the worst possible guesses (based as much on whether the Bishop is ‘liked’ or not, or whether he is ‘too traditionalist’, etc.)

        Since no one not on the Synod or Committee really knows enough to make an fully informed decision (rather than simply being able to know enough to have certain feelings and preliminary thoughts/fears about various possibilities), I think it behooves everyone to prepare for two possibilities: the Bishop may be reassigned/retired or the Bishop may be reinstated. The loudest complaints against his return don’t seem to acknowledge the latter possibility (to the detriment of themselves and the flocks they are in some sense inciting in hopes a ‘pastoral’ case against His Grace can outweigh what is looking more and more like a weak ‘canonical’ and ‘legal’ case). Bp Matthias may actually return as Bishop of the DOM if the Committee and the Synod determine that is what’s called for if they find the misconduct did not rise to a level requiring his removal, retirement, deposition, etc. The same finding by the Synod that Bp Matthias committed “sexual misconduct” (as that term is defined in the Guidelines, an important subtlety) also makes clear implicitly that what he did does not rise to a level of misconduct requiring his deposition, removal, reassignment, or retirement. We have to be prepared to accept both sides of that finding.

      • Fr. Ted says:

        And keep in mind all things are being worked out in an OCA that has been reeling from dealing or not dealing with scandal and misconduct. So some want to make sure we never go back to a time where a wink and a nod were used to overlook some misconduct by certain people. Our entire American culture is undergoing a massive transformation on the issues of clergy sexual misconduct and on the issue of sexual harassment. People and the courts and juries are demanding that churches have higher standards on all of these issues. So there is an important issue of appearance – the church cannot appear to be weak or tolerant in the face of sexual misconduct. This is doubly true of a church which has an all male clergy. And if the church says it has a zero tolerance policy, it cannot then practice a three-strikes-and-your-out reality. Churches are being faulted for tolerating (and thus enabling) clergy sexual misconduct. So there are many issues and pressures adding to the volatile mix. There are issues of whether the church will seem to be forgiving toward offenders or enabling them by turning a blind eye to the harm done by clergy misconduct. Past experience in denominations across the country reveal a tolerance that enabled. Those have led to expensive lawsuits which the church cannot afford and so it has to deal with its problems up front and in some public fashion.

        The OCA seems to have committed itself to certain standards and to certain procedures in dealing with clergy sexual misconduct. Many eyes are watching to see if we follow these policies or not. If we don’t, it says a lot about our attitude toward victims.

      • psiosifson says:

        I’ve got no problem with the way things have been handled by the OCA, so far. The problem lies more in the way the process is being received by the church. Typically, the problem is a blind defense of the cleric matched with attacking the accuser. That has not taken place, and that is a good thing. The problem in this situation seems to be in getting out ahead of the investigation and the facts and the recommendations of the Committee in understandable but misplaced zeal over a history in the OCA of “dealing or not dealing with scandal and misconduct” that is not really commensurate with what we know (or think we know) of the allegations and actions of Bp Matthias. Matthias is not Theodosius, he is not Herman, he is not Seraphim, he is not Kondratick or Nikolai, and he can’t be treated as a proxy for them after the fact. Added to this seem to be personal and theological agendas that may have been rubbed the wrong way by Bp Matthias and how this inexplicably led to priests to actions that get way, way out ahead of the facts and the investigation, e.g., priests reading a purported transcript of the texts involved (copied from the always accurate internet) from the amvon.

        It should also be kept in the fore that the “Clergy Sexual Misconduct” that got the RCC in trouble was nothing like what Bp Matthias has been accused of. In fact, the crisis over clergy sexual misconduct was not about the misconduct itself (while horrific, it is a reality throughout society) but about the cover-up and the refusal to remove those with a pattern of abusing from situations where they could use that authority to continue to abuse. There is no pattern with Bp Matthias, there has quite obviously not been a cover-up. There is no liability, assuming no other information arises and assuming he passes the tests, etc. he is undergoing.

        Those most worried about retaliation from a potentially reinstated Bishop Matthias may have wanted to consider whether to attack him so vociferously out of retaliation from slights against their personal opinions as to how best to run one of the Bishop’s parishes (for that is what every parish in a diocese is.) That is, “With What Measure Ye Mete, It Shall Be Measured to You AgaIn”. Hopefully, this can all be chalked up to emotion and principles that got a little out of hand with the best of intentions. I’m not sure some are positioning themselves or their parishes for that deescalation.

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