As the OCA goes through its own vision, strategic planning and re-organization process, one of the questions it has to deal with is the metropolitan’s residence. The question arises because as of last year the metropolitan is the bishop of the Diocese of Washington, DC, while the OCA chancery headquarters are located in Syosset, NY, within the boundaries of the Diocese of NY/NJ. Bishops are by canon to live in their own dioceses. The residence that the OCA has for its metropolitan is in Syosset, NY, and so the issue has been raised as to having an official residence for the metropolitan in the DC area.
The process of discerning a location for the metropolitan’s residence has caused me to think about the fact that Orthodox bishops are canonically required to be celibate. Since celibacy is a church requirement for bishops, the question comes up as to what extent the church therefore has a responsibility in love to provide a residence for their bishops that is conducive to a celibate lifestyle and which does not enable the bishops to stray from their celibate lifestyles.
One of the things the Roman Catholics learned through their sexual misconduct scandal was that a warning sign of the clergy whose “celibacy was in trouble” (an RC euphemism for sexual misconduct) was that the clergy “disappeared” when not officially on duty – some had private residences, some went to places where no one knew where they were. In one official report of the RC Church on clergy sexual misconduct, they noted a pattern of sexual abuse in “Priests who keep extremely irregular hours, spend excessive time at the homes of unknown companions, “disappear” on their days off…” Such a lifestyle is easy to live in a society which treats one’s home (and one’s bedroom!) as places of total privacy for adults and of no concern to anyone else. However, since the Church mandates celibacy for its bishops, does it not have a vested interest in helping the bishops maintain this lifestyle in order to prevent sexual misconduct and total hypocrisy in the lives of its bishops? More than a vested interest, does the Church not have a responsibility in love for its bishops to help them live and maintain their celibate lifestyles? It is completely disingenuous to say “what the bishop does in the privacy of his own bedroom is no concern of ours” when in fact one of the few criterion we pay attention to in the selection of a bishop is the canonical, however not biblical, requirement that the bishop be a celibate. We bring the bedroom into the process of selecting a bishop, so why do we then think the bishop’s bedroom is not the concern of the church?
To what extent do we as Church have responsibility to disable (rather than enable) our celibate bishops from straying away from celibacy? Are we not responsible for their celibacy by providing them residences which really are not their private and individual domains which we then pretend are no concern of ours? Do we have some Christian responsibility to discourage sexual activity in our bishops by not providing them residences which allow for secret and private lives and activities? (And canonically speaking ANY sexual activity on the part of the bishop is clergy sexual misconduct, even with other consenting adults). Is it not our responsibility for the bishops’ own salvation, since we have created the rule that bishops must live as celibates, and as an act of love for our bishops to provide them residences which discourage sexual activity? So maybe as part of the residency selection process we should consider what kind of residence and what kind of location will help the bishops maintain their celibacy by discouraging any kind of private or secret life. Should we not pay attention to whom stays with the bishop, how often, and so on? Do we have some accountability for helping them live as celibates and not close our eyes to their lives and lifestyles rather than gossiping about whom they spend time with or who their close associates are?
It is not an act of loving concern for us to demand celibacy of all bishops, and then leave them to have lonely, private and secretive lives in which they must deal with their own sexual temptations as if it were a private matter. The church has set the policy of celibacy for bishops, so how can their private sexual lives be of no concern to us? It is up to us to help them live out the celibacy which we require of them. It is an act of brotherly love and concern to speak openly with them about their lives and lifestyles, with whom they associate, or what happens in their bedrooms. This is not intrusion into their private lives, since we made their private lives – their celibacy and thus their bedrooms – a condition of them being entrusted with the episcopal office in the first place.
See my The Bishop: Rule of Faith and Celibate Witness to the Kingdom
6 thoughts on “Episcopal Celibacy and Residency”
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Well said Father, thank you!
I would add, if I may, what we owe the bishops is not something we owe them alone. Rather it seems to me that we owe each other the same support in our respective vocations.
Good point. I think note was made with respect to RC clergy that in earlier years, they often were housed at the church together (all the clergy serving) and usually looked after by a mother hen of some sort. This shows up even in some of those old Bing-Crosby-as-priest movies Hollywood would make as penance for tinsel town’s other transgressions. Suggestion was made at the time that if this had continued, the problems as you say would not have arisen to the extent they have. But somehow the model was broken and priests went to live elsewhere. Hard to turn the clock backwards I suppose. The other aspect of this is that the priest back then was really a fixture of the community and not just someone seen on Sunday… but wandered through the borrough… like a cop on the beat tending his flock. This would be nice to have, too. The local priests frequent the Italian barbershop where I get my fringe trimmed… and it is a nice thing to see when he comes in. But so many parishes are commuter parishes in our modern era. Gotta start somewhere, huh? So where and how?
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What happened to Bishops being monastics, actually living in a monastery, and confessing to the Abbot? When will Orthodoxy in America – and I include all so-called “jurisdictions” – determine that monastic life is crucial to orderly and lively spiritual life? This state of affairs would require a male monastery in every diocese, and residence of the Bishop in that monastery. It certainly would be much less expensive than all the trials, tribulations and bad press Orthodoxy has experienced in recent years in the US.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom. So maybe as a result of what is, we will gain the wisdom to do what needs to be done.