Love Beyond the Veil of Rain

For the last several years I have worked on the Sexual Misconduct Policy Advisory Committee, wrestling, with others in the church, over the painful existence of clergy sexual misconduct.  Sometimes we wrestle together with issues, sometimes with each other in disagreement.  At times for me dealing with the issues has felt ‘soul destroying’: what some victims – who also happen to be my fellow church members – have suffered in sexual abuse and then suffered additionally by the attitude (including hostility, judgmentalism, callous indifference) of others in the church toward them.  Below is a poem taken from a fiction story written originally in Russian about a deacon in the church who reported the sexual misconduct of his bishop and was then punished for being a whistle-blower.

LOVE BEYOND THE VEIL OF RAIN

Vassily Borisevitch, Liège, 1981.                                                                                        Translated by Dr Nikita J Eike

[Note from the translator: This poem is part of a short story called ‘The Visit’ that addresses the issue of sexual abuse in the Church.  It comes at a point in the story where the Deacon having spoken up about a child being molested by his bishop, is defrocked and has to work in a coal mine to support his family.  Eventually  an explosion has him trapped below the surface for days where he slowly dies.  He is the whistle-blower who suffers at the hands of Church rulers who have failed to become shepherds and who have turned  those who should have been their beloved flock, into the impersonal mass of ‘the governed’. ]

My heart is a suffering stone,

Lying helpless behind a gossamer of rain,

Drops forming a watery veil,

As impenetrable as the iron wall that stills the wind in my soul.

 

My pain grows ever sharper,

I am dying a loveless life,

Screams that never can pierce the silence,

Muffled behind a veil of rain.

 

My tears are raindrops that never fell,

Cried for a heart that never moved,

Poured for hands that never worked,

On a soul that never rose.

 

My mind was formed by the hopeless,

Who blinded my eye that never saw,

Desperate my heart refusing to forget,

To hope for the Love Who lives beyond the veil of rain.

 

My feet will follow the exile of the governed,

Who bear with arms outstretched the lusts of their rulers,

Swift the arrow: the whistle die,

My life bleeds out between my soul and my God…

 

 And the silence fell to the ground a large ruby red teardrop.

One of the most painful images for me in the above poem is exactly when the deacon sees his fellow Christian church members, not as the beloved flock of the Good Shepherd, but as “the governed.”  When the Church sees its membership not as fellow baptized members of the Body of Christ, but only as those to be governed – lorded over – it has ceased to be Church but becomes nothing but another human institution intent on controlling its unruly subjects.  The power in the Church is not ‘over’ others, but our willingness to love, co-suffer with and for, others.

The next blog is verse I penned about my own thoughts and feelings about clergy sexual abuse and the attitudes I’ve seen in the church toward abusers and the abused.

Next:  Nothing Hurts

 

Democrats Vs Republicans and E Pluribus Unum?

This is the 3rd and final blog in this series reflecting on former Congressman Mickey Edwards’ book, The Parties Vs. The People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans.   The previous blog is Turning Democrats and Republicans into Americans.

“A successful democracy is largely dependent on shared values and a commitment to civil discourse. A nation that is allergic to nuance and complexity can offer little guidance to its elected officials; a nation that cannot tolerate ambiguity or weigh evidence cannot easily be brought together in a common understanding of the community’s problems, much less in a reasoned conversation about proposals to address those problems. (This is why the decline in educational standards and the disappearance of classroom instruction in civics and critical thinking are so devastating to our attempts at self-government.)”   (Mickey Edwards,Kindle Loc. 2307-11)

Trying to make everything black and white, perhaps for some makes life easier. All or nothing thinking  is also a thinking found commonly in teens and in people suffering from addictions.   The world however is far more complex and nuanced than black or white thinking allows.   Mickey Edwards advocates for changing our way of looking at things in political America – everything is not Democrat or Republican and there certainly is not just one issue that governs our lives or which politicians must grapple with to govern the nation.

Additionally, those who think “the other party” endangers our country might be happier in a one party nation – Libya under Khaddafi, Iraq under Saddam, Communist North Korea or Russia or China are a few examples.   A one party system may make life considerably easier for those with all-or-nothing, black-or-white thinking.  But in a true democracy, many different ideas exist, and the people have to form a governing system that deals with the variation and the minorities.  That is the democracy envisioned by America’s Founding Fathers who created three independent branches of government (not 2 political parties) to balance power.  And anyone who reads history realizes the Founding Fathers disagreed on many fundamental issues and debated furiously about them.

Edwards in his book offers the example of Ben Franklin who realized the implication of democracy in a society which allowed various opinions to co-exist. Franklin had resisted signing the Constitution because he objected to parts of it, but in the end he embraced a compromise realizing that is the nature of democracy.

“Franklin readily admitted that there were parts of the Constitution ‘which I do not at present approve’ but, he added, ‘I am not sure I shall never approve them. For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others.’ Franklin closed his remarks with an appeal to his fellow delegates to join him in approving the Constitution that guides us today. “On the whole, sir,” he wrote, “I cannot help expressing a wish that every member of the Convention who may still have objections to it would, with me, on this occasion, doubt a little of his own infallibility, and to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to the instrument.”  (Kindle Loc. 2349-55)

Ben Franklin understood that individual’s all-or-nothing, black-or-white thinking could not hold the United States of America together.  Too much power given to two opposing parties will not keep the States United.  As Edwards, as well as many other historians, have pointed out, the founding fathers generally abhorred political parties.  “We the people” are responsible for limiting the power of government in these United States.  We also have to come together to limit the power of the political parties which do not have a balance of power as their main goal, nor the interest of “we the people” at heart, but who strive to preserve and increase their own power in politics.

“The beautiful thing about our governmental system is that, in the end, the power rests with us. We don’t just determine whom we elect; we can also dictate how we elect them. In many states, legislators can submit issues to a vote of the people themselves. In addition, twenty-four states allow citizens to bypass the legislature altogether and put important questions—like changing the congressional redistricting process and eliminating closed party primaries—on the ballot.”  (Kindle Loc. 2577-80)

Discerning God’s Will: Electing Bishops

On November 13, the OCA will assemble at the All American Council to elect a new metropolitan.

Theologian Nicholas Afanasiev says that it is not the church nor the bishops who pass on or give the gifts of the Holy Spirit to its members and leaders. All the church or bishops can do is recognize that a person possesses the gifts of the Spirit and then they (the bishops) ask God to bless or confirm this person. What the church prays is that God will show that the person elected for office indeed possesses the gifts of the Spirit and that we have discerned correctly. Obviously, sometimes the discerning process fails, but that is our fault, not the fault of the Holy Spirit.   Afanasiev writes:

“The divine will cannot depend on the human will or be subject to it. God sends the gifts of the Holy Spirit not upon those chosen by the bishops or the people of the Church but upon those whom He himself chooses. The bishop has the grace to celebrate the sacrament of ordination, but this does not mean he manages the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Even to a lesser extent does it mean, as scholastic theology claims, that at the ordination of the presbyters and other clerics the bishop passes on to them the gifts of the Holy Spirit… Grace is not something to be passed from one to another and the bishop is not the one who has a depository of grace in order to distribute it to anyone he wills. Grace is a living gift of the Spirit who dwells in the Church…

In the Church God himself ordains people for particular ministries just as God ordains everyone called into the Church to his ministry of king and priest. ‘And God has appointed (etheto) in the church’… (1Cor. 12:28), ‘and he ordained some to be apostles…’ (Eph. 4:11). Neither a bishop nor a council of bishops nor the people of the Church, but God himself, ordains apostles, prophets, teachers, and pastors. God ordains these individuals for the ministry in and not outside of the Church, and for this reason the ordination which is from God is accomplished within the Church and with the participation of the Church…

God chooses every one of his ministers in the Church. The ancient church testifies to this its conviction through the words of the ordination prayer: ‘You who know our hearts, Father, grant that your servant, whom you have chosen for oversight, should shepherd your holy flock and should serve before you as your high priest…’ The Epitome uses the expression hon exelexô, ‘ whom you have chosen’ – just as in Acts 1:24: ‘and they prayed and said, “Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two thou hast chosen (hon exelexô)…

The election by God, manifest through the ordination of the bishop, presbyter, and deacon, does not exclude a possibility of their election by the Church itself. ‘Let the bishop be ordained, having been elected by all the people.’ Election by the local church is one of the ways to discover God’s will, for it is not the one who is pleasing to the people that is elected but the one who was already appointed by God for ministry. The election was the people’s testimony concerning the will of God revealed in the Church and at the same time the expression of their consent to the ordination of this particular person who was elected, in fulfillment of God’s will, for this ministry.”

(Nicholas Afanasiev in The Church of the Holy Spirit, pgs. 94-96)

Turning Democrats and Republicans into Americans

This is the 2nd blog in this series reflecting on former Congressman Mickey Edwards’ book, The Parties Vs. The People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans.   The first blog is Turning Republicans and Democrats into Americans.

Edwards advocates some very specific changes which he thinks would make for a better democracy and a better America.  Some changes he advocates seem simple –  for example, stop the practice of having separate lecterns in the House of Representatives for Democrats and Republicans and make them use one lectern to reinforce that all congressman serve the same country, not separate political parties.   He also advocates changes in how redistricting is done after every census.  Instead of redistricting being controlled by the political party in power in each state, have nonpartisan commissions do the redistricting.   This is what this year’s Ohio Issue 2 advocates for example, and while the issue has not gotten a lot of attention due to the presidential race, Edwards would say that we should vote for issue 2.

“The value of independent, nonpartisan redistricting commissions is that those competing values will be balanced on the basis of principle, not according to how they help one political party gain an electoral advantage. As Americans for Redistricting Reform notes on its website, independent redistricting commissions allow voters to choose their representatives, not the other way around.”   (Kindle1133-35)

When political parties do the redistricting, it is the party/politicians choosing their voters rather than voters choosing their representatives.

Another issue for Edwards is that the rise of the two political parties has caused us to have a more parliamentary system of government and it weakens the constitutionally defined three independent branches of government.

“As the nation has grown and issues have become increasingly complex, and as the rise of broadcast media has tended to focus national attention more narrowly on the presidency, Congress has increasingly failed to grasp that it is a separate and independent branch of government with a constitutional obligation to serve as a check on the executive. Instead, members of the president’s party have tended to see him as their “leader,” and members of the other party have seen him as the opposition, to be stymied whenever possible.”  (Kindle Loc. 1398-1402)

The congress is supposed to be a branch of government independent of the presidency and its purpose is to balance the government so the executive branch does not have too much power.  But the current political party system is pushing members of congress and the senate to stay completely loyal to their party and to the president if he is of their same party.  But in so doing the separation of powers is violated, and instead of the branches balancing each other, the legislative branch can be reduced to being a tool of the executive branch.  This is a clear way in which the political parties are against the interest of the people and of the constitution.

The growing power of the two major political parties has also interfered with the work of the congress itself according to Edwards:

“The United States House of Representatives does not operate according to Robert’s Rules of Order. It adopts its own rules, and one of them allows the Rules Committee, heavily dominated by the majority party, to determine which bills can be brought before the entire House for consideration and what amendments, if any, can be debated. No matter how many members of the minority party may support a proposal—fifty, eighty, one hundred, two hundred—the majority can simply refuse to let the bill be considered. If the majority brings a bill to the floor, the minority can be prevented from even attempting to amend it. Here’s how: If a bill is brought to the floor under an “open” rule, debate is free-flowing and there is no restriction on the ability of members to propose changes in the legislation under consideration. If the Rules Committee presents a “modified open” rule, only a limited number of amendments are permitted; those that are to be considered are specifically identified, and time for their consideration is strictly limited. Under a “closed” rule, House members are given the option of voting for or against the legislation, but without any opportunity to offer improvements or changes.”  (Kindle Loc. 1702-11)

Though the House sets its own rules, the two major political parties have found a set of rules that makes the majority party even more powerful.    This too according to Edwards is to the benefit of the parties but not the people.  And since each party sets the rule when it is in the majority it feeds and fosters the partisanship and polarization which then paralyzes the government.

Edwards says the polarization is further fed by the fact that the politicians have very little information which they share in common.  Rather the congressmen listen only to their party’s spin on things.  This results in what he calls the “’Myside bias’—choosing the “fact” that validates your side’s position.”

‘It’s that ‘myside bias’—the tendency to judge a statement according to how conveniently it fits with one’s settled position—is pervasive among all of America’s political groups.’  In other words, given a set of possible conclusions, politicians, like the rest of us, will choose not the one that comports with dispassionate analysis but the one that fits their own preconceptions.”  (Kindle Loc. 2334-37)

Democracy requires an ability to debate, listen to various viewpoints on an issue and then to decide which one idea is the best for the country.  Governance in democracy requires that people adjust to majority rule.  It requires politicians to be able to make compromises so that the government and a diverse society can function.  But if each political party adopts its own facts and refuses to accept majority rule, then the government and the nation become paralyzed and the union is threatened.   In the past this was dealt with by cessation from the union.  Today the split is not between states but between political parties that cross state lines.  Cessation is not viable though some want to divide the map between blue and red states, perhaps hoping those of the other party can be placed on reservations in each state.

Edwards solution is to vote for people who are willing to work with others to create the government that works.  His proposals aim at restoring a sense that we are Americans, and in the vast land of democratic ideals there is plenty of room for divergence and forming alliances that get legislation and budgets adopted, as well as budgets balanced and debts reduced.

Next:  Democrats Vs Republicans and E Pluribus Unum?

Memory Eternal

My father, Vladimir Bobosh, fell asleep in the Lord this morning.

I learned from him especially the value of honesty, integrity and humor.  As a young teen he ran away from home, not happy there.  In his last year he frequently expressed a desire to go home.   Hopefully, now he has found his way home to the Father who always loved him.

Grampa enjoying some of his grandkids

Vladimir Bobosh, 1921-2012

My sermon notes from his funeral are at Reflection on Being Dust.

Sexual Misconduct PSPs for Police and Priests

Inasmuch as I have been involved in working on the OCA’s sexual misconduct policies, I have paid some attention to the news regarding policies adopted by other agencies including non-church agencies.  I recently was directed to a webpage dealing with law enforcement and sexual abuse.  Any agency which has “power” over others has to be aware that such power is also abused.  So I found the document, Addressing Sexual Offenses and Misconduct by Law Enforcement: Executive Guide, to be interesting.  As a victim of police sexual misconduct says,

“I feel that I have been given a life sentence… I frequently have intrusive memories of the assault… I cringe every time I see… a male officer in uniform, or a law enforcement vehicle. I am not the same person I was before the assault and I might never be that person again.”   —Survivor of Sexual Assault by Law Enforcement

People who have power over others can be viewed with great respect or fear, but when they abuse their power and violate ethical norms they can cause long lasting harm to others.  This is what clergy must remember as well, for a clergyman who engages in sexual misconduct violates all issues of trust and morality and can destroy the faith others have in the church and in God.

From the law enforcement document, I want to point out a few things that I think are pertinent to the church’s efforts to have effective policy in dealing with sexual misconduct.  This document for law enforcement says each law enforcement agency is to have standards of conduct for dealing with sexual abuse:

“It is the agency executive’s responsibility to foster an environment in which ethical behavior is expected and each member of the department is held accountable for meeting those standards.”  —Chief Russ Martin, Delaware Police Department, OH

It is the leadership of an organization which has to set the standards of conduct.  If the leadership is lax then the organization in general will not take the issue of sexual misconduct seriously.  So changing the culture of an organization requires the leadership to lead on this issue.

“Within the policing profession some conditions of the job may inadvertently create opportunities for sexual misconduct. Law enforcement officers (1) have power and authority over others; (2) work independently; (3) sometimes function without direct supervision; (4) often work late into the night when their conduct is less in the public eye; and (5) engage with vulnerable populations who lack power and are often perceived as less credible (e.g., juveniles, crime victims, undocumented people, and those with addictions and mental illness).”

These same conditions which “may inadvertently create opportunities for sexual misconduct” among law enforcement are equally true among clergy.   Clergy also most frequently work alone with little supervision in their daily activities, they work all kinds of hours and with all kinds of people so it is easy for them to hide misbehavior or to keep it out of the public eye.

“Any type of officer misconduct erodes trust in, and respect for, the profession. When a leader fails to ensure the adequate monitoring of officer actions or disregards complaints or concerns about officer conduct, the department in effect condones the misconduct and enables it to proliferate. It is the leader’s responsibility to ensure that policies to address and prevent sexual offenses are implemented; that all employees regularly receive effective training … and that roles, responsibilities, and professional standards are communicated clearly and reinforced consistently throughout the department.”

The leadership (in the case of the church – in parishes, the priests and in dioceses, the bishops) is responsible for monitoring conduct and for ensuring that policies and standards are maintained.  It is a discipline, and one would think in the church where we are to be disciples, we would understand the importance of discipline when it comes to misconduct.  Failure to uphold high standards leads to a lowering of standards.

“[S]exual misconduct that is not documented, investigated and adjudicated often escalates.”  —Lonsway, Kimberly A., “Preventing and Responding to Police Sexual Misconduct,” Law and Order, Herndon Publishing Co., 2009, p. 2

Law enforcement agencies are called to establish and enforce their own codes of conduct in dealing with sexual abuse:

“It is imperative to have procedures in place in order to effectively handle incident reports or complaints concerning officers. The process must be:

1. comprehensive, where an agency investigates all complaints received, including those that are anonymous or from third parties;

2. accessible, where the procedures for making a report or filing a complaint are streamlined and not burdensome to the individual complainant and information about the rights of law enforcement personnel and the public to file a complaint and the procedures for doing so are widely available;

3. fair, where the officer accused of misconduct is treated respectfully and receives a detailed investigation into the allegation;

4. thorough, where the investigation is complete enough to determine validity of complaints and identify and unfound those that are false; and

5. transparent, where a formal process to accept complaints exists, and all personnel know how to handle a complaint.”

 Those who doubt that the church needs strict policies and accountability, need only consider that every agency in America today has to deal with these same issues or they will suffer the loss and consequences in courts of law, even the police.

The church’s policies are formed not in a vacuum, but in the context of the society in which we live.

“Collaboration with victim service agencies in the community can encourage the reporting of incidents. Victim advocates need to know that the department takes allegations seriously and wants to receive information about any incidents or offenses, with the consent of the victim, even if communicated through a third party.”

The church which believes there are standards of behavior set by God is expected by society to live up to societal standards of ethical behavior.  We in the church have to set an expectation that our bishops and priests will abide by the standards set up in church policy, will enforce those policies and will ensure through proper discipline of those who violate these standards and policies that there is a zero tolerance for any sexual misconduct by clergy.

A list of other blogs I’ve posted on church sexual misconduct with links to them can be found at Blogs on Church Sexual Misconduct.

Turning Republicans and Democrats into Americans

I am not much energized by the partisan and polarized politics plaguing and poisoning the public discourse in America (that is my alliterative analysis, I know some would say what we observe is democracy at work).  I keep wondering if there is some kind of change that can be made to the system to make it more effective in solving America’s problems.  I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it all, but I found  Mickey Edwards The Parties Vs. The People to be an interesting read because it offers some ideas for changing the way we do things.

Mickey Edwards is a former Republican Congressman from Oklahoma (he is a former congressman, he is I think still a Republican).  The subtitle of his book, How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans, tells us his theme.  Edwards too has found partisanship and polarization to have moved to an unhealthy level in our country.  He has set out in this book to address what he sees as a leading cause of the problem with American politics: the two major political parties (two private clubs or organizations is how Edwards characterizes them) have too much power in America.  His book title suggests the Democrat and Republican Parties (two private organizations) are taking away the constitutionally guaranteed power of the people by creating a system in which only the two Parties have all the power.  The parties run (and rig) the elections and run both houses of congress as well.

“Ours is a system that has become focused not on collective problem-solving but on a struggle for power between two private organizations.”  (Kindle 365-66)

As Edwards sees it politicians have forgotten their loyalty is to the United States of America and instead have replaced this with a loyalty to a political party.  When congressmen and women take office, they swear an allegiance to uphold the Constitution.

“The oath of office requires loyalty to the Constitution—not to the president, to a political party, or to any outside organization demanding fealty. No man or woman should enter Congress with divided loyalties. It is time for every candidate to refuse to sign any pledge, or take any oath, other than to ‘fully discharge the duties upon which they are about to enter. So help me God.’”  (Kindle Loc. 2282-85)

Edwards says those driving partisan politics in America demand their  candidates to swear allegiance to the party’s platform (for example, those who are forced to take Grover Norquist’s pledge not to raise taxes).  Edwards sees this as compromising the congressman making them incapable of governing in a democracy because their loyalty is first to their political party and only secondly to America as a nation.

Litmus tests of loyalty are regularly administered to congressional candidates to pressure them to remain 100% loyal to the party or the president or some outside organization.  This is a conflict of interest in Edward’s view.  Those elected to congress are there to serve the public interest not their party’s interest.  Thus Edwards is working to change Republicans and Democrats into Americans.  The polarized, partisan politics are not serving our nation well.  But the parties have become institutionalized and exist now to preserve their power.

“We Americans believe in choice. In almost every facet of our lives, from soups to soaps to stereos, we expect, and demand, multiple options. How strange it is that in the area that counts far more than any of these and that determines how much we will pay in taxes, what government services we will receive, and even whether our sons or daughters or husbands or wives or brothers or sisters will be sent off to fight and possibly die on a foreign battlefield, we allow two private organizations whose principal goal is the gaining and keeping of power (Republican and Democratic party leaders generally support their club’s nominees, almost regardless of their political beliefs) to tell us that on election day we are allowed to choose between only the two people they have told us we must choose between.”  (Kindle Loc. 760-65)

The two politic parties have taken control of American politics and thus of the American government.  Party control of politics is not what the founding fathers wished for our nation.

“But the government is working just as we’ve designed it to work, not for debate and deliberation but as a vehicle for partisan advantage-seeking. It takes no genius to understand why things are the way they are: we have created a political system that rewards intransigence. Democracy requires divergence and honors dissent, but what we have today is not mere divergence and does not deserve the label “dissent”; it’s a nasty battle for dominance, and it’s often the dominance not of an idea or a great principle but of a private club that demands undeviating fealty.”  (Kindle Loc. 2463-67)

Edwards works with organizations trying to change the lock the two parties have on American government.

“But here’s the thing: the leaders of those clubs will not voluntarily surrender the enormous power we have allowed them to accumulate. They can draw congressional districts to suit themselves, they can keep potential candidates off the ballot, and they can tell elected members of Congress that their views don’t matter. In what way, exactly, does this resemble “democracy”? Do the holders of such powers ever willingly relinquish them? So egregious is the hold parties have over our election and governing systems that when they execute their closed primaries to choose their preferred candidates (and to keep others off the ballot), it is we, through our tax dollars, who pay for them to limit our choices.”  (Kindle Loc. 2491-96)’

Edwards’ book is not merely descriptive, it is a call to Americans to take their government back from the hands of political parties and professionals.

“It is time to break free of the power these private clubs exercise over us and to tell them that they can no longer be in charge of drawing congressional district lines; that they can no longer keep potential candidates off the ballot just because they haven’t been blessed by party activists; that they must allow divergent ideas to be debated and voted upon; and that they must pay for their own club events. We need that money for our schools and roads and health care expenses.”  (Kindle Loc. 2498-2501)

Edwards does not oppose political parties and continues to belong to one.  His criticism is that the two major political parties have taken over our system and reshaped it to maintain their party’s power.  Edwards says the Founding Fathers didn’t create the two party system nor was our democracy designed to operate effectively with two adversarial powers who each want to maintain their power.

Washington resigned his commission for the good of the country. Political Parties should follow his great example.

Next:  Turning Democrats and Republicans into Americans

Death Benefits

Adam & Eve Expelled from Paradise

While death is described in the New Testament as the last enemy to be destroyed by God (1 Corinthians 15:26), some saints who emphasized the love and mercy of God saw death as not as a punishment for sin, but God’s own way of preventing evil from continuing forever.  Death stops a human from continuing to sin and gives each human a chance to repent and return to God.

Writing about St. Isaac the Syrian, Bishop Hilarion Alfayev says:

“… Isaac considered death a blessing in that it intrinsically contains the potential of future resurrection; and the exile from paradise as beneficial, since instead of receiving a ‘small portion of the earth’, humankind was given all of creation as its possession. This approach to the biblical text is based on the exegetical tradition of Theodore of Mopsuestia, according to whom death was profitable for human beings because it opened to them a way to repentance and restoration.”   (Hilarion Alfeyev, The Spiritual World of St. Isaac the Syrian, pgs. 285-286)

Boy Scouts: Lessons from their Secret Files

Stories of how the Boy Scouts organization dealt with sexual abuse through the past decades are now surfacing as their secret files have been made public.  While there are many stories being published, this blog is going to quote from a story that appeared in my local paper, The DAYTON DAILY NEWS.

My interest in the story is not so much about the Boy Scouts and that institution but more the implications, if any, for how the Church deals with sexual misconduct.  What we see in the news about the BSA,   as in the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky case, sexual abuse can occur wherever there are kids present.  it is not religious institutions which have a penchant for child sex abuse but rather predators find their way to organizations where they can have access to children.  The temptation and tendency by institutional leaders to protect the institution and downplay the problems is prevalent in church and non-church institutions.

I am quoting from the Dayton Daily News story, Boy Scout Files Reveal Local Abuse.    (I have added the red highlight in the text to emphasize the part of the quote that I thought has implications for the Church’s handling of sexual misconduct).

The files reveal that some alleged pedophiles across the country and locally continued in scouting even after allegations were leveled against them. In several cases, community leaders such as judges and pastors helped keep the name of scouting out of the courts or the media, according to an Associated Press review of the files.

At the time, those authorities justified their actions as necessary to protect the good name and good works of Scouting, a pillar of 20th century America.”

The fact that scouting leaders were allowed to continue in positions even after allegations emerged against them is shocking and yet sadly is a common story told about the church and other institutions as well.  NOTE:  it is considered shocking that ALLEGED pedophiles were kept in positions after allegations were leveled against them.  Never mind convicted pedophiles.  The mere fact that men were allowed to keep working in the BSA after allegations were made is shocking to the author of the article as it is to current public sentiment.  Once allegations are made, organizations are expected to take action – not wait to see if the allegations are substantiated.  The protection of children trumps the protection of the reputation of the leaders.    Standards now call for such people to be removed from contact with the kids immediately following an allegation and during the duration of a full investigation.   Organizations are expected to have policies and mechanisms in place for dealing with allegations which include removing the accused from contact with children.

According to the news article, “good” people felt it necessary to protect the name of the BSA and so they worked to prevent the stories from being made public rather than warning the public about the stories.   This has become completely unacceptable to the police and the public.  Civil lawsuits in many church cases have gone against church organizations precisely because they failed to warn their members about suspected pedophiles.

To protect the good name of the church or the organization has too often been why the church and other institutions failed to be transparent about such allegations.  That is also listed as a reason why action was not taken in the Penn State case according to the Freeh commission.  It may be that at one time people saw as “good intention” efforts to prevent stories of sexual abuse from becoming public knowledge.  Such efforts to conceal these crimes today is seen as criminal itself.

“At a news conference Thursday, Portland attorney Kelly Clark blasted the Boy Scouts for their continuing legal battles to try to keep the files secret.

You do not keep secrets hidden about dangers to children,’ said Clark, who in 2010 won a landmark lawsuit against the Boy Scouts on behalf of a plaintiff who was molested by an assistant scoutmaster in the 1980s.”

The protection of the public from evil and harm is expected to be part of the mission of the church and every public institution.  No matter what PR problems it may cause, the Church must be transparent about sexual misconduct in the church, especially related to children.  We cannot withhold from the public information that might help protect children.  Rather, the Church must find ways to go public with what it knows about sexual abuse and to actively seek witnesses and information about sexual abuse it suspects within the church.  Current standards would say it is not enough for a church to acknowledge one of its clergy engaged in sexual misconduct.  Now the church is expected to publicly ask anyone with information regarding sexual misconduct to come forward.  The institution may fear such an invite exposes the church to further bad publicity and to further liability if more allegations come forward.  The Church especially should live by the notion that God is not mocked – we cannot hide our misdeeds from Him, and neither should we attempt to conceal criminal behavior in the church for in doing this we expose more people to harm.

In many instances — more than a third, according to the Scouts’ own count — police weren’t told about the reports of abuse. And even when they were, sometimes local law enforcement still did nothing, seeking to protect the name of Scouting over their victims.”

The OCA’s policies do require that proper civil authorities be informed when sexual abuse involves children or whenever the law would require a report to be made.  Church leaders, including parish priests, teachers and parish council members, have to make themselves familiar with state laws to know when and what to report.  Not tolerating any instances of sexual misconduct is the best offense against them.

“The documents reveal that on many occasions the files succeeded in keeping pedophiles out of Scouting leadership positions — the reason why they were collected in the first place. But the files are also littered with horrific accounts of alleged pedophiles who were able to continue in Scouting because of pressure from community leaders and local Scouts officials.”

People don’t want to believe that someone who is “such a good man” could do sexual abuse.  People don’t want the name of the institution besmirched.  There are many reasons why people might pressure others to be silent.   Lesson learned is that all allegations must be taken seriously – which means investigated with written reports recorded about their findings.

“The files also document other troubling patterns. There is little mention in the files of concern for the welfare of Scouts who were abused by their leaders, or what was done for the victims. But there are numerous documents showing compassion for alleged abusers, who were often times sent to psychiatrists or pastors to get help.”

OUCH.   Compassion for the abusers but not for the victims.  Especially in the church there is a pressure and tendency to “forgive” the abusers while paying less attention to the victims.

We see how institutions of all kinds, not just church ones, respond in similar ways to reports of abuse:  protect the institution, shield the big names within the institution, don’t let people know about the abuse to prevent others from being scandalized.   Even if these were acceptable ideas at one time, they are no longer acceptable nor do they represent any standard of behavior for institutions and organizations.  Church leaders have to commit themselves to bringing the church up to the standards of the day.