On Monday, 24 August 2009, I was in Syosset to join a “Meeting on Sexual Misconduct Issues.” Our group consisted of Metropolitan Jonah, 4 priests: Alexander Garklavs, Eric Tosi, Michael Matsko and myself, 2 attorneys: James Spencer and Thaddeus Wojcik, and Protodeacon Peter Danilchick who joined the meeting by teleconference. Our discussion was centered on the current OCA sexual misconduct policy: “Policies, Standards, and Procedures of the Orthodox Church in America on Sexual Misconduct.” We also considered a couple of other documents prepared by some of the participants. We discussed issues related to sexual misconduct within the church taking into consideration pastoral, spiritual, legal/criminal, insurance, ethical and clinical implications. Overall I thought the meeting was positive and productive because the discussions were open and honest. Full consideration was given to criticisms aimed at the OCA’s current handling of sexual misconduct and ideas were put forth to change the policies and attitudes in the church towards dealing with these issues.
I want to summarize a few issues which we discussed which I thought were significant and which dealt with changes needed in the manual as well as in procedures to be followed when allegations of misconduct arise.
1) There is a need for continuing education for clergy and church workers regarding issues of sexual misconduct regarding civil law and procedures for the parish to follow if allegations arise.
2) Standards for implementation/compliance at every level of the church must be set and measured on an annual basis to determine whether or not these issues are being dealt with at all levels of the church.
3) It is always for the good of the church to advocate for victims of abuse within the church.
4) There is a need for an office in the church with someone trained to investigate sexual abuse issues. It was discussed that this might best be someone who is not a clergyman but who is a neutral party.
5) There must be a MANDATORY reporting policy in effect throughout the church. Reports of sexual misconduct must be made to people who have been trained to deal with them.
6) The point of an investigation is not to protect the church or clergy from legal consequences, but to establish what occurred and what action is to be taken for the good of the church membership. Victims and reporters of sexual misconduct must never be intimidated by investigators or anyone in the church.
7) There must be a provision in the manual which prohibits retaliation against those who report sexual misconduct.
8) Parishes must become familiar with their own local, state or national laws regarding which types of sexual misconduct MUST be reported to civil authorities and civil law in sexual misconduct cases must be followed.
9) Bishops must agree to comply with all aspects of OCA policy and with all civil laws in all regions of their dioceses.
10) Perpetrators of sexual misconduct and abuse must be held accountable for the actions – the church and the civil authorities both have responsibility in assuring this happens. The Church must live up to its responsibilities in thoroughly investigating all allegations and in dealing with violations of Church policy.
11) The church needs not just better policy but a greater commitment to implementing policy and measuring compliance at every level of the church to official church policy.
For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then commit apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt. For land which has drunk the rain that often falls upon it, and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed; its end is to be burned.
(Hebrews 6:4-8 RSV)
4 thoughts on “Christian Sexual Abuse: Apostasy of the Worst Kind”
I would add that sexual misconduct must also include the sort of sexual behavior that is inconsistent with ordination, consecration and tonsure.
That is, is if a priest has an affair, he should be deposed. If a bishop is found to have made untoward advances toward, say, a gardener, he should be deposed. If a monk is found to frequent gay bars, he should be laicized (and deposed if also in Orders). If any clergy teach, implicitly or explicitly, sexual standards contrary to the teaching of the Orthodox Church, they should be reprimanded and/or deposed. (I think many of us know of such examples, and it is a shame such secrets are held rather than reported – of course, they are held, because we all know nothing is normally done, the wagons circle and no one wants to be the one to start the finger pointing and revelation for fear of personal blowback.)
These are not necessarily situations where abuse against another person has taken place, but they are serious sins that are inconsistent with continued service in Holy Orders. Such men (and women, in the case of monastics or church employees) should be removed from office not simply for our sakes, but for their own sakes, as well. We cannot let bishop, priest, monk become mere jobs, careers that make us fear turning people out onto the streets – perhaps this will affect how we view the necessary prerequisites for ordination and tonsure (i.e., academic degrees over tested spiritual and moral commitment).
I am very happy that this meeting took place and that steps are being taken to increase the rigor with which sexual misconduct is addressed in the OCA – especially given the whispers about a current, ‘high ranking’ OCA cleric accused of misconduct being given a pass from such procedures. I don’t like whispers, I prefer such things be brought to light and dealt with one way or the other.
I am no longer a member of the OCA, as we migrated to ROCOR over 15 years ago. However, may I suggest a female, forensic nurse with certification as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) be part of the investigatory team? I dare say that the vast majority of sexual abuse is against females. Having a female nurse with sexual abuse investigation training and certification would be most reassuring for women who have been subjected to this. Do I need to mention that this should be an Orthodox Christian? There are a few Orthodox SANEs already, and the Church could consider sponsoring an advanced nurse practitioner for this training and certification specifically to be a part of this team. NO, I’m not available! I’m retired! ;-D
Love in Christ,
Dr. Elizabeth, RN, the sinner
and Perennial Student
(previously certified as a Nurse-Midwife)
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