Champaign, Ill. Church Still Reeling From Allegations Against Suspended Priest
BOSTON – The Three Hierarchs Greek Orthodox parish in Champaign, Illinois has faced a huge crisis the past year due to allegations of a sexual nature made against its priest of more than nine years, Fr. George Pyle. He has been placed on suspension as of June 16, 2008 according to the Orthodox Observer July-August 2008 edition.
The allegations were made by former campers at the Athenagoras Camp and retreat Center of Wyoming where Fr. Pyle was its program director some 30 years ago.
Fr. George Pyle is married with two children and was considered one of the successful priests of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, especially in the Youth area and as the campus ministry since the parish is located near the University of Illinois.
Everything was going well for the 175-family parish until September 2007 when it was suddenly announced that Fr. Pyle was taking a leave of absence for a few months for medical reasons and to relax from exhaustion.
The Three Hierarchs parish belongs ecclesiastically under the Metropolis of Chicago with Metropolitan Iakovos and assistant Bishop Demetrios of Mokisos.
The real reasons of Fr. Pyle’s sudden leave of absence were not even announced to the parish council who were waiting for him to return to his priestly duties at the parish a little before Christmas. Instead, Fr. Pyle never returned to his clerical post but the Metropolis of Chicago sent a supplementary clergy on Sundays to celebrate the Divine Liturgy.
At the same time, Fr. Pyle was admitted into the St. Luke’s Institute of Baltimore for treatment according to information given to The National Herald from within the Archdiocese.
The Chancery of the Archdiocese placed Fr. Pyle under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Direct Archdiocesan District of New York which is under the primary canonical care and responsibility of Archbishop Demetrios.
The National Herald left four telephone messages to Fr. Pyle telling him the purpose of the call, but he did not respond. In a telephone communication with his presbytera, Valery, she told The National Herald that “we have been given orders from the Archdiocese not to talk to the Press and we have to obey.”
Presbytera Pyle is the owner of a restaurant in Champaign under the name “Papa-George’s.
Presbytera Pyle, however, in an e-mail sent on August 14 to a number of members of the parish, said among other things that “Fr. George has not been defrocked; he is currently suspended without pay while the Archdiocese completes their investigation. He has been accused of making campers uncomfortable 30 years ago at the Athenagoreios Retreat Center at Wyoming. The discussion included counseling against teenage sexual sins. Fr. George was at the time 19 or 20 years old and just a seminarian, but he was given the responsibility to be the Director of the Camp.”
In another part of her e-mail she wrote that “a handful of former campers at the urging of dismissed staff members have come forth to accuse father for making them uncomfortable during those discussions. Why it took them 30 years, we do not know. All we know is that Fr. George never touched any camper or counselor.”
Presbytera Pyle concludes her e- mail letter by saying, “Unfortunately in this climate of misconduct among clergy the Archdiocese had to overreact. We are praying that the truth will be revealed and God’s work be done.”
The Herald attempted to communicate with Metropolitan Iakovos of Chicago, but we were told that he was out of town, while his assistant Bishop Demetrios of Mokisos was on vacation. The secretary of the Archdiocesan Assistant Chancellor, Rev. Michael Kontogeorge told the Herald that “he is out of the Archdiocese until Tuesday (October 7),” but he never responded. Also a written message to Archbishop Demetrios went unanswered.
In a telephone interview with the parish council president, Mr. Photios Kouti, he was asked what happened and why Fr. Pyle was removed from the parish and officially suspended, he said, “I do not know. “He was gone for health reasons in September 2007.”
Asked what the parishioners have been saying, Mr. Koutil said, “We all went through this together and people do not talk about it any longer. Fr. George is still in town with his wife and they attend services. We are hoping that by the end of the year he will be reinstated.”
As far as the accusations against Fr. Pyle are concerned, Mr. Koutil who was a former Methodist pastor and along with his wife converted to Orthodoxy some 12 years ago, said that “if anyone makes an accusation, the Archdiocese has to investigate it, founded or not, and I believe in this case the accusation will be unfounded.”
Mr. Koutil also praised Fr. Pyle saying that “he was very dynamic and very energetic. He probably overworked himself. Our parish
grew a lot during his tenure here. He was also very active with OCF on campus.”
Mr. Koutil has served on the parish council “at least 12 years, most of which as president,” he said.
Speaking about the parish Mr. Koutil said, “It was a growing community until a year ago. The past year was tough because we were without Fr. George and without a priest, we just had priest only on Sundays, so it was very hard for the parish.”