Archbishop Seraphim’s Court Case on Hold

The Vancouver Sun is reporting that

Sex-abuse case against Manitoba archbishop Seraphim Storheim on hold

WINNIPEG — A high-ranking former orthodox archbishop, who has pleaded not guilty, must wait until the new year to learn if he’ll go to trial on historical Manitoba sex abuse charges.

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

Defence lawyer Jeff Gindin told the Winnipeg Free Press the evidence was presented on Thursday and Friday but the case has now adjourned until Jan. 18 for lawyers to make final arguments. The judge will then render his decision.

Storheim is accused of abusing two teenage 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.

Storheim was the highest-ranking Canadian cleric in the Orthodox Church in America until church officials suspended him last November, days after Winnipeg police laid charges against him following a lengthy investigation into allegations which only recently emerged.

None of the charges has been proven and he is presumed innocent.

Read the entire story at  http://www.vancouversun.com/life/abuse+case+against+Manitoba+archbishop+Seraphim+Storheim+hold/5734862/story.html

 

 

Archbishop Seraphim Pleads Not Guilty

My blog is not a news blog but my sharing things which I think about as an Orthodox priest. I also serve on an OCA Committee which deals with issues related to clergy sexual misconduct, and so this news story is something which I have thought about over the past couple of years.

Ex-archbishop pleads not guilty in sex case

WINNIPEG SUN    November 17, 2011

Former archbishop Kenneth William (Seraphim) Storheim has pleaded not guilty to molesting two 10-year-old boys.

A former archbishop with the Canadian arm of the Orthodox Church in America has pleaded not guilty to charges he sexually assaulted two boys during the time he worked in Winnipeg.

Kenneth William (Seraphim) Storheim, 65, appeared Thursday for a preliminary hearing into allegations he abused two 10-year-old boys between December 1984 and June 1987.

At the time, Storheim was a rector at Holy Trinity Sobor, located at the corner of Manitoba Avenue and McKenzie Street in the North End.

A publication ban prevents the printing or broadcasting of any evidence presented by the Crown at Thursday’s hearing.

Storheim flew to the city last November to turn himself into police, who were holding a warrant for his arrest. He was quickly released on a promise to appear in court.

He had stepped aside from his high-level position in the church months earlier.

The church said Storheim had been granted a leave of absence while police investigated the accusations; Storheim suggested he stepped aside for health reasons.

As a point of clarification, Archbishop Seraphim is, I believe, considered under suspension by the OCA’s Synod of Bishops, so he has not been defrocked nor has his title or episcopal rank been taken away from him by the OCA.

Sadly, as the news story relates, Archbishop Seraphim’s accounts of why he was originally put on leave of absence do not match other facts known from statements from the OCA which was clear that he was first put on Leave of Absence because allegations of sexual misconduct had surfaced.   He had also on another occasion denied knowing what the allegations were about but certainly others knew and some discussed it with him.

The court is supposed to make a determination today as to how to proceed with the case.

Viewing the AAC from Where I Sit

Podcasts and some reports from the OCA’s  16th All American Council are now available online.  You can also read about the AAC and some developments at other webpages.

Thanks to the technology of podcasts you can hear what various speakers said and don’t have to rely on the filters of reporters.  So in this blog I don’t intend to simply report what was said, but admittedly I’m running what was said through the filter of what I heard and how I understood what was being said.  That is also the nature of blogging.

Metropolitan Jonah’s opening speech mentioned some of the very difficult problems created by his administration through the past three years, as well described some of the ongoing work of the church, and offered a few goals for the future.  The fact that his speech is available online both in written form and as a pod cast is important because there have been at times notable gaps in the past between what he said and  what he did or said later.  Technology is allowing for some accountability.

The Metropolitan acknowledged that the past three years have been an administrative disaster.  From where I sit on the Metropolitan Council, on the MC’s Ethics Committee and on the Sexual Misconduct Policy Advisory Committee his words are certainly an accurate assessment of what has happened under his administration.   He did own up to being the source of the problem but also blamed his critics for creating a difficult atmosphere – for me the truth is that much of that poisoned atmosphere was created by himself. He came into office at a moment in the OCA’s history with high expectations that we would be able to put behind us all our past problems, scandals and failures.  There was an overwhelming sense at his election that now finally the OCA would move into its manifest destiny to be the Church in America.  All of that good will and hope was quickly evaporated among those who had to work most closely with him.

Everyone in leadership manages to offend some, disappoint others, and make enemies of some.  One learns that this is a reality in the world of the Fall.  We can have all the intention in the world of doing out best and assuming this will please everyone, but as the old adage says, “you can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time”, but if you decide your goal is to please everyone so that they will like you, you have set yourself up for failure and for the ruination of the organization you lead.

The Metropolitan acknowledged there had been a complete breakdown in trust and raised a serious question as to whether at this point that breakdown could in fact be reversed or repaired.  As a step to see whether or not repair and restoration of trust in him as a leader is possible, he mentioned entering into a program of evaluation for clergy beginning November 14.   A lot rides on his willingness to co-operate with this program of evaluation because it will certainly be a test (and not the first one either) of his real acknowledgement that he is responsible for many of the problems which now exist in the OCA’s administration.

For me, again from where I sit, much of what happens next in the OCA is riding on the Metropolitan’s own willingness to cooperate with the process and the willingness of the Synod to not only hold him accountable but upon their willingness to deal with what is learned especially if some of the evaluation provides ambiguous results.  Then the members of the Synod are going to have to deal directly with issues that the Metropolitan and they have been either wrestling with, dancing around or hoping to avoid.

The Metropolitan outlined some of his priorities for the future which are both notable and noble and you can read them in his speech.   Giving speeches as he himself has oft said is something he likes to do, and has often earned him lauds from his listeners.  However, as he also acknowledged his years as bishop have been an administrative disaster, and so there is a huge gap between his articulated vision and the reality he works to create.

I will comment on one detail of his vision for the OCA, you can read his speech or listen to it and make your own judgments about what he says (and how that matches with what he actually accomplishes).  Funding is a perennial discussion in OCA administration and a triennial discussion at AACs!  Various ideas have been proffered through time, some merely name change dressings to the core issue that the central church believes if it had more money it would accomplish more things.  Whatever the truth in that logic, in the midst of his appeal to the funding issue, the Metropolitan advocated moving away from whatever current system we are following to a tithing system of giving to support the church.  Now I have been committed to tithing all of my adult life as a Christian, so I’m a practicing believer in tithing.  But when the Metropolitan says in his pitch for tithing that we must “conform ourselves to Christ through obedience to the Gospel and commitment to living according to the teachings of the Apostles and of the Holy Fathers”, I can’t help but wonder how many quotes could he come up with from Apostolic and Patristic writers in which they actually make tithing the norm for Christians.   Even the Apostolic Council in Acts 15 does not set tithing as a requirement for Christians.

But that issue may be nitpicking when compared to the very serious issues the Metropolitan raised related to his administrative failures and the complete breakdown in trust between himself, the chancery staff, the Metropolitan Council and the Synod of Bishops.

Following the Metropolitan’s report several bishops offered “responses” which weren’t so much directed at the Metropolitan’s speech but actually allowed them to reflect on their life in the church.  Personally I thought their comments were worth listening to because in my mind for the first time ever we heard our bishops in the AAC share anecdotes and thoughts related to their own sojourn as Christians and members of the OCA.   There was something warm and alive in their sharing their thoughts.  Certainly they all expressed a desire for the Metropolitan to fully and faithfully deal with the issues which have crippled his ability to lead and have damaged his relationship with other church leaders both in and out of the OCA.  And there was at least “veiled” acknowledgement that there are some serious problems waiting to be tackled and resolved.

The bishops did take a few shots at the Internet as contributing to making solutions to the internal problems of the OCA difficult.   The Internet however has not created the real problems that exist with the personalities involved.  Leadership has to lead despite the circumstances in which they are in.  The Internet is simply part of the daily lives of Americans.  It can be used for both good and evil.  Certainly there are professionals who can help willing and receptive leaders learn how to navigate through the information/Internet Age.  Leaders can lead even with the Internet attracting and creating attention to itself.  Rather than bemoaning the technology of communications which is now part of the landscape and infrastructure of daily life, we can learn how to deal with it.  Certainly most early Christians viewed the Roman Empire as the greatest threat to their existence and felt there was no possible connection between Rome and Jerusalem.  Yet the Church overcame that Empire and used that Empire for evangelism.  The Internet is not a greater threat to us than the Roman Empire.  We cannot escape the Internet and certainly we will learn even more about its risks, but we can also bring our use of it under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

See also my Parting Thoughts from the 16th All American Council

Canonical Ordination and Deposition

I read with interest Fr. Alex Rentel’s “A Comparison of the Liturgical Rite of Ordination and the Canonical Act of Deposition” in the St.Vladimir’s Theological QUARTERLY , Vol 55, No 1, 2011.   It seems timely to me, which may reflect the unfortunate fact that in the Church we deal not only with birth but also death, not only with saints but also with sinners, not only with clergy ordinations but also with clergy depositions.

Having myself served for the last several years on the OCA’s Sexual Misconduct Policy Advisor Committee and also on the Metropolitan Council’s Ethics Committee, Fr. Rentel’s article spoke to issues which I have had to contemplate.  I don’t intend to write a review of his article but just note a few points that were pertinent to things I’ve thought about.

St. Basil the Great says:

“On the matter of priesthood, if you fell into a sin of the flesh – fornication, adultery, sodomy, bestiality – and were above 13 years old, even if you didn’t know that these sins are impediments to the priesthood, you are not allowed to become a priest … examine yourself well, and if you fell even once even out of ignorance you cannot become a priest. No matter how great a need the Church has. God will care for His Church. If there are no priests and lay people, then the Lord will destroy everyone. If you have an impediment to the priesthood, you are able by repentance and confession to perform miracles and to become a saint, but not a priest.”

That is a pretty high standard for ordination.   But note, he says such sexual sins are impediments to ordination but not to becoming canonized as a saint.  The criterion for becoming a saint are different than from becoming a priest.  Fr. Rentel notes from the canons:

“Nikodemos the Hagiorite (ca. AD 1749-1809) …. observes that ‘all sins’ that would depose a clergyman, whether committed before or discovered after ordination, also present ‘an impediment to someone becoming a priest.’   ….   1 Nicea Canon 9 says … when some sin committed prior to ordination is discovered, the canon refuses to admit such a man to the priesthood, because ‘the catholic church vindicates (ekdikei) only what is above reproach.'” (p 34) 

“A candidate cannot hope that ordination will simply blot out his pre-ordination sins.”  (p 36) 

The goal of canonical penalties Rentel notes is for the laity or clergy to “withdraw from sin.”  It is not punishment but a help towards salvation.  The same is true of deposition from the clergy which is viewed as part of the cure for the man who fell into sin after ordination or who committed a serious sin before being ordained.

“Apostolic Canon 25…. ‘If a bishop, presbyter, or deacon is caught in fornication, perjury, or theft, let him be deposed.'” (pp 40-41)

And if the clergyman  exercises “‘his own private judgment to the subversion of the people and to the disturbance of the churches’.  Such a cleric, the canon says, is ‘one who…heaps sins upon himself.'” (p 41)

Cyril of Alexandria around 442AD says “that a bishop cannot simply retire to avoid scandal and canonical punishment.  Rather, Cyril says… ‘if they are unworthy, do not let them leave by retiring, rather let them be judged for [their] actions.'” (p 44)

The practice of moving clergy to a new parish assignment after they have committed an action worthy of deposition is just plain wrong.    So too is the practice of allowing disgraced bishops to retire honorably.    There is a reason for these rules in preserving the high standards of the church for it preserves the integrity of the church and helps prevent the types of illicit behavior that were observed in recent scandals throughout the Christian world.

Continuing the Wilderness Sojourn: Reaching the Destination

This is the conclusion to the blog  Metropolitan Council: What Were You Discussing?

The Metropolitan Council meetings are a sojourn, sometimes in the wilderness of Sin, at other times crossing the Jordan to the promised destination.  Lately, much of the meeting time is spent in Executive Session, which allows open discussion within the meeting but then limits what can be publicly expressed.   It is the dilemma:  how can we tell the church what we spent hours discussing in confidentiality?  How can we as good stewards not tell them?

I was elected as an at-large delegate to the Metropolitan Council at the 2008 All American Council.   I must give an account of the stewardship which was entrusted to me.

A story from the desert fathers:

Some brothers set out to visit the brothers of another monastery.  A young monk was appointed to lead them to the monastery.  Because they lived in the desert, they traveled at night when it was cooler.  They walked virtually all night not arriving at their destination.  Finally the young monk said, “Brothers, I am lost.”

“We know,” replied his brethren.  “You knew and yet you did not complain?” asked the young monk.  “We didn’t want to offend you,” said his brethren.

I’ve seen several versions of this story from the desert fathers each with some variation in the story and also in the conclusion of the story.  It certainly is a  non-rational Christian koan which defies the preference of American Christians for pragmatism.  “Just correct his error and get to your destination,” would be a more American reading of the story.

The story however has many and varied lessons. Not the least of which is the relationship between the people of God and the desert wilderness.   There are valuable lessons to be learned when lost in the desert.   And being there and wandering in apparent aimlessness doesn’t mean God has abandoned you.  It may be a time of testing.  Just ask the Hebrew children.

In our story, the brothers prefer to preserve unity amongst themselves then to prove themselves right against a brother.  The brothers are willing to recognize the young monk has been given a task to lead them, and they voluntarily live obedience because of love.   But take note as well, the young monk’s error is in finding the physical destination, had he led the monks into heresy, you can bet this story would have had a very different outcome and they would not have followed him.

But the story’s lesson is not about something as critical as theological truth.   It is about unity, love, community and reconciliation.  In the end the brothers are reconciled to the errant monk who has exhausted them by wandering lost in the desert.   And the young monk himself is astonished at his brother’s love and reconciled to them despite his error which has wasted their time and exhausted them.  He realizes he was in error, and his brothers know it!  And is astonished at their forgiving love – they knew he was lost, but they waited for him to become reconciled to them – to admit he was not up to the task of being their leader.   In a way,  it is a quirky retelling of the Prodigal Son story:  the son who comes to his senses and seeks his father’s forgiveness.

The young monk had an assignment to accomplish and he wanted to obey.  But he was not up to the task.  He failed.  But though he failed in his assigned task, and though the story ends at this point, one assumes that the brothers get to their destination.  Being lost in the desert, come daylight, might have tragic consequences.   That isn’t in the story.  The lesson learned is that I must be humble enough to admit that I may not be qualified to lead.

They don’t keep following the failed brother, but in the midst of dealing with their problems, they help him learn about humility, love, unity, patience, community.  Many lessons are there to be learned.   And we assume from the story the young monk was capable of learning these spiritual lessons so that he could abide in community.  The lessons were a spiritual gift to one who was able to recognize his own failings, to recognize the pain his actions had afflicted on his fellow monks, to recognize the need for reconciliation with them,  to humble himself before his brothers, and to recognize what love demanded of him if he would live the lessons learned.

The story would be very different if the young monk proved incorrigible, or if he failed to repent, apologize and seek reconciliation with his brothers.  Or if he repeated the same wrongful behavior over and over again even after apologizing.   And indeed the story probably would never made it into the collection of desert fathers’ wisdom, if in the end they weren’t all reconciled in love and capable of heading in the correct direction to attain their goal.  All Lessons to be sorted out for the Metropolitan Council as well.

The brothers did not have the goal of being led astray, nor were they allowing themselves to be led to destruction or disaster.  They were moving toward the lessons about love, brotherhood, unity and community.  Was there a time for the brothers to speak up?  No doubt there would have been, but that lesson is beyond the immediate purpose of the story.

Wisdom says there is a time to be silent but also a time to speak; there is a time to build up as well as the time to break down; there is a time to seek and a time to lose (Ecclesiastes 3).   Discerning the time is the way of Holy Wisdom.  God promises to forgive our sins in that time when we repent, He doesn’t promise us a tomorrow on which to do it.

See also my blogs Adventure’s in Wonderland  and  To Be Ruled Well is Typical of the Wise Person

Metropolitan Council: What Were You Discussing?

Over the past 3 years I have served on the OCA’s Metropolitan Council.  I have been impressed with the expertise of so many of the members – the gifts, wisdom, knowledge, talents and energy which they bring to each meeting.  I served a couple of times over the past 30 years in various capacities on the MC, and do believe that the Metropolitan Council has grown and improved through the years.

The Council has a responsibility to deal with some very hard issues in the life of the OCA, and consequently and unfortunately frequently has to go into Executive Session for its long discussions.   This of course also means that some of what the MC does is not minuted nor made public.  The amount of time spent in executive session is troubling for a church which is working to be transparent.  The current way of doing business is in some ways more open than used to be done – when discussions were held only by the elite few, and decisions were presented to the general body only for their approval.  Now in executive session there is passion, disagreement, and problems openly discussed with real debate and decisions being made by the body.

Since much of what we did in the recent meeting was done in Executive session, I cannot offer any more detail than you can find on the OCA’s officieal webpage (http://oca.org/news/headline-news/metropolitan-council-concludes-meeting).  You can read other, unofficial ideas about the MC meeting at OCAnews.org.

I intend in this blog and the next to offer a more enigmatic view of what the MC does and how its meetings in executive session relate to Christ and the Gospel.  Sometimes silence has a meaning.  Elijah heard God in the still small voice, not in the roaring tumult (1 Kings 19).  I beg my readers’ patience for not being able to share more directly what it is to sit in Executive Session.

And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd about them, and scribes arguing with them.  And immediately all the crowd, when they saw Jesus, were greatly amazed, and ran up to him and greeted him.  And he asked them, “What are you discussing with them?”  And one of the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a dumb spirit; and wherever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.”  And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.”   (Mark 9:14-19)

It is the case, sometimes, that the disciples of Christ are in discussion with the world and with each other, and Christ is absent.   He may join these discussions, wanting to know what the discussion and fuss is all about.   Sometimes we have to admit in frustration that we are not able to fix the problem which is confronting the OCA, or maybe we are not willing to do what it takes to fix the problem.   Christ is known to rebuke His disciples for their lack of faith.  He is no doubt troubled that we are not always capable of carrying out His will.  We have to accept His rebuke and seek his help to accomplish the task before us.

 But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to ask him. And they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they were silent; for on the way they had discussed with one another who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, “If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:32-35)

The disciples apparently had their own version of executive session, which they apparently did not want Christ to know about.  They had unminuted discussions which were not for the crowds nor for Christ’s ears.  Christ is patient with His disciples, even if they allowed their discussion to stray off topic.   He tries to turn such moments of human frailty into teachable moments – offering glimpses into the Kingdom of Heaven.    Christ reminds us that our meetings are about service – of others, of the good of the greater church, of the needs of the faithful.  Service is the topic of our meetings: We are to be servants.

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. (Luke 24:13-17)

Even on the day of  resurrection they disciples found things to be sad about.  Discussing the events of the day did not uplift them.   They were stuck in dealing with the problems of life, and the resurrection was nothing more than part of the confusion and doubt of the day.  Christ still was with them as the disciples described the events of the day and the news they were wrestling with.  He sees their sadness and lets them discuss it without immediately taking away the sorrow.

Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened.  Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.  So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further…     (Luke 24:18-28)

It was necessary for Christ to suffer these things.  It is still necessary for His Body, the Church, to suffer also before entering into His glory.   It is the promise of God, and the warning of Christ.

We sometimes think we have reached out destination, or perhaps just an impasse.  Christ is moving on.   This is not abandonment of His disciples but giving them direction to persevere.  We are on the sojourn to the Kingdom of God.  There may be momentary delays, and trials, and failures.  It happened between Egypt and the Promised land.  Forty years of wandering.  Leadership can fail, but Christ’s mission and salvation do not fail.   We must keep our eyes on Christ, even if for times in this world He vanishes from our sight.

Next:  Continuing the Wilderness Sojourn: Reaching the Destination

OCA Synod Releases Public Minutes of Their Winter Retreat

While confusion has reigned in the OCA since rumors of Metropolitan Jonah’s being put on Leave of Absence were reported by several different sources, tonight the Synod released their Public Minutes of their Winter Retreat.  The minutes show clearly that the Synod was putting the Metropolitan on Leave of Absence for unnamed health reasons, but respectfully gave him opportunity to request the leave.   The Minutes clearly show the Metropolitan agreeing to the terms of the Leave effective immediately (February 25).

The confusion grew when an OCA press release, Holy Synod Announces Changes, said the metropolitan was taking time off for a “personal retreat and time of spiritual renewal.”  This was followed by Metropolitan Jonah in a public announcement at the OCA’s St. Nicholas Cathedral claiming he was taking “an extended period of rest.”   He publicly denied that he was on Leave of Absence.   The Metropolitan then in the last few days engaged in a flurry of activities including postponing the annual Spring meeting of the Holy Synod and of the Metropolitan Council. 

The released minutes clearly contradict the Metropolitan’s announcement and denial of being on Leave of Absence.  They also would call into question all of his decisions and announcements of the past few days, since he already was to be on Leave of Absence and relieved of his duties.

The crisis provoked by the Metropolitan, will now hopefully be addressed by the Synod to whom he is mutually accountable and obedient.   The status of his recent actions require clarification, and the effects of his recent actions will certainly become the focus of discussions within the Synod of Bishops and the Metropolitan Council, and between them.

Speaking to the Apostles and Their Successors

Reading through the four Gospels, one can see that the original twelve disciples are not sinless, perfect or infallible.  On the most basic level one of the Twelve denies Jesus and one betrays Him.   More frequently they don’t understand Him, and by the end of Mark’s Gospel they all have abandoned Him.

“Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they sat at table; and he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.”   (Mark 16:14)

Jesus does upbraid  and rebuke the glorious disciples for their failures.  On one occasion, quite famously, Jesus called Peter, the head of the Apostles, “Satan.”

“From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.’   (Matthew 16:21-23)

Jesus was not afraid to severely rebuke the Apostles when they failed, in order to teach, correct and exhort them.   Are we not to imitate Christ?  An errant Apostle is to be rebuked and straightened out by Christ, whose Body we are.  The successors to the Apostles are not greater than the Twelve.

One of the most heart-wrenching scenes concerning the Apostles, comes from the Last Supper.  

 “And when it was evening he came with the twelve.  And as they were at table eating, Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.’  They began to be sorrowful, and to say to him one after another, ‘Is it I?’”   (Mark 14:17-19)

“Is it I, Lord?”  

None was totally sure of himself.  They were each terrified by the possibility that they would be the one who betrayed Christ.  Note:  they don’t deny the possibility.  Because they each have to ask, they each recognize they could do it, or perhaps, had already considered  it.  

Those first disciples at least had the humility and self awareness to question themselves regarding the accusation from Christ that one of them would betray Him.  As true disciples of the Master, they were humble, and had learned introspection; they each knew the value of self examination, truthfulness and repentance.  Each recognized that one of them could and would betray the Lord was realistically a possibility.   Each honestly wondered about himself.

“…and as they were eating, he said, ‘Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.’ And they were very sorrowful, and began to say to him one after another, ‘Is it I, Lord?’”  (Matthew 26:21-22)

They were sitting with Christ, eating with Him, and yet admitting to themselves and to Christ: they could not only fail Him but even turn against Him.  What does it take for an Apostle, or their successors, to recognize that one of their own will or has turned against Christ?  

The 12 Apostles could be humble and recognize that each of them could fail Christ, betray Him,  or sin against Him.    They were not hierarchs who do not or cannot admit error, sin, failure or foible.  They did not circle the wagons around each other, self defensively and in opposition to Christ or the world. How terribly awesome that self admission, the heart of a penitent: “I can betray Him” – I, the Apostle, one of the chosen Twelve.  They were afraid, but not of what people would think of them, nor of making a mistake, or admitting they were wrong.  They were afraid because they admitted to their own self-willed sinfulness.

“’For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!’  Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.    A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest.”  (Luke 22:22-24)

Just one second after pausing to recognize that one of them would betray Christ  – again, they don’t deny that this could happen, they are trying to figure out which one of them would do it – they begin to argue among themselves which one of them was to be regarded as greatest!   They obviously are already jockeying for power and prestige,  each already forgetting his terrifying realization of the last minute that he might betray Christ.  Jesus immediately and once again rebukes their failure and wrong attitude.

It is how the Christ speaks to one who strays from being a disciple.  It is how the Body of Christ is to imitate Him.  Rebuke the disciple who strays, and recognize that the one who betrays Christ and the Apostolic fellowship, disciple though he be, has left the fellowship, like Judas.

Archbishop Seraphim of Canada Arrested

News about the arrest and charging of Archbishop Seraphim of Canada on two counts of child sexual assault circulated widely yesterday (American Thanksgiving Day).  You can read articles: CTV Edmonton, Canada.com, Global Winnipeg,  The New York Times, and The Washington Post.

The arrest means Canadian authorities believe the allegations have sufficient merit to warrant a trial.   The OCA’s Synod of Bishops had in their recent meeting (November 15-18) also approved a commission to look into these allegations.

However painful such a story is for the Church, the Church as an institution was called into existence to deal with sin in the world by our Lord Jesus Christ.  The purpose of the Church is to deal with sin and sinners, and now we will see how the Church, with its very human leaders deals with sin and sins, not only in the world, but in the Church.

While news within the church of allegations of misconduct comes as a shocking surprise and is often met with incredulity, I am much reminded of the Gospel lesson of the Last Supper as recorded in  Mark 14:16-23 (and the parallel account in Matthew 26:19-30):

And the disciples set out and went to the city, and found it as he had told them; and they prepared the passover. And when it was evening he came with the twelve.  And as they were at table eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be sorrowful, and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me.For the Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” And as they were eating, he took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it.

Images of the last supper resonate with us not only because of Holy Thursday and iconography but more because of Holy Communion which we receive each week.  We understand the event of the Mystical Supper to be one of high points of the liturgical remembrance of Christ during Holy Week – for Communion becomes our real participation in the life of Christ, in His death and resurrection as members of His Body.

In the midst of this Mystical and sacramental participation in Christ, we see the Twelve Disciples one by one verbalizing the fear of their own hearts: “Is it I, Lord?!?”  For Christ informs them around the Eucharistic table that one of them is going to betray Him.   Each disciple does not express the firm conviction and disbelief, “No!  It is not true, don’t say that, Lord.”  They each do not ask, “How can you say that, Lord?”  Rather each one asks aloud, “Is it I, Lord?”   Is it I, chosen apostle, one of the Twelve, who will betray you?  They each knew themselves.

What a scene!  The chosen and holy apostles each is able to vocalize that dreaded fear, “Is it I who will betray you, Lord?”  For each in that moment realized the truth and the depth of his own heart:  for each it was a possibility.  We each need to think about this truth before we rush to judgment or lose all faith in the Apostles or the Apostolic Church.   “Is it I, Lord, who can betray you?”  “Is it I, Lord, who does betray you by my sins?”

We deceive ourselves if we believe that church leaders are sinless for “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  All includes priests, bishops, apostles, and saints.   We each stand in church as sinners, perhaps penitents, perhaps seeking forgiveness and mercy, perhaps redeemed by Christ, but sinners nonetheless. 

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.   (1 John 1:8-10)

This is the reality the Church claims to believe.  It is not for nothing that before receiving the Eucharist we recite in the creedal prayer, “Neither like Judas will I give you a kiss.”   The incredible truth about us as disciples is we are human and we are capable of betraying Christ – not only that, but betraying Him by the kiss of peace.   We do contemplate Judas each Holy Week as well, as a reminder of what it is to be human.

The reality of humans, the reality which God so grudgingly acknowledges in Genesis 6:6 and 8:21 in the story of Noah and the great flood, is that there is evil in the heart of humans even from when we are young. 

We are created in God’s image and likeness, capable of bearing God in us, capable of theosis.  We also are beings in whose hearts evil can and does dwell.  Both are the truths about humanity, and both are supposed to be included in how the Church sees itself, its members, and the world.  In the Church we deal with truth, even when it is painful and cuts to the heart.  “Is it I, Lord?”

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

Contemplating Justice

All of us in the church, but especially anyone in a role of leadership (teacher, parish council member, etc), should make ourselves familiar with the laws that govern the mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse. In the U.S. these laws are generally set at the state level.  Someone who suspects (or  even, as the laws often state, “reasonably should have known of”) child abuse is expected to report it to the civil authorities. (And some people in society, often medical personnel, teachers, youth workers, and sometimes clergy are mandated to report sexual abuse even if they only suspect it). This duty to report does not mean the reporter is making an allegation. They simply are telling the authorities of a concern. The civil authorities then have the responsibility to investigate the report and decide what action, if any, to take.   Those who have reason to suspect child abuse is taking place and fail to report it to the civil authorities themselves can face serious criminal charges.

We can keep in mind that though this is now law in most states, it is fairly new in the law books. The Church itself is in the process of adapting to these child sexual abuse laws and incorporating their intent into its own climate and culture.   This is all one effect that the recent highly publicized church sexual abuse scandals has had on all churches in America.

 

 

Wisdom & Justice, Divine Inspiration, Vice & Crime, Corruption, Slander, Deception, Despotic Power

 

Sometimes someone in the church is the reporter of such an event to the civil authorities. Sometimes someone in the church is reported to the authorities (and fortunately this isn’t often –  we must work to make sure it isn’t!).  The Church today by law must take all reports of sexual misconduct seriously. This means that the Church has to act upon reports of sexual misconduct of which it becomes aware. This is not acting on rumor, but following the law. If someone warned the Church that a report of sexual misconduct has been made against a clergyman, the Church these days must take that seriously and move to protect its children. A report about sexual misconduct usually exists before an investigation takes place. If the Church is aware of such a report, it will and should  take such actions as to protect its children. This usually means the clergyman involved would be put on leave of absence or suspended while the investigation takes place. This is not the Church taking sides against the clergyman, but rather doing a responsible thing while the report is being investigated. A report being made is not proof of guilt. An investigation taking place is not proof of guilt. A clergyman being suspended is not proof of guilt, nor proof that the Church believes the clergyman guilty. It only means the Church is doing due diligence while an investigation by civil authorities occurs, and/or the Church itself is doing an investigation. (I would say just keep in mind what jurors are told in a trial – the fact that someone is wearing a uniform or holds some position of authority does not mean that person’s testimony is more reliable than anyone else’s. The same logic applies during an investigation into possible clergy sexual misconduct – everybody’s words must be considered fairly and weighed with or against all the evidence and all the pertinent testimonies – both those making the allegations as well as the accused must be given a fair hearing.  In other words, the assumption now is that just because a person holds high office or a position of trust doesn’t mean that person’s word is more trustworthy than that of others when it comes to sexual misconduct.  Liberty and justice for all includes children, the oppressed, the defenseless, minorities, the weak, and the abused, not just those in power and authority or who can afford it). 

 

 

Security, Harmony, Peace, Charity,Defence of Virtue, Wisdom

The court may decide that there is insufficient evidence to pursue a criminal or legal verdict, which does not say that the allegations are false. In such an event, the church’s own investigation will also have an important say in the matter. The Church can decide that though there is not sufficient evidence for a criminal conviction, that there is in fact sufficient evidence for the church to act on and rule on the allegations. The Church’s authority to rule on such cases is not pre-empted by a civil court. 

 

Wisdom, Justice, Divine Inspiration, Truth

Where there is a separation of church and state, two investigations (one civil and one ecclesiastical) are needed.  Even in Byzantium, where there was no separation of church and state but rather a “symphony” between them,  St. Basil reminded the civil courts in a case involving theft from the church of donations collected for the poor, that the civil criminal investigation does not supersede what the Church decides about guilt in the Church’s internal affairs.    The church may take into consideration any of the findings of the civil investigation and also whatever actions the civil authorities took. But the church’s own investigation and actions are not determined by, limited to or coterminous with the civil investigation and civil administration of justice.

When an allegation of clergy sexual misconduct involving minors is made, two investigations are called for. First, the reporter of the suspected misconduct should go to the civil authorities (this may be mandated by local law). The civil authorities have their own responsibility to investigate such a complaint. Second, the reporter should inform church authorities that such a report has been made with the civil authorities, which then initiates a church investigation. The two investigations will hopefully cooperate to make sure a complete investigation is conducted, but they are two separate investigations: one is deciding criminal liability, the other moral culpability. (The church has to react to such a report even if the police have not yet opened an investigation). The result of the two investigations have different consequences: civil authorities are not concerned with whether the alleged perpetrator is allowed to continue holding a clerical title – that is the church’s business.  Conversely, church authorities are not in the position to order criminal penalties such as jail time. Whether or not the accused is found guilty of a crime, the church can decide the behavior was egregious enough to defrock the cleric.

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.