The following article appeared on the front page of the Anchorage Daily News today.
Church gives sex offender a role in step toward the priesthood
RUSSIAN ORTHODOX: Criticism unwarranted in view of crime's circumstances, chancellor says.
By BETH BRAGG
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A registered sex offender who served more than a year in prison for sexually abusing minors is wearing robes that signal he has taken a first step toward priesthood in the Russian Orthodox Church.
Terenty Dushkin, 26, was installed as a lay reader of the liturgy last month by Bishop Nikolai, the church's highest-ranking official in Alaska. Church officials say they did so knowingly.
"This is not a scandal in any way," said Chancellor Archimandrite Isidore, the church's No. 2 official here.
"The church believes everyone is redeemable. We don't think people are necessarily damaged goods that have to be locked away."
But Dushkin's investiture appears to violate the Orthodox Church in America's policy on such matters, which states that "no layperson shall commit, attempt to commit, or engage in any act of sexual misconduct."
Alaska church officials knew about Dushkin's past when they "tonsured" him as a reader for St. Innocent Cathedral at a ceremony in early December.
In 2004 -- the year he was charged with 11 sex crimes -- Dushkin was a student at St. Herman's Theological Seminary in Kodiak, which prepares students for Orthodox priesthood.
Dushkin could not be reached for comment.
As a reader, he wears robes that identify him as an official celebrant at church services. That's troublesome, said a California woman who runs a Web site that tracks sex abuse in Orthodox churches.
"He's not going to be hearing confessions or blessing houses, but he is going to be wearing a robe during the services, and that gives him an aura of authority," said Melanie Sakoda, who started www.pokrov.org several years ago in response to allegations of abuse within the church.
"He can come to church, he can go to communion," Sakoda said. "But he doesn't need to be a reader. He doesn't need to go even that far on the path toward clergy."
A reader "is regarded as one of the first steps toward priesthood, the first rank or order of priesthood," said Andrew Jarmus, director of communication for the Orthodox Church in America in Syosset, N.Y.
Jarmus wouldn't comment on Nikolai's choice to tonsure a convicted sex offender.
But Isidore, who said he doesn't think Dushkin has ambitions to become a priest, said readers are like altar boys. They aren't clerics, he said, and they function only under the direction and supervision of a priest.
If anything, Dushkin is under greater supervision as a reader than as a regular member of the church, Isidore said. "It keeps him at the altar."
The tonsuring of a convicted sex offender wrapped up a difficult year for Alaska's Russian Orthodox Church.
Last summer, national church leaders investigated Isidore on charges of inappropriate sexual conduct with a former missionary. The allegations were dismissed.
"I don't see this as a continuation of the regrettable events of this summer," he said of the church's choice to tonsure Dushkin.
In a plea agreement with prosecutors, Dushkin was convicted on two counts of sexual abuse of a minor and one count of exploitation of a minor, a charge that came from a sex tape featuring him and two females, one of them 17 years old. It was filmed with Dushkin's camera and discovered by police at Dushkin's home in Unalaska, according to court documents.
The rest of the original 11 charges were dismissed.
The convictions involve Dushkin having sex on several occasions, from 2002 to 2004, with girls who were 13 and 14 years when the sex started.
"(W)hat may have been a youthful indiscretion on Mr. Dushkin's part has long since been repented," Isidore said in a written statement.
In an interview, Isidore claimed Dushkin's crimes weren't predatory in nature. "From my understanding,
it was a situation that could be termed statutory rape -- which albeit is wrong, but very much different than molesting a child, for example."
Isidore said church officials consulted an attorney before tonsuring Dushkin.
He said church officials weren't deterred by the sex scandals that have plagued the Roman Catholic Church recently, some of which unfolded in Alaska, where scores of youths were abused by priests and other church officials.
"The church doesn't operate based on public opinion," Isidore said.