Forgive But Don’t Condone

Author: Melanie Sakoda
Date Published: 09/06/2003


To: The Armenian Reporter
From: Melanie Sakoda,

Dear Editor:

In the August 9, 2003 edition of TAR Int’l, George and Evelyn Meranshian asked, ”Regardless of whatever Hayr Sasoon supposedly did wrong, as Christians, are we not obliged to forgive and give him another chance?” Since the Meranshians’ question appears to be directed at Greta Larson and Pokrov, I will respond to that question as one of Pokrov’s co-founders and as an attorney.

It is apparently no secret that Hayr Sasoon, an Armenian priest who has taken a vow of celibacy, engaged in sexual misconduct with Ms. Karen King, an Armenian woman under his pastoral care. This information appeared previously in TAR in an article entitled ”Rebellion of Holy Trinity Parish in Philadelphia Against Eastern Diocese Appears to Be Result of Failure of Diocese to Fully Explain Reasons for Dismissal of Controversial Priest.” Hayr Sasoon crossed a boundary that should never be breached by a clergyman. In fact, in a handful of states, clerics who engage in sexual misconduct with a parishioner can be charged with a felony, even if the victim is over the age of consent. In those venues, the behavior is considered comparable to incest. According to Dr. Ellen Gvosdev, a Ph.D. in Pastoral Theology and a specialist in the field of clerical sexual abuse, clergy sexual misconduct exacts a heavy toll. Dr. Gvosdev, who is the granddaughter of one Orthodox priest and the wife of another, states that not only is this behavior extremely damaging to the victim, but also that most offenders repeat their misconduct over and over again. Two of Dr. Gvosdev’s articles on the subject of clerical sexual abuse appear on the Pokrov website. Moreover, once it has been established that a clergyman has crossed the boundary with a parishioner, his church becomes more vulnerable to lawsuits arising from future acts of sexual misconduct. According to TAR, Ms. King’s lawsuit against Hayr Sasoon, Archbishop Vatche Hovsepian, and the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church was settled for $30,000. Since the complaint in that case is a matter of public record, the Church cannot plausibly argue in any subsequent cases that they had no knowledge of Hayr Sasoon’s abusive propensities. As to the question of whether Hayr Sasoon should be forgiven for his thoroughly unprofessional and extremely damaging conduct, the answer is, of course, yes. However, forgiveness DOES NOT imply that this priest should be given another chance to hurt a woman under his pastoral care. Accordingly, Pokrov believes that the decision of the Eastern Diocese to remove Hayr Sasoon both from the Philadelphia parish and from the diocese, despite intense opposition, was both appropriate and laudable.

Melanie Jula Sakoda, Esq.