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2.11.08 From the Kodiak Daily Mirror

OCA officials concerned about Alaska diocese
By RALPH GIBBS
Mirror Writer

A leading official with Orthodox Church in America said Friday that church officials are concerned about the Diocese of Alaska run by Bishop Nikolai, but stopped short of making any official comment about a recent complaint filed with the Federal Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission and the tonsure of a registered sex offender.

"It would be inappropriate for me to comment during an ongoing investigation," Archbishop Alexander Garklavs, a chancellor on the Metropolitan Council said. "We are concerned."

On Feb. 6, Paul Sidebottom, a former missionary with the church, filed a complaint with EEOC alleging sexual harassment and retaliatory discharge, stemming from an incident in Kodiak in May 2007.

Based on a letter Sidebottom wrote to Metropolitan Herman in Syosset, N.Y., the leader of the Orthodox Church in America began an investigation into misconduct within the Alaska Diocese centered on
allegations that a drunken Archimandrite Isidore, the Alaska Diocese's second leading bishop, allegedly sexually assaulted Sidebottom and that Nikolai subsequently attempted to cover it.

"In the car ride over (from the airport) and back, Fr. Isidore was in tears," Sidebottom wrote in a letter to Herman describing the alleged sexual assault. "He asked how he had come to his current condition.
He said he had once been normal. He loved God. He loved his neighbor. All the while, he was reaching back to touch my leg in an inappropriate way and trying to hug me."

Sidebottom said it wasn't the last time that night Isidore tried to fondle him.

"I was in his bedroom alone with him," Sidebottom wrote. "Then he tried to touch me inappropriately, wanting `someone to cry with.' Several times Fr. Isidore tried to stand and grab me inappropriately. Finally, he collapsed on his bed."

According to a press release issued by Sidebottom's lawyer, James Spencer with the law firm Kinkle Elkouri located in Wichita, Kan., "The EEOC complaint goes on to allege that Bishop Nikolai and
Archimandrite Isidore caused Sidebottom to be fired from his job at St. Herman's Theological Seminary in retaliation for Sidebottom's filling of a sexual harassment complaint with Metropolitan Herman."

Sidebottom, now 31, had been a teacher of religious classes and assistant to the seminary dean at St. Herman's Theological Seminary in Kodiak, a position that he loved.

"To find myself on Kodiak Island, the beachhead of Orthodoxy in America still stuns my imagination," Sidebottom wrote on the Orthodox
Christian Mission Center Web site. "Alaska has been called `the pearl of great price.' Certainly ministry here takes extra effort, but the blessing is worth giving all that you have."

Nikolai started an investigation shortly after hearing of the allegations, but Herman, concerned about improprieties, wrote a letter to Nikolai requesting that he remove himself from the investigation by requesting a formal investigation by the church.

"Dear Vladyka (Nikolai), it cannot be overstated that the allegations against Archimandrite Isidore and yourself are extraordinarily serious, and now public," the letter stated. "The severity of all issues involved makes it impossible for the matter to be addressed on
the diocesan level, or by you and the Diocesan Bishop.

"Therefore, as Primate of the Orthodox Church in America and with full support of the Holy Synod, I request that you immediately remove yourself from any involvement in this matter (by means of official request for assistance) and fully cooperate with the investigation being conducted by the OCA at the national level."

Five days after the letter, on Aug. 14, Nikolai requested the investigation be conducted by the primate's office. Nikolai said the timing was coincidence.

Although a lawsuit is possible, Spencer said that Sidebottom isn't looking for monetary gain.

"Paul is still hopeful that his complaint will be resolved within the structure of the Orthodox Church in America," Spencer said in the press release. "Some will view Paul's decision to file complaints with the EEOC and the Orthodox Church in America as a sign that he is making trouble in the Diocese of Alaska. But Paul is not making trouble he is merely revealing the trouble that is already there."

The Dushkin tonsure

The Alaska Diocese made more trouble for itself in a recent controversial tonsure of a registered sex offender.

In December 2007, 26-year-old Terenty Dushkin, a registered sexoffender who served more than a year in prison for having sexual intercourse with a minor, was installed as a lay reader by Nikolai.

"This is not a scandal in any way," Isidore said. "The church believes everyone is redeemable. We don't think people are necessarily damaged goods that have to be locked away."

Dushkin was appointed a reader, even though the appointment appears to violate church policy, which states, "No layperson shall commit, attempt to commit, or engage in any act of sexual misconduct."

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 July 2004, while responding to a domestic dispute, Dushkin's girlfriend, Anna King, told police that he had been having sex with another woman. During the course of the on-site investigation, police discovered that the other woman was a 15-year-old girl. In subsequent interviews, Dushkin, then 22, acknowledged that he knew the girl was underage and that the two had been having an ongoing sexual
relationship for three years.

While executing a search warrant in Durshkin's apartment, police found a tape which showed Dushkin having a sexual encounter with King and the young girl at the same time, which investigators believe to
have taken place in 2003.

At the time of the tape, King said she was 17 years old and admitted to having a three-year relationship with Dushkin, making Dushkin approximately 19 when their relationship started and King approximately 14. Durshkin was charged with seven counts of sexual
abuse of a minor in the second degree, one count of unlawful exploitation of a minor and one count of possession of child pornography.

He was also charged with two counts of sexual abuse of a minor in the third degree, when it was discovered during the investigation that Dushkin had oral sex with another underage girl who was 13 at the time of the encounter.

In a plea bargain, Duskin pleaded guilty to one count of sexual abuse of a minor in the second degree, sexual abuse of a minor in the third degree and unlawful exploitation of a minor.

Isidore, who is one of the subjects of a church and EEOC investigation for sexual misconduct, said that Dushkin's crimes were not predatory in nature and that as a reader Dushkin is under a lot of supervision.

In an announcement by church officials, Dushkin was suspended as a reader effective Jan. 17.

"In accordance with the holy Canon and in concurrence with the ruling bishop of the Diocese of Alaska, Terenty Dushkin, who was tonsured a Reader at St. Innocent Cathedral in Anchorage, AK., on December 9,2007, was suspended from any and all ministerial duties in any parish of the Orthodox Church in America."

Dushkin, Isidore and Nikolai could not be reached for comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Mirror writer Ralph Gibbs can be reach by email at
rgibbs@kodiakdailymirror.com.

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