More Deception and Cover-Up by the Greek Archdiocese in its Official Newspaper
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA) recently informed its faithful that two priests were suspended, a third had his suspension rescinded and a fourth was “Returned to status of layman”. There were no reasons given for these actions. This appears to be part of a continuing pattern by the GOA of not telling the whole truth about certain matters. The listings appeared in the May 2006 issue of the Orthodox Observer, the official newspaper of the GOA, in its Clergy Update section. The paper was received in June.
One “suspension” was particularly troubling. The Very Rev. Fr. Michael Rymer, was listed as having been suspended, effective December 2003! Unless this is in error, why did it take two-and-a-half-years to tell the people? And, what was the suspension for? We don’t know, but we have come to learn that a Spiritual Court was convened for Fr. Rymer earlier this year – January of 2006 – regarding allegations of sexual misconduct, and that subsequently he may have been defrocked. Why wasn’t this important news revealed or explained? It is understood that the Court does not have the final say, but it reportedly recommended a “return to status of layman”. This Court decision has not been revealed by the GOA, as far as is known. The “returned to status of layman” designation, as will be shown below, has been used in questionable ways. (In another case, last year, such a recommendation resulted in a priest being defrocked by the Ecumenical Patriarch.) In the Rymer case, we do not know yet what the final disposition is or will be.
It has also been learned that a lawsuit is pending against Rymer and the San Francisco Metropolis of the GOA, according to papers filed in California where he was a priest. Ironically, he was also the priest in charge of the AIDS Ministry for that Metropolis, and was presumably known to many more people than an ordinary parish priest would be. He reportedly made numerous presentations on behalf of the AIDS Ministry and was prominent in the Ministry’s newsletter. In view of this, as well, shouldn’t there have been more information given to the faithful about the Rymer matter? Is it sufficient only to report a two-and-a-half-year-old suspension? What transpired before and after this suspension that the faithful should know about? Rymer’s title of Very Rev. denoted a celibate status from which priests may be selected to become bishops.
Another official notice perhaps illustrates the questionable time-lines in the Rymer matter. It is a recent memorandum from the GOA Chancellor, Bishop Savas, also dated May 2006, which lists changes in assignments that are to be noted in one’s 2006 Yearbook. Under the heading of Greek Orthodox Chaplains, and “Vet. Adm. Chaplains” (presumably Veterans’ Administration Chaplains), it instructs: “Delete under California: V. Rev. Fr. Michael Rymer”. Are we to understand that only now is the GOA getting around to taking this action? Does this indicate that he has been functioning in this chaplain capacity, or perhaps others, since his suspension?
Furthermore, it has now been rumored that Rymer is or will be residing in an Orthodox monastery. If this is the case, shouldn’t the faithful know about it, and also have a voice in such a decision? Others living in such a monastery should be aware of Rymer’s status, as should laypeople who might visit. As a recent news story out of Texas has shown, a nominally Orthodox monastery there was found to be harboring people who were accused of child molestation.
The second suspension listed is that of Fr. Demetrios Kavouras, a much more recent one, on May 12, 2006. At least this date is timely, even though, again, no reason was given. Sadly, news reports from Florida have revealed that he was arrested in a police sting. He had been the priest at the Port Charlotte church.
In the third case, Fr. Basil K. Papanikolaou is listed under “Suspension rescinded”, with no date given. Are we not supposed to know why the suspension was lifted and what it was for in the first place? I am not in any way pre-supposing what this case was about, or suggesting anything negative about it.
And, I am not suggesting that legitimate privacy should not be honored. But when the reason for an action is one that affects the public, such as sexual misconduct, the faithful have a right to know. In these times, with the Catholic experience particularly, we have learned what a devastating effect cover-up can have on the lives of children and families. (It is also noteworthy that the GOA for some years now has been saying that part of its financial deficit is due to settlements paid for cases of sexual misconduct. But, it refuses to identify any of the priests who may be involved, or the amounts of the settlements.)
In the fourth case cited here from the May 2006 issue, we apparently have quite a different situation. Fr. George N. Patides is listed under “Returned to status of layman”, effective January 19, 2006. It turns out that some months earlier, in the September-October 2005 issue, under Suspensions, there was this entry:
“Fr. George N. Patides requested to be laicized in a letter to Metropolitan Alexios dated May 13, 2005. The Metropolitan brought it to the Holy Synod, which approved his request.”
Again, we do not know the details of this case, but it was apparently one that justified the “Returned to status of layman” category. It appears to have been a voluntary request that was honored by the man’s superiors.
However, in another instance, this phrasing has been used to cover up something entirely different. A case in point was cited in my July 2005 article “The Shameful Cover-Up Continues” . In that case, which I alluded to above, Fr. Gabriel Barrow of the Houston area, had been defrocked after old charges of sexual misconduct and a Spiritual Court hearing. There was no mention of the reason, the hearing or the defrocking; it was simply listed in the May 2005 issue of the Observer as another “Returned to status of layman.” I complained in my article at that time about the lack of honesty by the GOA in its cover-up of so many facts.
The faithful apparently are supposed to engage in a guessing game when they read these listings in the Orthodox Observer, not knowing the real reason for the listing. It seems to be a kind of “make believe” or “Emperor’s Clothes” exercise. The faithful are supposed to look at something, and not be sure of what they see, but, being good subjects of the empire (archdiocese), they don’t raise any questions. And so the deceptions continue.
Misconduct is part of the human condition – for clergy and well as laypeople. We can understand that and we can deal with it, difficult though it may be. Further, we are now more aware that sexual misconduct has been going on for centuries in organized religion. However, what we should not be tolerating at this point is deception and cover-up by our religious leaders. It was the culture of cover-up that enabled the massive sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church. The Orthodox bishops should be drawing an object lesson from that and start manifesting the Christian truthfulness they are supposed to possess. A good place to start for the GOA would be in the Orthodox Observer. Honest information should be given about suspensions. How can the faithful respect bishops who diminish their moral credibility by covering up these soul-damaging matters? How can children be protected when parents don’t know about the questionable background of a priest who may be assigned to their parish?
(Paul Cromidas is a retired Family Service agency executive director, and has served as a parish council president in a GOA parish. He is a former board member of the Greater Dallas Community of Churches and the City of Dallas Commission on Health and Human Services. He has written about the church abuse issue for several years now).