Accusations cloud seminary opening

Author: Bryan Martin
Date Published: 08/10/2007

A dark cloud seems to hang over St. Herman Theological Seminary as it prepares to open its doors for another academic term, due to a vacuum in key leadership and staff positions.

Part of the void occurred when former dean Fr. Chad Hatfield left the seminary this year to become the new chancellor of St. Vladimir’s Seminary in New York. The search for a new dean was to close in April, but the seminary has been unsuccessful in finding a qualified person to fill the top position.

St. Herman board of trustees is awaiting a recommendation from Alaska Bishop Nikolai of Anchorage.

Meanwhile, one key person associated with the seminary has been terminated and another remains in a substance rehabilitation center in Minnesota, sparking a wave of discontent within the seminary and Holy Resurrection Cathedral, Kodiak’s Russian Orthodox Church, a separate entity from the seminary.

Trustee Ben Ardinger said Thursday the seminary is to open as planned.

“We don’t know who the new dean is going to be,” he said.

A St. Herman board of trustees meeting is scheduled later this month to discuss the position. The board is the governing body that oversees operation of the seminary. It has members throughout the United States. The meeting will be held via teleconference.

“We were advised three days ago the seminary will open as scheduled,” Ardinger said.

Ardinger said the board expects to be “informed of the particulars, such as who the staff will be, maybe a temporary dean.”

Fr. Innocent Dresdow, priest of Holy Resurrection Cathedral, said the seminary begins the new term Aug. 27 with orientation.

Dresdow said the seminary expects 13 students.

While Dresdow has no formal connection to the seminary, he said the church and seminary both operate under the Russian Orthodox Diocese of Alaska, which Nikolai heads.

“We have an ongoing process to deal with other concerns,” Dresdow said.

Those concerns are Nikolai’s handling of the termination of Paul Sidebottom, a missionary who was recruited by Hatfield as assistant dean of academics at St. Herman to help run the seminary, and Fr. Isidore, who was the newly appointed rector of the seminary and chancellor of the Alaska diocese and is now on a leave of absence in a rehabilitation center in Minnesota.

“The information that is coming out is inappropriate. It is very sad,” Dresdow said.

We have to respect the processes that are guided by the statutes of the Orthodox Church in America in handling these matters, Dresdow said.

At the center of the discontent among the Orthodox is a series of letters that are circulating and affect both the seminary and leadership.

A private letter sent July 25 to fellow St. Herman board of trustee members from Ardinger outlines some of the problems at the seminary.

In the letter, Ardinger protests the termination of Sidebottom and expresses his general concern about seminary problems.

“I wish to express my opposition to this action,” Ardinger wrote, referring to the Sidebottom dismissal.

“The seminary has no dean, academic dean, no librarian, no music instructor, and its rector whatever his function or duties may be, is in some sort of rehabilitation treatment. Thus the seminary appears to be without any authority on campus. I strongly object to this action,” Ardinger said in the letter.

Sidebottom was dismissed by Nikolai on July 27 and subsequently left Kodiak.

Prior to leaving, Sidebottom wrote a letter May 25 regarding his dismissal to the primate of the Orthodox Church in America, Metropolitan Herman, the chairman of the Holy Synod, the supreme canonical of the Orthodox Church in America. Herman is the archbishop of Washington, D.C., and New York, with residences in both places. He is the primate who heads the diocesan bishops, of which there are currently 17 in the United States.

The letter, according to one source, precipitated Sidebottom’s dismissal by Nikolai and was subsequently released to the St. Herman board of trustees on July 30.

The letter reveals accusations made by both Sidebottom and Isidore against Nikolai, but also describes an incident in which Isidore allegedly was under the influence of alcohol while performing formal duties. Both Sidebottom and Dresdow were involved in the incident.

Earlier this month, Nikolai attended the Synod of Bishops conference of the Orthodox Church in America meeting in Syosset, N.Y., according to a source, and discussed the events in Kodiak. He allegedly walked out of the meeting early because of the dispute concerning incidents involving Sidebottom’s dismissal and Isidore’s leave of absence.

Attempts to contact Nikolai have failed, although he presently is busy with the St. Herman Pilgrimage, a three-day event that ends today with a picnic at Monk’s Lagoon and an evening tea for the bishop. Boats departed for Spruce Island this morning.

According to Sidebottom’s letter, there are allegations of sexual harassment, assault, domestic violence, neglect and malpractice.

Sidebottom talked by telephone with Herman prior to writing the letter, which details a series of events that took place in Kodiak during the Feast of the Ascension on May 16 and 17.

Sidebottom told Herman that Isidore was scheduled to visit Kodiak May 15 and serve liturgy in Karluk for the village feast day on May 17.

Hatfield was notified by Nikolai May 21, according to the letter, that Isidore had been appointed rector of the seminary effective June 1.

Due to weather, Sidebottom said, Isidore was not able to travel to Karluk.

“Preparing to leave, seminarians and an instructor smelled alcohol on Isidore. At Vigil, served at Holy Resurrection Cathedral at 6 p.m., Fr. Isidore presided while intoxicated. He heard confessions, leaning heavily on the analogian for support,” Sidebottom wrote in the letter.

Later, according to the letter, Dresdow and Sidebottom drove around downtown Kodiak in search of Isidore and finally found him in a local motel.

An attempt was made to put Isidore on a plane to Anchorage, but he was not allowed to board because of his condition.

Isidore was taken back to his apartment at the seminary where, Sidebottom wrote, “the drama increased.”

“Fr. Isidore said if Fr. Innocent and I thought the answer was to send him back to Anchorage, we were wrong. Sending him back to ‘papa’ was ‘hell’ and ‘his death.’ It was at this point in the night that Fr. Isidore admitted, ‘(Nikolai) beats me … Fr.
Isidore said he was better off dead. “… He threatened to bloody my face if I did not leave. Then he tried to touch me inappropriately. Finally, he collapsed on his bed. He passed out …” the letter states. On May 17, Isidore was accompanied by Innocent to Anchorage. He then went on to Minnesota to check into the treatment center where he remains.

Mirror writer Bryan Martin can be reached via e-mail at bmartin@kodiakdailymirror.com.