Money and Misconduct
(This article/letter was sent to The National Herald, the Greek-American newspaper based in New York. The paper asked for documentation about the priests’ convictions noted in the article. This was supplied, but the paper chose not to publish the article. P.C.)
The appearance in your February 5 issue of a letter from Metropolitan Isaiah, of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, and a news report from Theodore Kalmoukos, calls for a commentary.
The Metropolitan (Bishop) gave one of his periodic preachments in print, this one mostly about money, and Mr. Kalmoukos reported yet another story about fund shortages in the Greek archdiocese and, in this case, about their possible relationship to the financial settlements for sexual misconduct. Are there some connections here? I think so.
THE ISAIAH LETTER
In his letter, the Metropolitan praised Mr. Kalmoukos for an article that appeared Dec. 11, 2004, dealing in part with the difficulties of small parishes supporting a priest. He thanked him for “sensitizing the readers about very critical issues in the life of the Church in the United States”, and he touched on several topics. Now, it would be a good thing if the Metropolitan would also recognize other crucial issues of the day, such as the sexual misconduct brought up in Mr. Kalmoukos’ Feb. 5th piece. Maybe he will respond to that. He has not responded to questions about this issue in his own diocese.
His Denver diocese covers an area from Montana to Texas that includes some 48 parishes. One of his priests, Fr. Gabriel Barrow, of the Houston area, was suspended last year for old allegations of misconduct and has appeared in a Spiritual Court, presided over by Metropolitan Isaiah. Yet, the Metropolitan has told us nothing about it, let alone what his role was in accepting Fr. Barrow into his diocese when it was known that Fr. Barrow had also been suspended previously by the Antiochian Archdiocese.
In May of 2003, according to the El Paso Times, Roy Joe Givens, a former Greek Orthodox priest in El Paso, also known as “Father Mathias”, was convicted there of sexual misconduct that occurred some years ago. He had apparently fled the state and was eventually extradited back to Texas. He was sentenced to 10 years in state prison. Why have we heard nothing about that from the diocese office?
More recently, Fr. Elias Greer of San Angelo, Texas, was relieved of his duties by the Metropolitan. We haven’t been given the reason for that action. I am not suggesting that misconduct was involved. But, surely, if a priest‘s suspension has taken place, the faithful ought to be told why. The church situation in San Angelo had an unusual aspect about it, to begin with. The Metropolitan, who says he is concerned about the viability of small parishes, should tell us why he allowed a second Greek Orthodox parish (Fr. Greer’s) to be established in this West Texas community where there are few Orthodox faithful. (It has been reported that since the suspension of Fr. Greer, that parish has been closed).
At least, Fr. Barrow’s and Fr. Greer’s suspensions were listed in the Orthodox Observer, the official archdiocese paper, even though, predictably, no reasons were given.
The archdiocese claims to be serious about the misconduct issue, but its actions say otherwise.
# Currently, it does not necessarily follow the misconduct policy it created in 2002.
# In the past, it allowed a priest in Florida to continue his duties even after his 1989 conviction and 10-year probation sentence. This man is still given substitute assignments as a retiree.
# The archdiocese stood by while another convicted priest from Pennsylvania declared himself a bishop and set up his “Metropolis” near the archdiocese headquarters in New York. This man has since been convicted of child molestation in New York, as well.
And last year, Metropolitan Isaiah was named chairman of the Clergy Sexual Misconduct Advisory Board for the Greek archdiocese! (That shouldn’t surprise us. This is the same archdiocese that wanted to give Boston’s Catholic bishop, Cardinal Bernard Law, an honorary degree from Hellenic College-Holy Cross Seminary in 2002 at the height of the abuse revelations there. The Cardinal resigned by the end of that year.)
The national victims’ organization, SNAP, (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), as well as the Orthodox website, Protection of the Theotokos, (www.pokrov.org), have both called on the Metropolitan to step down from that chairmanship because of his conflicts of interest. As far as I know, he has ignored these calls, as has the archdiocese. The Metropolitan apparently feels that he does not have to account to any laypeople, let alone “outsiders”. In a letter he wrote to Houston parishioners in 2003, after he had been taken to court in a parish dispute, he said he is only accountable to the “…Holy Synod of Constantinople” (at the Patriarchal headquarters in Istanbul).
Would he say that to a District Attorney who might seek records to trace how Fr. Barrow was accepted into the archdiocese?
In his letter, the Metropolitan also suggested abolishing faculty tenure at Holy Cross Seminary as a way of having more equity among faculty. That was a curious reference. Here, he seems to have reverted to the temporary post he held as president of Hellenic College-Holy Cross Seminary in the 1997-98 period. How did that position come about? Perhaps the defining event of the misguided administration of former Archbishop Spyridon from 1996 to1999, was the archbishop’s dismissal of the president and key, tenured faculty at the school, when they would not cover up a dormitory misconduct incident. Following the gross injustice of those dismissals, the Metropolitan was willing to assist Archbishop Spyridon by serving for a year as the interim president of the seminary and college. His disdain for those dismissed was evident. So, it should not surprise us that he is not open about the misconduct issue now, or that in his recent letter he questions the practice of faculty tenure. (Whether tenure is always properly administered at this school or others is another issue.)
He was later to join his fellow bishops and many of the clergy in calling for the removal of Archbishop Spyridon. The clergy, in their letter of grievances against the archbishop, cited the cover-up of sexual misconduct as one of their complaints.
In his comments about church financial support, the Metropolitan observed that Protestant church-goers give money more generously than Greek Orthodox parishioners. He cited some of the reasons for the low giving by Greek-Americans. I submit that for Protestants this generosity has something to do with the greater voice they have in the administration of their churches. I submit that they would not stand for the imposition of a new charter and regulations, as the Greek Orthodox in America are expected to do. And, as we have seen, even the formerly compliant American Catholics have shown that, hierarchical church or not, they will hold back their money and they will confront their bishops with demands and picket signs, and go to court when they have been betrayed, as they were in the tragic child abuse cases.
THE KALMOUKOS ARTICLE
Mr. Kalmoukos’ front-page article was headed: “Burdened by Legal Costs, Archdiocese Owes HC/HC $500,000”. One’s first reaction might be: “Again?” The archdiocese has been late in its allocation to the college/seminary before. His article then quotes sources that say one of the reasons for the shortage of funds at the archdiocese is that payments are being made for clergy sexual misconduct settlements. (I think that most of us would agree there would still be shortages even if there were no such settlements). He does not mention that just before the Clergy-Laity Congress last year, he reported that the archdiocese had borrowed $1.5 million to pay these settlements because it no longer had insurance coverage for this. At that point, the fact that it had no such insurance was presented as “hot” news, when, actually, this had been revealed two years previously, at the 2002 Clergy-Laity Congress, but was not reported at the time by the Herald.
Mr. Kalmoukos wrote that his archdiocese sources “…did not provide any details about the cases…” He reported the same thing last year. We don’t have to know the names of the victims, but we should be given the names of the priests, and this is something the Herald should be pursuing. That’s how the Boston Globe made the breakthrough in its landmark reporting of the Boston Catholic diocese scandal. It went to court to get the records. The Herald should do the same, and not just report every six months that the archdiocese will not provide any details. One might also wonder why Mr. Kalmoukos did not interview Metropolitan Isaiah, as chairman of the misconduct board, and Bishop Savas, of the archdiocese, who is supposed to be administering the misconduct policy.
To the extent that these settlements are a contributing factor in the archdiocese shortfall, shouldn’t greater attention then be paid to the misconduct issue? We may not have the magnitude of problem that the Catholics have, but it is clearly significant. The $1.5 million is a significant percentage of the small archdiocesan budget that the Metropolitan decries. All of our bishops should be showing a greater accountability on this issue. But they and the general Orthodox laity continue to treat it as a taboo subject. That is why some of us, at least, must speak up. (Catholic laypeople have set up a website called “Bishop Accountability.” There should be one for Orthodox Bishop Accountability, although some of this information may be found on the Pokrov site, mentioned above). Wouldn’t it be a good sign of Christian stewardship for the Metropolitan to speak forthrightly to the faithful about this issue?
One of our country’s best writers on this matter is the attorney and law professor, Marci Hamilton, who has written that:
“…The blame for the victims suffering is society-wide. The newspaper editors who agreed not to air the Church’s dirty linen failed the victims. The prosecutors who let the Church take care of its dirty linen failed the victims. The legislators who did not require clergy members to report child abuse, and who set shamefully short statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse, failed the victims.
This society’s whitewashing of religious leaders – as though they can do no wrong – …also failed the victims. For some of the victims, even their parents failed them. Every power on which those children relied for their well-being let them down.”
The National Herald once referred to lack of information from the Greek archdiocese as “the black wall of silence.” For leaders who are supposed to be the example of Christ-like behavior, the silence of the bishops on this issue is unconscionable. During my work years, I saw the sad eyes of abused children. If the voices of the laity can save even one child from abuse in the future, it will have been worth our efforts, certainly in the eyes of God.
Metropolitan Isaiah concluded his letter by saying that it’s really Christ’s Church and it’s not under human control. Well, if that’s so, then some bishops should step aside.
(Mr. Cromidas is retired executive director of the Dallas Family Guidance Center, and has served as a parish council president in a Greek Orthodox parish.)