“Confident Idiots”

“As the humorist Josh Billings once put it, ‘It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.’”

I’m always interested in how the different people on our planet see or understand the world.  Different cultures do have different perspectives or paradigms through which they view and understand events.  Even within any one culture people can view events very differently, as we see for example in America between liberals and conservatives.  If you start with differing questions, the solutions to problems are going to be quite different as well.  It is hard to change people’s minds about issues they hold dear.    And it becomes obvious that no amount of facts will change some people’s thinking.  I do remember when I was teaching at the University of Dayton that one student bluntly told me, “I don’t care what information you give me, I’m not going to change my mind about what I think.”  They were quite certain that being impervious to information was the wisest course to holding to their own ideas.  They were paying a lot of money to attend a college to shield themselves from being informed about anything.   It does bring to mind the wisdom that some of us need to hear:  “Don’t believe everything you think.”

I found the article, “We Are All Confident Idiots” ,  by Cornell University psychology professor David Dunning (PACIFIC STANDARD magazine, October 27, 2014) to be an interesting read for a couple of reasons. It does show that not knowing about a topic does not stop people from having very strong opinions about that topic.  In some ways it appears that the very lack of knowledge can give people a (false) confidence in the correctness of their opinion.  It is why it is often so difficult to change people’s minds about an issue.  The article also points out that a little knowledge is also dangerous as it can feed a person’s false sense of security about their own ideas.  So Dr. Dunning writes:

 The American author and aphorist William Feather once wrote that being educated means “being able to differentiate between what you know and what you don’t.” As it turns out, this simple ideal is extremely hard to achieve. Although what we know is often perceptible to us, even the broad outlines of what we don’t know are all too often completely invisible. To a great degree, we fail to recognize the frequency and scope of our ignorance.

In 1999, in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, my then graduate student Justin Kruger and I published a paper that documented how, in many areas of life, incompetent people do not recognize—scratch that, cannot recognize—just how incompetent they are, a phenomenon that has come to be known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. Logic itself almost demands this lack of self-insight: For poor performers to recognize their ineptitude would require them to possess the very expertise they lack. To know how skilled or unskilled you are at using the rules of grammar, for instance, you must have a good working knowledge of those rules, an impossibility among the incompetent. Poor performers—and we are all poor performers at some things—fail to see the flaws in their thinking or the answers they lack.

What’s curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.

The ideas in the article might help us understand the polarization in American politics, for example, when the left and right can’t communicate with each other and can’t even agree on what the facts are about a given issue.  People treat their assumptions as if they are established fact.  Research has shown that people in all cultures have a tendency to see the world from one point of view on a couple different continuums.  Which end of a continuum they are on will effect what they believe the real threats to the good life are and what they believe to be solutions to life’s problems.    This makes communication between people on opposite ends of these spectrums difficult because they start with different fears and with differing ideas about what is good for the nation.  People tend to fall on one end or the other of a continuum opposing egalitarian to hierarchical thinking and also on a continuum opposing communal versus individualistic thinking.

Dunning continues:

  And over the years, I’ve become convinced of one key, overarching fact about the ignorant mind. One should not think of it as uninformed. Rather, one should think of it as misinformed.

An ignorant mind is precisely not a spotless, empty vessel, but one that’s filled with the clutter of irrelevant or misleading life experiences, theories, facts, intuitions, strategies, algorithms, heuristics, metaphors, and hunches that regrettably have the look and feel of useful and accurate knowledge.

Some of this misinformation is a carryover from our childhood experiences.  Some of our thinking shapes who we are and what we believe to be true about others and the world we live in.  As Dunning says:

Some of our most stubborn misbeliefs arise not from primitive childlike intuitions or careless category errors, but from the very values and philosophies that define who we are as individuals. Each of us possesses certain foundational beliefs—narratives about the self, ideas about the social order—that essentially cannot be violated: To contradict them would call into question our very self-worth. As such, these views demand fealty from other opinions. And any information that we glean from the world is amended, distorted, diminished, or forgotten in order to make sure that these sacrosanct beliefs remain whole and unharmed.

No matter what actually happens in the world, we often interpret the events to support our inner presuppositions.  We see the world as supporting our views along those continuums previously mentioned.   Given the exact same information, people on opposite ends of these paradigm polarities will interpret the information to support their viewpoint.  Researchers showed that giving people very precise information about “nanotechnology”, a topic many knew nothing about, tended to reinforce their already held positions, no matter which end of the spectrums they were on.

 If two paragraphs of text are enough to send people on a glide path to polarization, simply giving members of the public more information probably won’t help them arrive at a shared, neutral understanding of the facts; it will just reinforce their biased views.

As David Dunning points out:

 The way we traditionally conceive of ignorance—as an absence of knowledge—leads us to think of education as its natural antidote. But education, even when done skillfully, can produce illusory confidence.

A good example given in the article concerns driver’s education which can give people an overconfidence in their driving abilities.  The consequence is that instead of staying home during bad winter weather, they  feel confident to just carry on with normal activities and drive out into winter storms, falsely believing in their own abilities to handle whatever wintery conditions they face.

 In cases like this, the most enlightened approach, as proposed by Swedish researcher Nils Petter Gregersen, may be to avoid teaching such skills at all. Instead of training drivers how to negotiate icy conditions, Gregersen suggests, perhaps classes should just convey their inherent danger—they should scare inexperienced students away from driving in winter conditions in the first place, and leave it at that.

The issues raised when applied to politics are not new.  Dunning reminds us:

 Thomas Jefferson, lamenting the quality of political journalism in his day, once observed that a person who avoided newspapers would be better informed than a daily reader, in that someone “who knows nothing is closer to the truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors.” Benjamin Franklin wrote that “a learned blockhead is a greater blockhead than an ignorant one.”

My interest in Dunning’s research and conclusions is not related to American politics.   I’m interested in the implications of his comments for dealing with the issue of sexual misconduct in the church.   Clearly, the OCA adopting new policies to tighten its discipline in dealing with misconduct, can cause a backlash with some people thinking any such efforts are draconian: using artillery to kill a fly.  But while it is true that in the Church, incidents of sexual misconduct are fairly rare (thankfully!), they do happen.   The threat is real.   If even one incidence of misconduct is thwarted and only one innocent child is protected, the efforts are worthwhile.   Vigilance in the church for signs of misconduct  is important for reducing (not eliminating) the risk to vulnerable populations.    Lax attitudes about sexual misconduct in the church are tested by predators who appreciate the opportunities these attitudes give them to operate undetected in the church.   A tightened discipline makes it more difficult, though not impossible, for the predator to operate undetected.

OCAThe risk in the church, as Dunning’s article points out, would be that knowing there are stricter Policies, Standards and Procedures, might give some a false sense of security that there is now no risk.  Vigilance is still needed.  The PSPs, SMPAC and ORSMA cannot stop predators from trying to offend, but they can create an atmosphere in which it is difficult for the predator to go undetected.  Changing attitudes though is difficult.  People have many reasons for resisting a new perspective, especially if it challenges their cherished beliefs that misconduct occurs “someplace else” but not in my church.

We are today working to create a climate in the church where predators feel it not safe to attempt their grooming and predatory activities.  They feel “safe” in the church when they get away with some misconduct.  The PSPs cannot stop them from trying, but they can help us all become consciously aware of the importance of the issue and to support the efforts in keeping vigilant about the real possibilities.  Misconduct has occurred in the church.  This is tragic but the fact should not catch anyone unaware.  Even in the Orthodox Scripture in the Book of Daniel, we find the story of Susanna who is caught in a scheme of sexual misconduct by two prominent judges.  Sexual morality and misconduct is found in biblical times.   Even if one act of misconduct is prevented and one innocent child is spared abuse, the effort as cumbersome as it may be proves its worth.

Archbishop Seraphim Sentenced

SeraphimThe former OCA Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Canada, Seraphim, age 68, was sentenced today in a Winnipeg court to 8 months in jail for sexually molesting an altar boy almost 30 years ago.  The Winnipeg Free Press story can be found at Former Archbishop Sentenced to Jail.   He is appealing the jail sentence.

The news is also found on the OCA’s webpage at Sentenced Announced in Archbishop Seraphim Case where some dates in the case are noted:

Archbishop Seraphim was placed on leave of absence on October 1, 2010, with restrictions on Church activities.  On November 30, 2010, he was suspended by the Holy Synod of Bishops.  He was subsequently retired by the Holy Synod of Bishops on March 21, 2014 with additional restrictions.

The OCA”s Synod of Bishops has announced that a Spiritual Court in accordance with the canons of the Orthodox Church will be convened to consider Archbishop Seraphim’s case for canonical discipline as well.

Metropolitan Tikhon, Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, said:

“We ask, first and foremost, that everyone keep the victims and their family members in their prayers, as well as praying for healing and peace in the Archdiocese of Canada.  May God’s mercy be upon all of those involved in this painful case.”

Archbishop Seraphim Found Guilty

SeraphimThe Canadian press is reporting that the former OCA Archbishop of Canada, Seraphim Storheim, was found guilty by a judge of the sexual misconduct charges against him.  You can read the story in the Winnipeg Free Press and on CBCNews.

He was put on trial as a result of allegations of two men, brothers, who claimed the sexual abuse occurred in 1985.   The judge found him guilty of one of the charges but ruled that the second man’s testimony did not meet the burden of proof required by the court.  The court will set sentencing in a couple of months.

The OCA will now continue its own investigation into the allegations to determine what canonical and ecclesiastical discipline should be brought to bear on Archbishop Seraphim.   He has been on suspension and a paid leave of absence for several years while the trial slowly wound its way through the Canadian judicial system.

Though he never publicly acknowledge it, knowledge of the allegations is thought to have caused him to remove his name from consideration for the office of Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church in America back in 2008.

While justice has been done, the tragic effects of such events will continue to reverberate through the lives of all of those involved in this case, including the membership of the Diocese.  We all can pray that now the Diocese will have the Christian strength, love and courage to deal with the aftermath of the events themselves, the trial and the judgment.

You can also read the statement of the OCA Synod of Bishops on this case.

OCA: Information on Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response


The Orthodox Church in America has been working for the past several years to improve its Policy, Standards and Procedures for dealing with allegations of sexual misconduct in the church.   These updates in the policies were needed to make the institution more responsive to allegations, to give better attention to the needs of victims and to keep the OCA up to current societal standards for churches in dealing with such complaints.  While such policies are always being reviewed to meet current needs and standards, the OCA probably has some of the best policies and highest standards regarding dealing with sexual misconduct of any Orthodox jurisdiction in the world.

You can view the a new web page featuring detailed information and resources is now available at http://oca.org/about/sexual-misconduct.  The site also offers Information on the OCA’s Office of Review of Sexual Misconduct Allegations [ORSMA], which is responsible for assisting the Holy Synod of Bishops and the Church with matters concerning allegations of sexual misconduct.  

LOGOThe OCA’s Synod of Bishops issued a revised Policy, Standards, and Procedures on Sexual Misconduct at their Fall 2013 Holy Synod meeting.  They have been engaged in a long and taxing process to improve policies, the culture and the institution.   The bishops have come to understand the importance for the entire Church to provide a safe and healthy environment for all of the faithful. The Church laments the sin of sexual misconduct, and will not tolerate sexual misconduct by its clergy or any layperson.  The more rigorous and proactive stance regarding sexual misconduct better meet the societal and legal expectations for an organization in the modern world.  Taking all allegations seriously means taking a closer look at the policies, standards and procedures of the organizations, as well as taking the time to investigate complaints brought to the attention of the church’s leaders.

One example of a more proactive approach to dealing with the social and human problem of sexual abuse is that the OCA now provides a way for people to confidentially report a case of misconduct by calling the toll-free number 855-398-2600. 

Synod2012When the Church investigates allegations of sexual misconduct, it is not attempting to replace or even duplicate investigations which might also be done by civil authorities.  The Church has its own standards for dealing with sexual misconduct by its clergy or membership.  Even the mere appearance of inappropriate sexual behavior especially by clergy is considered a moral issue within the Orthodox Community.  Our bishops have to maintain a high level of moral standards and discipline on these issues, regardless of whether civil authorities would involve themselves in the cases brought to the attention of church authorities.

Other documents and links of interest to parishes available through the OCA’s webpage:

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.

Tempting Those with Power

Clergy ScandalWhile cases of sexual misconduct and moral lapses by clergy do grab the headlines in a nation with a voyeuristic appetite for scandal and hypocrisy among church leaders, the church itself needs to learn from those stories of how secular and civil leaders are brought down by moral scandals.  The church assumes the right to make moral proclamations to the nation, but then views the moral lapses of its own leaders as personal failings but not as public spectacles.   Civil leaders on the other hand, in an extrovert driven culture, are always public spectacles and so their personal moral failures are always viewed as of public interest.  Which is why leadership moral lapses by church leaders are viewed by the public as particularly heinous hypocrisy and certainly are considered fair game for how the public should judge the church’s moral authority as a whole.

John Baldoni writing in the WASHINGTON POST suggests If David Petraeus Wrote a Book On Leadership (30 Nov 2012)  it should address “how a leader can recognize when he is too full of himself, and too tempted by indulgence, that it harms not only his character but also the organization’s.”

Baldoni says leaders need some lessons in how to deal with temptation, because for leaders temptation turns out not just to be personal but impacts an entire organization.  He says:

https://i1.wp.com/farm8.staticflickr.com/7191/6940139501_d49fdbed30_n.jpg“Every human being is at some point tempted to do things that aren’t right. But when such temptation comes to a leader, its lure may be more potent and its effect, if indulged, more catastrophic. The result is often a loss of that trust, which was the very source of leverage the leader had to get things done in an organization.”

Trust is the true power that leaders have.  In a meritocracy, that trust is earned, and it can be lost.  Some however in positions of hierarchical power forget that trust is earned and they assume the power they have is despotic and so can never be challenged let alone taken away from them.  Baldoni continues:

“When people rise to positions of authority, they grow accustomed to having things their way. One of the unfortunate effects of this is that they often develop a soft spot for flattery and a blind spot for criticism and warnings.”

His warning is certainly echoed by many things one can read in THE PHILOKALIA.

https://i1.wp.com/farm9.staticflickr.com/8197/8234447173_df0493f64a_n.jpgIt is interesting in the church that often those in power want the authority of the Apostle Peter – the rock upon whom they believe the church is built.  They see this power as being unquestionable and that it gives them the right to lord it over others.   Yet, Peter was not the disciple whom Jesus loved who laid close to his breast.  The beloved disciple was the youngest of the Twelve, the least of the brethren in an age conscious hierarchical society.

There are many signs of power in the church, not all of them are under a Byzantine miter.   There is the power to bind and loose, to forgive, to show mercy to Christ in the least of His brothers and sisters, to heal the sick, to evangelize, to speak in tongues, to prophesy, to teach, to administer, to bring people to repentance,  to drive out demons and especially to love.

https://i0.wp.com/farm3.staticflickr.com/2684/4427153983_2a3cf50b23_n.jpgIn THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, Dostoyevsky contrasts the power of the Grand Inquisitor to intimidate and cower people with the power of Christ to love and raise the dead.   Both had power, and the people certainly feared the power of the Grand Inquisitor which was real – the power to arrest and imprison Christ.  It is the power of  secular Rome.   It was not however the power of eternity or of divinity.  That was found only in the love of Christ.

Power corrupts, they say.  Power also weakens, for it lays us open to more temptations.   While, like the famous butterfly effect of chaos theory, each sin committed by any Christian causes the whole body to suffer, the sins of leadership are exponentially more destructive in their effect on the entire Body.  Good reason for church leaders to have a real sense of what power and powers they have access to as they endeavor to lead by example in the church.

Disturbing the Predator

MaximosConfessorThe Fathers of the Church are often recognized for being excellent observers of human behavior, and consequently very effectively describe psychological behavior that we sometimes think has only been recognized or diagnosed in the modern age.   For example, St Maximos the Confessor (d. 662AD), offers the description of what he labels a hypocrite.   The explosion of anger by someone when confronted with the evilness of their behavior which St. Maximos describes below is today considered symptomatic of predatory behavior.  When the predator is exposed, he goes on the attack hoping to intimidate the prey back into some more submissive behavior.

“A hypocrite, hunting after the glory that comes from an apparent righteousness, is untroubled so long as he thinks that he escapes notice. But when he is detected, he utters streams of imprecation, imagining that by abusing others he can hide his own deformity. Because of his craftiness Scripture has compared him to the offspring of vipers and has commanded him to bring forth appropriate fruits of repentance (cf. Matt. 3:7-8), that is, to refashion the hidden state of his heart so that it conforms to his outward behavior.”    (The Philokalia, Kindle Loc 14090-106)


Mathematics and Sexual Misconduct: 2/0 = ?

Zero Tolerance in clergy sexual misconduct will yield the impossibility of a second chance as a clergyman.  This is not because clergy sexual misconduct is the unforgiveable sin.  Rather it is because the second chance for clergy guilty of sexual misconduct is the opportunity to spend the remaining time of their life in repentance, which they obviously failed to do in their life as a clergyman.   We each are called by Christ to repentance.  Some are called to live out their repentance as clergy.  If they fail to live that repentant life and engage in sexual misconduct, they are given a second chance to live out their repentance away from the clerical office.   This is specifically true if one used one’s office and the power that comes with that office to create opportunities for sexual misconduct.

Years ago I heard a phrase used about alcoholics:  one drink is too many, two is not enough.   It of course deals with the notion that an alcoholic must avoid that first drink because once they’ve had it, they are already down a path in which no number of drinks can satiate the alcoholic.

The alcoholic’s life is a world in which “second chance” takes on a new meaning.  Giving the alcoholic a second chance cannot mean allowing them to drink one more time to see if they can control the drinking.  That’s known as enabling the alcoholism.  The second chance is giving them the opportunity to stay in your life because they are staying sober which means they are abstaining from alcohol.

This concept of a second chance makes sense to many when dealing with the alcoholic.  We learn that ‘second chance’ does not mean watching them drink to see if there will be a different result, but rather the second chance is watching to see if they will stay abstinent and  therefore sober on that day.  It is by their sobriety that they win back the trust of those around them.  This comes when they abdicate any claim that they be given chances to show they can drink and remain in control.  They admit they are really powerless and not able to control the drinking and so must surrender any claim to ever possessing this power to drink again.

It is this understanding of a second chance which we are also grappling with in the church in dealing with sexual misconduct.  We don’t put the person back in a position where they can abuse power to engage in sexual misconduct.  The sobriety they need is to keep them out of the position of being able to abuse power.  Sobriety for them means avoiding those situations in which temptation to engage in sexual misconduct can occur.  Clerical power can be intoxicating to some.

We see this idea that if one has abused power he/she should not be given that power back has gained acceptance in many places in our society.  One such organization is in the U.S. military.  The recent scandals involving prominent military leaders which led to their losing their commands is an example of what is socially expected.

Greg Myre of NPR in  What’s the Punishment for Adultery these Days? deals with public officials caught in a sex scandal.  Myre says the best way to deal with such scandal is for the guilty party to “Confess Before The Media Break The Story”.   Interesting advice for a non-sacramental organization, but certainly one would think an idea that church leaders would acknowledge and follow.  The worse thing to do according to crisis management experts is to deny the story.

Myre says the right thing for a public official to do after engaging in sexual misconduct is to resign immediately.  This is especially true if one is involved in a line of work which depends on public trust.  Myre writes:

“The military has to have ‘higher standards because of their need to trust each other and to lead people in very dangerous circumstances,’ Richard Kohn, who studies civilian-military relations at the University of North Carolina, told NPR’s Morning Edition.”

So too the church has to have such higher standards.  Myre’s conclusion is

“Once tarnished in a sex scandal, government officials and military officers need to find a new career.”

There is little doubt that the role of priest or bishop in the church involves public trust, and the church’s standards certainly should not be less than the standards of secular society.

Recently I read an email from attorney Bob Koory in which he described his own thoughts about the standards the church should hold for its clergy.  I liked the way he worded his thoughts and got his permission to quote the email here:

“My own view is that zero tolerance should mean zero tolerance.  The problem with anything less than that is in my view twofold:

First, the legal problem that you reference:  While as a practical matter, in my legal experience, an arbitrary decision is harder to defend in court than a reasoned decision, cases are always based upon 20-20 hindsight.  Bad decision, no matter how long debated or reasoned, are never easy to defend and can always be prosecuted on the basis that the Church simply looked away or through rose colored glasses because the cleric was a hierarch or priest of some standing.

Jurors in my experience apply a great deal of common sense and are likely to say that the best proof that it was a bad decision, or poorly reasoned decision, is that the perpetrator struck again.  I’m sure you would agree that it would not be hard to find an expert who would testify, with studies to support the testimony, that there was a significant possibility (probability) that the perpetrator would repeat his/her actions and the Church knew or should have know of that likelihood and should have taken such disciplinary action to insure that it would not happen, e.g., removal from employment or in the case of a cleric, suspension or defrocking.

Unfortunately, with respect to the legal concern, the perpetrator becomes in a way a walking time bomb, with those concerned about the possible victims and/or legal concerns, never knowing when it’s going to go off, but in the heart of hearts knowing that there is always the potential it will.

The second problem is the perception of the action view from within the Church.  While certainly one is inclined to recognize the reality that we are all sinners and likely to sin, and that we need “second chances”, in my view, the response of the Church must also recognize that since we are sinners we are constantly falling and getting up again. The problem is when a perpetrator does that he not only causes injury to a victim but also to the Church.  If it is a cleric, all clerics are tainted, and the Church itself suffers from the impression that once again the Church failed to act appropriately.

Moreover, many laity, using their common like experiences, are likely to conclude that if the cleric did the act and was caught, how many times did he do it and was not caught. We know that studies show that perpetrators usually have acted several (in some cases dozens or hundreds of times) before they are caught.  There is also the concern that once through therapy the perpetrator would simply resume his old behavior.

Finally is the view that some may hold of how can this perpetrator now speak to us of the sanctity of marriage or of the virtue of honesty.  This is where the concerns are that the act has now become an impediment to his priesthood.  That is not to say the person might not repent and become a great saint, but only that he should no longer do so as a cleric.  Many other professions have zero tolerance policies and for good reasons.”

The other mathematical truth of sexual misconduct is that anything less than zero tolerance tends to multiply the instances of misconduct and abuse.

“He who winks the eye causes trouble,

but he who boldly reproves makes peace.”

(Proverbs 10:10)

Links to my other blogs on church sexual misconduct can be found at Sexual Misconduct in the Church Blogs.

Diocese of the Midwest’s Discussion on Sexual Misconduct

The Midwest Diocesan Assembly allowed a needed discussion on the current situation with Bishop Matthias on administrative Leave of Absence.   OCA Chancellor Fr. John Jillions did confirm that the allegations as reported on the Internet were accurate.

Some would say there was an emotional release as diocesan members expressed grief over the situation created by the bishop’s sexual harassment of a young woman.  Several speakers reported that their parishes expressed strong sentiments calling for the bishop to resign after learning the nature of the allegations.   Several noted that the bishop had violated trust in his behavior which would be difficult if not impossible to restore even if he successfully completes some treatment program.   On the other hand, those in the diocese who have had only positive personal experiences with Bishop Matthias expressed their dismay over the readiness of so many in the diocese to believe the allegations against the bishop.   Yet, the Response Team investigating the allegations apparently were convinced that sexual misconduct occurred, and the Synod of Bishops accepted their report and recommendations including the fact that the bishop had engaged in sexual misconduct as defined by the OCA’s policies.   The bishops themselves in their rendered decision showed they believed the allegations were substantiated by the evidence and the investigation.   So while a few maintain that there is just confusion about the bishop’s intentions and actions, the Synod of Bishops was convinced that misconduct occurred.   The Bishops do not seem to think the situation was merely a misunderstanding, nor did the woman who filed the complaint.

Resolutions calling for Bishop Matthias to resign were ruled out of order as were ones calling for a “no confidence vote” by the assembly.  Archbishop Nikon of Boston who presided over the assembly did affirm that no Synodal decisions have been made about what is going to happen except that Bishop Matthias must complete an intensive psychological evaluation and rehabilitation, and then undergo a peer mentoring time before he would be allowed to return to active ministry.  ‘Archbishop Nikon did not know how long the rehabilitation program would last, but he made it clear that no decision about the bishop’s return has been reached.

The assembly did vote by a wide margin to remove from the 2013 Budget a proposed 12.5% pay increase for the bishop – something the bishop himself had apparently requested.  The sense was that it was extremely inappropriate to give a raise to a clergyman who was on administrative leave of absence for having engaged in sexual misconduct.

For the Diocese of the Midwest, the period of waiting continues as the bishop follows the steps laid out for him by the Synod of Bishops – steps he must successfully complete before the Synod will give consideration to whether he can be restored to ministry.  A number of people expressed a notion that in many secular professions, the same misconduct committed by the bishop would have led to immediate dismissal.  The issue for the Midwest is not just personal as some allege.  It is principle and precedence and policy – how does the church respond to clergyman who have committed sexual harassment or other forms of sexual misconduct?   Because how we respond sends a message to victims about whether the OCA has a zero tolerance policy for sexual misconduct by clergy.

Links to my other blogs on sexual misconduct in the church can be found at Blogs on Sexual Misconduct in the Church.

Reflection on our Diocese

To All My Beloved Fellow Members of St. Paul Parish,

Glory to Jesus Christ!

I want in this letter to convey to you my thoughts and feelings as your parish priest about the situation with our diocesan bishop.  I have already conveyed these ideas to Bishop Matthias and also to some members of the Synod of Bishops.  While I will offer my opinion here about how I understand our situation, my prayer is for all of us to be faithful to the Gospel.

The Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America after reviewing the report and recommendation of the Response Team appointed to investigate the allegations of sexual misconduct against our Diocesan Hierarch, the Right Reverend Matthias, have accepted the fact that the allegations are substantiated.   The Synod, following the OCA’s Policy, Standards and Procedures, rendered a decision regarding a course of action to take with Bishop Matthias who they found guilty of sexual misconduct.

The reaction of many in the Diocese to our bishop’s behavior has been dismay,  disappointment, and even disgust.   Many have questioned how he could ever again serve as bishop since he has destroyed his moral authority and by his own actions revealed a lack of pastoral wisdom or judgment which one would expect from someone who had been ordained for 40 years.

It is not my intention to air our dirty laundry, but all of these facts are quite public, as they should be, and so publicly – diocesan clergy and lay members together with the Synod of Bishops- we can discuss our situation in order to do the truth (2 Cor 13:8).

 “Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more.”  (Luke 12:48)

We entrusted the pastoral care of our Diocese to Bishop Matthias, and he publicly disgraced himself and in so doing shamed us all.   As is clear in the offending texts and emails he was writing as the Diocesan hierarch not as a private citizen.  As Christ teaches, we rightfully require much and demand the more.   The high standards and expectations for our bishop should be maintained.  Besides there are dire consequences for the unwise words we say.

“I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”  (Matthew 12:36-37)

We pray and hope that our bishop will eventually understand the hurt and harm he has done not only to the woman he victimized but to all of us in the Diocese.   We hope that like the Prodigal Son he will come to his senses and truly repent.  The Synod has assigned him to a therapeutic program in which we hope he will gain the self-awareness to see himself as others see him.   Time will tell whether that will happen.

However, It is not only Bishop Matthias who needs healing.  Our Diocese has been harmed but what has happened and we all need healing – no doubt some of us feel the stress of this situation worse than others.  Bishop Matthias was acting in the role of diocesan bishop as is clear in the offending texts he sent.  As St. Ignatius of Antioch says, where the bishop is, there is the church.  When the bishop engages in misconduct he drags down the diocese as well.   Some of us at least have felt the shame, embarrassment and hurt caused by our hierarch.

We too need the chance to heal but, I believe this will be hard to accomplish if we know our hierarch is going to be restored to our Diocese, back to the very position whose trust and stewardship he betrayed.    The Church from the earliest times in its own canons realizes how serious it is for a hierarch to scandalize the church, and scandalized many of us are.   Our healing will come when we feel safe and know that we won’t be dragged down again by such behavior.

Bishop Matthias at this year’s clergy convocation  spoke to us about the book BEAUTHY FOR ASHES.  He spoke about the important need for there to be  order restored in a diocese which has suffered scandal.  He talked about the importance of re-establishing the dignity and authority of the clergy.   Personally I don’t see how this can happen as long as he is the bishop.   I hope he will live up to what he spoke about and take the necessary steps to restore the dignity and authority of the clergy in our diocese which have been damaged by his own actions.    I want him to get the therapy and healing he needs and also hope he allows our diocese to heal by stepping down as bishop.

“For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain,  but hospitable, a lover of goodness, master of himself, upright, holy, and self-controlled…”  (Titus 1:7-8)

The problem facing us is not only what he wrote in the offending messages and emails, but also that he blames the victim for his problems and he publicly denied on the Diocesan webpage that he was guilty of the allegations.  His claim has been shown to be false.  It raises again the issue of how can we trust a man who did not tell the truth.   It is hard to see how we can take seriously what he says.  He asks for our forgiveness but then hopes we will see the purity of his heart.  Repentance does not involve self-justification.

Jesus taught that he who is not faithful in little things, is not trustworthy in big things.   On some level what our bishop did is small, but it raises a big question about trust.

To rephrase Jesus in John 3:12, if we cannot trust him about earthly things, how can we trust him about heavenly things?

We all are to ask God to forgive our bishop, as we are taught by Christ to do.  On the Cross our Lord prayed for his tormentors – “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”   In the current situation, our Diocese has been hung on the Cross, and we too are praying from that Cross that God will forgive our bishop.  But we as Diocese have been seriously wounded, and are in need of healing.   Christ forgave His tormentors but he didn’t bless them to continue tormenting others.  The healing of our Diocese begins with our bishop getting into therapy and then not only taking a long leave of absence, but resigning from his office to allow the Diocese to heal.

I think it is better for Bishop Matthias and our Diocese that he not be burdened with the pressures and issues which come with being the hierarch.  I hope that our Synod of Bishops will also come to the realization that the trust has been betrayed and broken to a point that it is better not to try to restore it, but rather to let both Diocese and bishop heal from these wounds by allowing us to move into the future on different tracks.

The Synod wishes for Bishop Matthias’ healing, as do we all.  Certainly, he has now the opportunity to repent and to straighten out his life.  In the liturgy we pray constantly to spend the remaining time of our life in repentance.  That I think is the second chance the bishop is to be offered – to get back on the track of repentance, but not to put him into a position whose pressures he didn’t handle well.

Those are my thoughts about where we are and what I hope might happen.

May God be merciful on us all.

I personally have been sickened by the situation we are in.  For all of you who have joined the church, I offer my regrets for the failures in leadership you have witnessed.   Christ says of the Father in John 15:2 :  “Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”   We will now see whether we are being pruned to bear more fruit or whether we are being judged as having born no fruit at all.

Fr. Ted