A Place to Start on Misconduct Reform

Author: Paul Cromidas
Date Published: 01/04/2008
Publication: Orthodox Reform

(Editor’s Note: this article also appeared in this weekend’s edition of The National Herald.)

In its most recent edition of the Orthodox Observer, its official paper, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA), announced that three priests had been “Returned to Status of Layman” (translation: defrocked).

As usual, there were no reasons given for these actions. The three were, Fr. John D. Hill, Fr. John N. Kaloudis and Fr. Nicholas E. Katinas. There was also a suspension listed for Fr. Dionesios Marketos, with no reason given. We know from recent publicity that Fr. Katinas was reportedly defrocked last summer by the Ecumenical Patriarch for sexual misconduct, although there has never been an official word from the Patriarchate directly to the faithful. Up until a few months ago, even the GOA was saying it had not received official word, but now it apparently has.

In the case of the other priests listed, unless one has inside information, how is one to know the reasons for the action? This is the disingenuous pattern that the GOA has followed for years. The faithful are left in the dark as to the reasons. Thus, a priest who may have been defrocked for something as serious as child molestation is listed alongside one, for example, who may have requested a return to lay status because his marriage had dissolved and he no longer wanted to be a priest.

One would think that with the unprecedented news about priestly misconduct in the GOA this year that there would be more openness about this matter from the archdiocese.

It is certainly not right or fair to use the term “Returned to Status of Layman” as a catch-all phrase. The reason for the action should be given. In a previous article, I urged that the GOA stop using this phrase without explanation.

The GOA’s 2007 Yearbook gives formality to this questionable practice. It has a Vital Statistics section (page 246), which lists “Priests Returned to Status of Layman* (1928-2006)”. The list contains 83 names. The asterisk note reads:

”Clergy may be returned to lay status for a variety of reasons, including at their own request as well as for grave infractions of canon law.”

How are the faithful to know if one was returned to lay status for “grave infractions”, or “at their own request”? Presumably, some of the 83 are no longer living. In light of news reports of the past several years, we can account for five on the list who were defrocked for sexual misconduct: Stanley Adamakis, Gabriel Barrow, Emmanuel Koveos, Michael Rymer and Pangratios Vrionis.

Even without the misconduct issue being prominent, it would be right and proper for the GOA to start being more honest by specifying the reason for a priest’s return to lay status. It could start with the 1928-2006 list and tell us the reasons (some 25 of these men were returned to lay status since 1990.) It could then start being more transparent in the Orthodox Observer and other publications by giving the reasons for a defrocking as well as for suspensions.

I would also urge that news accounts about any defrocking appear in the pages of the Observer and on the GOA website. The faithful are beyond the point where they will be “scandalized” by such news. The faithful should be given the truth and in turn they should be demanding an end to the cover-up of sexual misconduct, and to the misconduct itself.

By using a high-sounding phrase like “returned to status of layman”, the GOA is hiding the word “defrocked” and perpetuating its cover-up of sexual misconduct.

It’s time for a change.

(Mr. Cromidas is a retired social agency executive and a past parish council president in a Greek Orthodox church.)