The POLICIES, STANDARDS, AND PROCEDURES OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH IN AMERICA ON SEXUAL MISCONDUCT were established to guide the OCA in how to deal with issues of sexual misconduct within the church. The “Guiding Principles on Allegations of Sexual Misconduct” state:
“The Church will take all allegations of sexual misconduct seriously, and will promptly respond to all allegations. It will report allegations in accordance with the civil laws of any jurisdiction where an act of sexual misconduct is alleged to have occurred, and will cooperate in accordance with civil and canon law in any investigation by civil authorities. The Church will reach out to the victims of sexual misconduct and their families to provide for their spiritual well-being and healing. The diocesan hierarch, in exercising his duties, has both pastoral and disciplinary responsibilities.”
All allegations will be taken seriously – the Church has a concern for its members and must be concerned when anyone in the church or in the name of the church abuses their powers and causes harm to others. The church promises to respond promptly to allegations and to reach out to the victims of sexual misconduct. There is much room for improvement in the Church on these issues. Taking complaints seriously does not mean every complaint will be substantiated. It only means the Church must always listen to the voice of its members. Misconduct is not new in life or the church. What perhaps is new is a public unwillingness to accept that such misconduct does exist and also a distrust of the Church to openly and proactively deal with these issues. Discipline has at times been lax in the Church.
The OCA declares itself interested in justice and accountability in these cases:
“The Church will strive to see that justice is done. The innocent must be protected while those responsible for sexual misconduct must be held accountable. Just as the rights of victims must be respected and secured by the Church, the work and ministries of clergy and laypersons must not be impaired by unfounded accusations. Fundamental principles of fairness must not be compromised either way. The Church’s pastoral concern in this respect shall be directed to both complainants and respondents.”
“Fairness” as we know is hard to achieve in anything. Most people feel whatever doesn’t work to their advantage is not fair. Yet the Church has committed itself in its own PSP to fairness, to treat fairly both complainants and respondents. This is no easy task as the Church has an obligation also to protect its members from predators. The Church is to be fair and yet recognizes that the clergy’s relationship to others in the Church is one of power. So fairness does not mean everyone gets treated equally. Those with power have an extra burden of responsibility within a community of unequal relationships.
The bishops of the church bear the responsibility of enforcing this discipline in the church. The OCA has spelled out what is to happen when a clergyman of any rank is found to have violated the PSP on sexual misconduct:
Discipline of Clergy: (a) If clergy are found to have engaged in act of sexual misconduct, the Bishop shall impose appropriate disciplinary action in accordance with the canons of the Holy Orthodox Church.
(b) Any member of the clergy who admits or is found to have committed child sexual abuse shall be suspended by the applicable Bishop, shall be deposed by the Holy Synod of Bishops, and shall be permanently prohibited from exercising any functions or responsibilities of parish ministry. Any report to any law enforcement or social service agency required to be made by reason of the admission or finding shall be made. Such conduct shall be conclusive grounds for him to be deposed as set forth herein.
Child sexual abuse is particularly reprehensible and is treated differently than other forms of sexual abuse. The OCA’s PSP do not allow a clergyman guilty of the sexual abuse of a child to return to ministry in the church. This is not negotiable.
In the next blog, we will look at what the OCA’s policy is for dealing with sexual misconduct other than child sexual abuse.