Archbishop Seraphim’s Trial Begins

SeraphimWinnipeg news outlets are reporting that the sexual abuse trial of the OCA’s former Archbishop of Canada, Seraphim (Storheim) has begun.  The Winnipeg Sun reports, “Sex abuse trial for former Orthodox archbishop Seraphim Storheim begins.”  The Winnipeg Free Press said, “Ex-altar boy tells archbishop’s Winnipeg sex assault trial he felt ‘disgusted’”. 

It is only with the trial’s beginning that some details about the allegation are coming forth.  A court ordered publication ban prevents certain details from being released since those making the allegations were minors at the time the events were claimed to have occurred.  Archbishop Seraphim was still a parish priest when the alleged abuse occurred between 1984-1987.  He became a bishop in 1987.

We will soon learn what the Crown is able to prove regarding the case and how Archbishop Seraphim will be judged by the court.  Whatever is proven in court, the Orthodox Church in America will still and also have to render a judgment on Archbishop Seraphim and whether anything he did violated church canons and requires a church court or church discipline.  The OCA has chosen to let the Crown make its case and judgment first before dealing with the case in the church.  This was partly necessary perhaps because the OCA did not have all of the details of the case which are only now being revealed.  Still the OCA needs to review its own inner culture that allowed the events to be ignored for so long without opening an investigation into the allegations.

LOGOObviously, there is a tragedy here, no matter what decision the court renders.  There is of course the possibility of sexual abuse of two at that time 10 year old boys.  Even if that is not proven in court, there are issues of possible pastoral indiscretion which the OCA may have to deal with or a failure to take seriously a complaint and investigate it.  Some aspects of the story and allegations were known about the time they occurred according the mother of the two men who claims to have contacted church authorities though not the police.    Unfortunately, the allegations were not investigated at that time, and those who knew of the allegations apparently did not follow through in dealing with them.  According to the news story, one of the men making the allegations now suffers from mental health problems – which may count against him in the eyes of a jury as the defense attorney attacks his credibility.  Whether the mental health problems preceded the alleged events or are somehow related to them may be another issue which must be determined.  Meanwhile the Archdiocese of  Canada has to suffer the trauma of watching its longtime leader be put on trial.  There are no winners in such cases for even if justice is done, there are still victims of abuse and in our fallen world there are abusers, even in church.  There is the difficult additional tragedy of a church which perhaps did not respond as well as it could to the allegations or how to handle them, the alleged victims or the alleged perpetrator.  Some aspects of the allegations were known almost 30 years ago, but only were brought to light 5-6 years ago.   Then there are also the family members of all those involved as well, and what they have suffered.   Many wounds to be tended to and many victims in need of care.  We do need at a minimum to pray for all that God might establish truth and justice on the road to His healing the wounds of all those hurt by these events.

Enabling Sexual Misconduct

For the past four years, serving on the OCA’s Sexual Misconduct Policy Advisory Committee has heightened my awareness of issues related to sexual abuse in general and more specifically clergy sexual misconduct in the church.  I have paid more attention to news stories about such misconduct and abuse and have read more material about the issue, trying to discern what are the appropriate policies for dealing with sexual misconduct in the church, especially that which is done by clergy.  We are trying to enforce policies that will bring an end to a culture of willful silence which might enable misconduct to be inflicted upon vulnerable victims.

Recently, while visiting my son in Washington, DC, I went to the Corcoran Gallery of Art.  There I saw a painting that for me captured what happens both in society and in the church when leadership engages in sexual misconduct.  The painting by Robert Morris was done in 1989 and is titled, Private Silence/Public Violence.

I really don’t know what Morris intended to convey in his work, but it did make me think about sexual misconduct in the church, though the painting has not the hint of sexual anything.

The painting caught my eye because I thought, “Yes, that’s it exactly…  Privately, clergy and perhaps men in general choose to stay silent when we observe other men/clergy engaging in sexual harassment, inappropriate sexual conversation or sexual misconduct.  We create an unreal world in which we pretend or we delude ourselves into thinking nothing bad is happening while maintaining our image of ourselves that we are normal, decent men.   But our silence, our failure or refusal to confront bad behavior, enables the misconduct to continue.  We thus tacitly allow victims to be harmed while by our silence approve of what is happening.  It takes courage to speak, and it takes good men choosing not to remain silent to bring an end to transgression.   Sexual harassment as all sexual misconduct is trespassing.

There are many things in the painting that seem so perfect to me in speaking to sexual dereliction.  The characters are all male and in the reflection at least smartly dressed.  They appear to me to be just having stood up and beginning to applaud what they see.  Perhaps they are watching something pass by – but they are also looking at their own reflection.  The reality is their thinking is fuzzy, distorted, confused – they see themselves in far better light than they really are.  The reality is there is blood on their hands as indicated in the red blur, but in their self image, all is clear.   The victims of their behavior don’t even appear in the painting, as I think is true of what one would see in the minds of those who commit sexual misconduct and of those who enable it: the victims don’t exist and they never imagine the victims as fellow human beings.  How often perpetrators of sexual wrongdoing deny there are any victims – they don’t exist because the abusers use stealth self-deception to make them invisible.

It is a private silence for it is not openly discussed – rarely is anyone ordering someone else not to talk about it.  The secrecy is mutually shared and necessary to maintain the facade that we are good men,  not engaging in sin, but behaving as men always behave.

For me, the painting captures what happens in the church in the case of clergy sexual misconduct, especially if we think the misconduct is ‘not that bad’ or barely constitutes misbehavior.  It is  a consciously chosen silence of our hearts and minds that distorts reality but allows us to see ourselves as well behaved and laudable.  Collectively we are like Narcissus looking at his own reflection and falling in love with that reflection, oblivious to what everyone else can see, but trapped in a mirror which reflects the reality we wish to be.

The words of our Savior eerily come to mind:

This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.  With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which says:

‘You shall indeed hear but never understand, and you shall indeed see but never perceive.  For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn for me to heal them.”   (Matthew 13:13-15)

Some may object that these words were directed to the Jews.  But during Lent one only has to pay attention to the liturgical poetry and hymns of our church (especially like St. Andrew of Crete) to know that an Orthodox and Patristic way of reading Scripture is to search for their spiritual meaning – namely, how the ancient text can be applied to our lives today.

Blogs on Sexual Misconduct in the Church

For the past several years, I served on the OCA’s Sexual Misconduct Policy Advisory Committee.  That work has caused me to think about and pay attention to news about sexual misconduct in religious organizations and also in other secular institutions.  In that time I’ve written several blogs about sexual misconduct in the church.  Often these were reactions to things I read which I thought had implications for our life in the church and how we deal with sin and evil, especially among the bishops, priest and deacons of the church.  Below are links to many of these blogs.  They are listed approximately in chronological order with the oldest/earliest blogs at the bottom and more recent blogs at the top of the list.   The blogs offer little in terms of details about cases in the OCA as they were written generically to discuss church issues related to church sexual misconduct.  Confidentiality concerns mean I didn’t create a scandal blog to attract church scandal voyeurs who want to know the latest dirt.  The blogs were written to examine policy, standards and procedures, not as titillating but of more importance to the work of the Church.

Tempting Those With Power

Disturbing the Predator

Mathematics and Sexual Misconduct: 2/0 = ?

Diocese of the Midwest’s Discussion on Sexual Misconduct

Reflection on our Diocese – the Situation with Bishop Matthias

Saints, Sinners and Sexual Misconduct in the Church

Nothing Hurts

Love Beyond the Veil of Rain

Sexual Misconduct PSPs for Police and Priests

Boy Scouts: Lesson from Their Secret Files

Consequences for Clergy Sexual Misconduct and Consequences for Clergy Sexual Misconduct (II) 

Standards of Conduct for Clergy and Clergy Responsibility in Sexual Misconduct 

Freeh:  Institutional Failure to Deal with Sexual Abuse

The Limits of Dealing with Sexual Abuse in the Church

Lessons from Sexual Abuse Convictions

  Lessons Learned on Sexual Misconduct from Penn State

Clergy Sexual Abuse is also Child Endangering

Sexual Abuse in the Church: Lesson from the Roman Catholic Scandal

Sexual Abuse in the Church: The Converging of Church and State

Sexual Misconduct in the Church:  Where Truth, Justice and Wisdom Meet

Christian Sexual Abuse: Apostasy of the Worst Kind

Sexual Abuse in the Church

Taking a Page from the Old Coach’s Book

State Wants to Hold Bishop Accountable for Priest’s Misdeeds , Holding Bishops Accountable for Clergy Misconduct and In the Church, Not of the Church

Canonical Ordination and Deposition

Questioning God About Sex Abuse in the Church

Culture War Vs. Spiritual Warfare

Archbishop Seraphim of Canada Arrested

Allegations and Accusations

Celibacy and Sobriety

Episcopal Celibacy and Residency

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.


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


Consequences for Clergy Sexual Misconduct in the OCA (II)

This blog is the conclusion to comments I began in the blog, Consequences for Clergy Sexual Misconduct in the OCA.   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 PSP spells out the following discipline for clergy who commit sexual abuse not involving children:

(c) Any member of the clergy who admits or is found to have committed acts of sexual misconduct other than child sexual abuse shall be subject to the discipline of the applicable Bishop.  If not already removed from parish ministry, the Bishop shall prohibit him from exercising such functions or responsibilities of parish ministry as the Bishop determines is appropriate. Any clergy removed from all or any part of parish ministry shall not be permitted to return thereto unless, at the minimum, the following occur, all at the individual’s own expense:

(1) The individual shall have a psychiatric assessment by a provider satisfactory to the Bishop. Based on the assessment, a treatment course shall be developed;

(2) The individual shall satisfactorily complete a long-term program of therapy as recommended in the psychiatric assessment;

(3) At regular intervals the individual shall have professional rehabilitation assessments done by a credentialed professional approved by the Bishop. The assessment shall evaluate the individual’s progress in therapy, and contain prognoses for a future return to service in the Church;

(4) During this time the individual shall have a satisfactory work history outside the Church;

(5) The individual shall make public acknowledgement of his misconduct; shall exonerate and if possible make amends to the complainant; and provide restitution, all satisfactory to the Bishop;

(6) His return to service in the Church shall be endorsed by the Bishop of the diocese where the sexual misconduct occurred and the Bishop of the Diocese where the individual proposes to return to service in the Church, if different; and

(7) His misconduct as well as his rehabilitation shall be made known to the supervisory authority where he proposes to return to Church service, and a record thereof shall be placed in his personnel file.

The bishops are tasked with removing an offending clergyman from his office and permanently removing him from the ranks of the clergy if this is the proper discipline.   If the clergyman’s offense is not such that it results in permanently removing him from the ranks of the clergy, the bishops are responsible for insuring that he is not restored to his office unless he successfully completes a series of therapeutic and healing actions.  These include a professional psychiatric assessment, a long-term program of therapy and professional rehabilitation assessments done by a credentialed professional.  In other words, to be allowed to return to ministry, takes a long time.  There are no shortcuts acceptable to this process: the clergyman must successfully complete the prescribed treatment.  He is not to be restored before treatment is complete.    A clergyman removed from office for sexual misconduct should expect a long term process and a lengthy time away from active ministry.  Additionally the PSP says, “During this time the individual shall have a satisfactory work history outside the Church.”  A clergyman removed from office who hopes to be restored to office is not to be sitting around just waiting to be restored.  He has to do something productive with himself outside of the church for which an acceptable evaluation by supervisors is made.

Besides completing successfully a professional advised course of treatment, the offending clergyman must also “make public acknowledgement of his misconduct; shall exonerate and if possible make amends to the complainant; and provide restitution, all satisfactory to the Bishop.”  Part of the sign that the clergyman has successfully completed the required treatment is that he accepts responsibility for his misdeeds without in any way blaming the victim.   For a truly repentant clergyman to harbor anger against his accuser would show that he himself has not in fact repented.  It is not sorrow when one only regrets that one was caught or confronted.  True repentance means accepting blame and responsibility for what transpired.

The OCA commits itself to not just move a clergyman found guilty of sexual misconduct from one diocese to another, for its PSPs say that if a clergyman is moved to a new diocese, the bishop of the diocese in which he committed the misconduct must also endorse his restoration as a clergyman.  The bishop cannot simply be satisfied that the clergyman is no longer in his diocese – he must go on record as endorsing his restoration in any diocese.

The OCA’s policies for disciplining a bishop, priest or deacon found to have committed acts of sexual misconduct are clear that there is a process which takes a long time to fulfill.  The goal is healing – spiritual, emotional and mental. The offending clergyman must demonstrate true repentance which exonerates the victim from any blame.  The clergyman cannot be restored to office unless and until he has completed successfully and satisfactorily the professionally ordered therapeutic treatment.  All of these steps are part of the way in which the Church demonstrates its commitment to fairness and shows its concern for both victims and those guilty of sexual misconduct.  The Church endeavors not to enable an offender from simply returning to the same temptations or problems which would simply put his own salvation at risk.  The Church is interested in true repentance and true healing of its clergy who fall into sin.

See also Standards of Conduct for 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.

Consequences for Clergy Sexual Misconduct in the OCA

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.

Next:  Consequences for Clergy Sexual Misconduct in the OCA (II)

Freeh: Institutional Failure to Deal with Sexual Abuse

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh led an independent committee investigation into the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State University involving convicted sex felon Jerry Sandusky.  They published a Report today with their findings which were very critical of the climate and culture at the University which enabled the sexual abuse to continue for several years.

My interest is not so much in Penn State or the university culture in general.  Rather I take an interest in those elements of these investigations that have, at least in my mind, some relevance to the church and church administration in dealing with issues of sexual abuse.  The Penn St. case taught us that sexual abuse exists not only in the Roman Catholic Church, but rather is a societal and human problem.  Every institution, including the institutional organizations of the Orthodox church need to take a look at themselves regarding their own culture and climate regarding sexual abuse allegations.   How we deal with problems that exist within the organization has bearing on whether sexual abuse is exposed and stopped when it is first detected, or whether the attitudes of the institution enable abuse clandestinely to continue.

What follows is a section from the official report, which does have application to and implication for church organizations.  We can substitute church equivalents for the university structures and personnel mentioned in the Report to get an idea how the church would look to independent investigators dealing with an abuse scandal.  The  Report says:

The avoidance of the consequences of bad publicity Is the most significant, but not the only, cause for the failure to protect child victims and report to authorities.  The investigation also revealed:

A striking lack of empathy for child abuse victims by the most senior leaders of the University.

A failure by the Board to exercise its oversight functions in 1998 and 2001 by not having regular reporting procedures or committee structures in place to ensure disclosure to the Board of major risks to the University.

A failure by the Board to make reasonable inquiry in 2011 by not demanding details from Spanier and the General Counsel about the nature and direction of the grand jury investigation and the University’s response to the investigation.

A President who discouraged discussion and dissent.

A lack of awareness of child abuse issues, the Clery Act, and whistleblower policies and protections.

A decision by Spanier, Schultz, Paterno, and Curley to allow Sandusky to retire in 1999, not as a suspected child predator, but as a valued member of the Penn State legacy….

A football program that did not full participate in, or opted out of some University programs, including Clery Act compliance. … the football program had not been trained in their Clery Act responsibilities….

A culture of reverence for their football program that is ingrained in all levels of the campus community.

Mr. Freeh in his verbal report also said the University’s Board, “despite its duties of care and oversight of the University and its Officers – failed to create an environment which held the University’s most senior leaders accountable to it.”  The University’s president “resisted the Board’s attempt to have more transparency.”    Additionally the PSU Board “failed in its duty to make reasonable inquiry into these serious matters and to demand action by the President.”  The senior PSU officers failed to “make timely, thorough and forthright reports of these 1998 and 2001 allegations to the Board. This was a failure of governance for which the Board must also bear responsibility.”

Again, we in the church can learn from this report.  All we need to do is substitute the word “church” for “university” and put the appropriate church words/organizations/personnel in the place of the university structures and we see how it applies to church administration.

The University’s fear of bad publicity was one factor that caused it to avoid exposing the scandal.  This is a destructive temptation that every organization faces:  people will think badly of us if they find out about the scandal, so lets minimize what people find out.  This strategy backfires when the scandal becomes known and people are enraged to discover that not only did the organization fail to deal with the scandal, but it also tried to cover it up.

The church faces its own particular complication in dealing with these issues in that historically, traditionally and canonically, the church invested power in individual clergy or hierarchs, rather than in church boards.   But church organizations which are incorporated in North America, also have to answer to laws which govern corporations.   These laws as pointed out in the PSU report place much responsibility not just on the senior officers of the institution (bishops or clergy  for example) but also on the boards (or councils) which have corporate legal duties to fulfill.  Any individuals or boards which have supervisory responsibilities within the institution are going to be called to account for whether they did the appropriate supervision.   This may in the church produce clashes at times about who is accountable for the failure to deal properly with abuse problems.   This is where the church must continue to work on having clear Policies, Standards and Procedures.  For though the church is not of the world, it is in the world and does answer to civil authorities in North America.

On all levels of the church, from parish, to the diocese, to the jurisdictional authority, officers and boards have legal and fiscal responsibilities to perform their duties in dealing with issues of sexual abuse and criminal activity.  The courts themselves and juries have become increasingly impatient with the failure of religious institutions in doing due diligence in investigating allegations, in meting out appropriate discipline, and in protecting children from abuse.  These are lessons for which all of us in the church need to take notice, and to exercise our appropriate spiritual and legal duties.  Ignorance is no excuse.

The Limits of Dealing with Sexual Abuse in the Church

My blog is where I write my reflections on things I’ve read that have seemed important to me.  Sometimes I simply quote what I read without saying what the significance is to me.

Having done some work on my church’s policies and procedures related to sexual misconduct in the church, I did find a couple of questions and answers posted by Rachel Zoll of The Associated Press dated June 24, 2012, to be pertinent.

She wrote about the Philadelphia Roman Catholic monsignor who was convicted of child endangering for failing to do enough to prevent child abuse in Priest’s conviction is a first, will more follow?

The existence of sexual abuse within the church raises many questions for which the church needs to respond.  Two questions which Zoll addressed seemed particularly interesting to me:

Q: Why is it so difficult to successfully prosecute bishops and other church leaders who mishandled abuse claims?

A: Most of the abuse cases that have come to light in recent years involve allegations of wrongdoing from decades ago — far beyond the statutes of limitation for criminal charges and often for civil lawsuits. Since 2002, when the scandal broke wide open with one case in the Archdiocese of Boston, a few prosecutors have struck deals with local dioceses to avoid indictment, and eight grand juries have investigated how local dioceses responded to abuse claims. All the grand jury reports found evidence that church officials consistently protected accused clergy more than children. However, only one such report found enough evidence within time limits to prosecute a diocesan official: the Philadelphia grand jury investigation last year that led to Lynn’s conviction.

Q: If government authorities can’t prosecute the diocesan officials, can’t the church at least hold them responsible?

A: The toughened child safety policy the bishops enacted in 2002 contains a discipline plan for abusive priests, but not for the bishops who failed to report them to police. Only the pope has authority over bishops, and none has been forced out for mishandling abuse cases from decades ago.

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.

Lessons from Sexual Abuse Convictions

Two prominent cases involving sexual abuse that went to trial were resolved in court this past Friday.  The first case does not involve the church.  Former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky was found guilty on 45 of 48 counts of crimes which were committed over a fifteen year period.  The crimes include: involuntary deviate sexual intercourse; indecent assault; unlawful contact with minors; corruption of minors; endangering the welfare of children; and aggravated indecent assault.  The 23 June 2012 NEW YORK TIMES reported the story at Sandusky Guilty of Sexual Abuse of 10 Young Boys.

My interest in the story is that it does have implications for the Church as a whole, because predators are attracted to wherever children are present, even in churches.    Whereas we cannot stop every predator, we can take some measures in our parishes to encourage safety for all.  But we must always remain vigilant to what is happening in the lives of our children and fellow parish members.   As the NY TIMES reported regarding Sandusky:

“People expressed shock that a man they knew as a committed and selfless coach, a prominent fund-raiser for charity and a gregarious father figure to scores of aspiring football players and ordinary children alike could be capable of such crimes. Many, at least initially, refused to believe it.”

It is often just that disbelief that enables a predator to get away with his/her crimes.

The other story reported in the NY TIMES, Cardinal’s Aid is Found Guilty in Abuse Case, involves sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.  This case is important because Msgr. William J. Lynn was not charged directly with sexual abuse but was on trial for his role in supervising other priests, some of whom were accused of sexual misconduct.   The former cardinal’s aide was found guilty of endangering children basically for covering up sexual abuses by priests under his supervision.  The implication for our diocesan chanceries as well as the OCA’s chancery is notable.

“The trial sent a sobering message to church officials and others overseeing children around the country. ‘I think that bishops and chancery officials understand that they will no longer get a pass on these types of crimes,’ said Nicholas P. Cafardi, a professor of law at Duquesne University, a canon lawyer and frequent church adviser. ‘Priests who sexually abuse youngsters and the chancery officials who enabled it can expect criminal prosecution.’”

For example, the Roman Catholic bishop from Kansas City, Robert W. Finn,  awaits “trial on misdemeanor charges of violating the state’s mandatory reporting requirement by allegedly waiting six months to tell the police that a priest had taken lewd photographs of girls.”  It is another case in which the accused is not himself guilty of sexual abuse, but as a bishop is charged with failing to report such criminal behavior by one of his priests to the police in a timely fashion (he eventually did report the incidents but only 6 months after learning of them).

As is obvious in the Philadelphia Roman Catholic Church case, it is not just the abusers who are guilty of crimes, but the supervisors who failed to do due diligence and failed to report the criminal sexual misconduct to the civil authorities.  We all have a responsibility to protect all of the youth of our parishes as well as all the members of church.  It is an aspect of our practice as Church which falls under the rubric, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”   In America, “Caesar” has taken a special interest in removing sexual predators from wherever they may be trying to hide, including among the clergy.

The goal is not to make us paranoid of everyone but rather to teach us Christian vigilance.   “Dirty old men” have existed throughout history.  This is not something new.  What maybe is new is that our individualistic culture which values personal freedom and privacy happens also to be an environment in which predators can move about freely.

Prophet Daniel

We have only to think about the Septuagint’s story of Susanna found in the Greek translation of the Book of Daniel, the story of the men of Sodom (Genesis 19), or the story of the righteous Joseph in Egypt being sexually harassed by his master Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39) to realize sexual abuse was not unknown in the biblical world.

Sin is not new, but is quite ancient.

Archbishop Seraphim to Stand Trial

Winnipeg Free Press is reporting that suspended Archbishop Seraphim of Canada will stand trial for sexual abuse.   Mike McIntyre of the Free Press reports:

“A high-ranking former orthodox archbishop has been ordered to stand trial on historical Manitoba sex-abuse charges.

Seraphim Storheim appeared in a Winnipeg courtroom Wednesday for the conclusion of a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is sufficient evidence for the case to proceed. A court-ordered ban prevents specific details from being published.

Provincial court Judge Rocky Pollack ruled the Crown had met the standard of proof required to move the case along. The case will return to court in March for the setting of a trial date.

Storheim has pleaded not guilty to sexually abusing two teenaged boys while he was a priest in Winnipeg 30 years ago. He remains free on bail with several conditions, including having no contact with children.”

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