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Reflections On The Scandal


On Sexual Misconduct

by Matushka Ellen Gvsodev, Phd

I wanted to reflect on what has been going on regarding the Sexual Misconduct issue in the Orthodox Church - not just the OCA but through SCOBA as well, during the last ten to twelve years.
Before I begin, I will present my credentials. I received a PhD in 1994 from the Union Institute in Pastoral Practice with emphasis on Sexual Malfeasance in the Church. This university’s doctoral programs fuse theory and practice so that well before you actually receive your doctorate, you are actively participating in your chosen field.

My core faculty was a professor from Yale, and my mentors included an Orthodox monk with a PhD in psychology and an Episcopal priest/expert in the field. Because the time of my study was during the ‘era’ of the exposure of sexual malfeasance in the Catholic Church, I was fortunate enough to have hands-on training with the original experts in the field: Dr. Marie Fortune (Director, Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Abuse and Violence, with emphasis on non-denominational clerical misconduct); Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA (Center for women abused by clergy).; Canon Margo Maris (Episcopal Diocese of Minneapolis, Clerical Sexual Abuse Advocacy Center); Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests; Dr.Glen Gabbard, (Menninger Clinic); Rev Lloyd G Rediger (therapist to clergy abusers); Dr Gary Schoener, (Minneapolis, MN counselor, author, lecturer on clerical sexual misconduct issues) and several attorneys who specialize in clerical misconduct/abuse legal issues. I did an internship (and later returned to lecture) at the Pastoral Counseling Center of Ft. Lauderdale. I authored numerous articles for Catholic periodicals (including ‘Priest’, a clergy periodical); wrote for ‘Synergia’, the publication of OCAMPR (Orthodox Christian Association of Psychology, Medicine and Religion); prepared the clerical sexual abuse presentation for the OCA Resource Handbook for Lay Ministries; presented lectures to clergy wives (OCA, and Antiochian), pan-Orthodox Clergy Association of South Florida, Ecumenical Association of Palm Beach County, Orthodox Christian Laity, Lutheran Association of Broward County and many other groups. I created a Policy/Procedure Program for the Greek Archdiocese (which was subsequently ‘lost’), as well as a representational synopsis for the Greek Synod of Bishops. I have consulted on some OCA diocesan misconduct problems. To those who question my ‘strictly secular’ education, I might add I was only one of 8 (from an original 42) to graduate from the first St. Stephen’s Master’s equivalency program, at that time a theological/pastoral program for priests in the Antiochian Archdiocese.

While working on my PhD, I contacted Fr. Nicholas Triantafilou, then chancellor of the Greek Archdiocese and coordinator of their fledgling sexual misconduct program. I met with Fr. Nicholas who was trying to set up a SCOBA based, program with an office to coordinate and handle clerical malfeasance issues in the various jurisdictions. We discussed the need for this and how it could come to fruition. This was the mid-90’s. To date no such inter-jurisdictional program or SCOBA office exists.

Also in the 90’s, a Pan-Orthodox study commission was set-up to create a program that all jurisdictions could use in dealing with sexual misconduct in the church. The members included priests, another matushka as well as me, and a layman – all with graduate degrees in psychology and expertise in sexual misconduct issues. We teleconferenced on a number of occasions and used the time in between to work on the topics to be covered hammering out points of disagreement, how the issue should be handled, and presented working papers identifying what constitutes sexual abuse in the church, the perpetrators, the victims and how to pastor to them, etc. Once again, before any concrete program could be presented, the work was stopped.

In early 2000, a committee was organized to create policy and procedure for the OCA. I was a member of this committee. What struck me when the draft for policy and procedure was completed, there was no policy covering misconduct by a bishop. While I (and I am sure, others on the committee) notified Syosset that this oversight could cause major problems in the future, nothing was done to correct it. In September 2003, I prepared a report A Companion to Official Church Guidelines: Understanding Sexual Abuse Issues in the Church, Educating Clergy and Laity. This report included a graph outlining the elements of sexual abuse in the Church: terms and definitions, child molestation issues and quotes from children who have been molested, as well as use and abuse of women by clergy, male on male abuse, and monastic abuse. Also included was an explanation of mandatory reporting and the Church’s role therein. Other issues pertaining to understanding sexual malfeasance in the Church were discussed including a summary of basic paradigms regarding clerical sexual misconduct. To my knowledge none of this material was ever included in any official OCA document. However, some of the material may have been used for sexual misconduct presentations by others.

Beginning in 2004 and continuing to 2006, I sent letters to SCOBA warning that because of the Catholic Church suits, legal parameters regarding abuses in the church were changing. I presented them with the legal changes and followed up when new changes were enacted. I showed the members of SCOBA how the ‘sweeping under the rug’ in the Catholic Church forced a change in these laws which originally had been favorable to churches . I presented changes in insurance law wherein insurance companies no longer were obligated to pay to settle church lawsuits if it is shown that the judicatory did not follow their own guidelines. I sent examples of problems within the various jurisdictions in America where a priest suspended or defrocked because he is a sexual predator on the national lists, can assume a new identity, and reinvent himself because there is no central ID process. I outlined problems which could be solved by SCOBA instead of each jurisdiction ‘reinventing the wheel’ and going it alone. I made suggestions how these ‘problem solvers’ could be implemented and maintained. I suggested that the problem was worse than the Church was willing to admit, and that it would only worsen unless SCOBA issued a bold statement on the topic followed up by action.

Follow-up letters were sent two to three times a year for three years. During this time there were only two responses: Bishop Dimitrious, General Secretary (not to be confused with Archbishop Demetrious, Chair) who wrote that while the suggestions were good, SCOBA could not implement them for two reasons- one being that SCOBA has no money, and two, that SCOBA has no inter-jurisdictional power and can only make suggestions to the various members of SCOBA.

(Note: It is possible to fund a registry, post policy and procedure etc. online at minimal cost, and with volunteers for initial setup and management. My question on the second part of his response is, what good is SCOBA if they are impotent?)

The second reply came from then OCA Chancellor Robert Kondratick who felt the suggestions were good and he would make sure the bishops would receive them. There was never any follow-up.

The point of this reflection is to be reminded that going back a decade or more, ideas were submitted, warning bells rung, and no one in power in Orthodox America paid attention. Each jurisdiction now has a form of policy and procedure on its books, not much of which is followed, and that will get us into trouble ‘big time’. Laity and clergy alike have to be vigilant and continue to voice concern about all that is being swept under the proverbial rug, putting the church in financial and legal danger. St .John Chrysostom said that Christ’s reference to false prophets is not a reference to heretics, but instead to all those in the Church who wear a mask of virtue while leading a corrupt life. Among heretics, he said, there is often found virtue, but never among those who wear the hypocritical mask. It is up to our leaders to destroy these masks.

So my friends, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, where do we go from here?
Matushka Ellen (Yelena) Gvosdev, PhD