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)