Documents Challenge +Nikolai’s Account, Actions
Two documents obtained by OCANews.org challenge Bishop Nikolai’s public account of his role in the suspension of Terenty Dushkin and his more private attempt to bring canonical charges against Archbishop Job of Chicago one week later, at the last meeting of the Synod of Bishops, in December 2007.
The Duskhin Affair
Bishop Nikolai’s tonsuring of Terenty Dushkin, a convicted sex offender who had been dismissed from St. Herman’s Seminary, in the cathedral in Anchorage on December 9th, 2007, in clear violation of the OCA’s Policies on Sexual Misconduct, inaugurated a series of events which is still unfolding this evening. These events have received growing coverage in the Alaskan papers, culminated in a front page story this weekend in the Anchorage Daily News in which the Bishop is cited as saying “…he (+Nikolai) suspended the man (Dushkin) after a news story revealed his role with the church.”
That news story, entitled Church Gives Sex Offender A Boost Toward The Priesthood, appeared in the Anchorage Daily News on January 10, 2008. Yet nine days later Dushkin, according to witnesses and photos posted on the diocesan website) was still in cassock, still serving as a Reader at Epiphany (OS) services at the Anchorage Cathedral.
A new document confirms that, despite his claims, it was not Bishop Nikolai who suspended Dushkin but Metropolitan Herman, who did so. In a letter dated January 17, 2008, addressed to Bishop Nikolai, Metropolitan Herman wrote:
“I write this letter to Your Grace in regard to your actions of December 9, 2007, when you tonsured Terenty Dushkin a reader at St. Innocent Cathedral in Anchorage. I have previously written to Your Grace for an explanation about this tonsure and your response was one that you preferred not to put in writing. As you now know, this story has caused quite a stir in the media in a number of widely circulated newspapers. This incident has also scandalized many of our Orthodox faithful who have written to us with expressions of disbelief and anger. What is more important is that your actions, which must be considered deliberate, flagrantly contradict the Holy Canons of the Orthodox Church as well as the policies and standards of the Orthodox Church in America. Thus my involvement becomes necessary as well as referral of this matter to the Holy Synod for consideration.”
The Metropolitan’s brief two page letter then cites relevant canons and policies of the OCA indicating how the tonsuring violated both, even if Dushkin, as has been reported, had repented of his actions.
The letter concludes:
“In consideration of all of the above, and with the knowledge of the Holy Synod of Bishops, I must exercise the pastoral initiative that is granted to me by the canons (II Nicea 11) and the Statute of the Orthodox Church in America ( IV.2.i) and suspend Terenty Dushkin from any and all ministerial duties in any parish in the Orthodox Church in America. Further, based on the canons above, and section 10.06.b of the Policies, Standards and Procedures of the Orthodox Church in America on Sexual Misconduct, I am initiating the process of deposition of Terenty Dushkin from the rank of reader. The Holy Synod will act on this process at its next meeting. At the same time, the Synod of Bishops will review your responsibility in this matter and the probable violations of the canons of the Church and the Policies, Standard, and Procedures of the Orthodox Church in America on Sexual Misconduct….”
Two weeks later, on February 5, 2008, the OCA reported on its website:
“In accordance with the holy Canons and in concurrence with the ruling bishop of the Diocese of Alaska, Terenty Dushkin, who was tonsured a Reader at St. Innocent Cathedral in Anchorage, AK, on December 9, 2007, was suspended from any and all ministerial duties in any parish of the Orthodox Church in America, effective January 17, 2008.”
In short, Bishop Nikolai did not suspend Terenty Dushkin, neither after the Daily News story appeared, nor even for several days after the Metropolitan’s suspension letter was written, as evidenced by Dushkin’s continued service.
The Accusations Against +Job
More disturbing than the Bishop’s public misrepresentations of events surrounding Dushkin, was the less public attempt to have the Synod remove Archbishop Job from office by accusing him of ‘interfering’ in Alaskan diocesan affairs. This attempt was first reported by OCANews.org on December 21st and later confirmed by Archbishop Job himself in an Archpastoral letter to his diocese some three weeks later. As the Archbishop writes:
“Near the end of the meeting, a stunned Holy Synod listened to canonical charges raised by the Alaskan bishop accusing me of interfering in his diocese – obviously a most serious accusation. When the reading of the charges concluded, which called for a spiritual court which would lead to my deposition from Holy Orders, Metropolitan HERMAN asked for my response.”
The Archbishop defended himself successfully; and the crisis was defused by the Archbishop who subsequently volunteered to apologize to the Bishop of Alaska for any offense that might have been taken. In recent days the Bishop of Alaska has indicated that he intends to fully pursue these charges again at the next Synod of Bishops meeting in May, 2008.
The Anderson Letter
At the heart of Bishop Nikolai’s charge was that Archbishop Job initiated a 25 page “Secret Report” that raised allegations of misconduct against the Alaskan Bishop, and recommended +Nikolai and his Chancellor both be suspended pending an investigation. The “Secret Report”, which appeared first on the Orthodox Forum, was said to have been written for an ‘unnamed hierarch’. A February 20th letter to Metropolitan Herman from the author of that “Secret Report”, former OCA military chaplain Fr. John Anderson, now reveals that ‘unnamed hierarch’ to have been Bishop Nikolai, himself. Fr. Anderson explains:
“The purpose of this letter is to clarify issues concerning the origin of my ’25 Page Report’ on the situation in Alaska, the same report acknowledged by you on 23rd July 2007. I am offering this clarification in response to the recent moves to impose canonical sanctions on Archbishop Job of Chicago, first in the Holy Synod meeting of December 2007 and as announced for the May 2008 session. To be clear from the start, the catalyst of my report was none other than His Grace, Bishop Nikolai, as I will explain below.
As you were made aware by Fr. Ted Boback, I was asked in April 2007 to apply for the position of Dean of St Herman’s Seminary. It was Cliff Argue (Dean Search Committee President) who urged me to consider this position even though the search had already been closed. Fr. Ted communicated your blessing to proceed with this process. My first interview was conducted by conference-call with Mr. Argue and the other members of the Search Committee. At some point in May 2007, I became the sole remaining candidate for the deanship. By mid-June, Mr. Argue directed me (by email) to contact His Grace, Bishop Nikolai, to arrange a conversation with him and to make plans to visit the seminary in person.
Just after June 19th, I spoke with His Grace, Bishop Nikolai, via telephone. In this conversation, His Grace strongly encouraged me “to investigate” and check out the seminary by telephoning the staff and faculty until such time as I could arrange a personal visit and interview with His Grace. This arrangement to begin telephone introductions to Saint Herman’s Seminary was due to my assignment as the Group (Supervisory) Chaplain for 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), a brigade-size unit of the “Green Berets”. Since I was the only chaplain in the group not deployed overseas in a war zone, travel outside the immediate area was not permitted. This restriction, which would remain in place through August that year, was to ensure that a chaplain be available to perform next-of-kin notification, etc., since my unit was suffering many casualties at that time. This explains why I was unable to finalize travel plans to Alaska then.
It was during one of my first telephone calls “to investigate” the seminary as its perspective Dean that I called the then Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs, Mister Paul Sidebottom. After an initial greeting, Mr. Sidebottom’s words to me were: “Father, you need to know about some things going on here before you take this job.” Mr. Sidebottom then described the alleged sexual assault he had suffered at the hands of Archimandrite Isidore on the Eve of the Ascension, as well as other details connected with that incident. Naturally, to have ignored these allegations would have violated many Christian and legal principles. According to the OCA’s “Policies, Procedures and Guidelines on Sexual Misconduct”, I understood that I was obliged to report this information.
After some reflection, I turned to Archbishop Job for advice. To be clear, I initiated contact with Archbishop Job about these issues. As my original diocesan hierarch, I have known him for many years and have relied on his pastoral judgment. Having spent almost 20 years on active military duty, I was not professionally familiar with any other hierarchs. I reached His Eminence by cell phone while he was on the road. It was during this conversation that His Eminence asked me to jot down a few notes covering the issues I was presenting. In preparing these notes, it became evident to me that a fuller treatment would be required, given the complexity and gravity of the issues of this case, to wit, the cycle of violence, alcoholic family systems, domestic violence, etc. What resulted was the ’25 Page Report’ which aimed to give the Holy Synod a thorough and professional view of the case at hand, with some understanding of the context and ramifications of Mr. Sidebottom’s allegations, as stated in his letter of June 25th 2007, and my on-going conversations with him and other faculty and staff of St. Herman’s Seminary.
Immediately after my initial conversation with Archbishop Job, he directed me to contact His Eminence, Archbishop Seraphim and His Grace, Bishop Nikon, to gain their advice on the matter as well. To be clear, I spoke by phone with each of these hierarchs and provided them copies of the ’25 Page Report’ by email (on or about July 9th 2007).
At no time did any hierarch make any suggestions about the content and conclusions of this report; it was solely mine. Nor was I asked to perform any other kind of investigation. It was my professional opinion that Mr. Sidebottom’s allegations were indeed credible, and the report was necessary, in its full form, to prevent any further harm to the souls of those involved, potential perpetrators and victims alike. (1)
Their Eminences Job, Seraphim and His Grace, Nikon behaved with uncommon professionalism and pastoral sensitivity throughout this dialogue.
As you asked in your letter of July 23rd 2007, I have been obedient and silent about this case even though it has become part of a public information circus. I stand by the findings and conclusions in my report. But even before it went public, I have received threatening anonymous email and, of late as you may be aware, personal and unfounded attacks from local OCA clergy. I believe these attacks are related to my report and its conclusions, as well as my intervention on behalf of Mr. Sidebottom. In short: Recrimination.
However, my purpose here is not to defend myself but to clear the names of the hierarchs I consulted for advice. To be clear, the genesis of my report originated with the invitation of His Grace, Bishop Nikolai to investigate St. Herman’s Seminary as my potential future place of ministry, and then the credible complaints of Mr. Paul Sidebottom which I encountered there. Thank you for the pastoral kindness which you have shown me.
God grant you many years, Holy Master!
1 For reference some of my credentials are:
PhD Candidate: Clinical Psychology (Psychology of Religion), Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium. MS: Columbus State University, Columbus, GA. Concentration: Marriage and Family Therapy. Nationally Board Certified Counselor & Licensed Mental Health Counselor.
Misrepresentations and Revenge
The Bishop of Alaska clearly misrepresented his actions in the Dushkin suspension. He did so again as regards the attempt to depose Archbishop Job. As Fr. Anderson’s letter makes clear, Archbishop Job did not initiate any actions in the Diocese of Alaska: it was Bishop Nikolai, who, as the expression goes, was “hoisted on his own petard”. He invited Fr. Anderson, a trained professional, to investigate the Seminary; and Fr. Anderson, to his credit, did so, perhaps more thoroughly than the Bishop intended. True to his pastoral training when Fr. Anderson discovered the true situation in the diocese, he reported his findings to the Metropolitan. That Bishop Nikolai would then accuse Archbishop Job of ‘interference’ for a Report he himself initiated, only lends further credence to the voices from Alaska, both clergy and lay, who speak of the Bishop’s capacity for misrepresentation, bullying and revenge.