Clergy Responsibility in Sexual Misconduct

In the previous blog, Standards of Conduct for Clergy, we saw that the OCA has endeavored in its Policy, Standards and Procedures to set out the case that all clergy bear a special moral burden due to the fact that their position in the church and society places them in a role of power vis- a-vis others in the church, whether these others are members or not.   Clergy must consciously keep themselves aware of the power inherent in their position for when they forget that power they become at risk to abuse or misuse it.  The OCA’s PSP state:

 “No member of the clergy shall use or exploit his position in connection with his sexual or emotional needs or desires.”

Every human has emotional needs and desires.  Clergy who allow their own emotional needs or desires to take control of their lives are at risk for engaging in sexual misconduct precisely because their role gives them “power” in a relationship.  Even if they are personally unaware of their own psycho-sexual drives, clergy who exploit their position to meet their own emotional and sexual needs and desires are engaging in sexual misconduct.   While the PSP forbids such behavior, it cannot stop an individual from acting.  That is why there has to be disciplinary measures taken against those clergy who cannot or will not control their own desires and needs.  Because the clergy role is always one of power, it is better that those who cannot control their sexual and emotional needs (or who are controlled by them)  be removed from a clerical position by church discipline so that they do not harm others.  The PSP further states:

“Members of the clergy should be aware of and not disregard any signs of sexual boundary breakdown in relationships with others.”

The burden for maintaining relational and sexual boundaries thus fall on the clergy themselves.  It is the clergy themselves who bear the responsibility and the consequences should they disregard or ignore the sexual boundaries that must be maintained between clergy and those with whom they work in the church.  This is the “special moral burden” of the clergy.   The “power” the clergy has in its relationship with others, is not simply ‘over’ the lives of others, but is also exhibited through self-control, self-restraint and self-denial.  Again, if the clergy cannot control themselves and exceed the necessary sexual and emotional boundaries between themselves and others in the church, then the Church itself must step in and place disciplinary controls on the clergy, including suspension and permanently removing them from office.   The PSP implies that each clergyman himself is responsible for violations of the moral boundaries between himself and others:

“Any member of the clergy who finds himself at risk of probable acts of sexual misconduct in response to an inappropriate sexual or romantic attraction or impulse, or for any other reason, shall immediately seek counsel and pastoral guidance from an individual trained and experienced in the field.”

This of course assumes the clergyman has enough self-awareness and emotional maturity to recognize that he is crossing the lines and boundaries of appropriate behavior between a clergyman and others in the church.  Again, if the man shows himself not exhibiting such self-awareness and restraint, it is the duty of the Church to remove that person from office in order to protect the welfare of others in the church.  It is never pleasant for the Church to have to remove a bishop, priest or deacon from office, but it is the moral obligation of the Church as institution to take such actions to protect the public, all church members, the dignity of the clergy, and thus the Church itself.

None of this is exactly new.   One can look at the so-called Arabic Canons attributed to the Council of Nicea (325AD)  to see that problems of clergy sexual misconduct occurred in ancient times as well.  Canon IV comments  on the cohabitation of women with celibate bishops, presbyters, and deacons:

We decree that bishops shall not live with women; nor shall a presbyter who is a widower; neither shall they escort them; nor be familiar with them, nor gaze upon them persistently.  And the same decree is made with regard to every celibate priest, and the same concerning such deacons as have no wives.  And this is to be the case whether the woman be beautiful or ugly, whether a young girl or beyond the age of puberty, whether great in birth, or an orphan taken out of charity under pretext of bringing her up.  For the devil with such arms slays religious, bishops, presbyters, and deacons, and incites them to the fires of desire.  But if she be an old woman, and of advanced age, or a sister, or mother, or aunt, or grandmother, it is permitted to live with these because such persons are free from all suspicion of scandal.

Bishops and other celibate clergy are forbidden not just from having sex with women, but from escorting women, or being familiar with them or gazing persistently upon them.   Really these celibate clergy are not to keep company with woman, nor establish friendships with them.   The burden is on the clergymen – this is the cross he must bear himself, or leave the clergy or be removed from the clerical ranks by the Church.  The punishment for violating the canon will fall on the clergymen.  While this particular canon deals with celibate clergy, we can extrapolate from one such canon a moral sense that applies to married clergy as well.  “For the devil with such arms slays religious, bishops, presbyters, and deacons, and incites them to the fires of desire.”   The fires of desire which the devil incites can be heterosexual or homosexual or pedophile.  To be overcome by those desires for a clergyman means to have lost his ability to continue as a clergy.   All clergy must be “free from all suspicion of scandal.”  That too is part of the special moral burden which clergy bear.

The OCA’s PSP on clergy sexual misconduct do follow modern sensitivities and high standards of conduct.  For example, the PSP forbids not only sexual abuse but also sexual harassment:

“Sexual harassment means any unwelcome written, spoken, or physical sexual advance or conduct; … and any use or exploitation, by a layperson, of a supervisory position or other position of authority in connection with such person’s sexual or emotional needs or desires.”

It is clergy who have to lead the way in stopping sexual harassment in society. Whereas sexual harassment may not have been a recognized form of misconduct in the ancient world, it is not only considered immoral, it is illegal in our society.

Sexual Harassment:   It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.

Clergy should be setting the standards that others can follow.  This includes such things as   lewd jokes, sexually suggestive text messages and emails, comments demeaning of a gender, inappropriate contact or other forms of communications which might make others feel uncomfortable.

Clergy are forbidden from attempting to develop a sexual relationship with someone with whom they have a pastoral relationship.  Again the PSP is clear this is a clergy responsibility and the clergyman is the one who bears the blame and all disciplinary consequences for his failure in self-control.   It is the clergyman who must maintain awareness of and control of his own sexual and emotional needs and not allow them to influence his behavior toward any other person in the church.  As the OCA’s PSP on Sexual Misconduct states:

“Pastoral sexual abuse means the initiation, continuation, or pursuit of a sexual relationship by clergy involving a person with whom he has a pastoral relationship even if the relationship is consensual, or the use or exploitation of his position in connection with his sexual or emotional needs or desires.”

See also Consequences for Clergy Sexual Misconduct in the OCA