Has Greek Orthodox Church Learned any Lessons from Roman Catholic Church?

Author: Theodore Kalmoukos
Date Published: 03/10/2007
Publication: The National Herald

ANALYSIS

BOSTON — Four or so years ago, when the Boston Globe broke a story about a pedophile priest of the then vibrant, financially sound, socially and politically influential Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, having then at its helm the charismatic and popular Cardinal Bernard Law, the attitude of the Roman Catholic hierarchy then was rather contemptuous toward the press, hoping that the issue would go away.

The cat and mouse game played by Cardinal Law on the one hand, hiding behind his press officers and general news releases, and the Boston Globe on the other, disclosing more information almost every week, was fascinating. The outcome is well known today, of course, and would not have turned out the way it did were it not for the press.

In a nutshell, a huge pedophilia scandal broke out from the ranks of the Roman Catholic clergy, not simply in Boston, but throughout the country, with hundreds of priests brought to civil justice, others ending up defrocked, and still others going to prison. The Catholic Church spent hundreds of millions to settle with the victims and pay for their medical and psychological treatments, as well as their legal fees. Many Catholic parishes dissolved; many churches and schools were sold; and the spiritual prestige of the Catholic Church hit rock bottom.

Many in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston saw the onslaught coming, except for former Cardinal Law, who seemed to be living in his own world. He was finally compelled to resign under accusations of knowingly harboring and transferring pedophile priests from parish to parish. The Vatican called him to serve in another capacity in Rome.

In light of the upheaval within America’s very large Roman Catholic community, it would be a tragic mistake if the Greek Orthodox Church in America does not learn from the painful and extremely costly experiences of the Roman Catholic Church.

The recent accusations against Father Nicholas Katinas, 72, one of the most prominent priests of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, who enjoyed a successful ministry at the Holy Trinity Church in Dallas, should serve as a wakeup call for our Church.

It took eight months for the Archdiocese to go public with the allegations of sexual misconduct against Father Katinas, and to fully inform the Dallas parish, as well as the Church membership at-large, about why the former Dallas pastor was suspended last July, just four days after he retired.

On February 21, Father Michael Kontogiorgis, assistant chancellor at the Archdiocese, traveled to Dallas and told a hushed crowd of 400, “There is no doubt that Father Nicholas engaged in serious moral transgressions.” Two days later, on February 23, the Archdiocese stated in an official announcement, “After a thorough investigation of allegations of serious misconduct involving minors, Father Katinas was suspended, in accordance with the Archdiocese’s statement of policy regarding sexual misconduct by clergy.”

The Katinas case should make us think very seriously as a Church. We need to stop behaving like ostriches, burying our heads in the sand, and stop cultivating the same culture of secrecy which led the Roman Catholic Church into catastrophic circumstances.

Even in limited range, priests have shown yet again that our Church is not immune from issues involving clergy sexual misconduct. The question is, how do we confront these issues, or even better, how do we prevent them? The old adage is true, after all: “OAN ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Unfortunately, the holy and sacred place and space of the Church also provides shelter which conceals sick and problematic persons. Does anyone disagree that one must have a sick soul in order to engage in acts of sexual abuse of under-aged, innocent and unsuspecting children? If someone who murders a child is called a murderer, what should someone, a priest who assassinates the soul of a child and traumatizes that child for a lifetime, be called?

The holy priesthood, itself a sacrament and a gift of grace, can not heal pedophiles or homosexuals, who often take refuge in the sanctity of ordination and hide behind the sacred walls of the Church.

The Archdiocese undoubtedly made the correct and proper decision to place Father Katinas under suspension after it was informed of the allegations against him — until it has a chance to investigate those allegations more fully (the accused is considered innocent until proven otherwise, of course). But it seems to me that some very serious questions have arisen:

When did the Archdiocese become aware of the accusations against Father Katinas? When was Father Katinas himself informed, and by whom, since he suddenly filed his retirement papers last June? Why did the Archdiocese, through the Chancery, request his release from the Denver Metropolis, under which he served for 28 years at Holy Trinity Church in Dallas, and transfer to the Archdiocesan District, which is under the direct ecclesiastical authority of Archbishop Demetrios? Why did Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver grant Father Katinas’ release (certainly, in a way, Isaiah liberated himself of yet another serious burden)? Why was Father Katinas’ suspension not immediately published in the Orthodox Observer, the official publication of the Archdiocese, but rather after five months, and after members of the Holy Eparchial Synod exerted pressure on the Archbishop during the Synod’s October 2006 meeting? What was the alleged role of the Archbishop’s secretary, Alice Keurian, in telling the Observer’s office to withdraw Father Katinas’ name from the list of suspended clergy, which reportedly made Michael Jaharis, vice chairman of the Archdiocesan Council’s Executive Committee, hit the roof?

Someone must be naive to believe that Mrs. Keurian acted on her own for such a serious matter, and that she was not executing the Archbishop’s orders. Let’s not kid ourselves. Someone can’t help but think that the Archbishop was presumably under a lot of pressure coming from various directions, given the fact that Father Katinas is so well-connected. He is good friends with Father Nicholas Triantafilou, president of Hellenic College/Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Father Ted Stylianopoulos, professor of the New Testament Studies at Holy Cross, Father Alkiviades Calivas, professor of Liturgics and a former president of HC/HC, and, of course, Father Alex Karloutsos, whose brother is the School’s chief administrator.

It’s truly astonishing if the Archbishop did not bring this issue before the Executive Committee after all those months, as Mr. Jaharis indicated in his interview with the National Herald (see related story, page 1).

And what about the Eparchial Synod? Where is the Synod is all this? Why did the Archbishop not put the issue on the agenda for discussion, but was instead compelled to say something about it after some members of the Synod raised questions concerning Father Katinas?

Other measures must be taken to ensure proper order and response. Like everybody else, Father Katinas should be given a chance to have his case examine by the Spiritual Courts of First and Second Instance, regardless of the fact that the Archbishop told the Synod that he has admitted his actions for which he is accused. The process should take place, anyway. It’s only fair and just for the case to take its canonical course toward defrocking, as was the case with other clergy who faced similar accusations.

Furthermore, it’s silly to argue that the Archbishop does not know the administrative process. He has been at the helm of the Church in America for more than seven years, and has been a bishop for far longer. If he hasn’t learned administrative process by now, when is he going to learn? If he doesn’t know, why doesn’t he ask those who do know? It’s inconceivable and, to some extent, foolish to try and persuade us on February 17 not to publish a story about Father Katinas’ case, and then to issue a news release admitting the problem on February 23.

It is to Mr. Jaharis’ credit that he accepted the National Herald’s offer for an interview, and to say as much as he did, in spite of the potentially explosive legal implications.

The Archdiocese should follow suit, become transparent, and finally break its pathological cycle of secrecy. It should disclose in detail how much money the Church has paid in settlements for cases of sexual misconduct, and specifically identify the cases, as well as the individual sums our community has paid for each one.

The faithful have every right to know precisely where their offerings of faith go and how is spent, even to last penny. The faithful donate money; light their candles; and organize those Greek Festivals to financially support the operation of their local parishes. They don’t shell out their stewardship offerings to pay millions for the criminal behavior among some of its clergy who, instead of teaching children about their sacred faith and tradition, take advantage of them in the most deplorable ways.

It might also be necessary for the Archdiocese to cooperate with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. We should seek information concerning the methods and ways of approaching and confronting issues of sexual misconduct because, after all, the Catholic community has had to learn things the hard way. Moreover, the Archdiocese should act immediately, in the event there are other cases before the Church is forced to file for bankruptcy as a religious corporation, and is forced to sell even its candles and censers to pay off the victims and their lawyers.

We should take our lessons from St. John’s Roman Catholic Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts to protect our own Theological School. It’s absolutely necessary that the past of all applicants be checked thoroughly, especially now that persons of more advanced age come to the School to become priests as second career opportunity, having practiced other professions for many years. Even former Roman Catholic monks or other converts of advanced age discover the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese simply because our parishes pay quite well in comparison with the OCA or other Orthodox jurisdictions.

Finally, it can not be emphasized enough that most problems at the parish level unfortunately stem from the Theological School and its myopic little culture, notwithstanding the fact that Holy Cross has also educated some very fine persons with the right ethos and phronema.