Metropolitan Isaiah Should Step Aside and also Answer Some Questions
Conflict of Interest in Chairing Misconduct Board and Spiritual Court
Metropolitan Isaiah, head of the Denver diocese of the Greek Orthodox Church of America (GOA), should remove himself, or be removed, as chairman of the GOA’s Clergy Sexual Misconduct Advisory Board. He should also stop presiding at Spiritual Court sessions for a priest he has been defending.
He has known about credible allegations against a priest in his diocese for four years or longer, and took no action until the charges began to circulate in public. The Denver diocese covers some 50 churches from Montana to Texas.
The priest is Fr. Gabriel Barrow, who was suspended earlier this year after old misconduct allegations surfaced. He was pastor at St. John the Theologian Church in Webster, Texas, near Houston. The initial complaints of sexual misconduct were from the late 1970’s when Fr. Barrow was a priest in the Antiochian Archdiocese (AA) in the Toledo, Ohio area. He was dismissed then by Metropolitan Philip, primate of the AA.
Around 1995, he became a priest in the GOA, assigned to the St. John’s parish. The basic unanswered question for the Greek Orthodox faithful is: how did this come about? Did the GOA do any background-checking? Presumably, they knew of his dismissal from the AA. Who made the decision? Since the priest would be assigned to the Denver diocese, what role did the Metropolitan play? Did he initiate the acceptance of Fr. Barrow? He has reportedly been a defender of Fr. Barrow, even after this year’s suspension.
Aside from the unanswered questions about what took place at the time of his acceptance by the GOA, there is the matter of a letter from Bishop Antoun, auxiliary bishop of the AA, to Metropolitan Isaiah, dated May 23, 2000. Omitting the greetings and identifications of the alleged victim, here is the text of that letter:
“I am writing to inform and advise you of a meeting I had with Mr.__________.
Mr.___________ met with me on May 18, 2000 at his request. At this meeting he informed me that he was sexual (sic) molested twenty-five years ago (he is now ___years of age) by Father Gabriel Barrow who was a priest in the Antiochian Archdiocese at the time serving St. Elias Church Sylvania, Ohio. I informed Mr.___________that Father Barrow was released to the Greek Archdiocese and is now under your omophorion and we have no jurisdiction over him. It is likely that he will be in touch with you about this mater (sic).”
The letter was on stationery of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America headquartered at Englewood, New Jersey. It indicated that a copy was being sent to Archbishop Demetrios (head of the GOA).
If the Metropolitan took any action after this letter, it is not evident. With all these questions about the matter of Fr. Barrow and the role of the Metropolitan, it appears clear that the Metropolitan should step aside as chairman of the misconduct advisory board.
Recently, the website “Pokrov.org” also called on him to do so. Pokrov is a resource for victims of abuse in Orthodox church settings that was started by three Orthodox women. In their press release they said, “If Metropolitan Isaiah remains head of the clergy sexual advisory board, victims will not feel comfortable coming forward and the panel’s effectiveness will be hurt.” In their letter to him of July 6, 2004, they also questioned his presiding over the Spiritual Court which was to hear charges against Fr. Barrow on July 12, 2004. (Results of that hearing have not been made public.)
This matter also got the attention of the country’s largest support group for clergy abuse victims, Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). This organization issued a press release questioning the role of Metropolitan Isaiah in the Fr. Barrow case, and stating that three alleged victims have come forward.
Several years ago in an article, I urged that lay people should have an INDEPENDENT oversight role in the clergy misconduct area. That does not appear to be what the GOA will have. The GOA board was set up by the misconduct policy that was announced in 2002. It calls for having at least one bishop and at least one additional clergyman. It does not say that a bishop has to be chairman. In my view, an independent layperson should chair this body. With the Metropolitan as chairman, this board will be flawed and lack credibility. It will be like the proverbial fox guarding the hen house.
It should also be noted that since 2002, it took a year to name most of the board and the names have still not been made public – and there have only been two in-person board meetings. In creating its policy, the Archdiocese announced its “extreme seriousness” about the matter of misconduct. Does this kind of delay and inaction show seriousness?
In addition to the news about the Fr. Barrow case, there has been the more recent and startling revelation about the GOA borrowing $1.5 million to pay misconduct settlements over the last three years. Have the GOA bishops offered any explanations to the faithful about this? Shouldn’t the people know which priests have been involved and what their current status is? Has the misconduct board issued any statement about this? (How could it, with the Metropolitan as chairman?). Instead, the Metropolitan and the other bishops have gone about their business as though none of this had ever happened.
If this were a Catholic situation, there would be pickets carrying signs and marching in front of the Metropolitan’s office, the Archdiocese office in New York, and in front of churches in the Denver diocese during the Metropolitan’s visits. (He still has not given any explanations to the people of the diocese about the matter of Fr. Barrow, let alone about the settlements.)
With his conflict of interest, the minimum Christian action for Metropolitan Isaiah would be to step aside as chairman of the misconduct board.
(Mr. Cromidas is a retired social agency director and has taught sociology. He was a parish council president in a Greek Orthodox Church, and is currently a board member of Orthodox Christian Laity. The views expressed here are his own.)