New website established for victims of abuse in the Orthodox Church

Author: Stephen P. Angelides, Voithia Executive Editor
Date Published: 06/04/1999
Publication: Voithia

The views expressed are those of the authors– the views expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the Voithia staff or GOAL, Inc.
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A new website named Protection of the Theotokos — A Site for Victims of Abuse in the Orthodox Church has been established for victims of abuse in the Orthodox Church.

Voithia interviewed Greta Larson, the Webmaster of the site, about the site.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your involvement in the Orthodox Church?

A: I converted to the Orthodox faith with my whole family when I was fifteen. Before that I was raised Episcopalian. Over the years I have been involved in the church on many levels, from dancing in church dance troupes at festivals and running food booths to working as singer and chanter. While finishing my degree in music I worked as a choir director. My whole family is involved in the church: My mother is a traditional icon painter, my father is a tonsured reader and has served on the church council and my brother-in-law teaches at an Orthodox parochial school.

Q: What motivated you to start the website?

A: Years ago some children were abused at my church, including one of my close family members. The church elevated enablers of abuse and abandoned the victims. I realized that the silence of the church and silence of church officials allowed the abuse to happen in the first place. The subsequent inaction of the church just made the wounds even deeper.

Having been outspoken on the issue over the years, I have heard from many other victims and realized the problem in the Orthodox faith is rather large. A website was a way to reach out to other people who were intimidated by church officials and to educate them on the subject which would, perhaps, empower them to speak out and start to heal.

Q: When did you start working on it?

A: My actual work on the site began 5 months ago, but my learning about the issue and gathering resources began eight years ago when the abuse in my church occurred.

Q: How long, how much work, and what kind of work did it take before it was ready to go public?

A: To tell you the truth, I had hoped to have done a lot more before I took the site public. The site is still under construction, but I would say that I spent several afternoons and evenings a week over the last five or six months designing and structuring the site. I decided to advertise the site now because I had so many Orthodox people contact me about church abuse. I realized that there was a need for the site, regardless of how imperfect I felt it was.

Q: Are people other than you involved either as volunteers or contributors?

A: My family, of course, is my main support. But I do have a few people that help me with specific things. One person is a lawyer who checks my legal citations and does some proofreading. Another person does my investigative work for me, such as gathering of newspaper articles and court records. These are people with other jobs who volunteer when they can.

Several Orthodox people have been helpful by emailing me with theological considerations, or names of other resources.

Q: Is there any kind of an organization involved in this site, or do you hope one will grow out of the site?

A: No organization is officially running this site. I certainly hope to eventually have enough resources to start one and hold conferences, reach out to people that don’t have access to the internet and offer advocacy, education/prevention and healing. There is so much that needs to be done! I am inspired by people in The Linkup which is comprised of victims of clergy abuse mainly from the Catholic Church. I am also a member of The Linkup and recently went to one of their conferences in Los Angeles.

One dream of mine is to put together a response team that would be available to help churches heal, and specifically counsel victims–who are most often the ones neglected in church abuse cases. Ironically, the most devout Orthodox are the most wounded through church abuse. Once they experience the pain of the church’s defensive response, most victims leave the church forever. This loss of faith and community is tragic. In some cases victims are tempted to end their lives because of the shame, guilt and alienation they feel.

Q: How do you obtain and verify the factual information on your site?

A: Most of my information is obtained from reliable organizations, such as Childhelp USA, the US Department of Health and the Child and Adolescent Sexual Abuse Resource Center in San Francisco, CA. Some articles were written by Ellen Gvosdev, Ph.D., a priest’s wife in Florida who specializes in the subject of Clergy Abuse. Recently I have asked other people to write articles for my site. These people are either victims, therapists or lawyers that specialize in the field of church abuse. I am very careful about books, articles and resources I recommend and quote on my site. They are reviewed first by myself, or by the handful of people that help me.

The page that lists ”Orthodox Abusers” is carefully researched. All arrests and convictions are taken from court documents or reliable newspaper coverage. The purpose of that page is to inform people of dangerous predators in the church. Church is where most people are the most trusting. However, in some cases an abuser, even while convicted in a court of law, may still be a recognized as a priest in the church.

Q: The site is really beautiful and professionally done. Do you have a background in web design or art?

A: Thank you Steve. I am mostly self-taught, but have put together this website, as well as a couple of others — including one for my employer. I wouldn’t call myself a visual artist, but maybe my mom’s influence had some effect on me.

Q: What are your future plans for the site?

A: To help more people in any way I can. Specifically, though, I would like to put together a list of qualified therapists for victims and assemble some guidelines for clergy selection and clergy accountability. I am working on putting together a ”what to do” list for parishes and priests that are faced with an abuse crisis. I want to continue to educate people on what abuse is and on the seriousness of the problem. Most of all I want to keep on spreading the message that the silence is also the scandal, not just the abuse!

I welcome any suggestions, recommendations and feedback from the Orthodox community. Please let people know they are welcome to email me. We are a small operation and it might take a while to respond, but I read everything that comes in. We honor confidentiality, and encourage people to report any abuses that they know of.
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Editor’s Note: Protection of the Theotokos — A Site for Victims of Abuse in the Orthodox Church The Universal Resource Locator (URL) for the site is: [www.pokrov.org].
Greta Larson, Webmaster.