Chancellor’s Diary: August 21, 2014

Author: Archpriest John A. Jillions
Date Published: 08/21/2014

Update

One of the “behind the scenes” responsibilities of the chancery is to deal with preventing and addressing sexual misconduct. As we all know this is a concern that affects every organization, but it’s not something that needs to be reported on the front page every day. I think of it as a sanitation department: every town has to have one but it shouldn’t make headlines unless something goes badly wrong. But with dioceses and parishes working diligently to follow the Holy Synod’s recently revised Policies, Standards and Procedures (PSPs) in this area, questions naturally do arise. So a few days ago I received a letter from someone concerned about protecting the clergy from false allegations.

I was disappointed to read the recently promulgated sexual misconduct policy.  I am disappointed in the lack of protection for clergy in the guidelines… I prayerfully ask the Synod to reconsider the document.

Here is the reply I sent yesterday (slightly edited).

Thank you for your comments. In fact, you are not the first person to raise concerns about protections for clergy. However, the standards for clergy behavior are very high. The bishop ultimately must decide—based on the evidence—whether the accused clergyman (“the respondent”) is someone who can be fully trusted to be a good shepherd. If on balance of probability there is likelihood that misconduct occurred, then the bishop has to err on the side of protecting his—Christ’s—flock.

But the bishop’s decision must be based on a fair reading of the evidence, and the respondent has every opportunity to present his facts.  While it is true that the PSP’s may need further review, there are a number of important checks and balances already in place:

  • the respondent is free to bring whatever evidence or witnesses he has to the Response Team during the investigation
  • the respondent may involve legal representation if he so chooses
  • the respondent may have some other defense person or advocate to assist him, including of course his confessor or spiritual father
  • the respondent has the right to a church court to present his case with a defense team if necessary
  • the respondent has the right to appeal an adverse church court decision to the Holy Synod
  • The development of the PSPs over many years involved the review of practices in other churches and organizations. It also involved professionals in the areas of psychology, psychiatry, law and investigations. But our own procedures and those of others are evolving (witness what is happening in the military and on college campuses), so it should be expected that they can and will be improved.

The policies and procedures are under constant review by the Holy Synod’s Sexual Misconduct Policy Advisory Committee, which meets at least monthly via conference call (we have a meeting today) and in person once a year with the Holy Synod.