8.5.09 New Reflection
WHAT I WOULD HAVE SAID
AT THE CONVENTION
by Jack Turner, Memphis TN
This past week I had the honor and privilege of being one of the delegates from my parish to the 49th General Convention of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America. Among the most contentious issues brought up at this convention was that of retired Bishop Demetri Khoury and the continued payments for his support being made by the AOANA to the Archdiocese of Mexico. As readers of this page are aware, a delegate introduced a resolution to prohibit any further such payments. (Read that transcript here)
Unfortunately, though the motion was made and seconded, His Eminence Metropolitan Philip refused to entertain the motion or to hear any debate upon it. As I think this motion was very important, and I was standing in line behind the microphone waiting to be heard on the issue, I was disappointed by the Metropolitan’s decision. Below is what I would have liked to have said, had debate been permitted:
Your Eminence Metropolitan Philip, Your Eminence Metropolitan Paul, Your Eminence Metropolitan Nikitas, Your Graces, Reverend Clergy, Fellow Orthodox Christians:
I wish to join my voice to those who believe that Bishop Demetri should be forgiven for the transgressions which took place in a Traverse City, Michigan casino in 2003. There is no person in this room who is without sin, and no person in this room, or in this God-protected Archdiocese, in any greater need of forgiveness than myself. The forgiveness offered by God transcends any sin any of us can commit, and the Holy Spirit will, if we allow it, transform the most corrupted soul.
However, while I believe that Bishop Demetri should, so long as he has repented, be forgiven for those unfortunate actions, I must also join those who say that he should not be returned to active ministry, nor should he be compensated by this Archdiocese at this time. The reasons for this are manifold.
While some would view this issue as a matter of forgiveness, I believe that this confuses two unrelated issues, namely, forgiveness, and the proper application of canon law. One may be forgiven by God, but still subject to ecclesiastical sanction, not as a matter of punishment, but for the good of the church and the soul of the individual sinner. A clergyman who commits murder is entitled to forgiveness if he repents, but he must still be deposed from office for his own good, and for the good of the whole Church.
Beyond that point, others can and should speak to the canonical issues at stake. While the canons forbidding the return to ministry of one who has been found guilty of the crimes of which Bishop Demetri stands convicted seem clear, I am not a canon lawyer, and do not feel myself competent to address those matters beyond what I have said.
However, while I am not a canon lawyer, I am a civil litigator. I have practiced in the fields of tort law, as well as sexual harassment, and therefore feel that I am somewhat qualified to address the legal ramifications should we fail to adopt this motion.
Sayidna, you are correct when you say that we cannot divide people and declare them righteous or sinful. Only God may do that. However, our civil courts are charged with the task of dividing people and declaring them negligent or non-negligent. And should Bishop Demetri, God forbid, suffer a relapse of his condition and commit a similar action, this Archidiocese would almost certainly be classified as negligent, or even grossly negligent. The financial consequences of such a designation could well be disastrous.
As any who have opened a newspaper over the last few years can attest, various dioceses and archdioceses of the Roman church have been brought to their knees, spiritually and financially, by the sexual misconduct of some of their clergy, and by the failure of their bishops to remove such men from pastoral service. Should we fail to profit by their example, the cost to this Archdiocese would be well in excess of any of the figures we heard quoted for the cost of an audit of the Archdiocesan finances.
I hold in my hand the police report from the incident in Traverse City. For reasons of decorum, I will not read from that report. The details are readily available to any who wish to see them, and I wish to bring no more humiliation upon Bishop Demetri by recounting them before this assembly. However, the report itself is important because, in a court of law, you Sayidna, as well as every bishop on the local synod, and every trustee would be charged with the knowledge of what is contained within this report. Whether you have read this report or not, and whether you have seen the videotape of the incident in question or not, any court of law in any jurisdiction in the United States of which I am aware would find that a reasonable and prudent person in your situation would have reviewed this report and the tape of the incident before deciding whether to place Bishop Demetri in a position of pastoral responsibility. Knowing what is in this report and on that tape, I do not believe a court in this country would find that it was reasonable or prudent to place Bishop Demetri in a position where he could again commit such an act. In short, because you are aware that he has shown himself capable of committing such an action, you must, as a reasonable and prudent employer, assume that it could happen again and take appropriate steps to ensure that it does not.
In your capacity as primate of this Archdiocese, and as a member of the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in America you have stood for a zero tolerance policy for priests who have committed crimes of a sexual nature. The SCOBA Statement on Sexual Misconduct in the Church, a document that was approved unanimously, states that “The Church will not turn her back on these former clerics, if they repent of their destructive behavior and receive forgiveness, even though they can no longer serve as clergy or in other positions of authority.” (Emphasis added) The Archdiocese’s Policies and Procedures regarding Sexual Misconduct further state that “The Archdiocese’s policies reflect her adherence to the teachings of the Holy Orthodox Church with respect to sexual relations which govern the conduct of both clergy and laity alike.” Should a court find that the Archdiocese disregarded its own policies, and the SCOBA policies to which we have, through your vote, subscribed, it could very likely find that the Archdiocese was grossly negligent in restoring Bishop Demetri. A finding of recklessness or gross negligence on the part of the Archdiocese would subject us not only to compensatory damages, but punitive damages as well. If we are worried about the cost of an audit, how much more so should we be concerned about taking on such a huge financial risk?
Some might argue that because Bishop Demetri is currently serving in the Archdiocese of Mexico, his actions could not affect us. This is a mistaken assumption for two reasons. First, the Archdiocese of Mexico includes certain U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico, and, if I am not mistaken, the U.S. Virgin Islands. Second, there have been persistent rumors that Bishop Demetri spends some time in Florida, and may be returned to ministry there by this Archdiocese. Certain statements made in the Finance Department Meeting Wednesday lend credence to that claim. While I cannot speak to the effect on this archdiocese should he misbehave in Mexico, I can state that if he relapses in the United States, we could face serious financial and legal liability.
At the Department of Finance meeting it was stated that the Archdiocese is not actually paying Bishop Demetri, but is instead paying money the Archdiocese of Mexico and the Caribbean for missions and evangelism, and that it is their decision as to how to use these funds. If I may be blunt, Sayidna, for a representative of this Archdiocese to state this on a witness stand would be worse than stating “Yes, we are paying him directly.”
Given the scandals the Roman church has gone through, and the unfortunate degree of suspicion this has cast upon the clergy of so many faiths, I believe that should this explanation be offered we could expect to be painted with the same brush that has tarred Rome. An explanation that our payments were not direct, and therefore more permissible, would almost certainly be seen as hairsplitting in an effort to cover up a money trail. I fear that too many jurors would jump to the conclusion that if we felt the need to in some way hide the means by which Bishop Demetri was being paid, it was because the Archdiocese knew that there was a reason not to pay him publicly and directly.
Should we be sued because of misconduct by Bishop Demetri, a jury would not hear about all the remarkable accomplishments you listed in your address. They would know nothing of the good work the Holy Spirit has accomplished through this Archdiocese during your episcopacy. Instead, they would learn of your friendship with Bishop Demetri. They would hear the police report. They would see the video. They would not see the Metropolitan Philip known to and loved by the people in this room. Instead, looking through the lens created by the Roman church’s scandals and the media coverage of them, they would, however wrongly, see you as another Bernard Cardinal Law.
Your Eminence, you made known in your eloquent remarks to my friend Mrs. Hodges your desire to restore Bishop Demetri to active ministry. In so doing, you are are no doubt motivated by a sense of charity and filial love for Bishop Demetri. Furthermore, you have stated that His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius IV wishes to see Bishop Demetri employed in some manner. Both you and his Beatitude are wise and compassionate men, and are far better able than I to determine what would be best for the spiritual health of your spiritual son. However, for the good of the Archdiocese, I would respectfully ask that whatever employment Bishop Demetri be given, it be in compliance with the restrictions placed on him by the local synod. By so doing, not only would you show respect for the wishes of His Beatitude, but would also protect the Archdiocese from a financially ruinous predicament, should Bishop Demetri do as all of us are wont to do, and stumble as he attempts to work out his salvation.
I would also point out that, under the terms of this resolution, Bishop Demetri would still be entitled to receive his retirement stipend, as well as payment for his translation work, so long as he honors the agreement he made with the local synod. I see no reason to cut Bishop Demetri off from all sources of income, nor have I heard anyone suggest that we do so.
For these reasons, I ask the delegates to vote in favor of the resolution and terminate payments to Bishop Demetri until such time as he complies with the decision of the local synod. Thank you.
(Jack Turner is an attorney and served as a delegate to the 49th General Convention of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America. The views expressed in this article are his own and not those of any organization with which he is associated.)