AT ROOT OF POLICY REVISIONS
On February 6, 2009 the Chancery of the Orthodox Church in America announced that it was "in the process of revising and updating the Church’s 'Policies, Standards and Procedures on Sexual Misconduct.'" “The existing document was prepared and adopted by the Holy Synod of Bishops in 2003,” said OCA Chancellor, Archpriest Alexander Garklavs. ‘’The needed revisions reflect the need to address ethical issues and aspects not covered in the original document.’’
According to the announcement: "This revision was initiated by the Holy Synod of Bishops and blessed by His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah.’’
In addition, and related to this process, Syosset announced that “ ...the Holy Synod has begun work with the Central Church Administration in developing programs of harassment training for clergy and Church employees. Both pastoral and practical aspects of such training will be considered. At the same time, a joint effort between Church administration and seminary officials will begin to implement the Holy Synod’s decision to study and institute a formal process of screening candidates for Holy Orders.” Fr. Garklavs stressed that “the Orthodox Church in America places a high priority in providing pastors, parishes, and religious institutions with all possible resources in dealing with these sensitive issues.”
THE REST OF THE STORY
What the Chancery failed to fully disclose is that while the revisions may have been technically initiated “by the Synod”, they were, in fact, required by the Settlement Agreement and Release between the OCA and Paul Sidebottom, which was effective December 6, 2008. (Read that story here)
According to the relevant provisions of that Settlement and Release, provided at the request of OCANEWS.org by Mr. Sidebottom’s counsel, Mr. James C. Spencer, of the firm HINKLE ELKOURI L.L.C. of Witchita, Kansas:
“The OCA agrees that within six (6) months of the effective date of this Agreement, it will revise its Policies, Standards, and Procedures of the Orthodox Church in America on Sexual Misconduct to (i) prohibit all forms of retaliation against any complainant or witness and (ii) to specify the procedure when a bishop is a respondent or a witness to alleged sexual misconduct; provided, that the nature of, and any substance and procedures incident to, such revision shall be in the sole, good faith discretion of the OCA, acting on advice of its Holy Synod of Bishops, Metropolitan Council, legal counsel, such other professional advisers as the OCA may determine to be necessary, and/or, if necessary, All-American Council.
The OCA agrees that within six (6) months of the effective date of this Agreement, it will pursue, through its Office of the Chancellor and the Department of Pastoral Life and Ministry (or such other Office, Department or Ministry as may succeed Office or Department, or such other office or department as OCA may later determine to be appropriate), implementation of a program that provides periodic harassment training for clergy and church employees; provided, that the terms thereof shall be in the sole, good faith discretion of the OCA, acting on advice of its Holy Synod of Bishops, Metropolitan Council, legal counsel, such other professional advisors as the OCA may determine to be necessary, and/or, if necessary, All-American Council.
The OCA agrees that within six (6) months of the effective date of this Agreement, the Holy Synod of Bishops of the OCA, working with the OCA’s Central Church Administration, will pursue its intention to implement a formal process for screening all candidates for Holy Orders; provided, that the terms and procedures of such process shall be in the sole, good faith discretion of the OCA, acting on advice of its Holy Synod of Bishops, Metropolitan Council, legal counsel, such other professional advisers as the OCA may determine to be necessary, and/or, if necessary, All American Council. The terms of such process may include, inter alia:
(a) A determination of whether independent psychological assessment of each candidate for ordination is necessary (i.e., for candidates to the diaconate and the episcopate; or for candidates to the priesthood, if such occurs five years after their ordination to the diaconate);
(b) A determination of how detailed criminal records checks should be; and
(c) A determination of the kind of review that should occur to determine the personality disorders and pathologies of prospective candidates, and what kind of prohibitions and/or restrictions should be placed when such are found.”
Questions abound, from the general to the specific. Why not just disclose the settlement terms from the beginning? Why wrap the effort of revision of the Church's policies in the mantle of seeming pro-activity, when in fact it was reaction - and a required one at that?
More specifically, who is to order, perform and evaluate these “independent psychological assessments” of candidates for ordination, both to the priesthood and the episcopate? One has to look no further than the Sidebottom case itself to see the problems involved. In an August 2007 story about the unfolding Sidebottom scandal, OCANEWS.org reported:
“According to an Associated Press story carried in the Anchorage Daily News on Saturday, August 18th: ‘The incident is being investigated by Martin Atrops of Anchorage and Alexey Karlgut, the chief investigator for sexual abuse cases for the Orthodox Church in America. Neither could be reached for comment.’
.... Dr. Atrops has been assessing third year students for St. Herman’s Seminary in Kodiak for several years, a consulting task for which he was hired by Bishop Nikolai, to whom he reports his findings. Moreover, there are reports that Bishop Nikolai asked Dr. Atrops to interview Paul Sidebottom shortly after the Bishop terminated him from the Seminary. Sidebottom refused to speak with Dr. Atrops. Thus, there would appear to be a conflict of interest here: How can a consultant investigate his own employer? How can a consultant investigate an alleged victim for an alleged abuser, and then investigate the alleged abuser on behalf of the Church?”
As the subsequent months-long "soap opera" of events surrounding the forced retirement of Bishop Nikolai has shown, such questions and concerns were not idle.
In the same vein, in the announcement the OCA stated that the revisions are “being done with the help of canonical, legal and professional experts”, but did not specify any names as to who was assisting in these efforts. Who are the canonical, legal and professional experts assisting in this effort? Why the secrecy here as well?
THE "OFFICE OF SEXUAL MISCONDUCT"
If, as Syosset asserts, “the Orthodox Church in America places a high priority in providing pastors, parishes, and religious institutions with all possible resources in dealing with these sensitive issues” why is the office created by the OCA to deal with these issues, its staff, and even its contact numbers not even listed by the OCA? One finds no mention of it on the OCA website under departments, programs, or ministries - or even in the OCA’s budget, where its expenses are not listed seperately, but grouped under the general heading of “Office of the Metropolitan”.
Indeed, why the continuing veil of secrecy over the entire issue of clergy sexual misconduct? Are we going to continue to pretend these issues do not exist in the OCA? The sad and costly experience of the Roman Catholic Church, not to mention the more recent sad and costly experience of the Greek Archdiocese, should be evidence enough that transparency and accountability in dealing with incidents of sexual misconduct among church workers are the simpler, prudent and less costly courses in the end.
The Metropolitan Council meets next week, together with the Lesser Synod. If the OCA is serious about revising its policies it might begin by acknowledging the existence of its "Office of Sexual Misconduct", its staff, budget, contact numbers and the guidelines under which it operates. This is one set of secrets the OCA can no longer afford to keep.
- Mark Stokoe