OCA “Reaffirms” Political Posturing to avoid being accountable for Sexual Misconduct

Author: Greta Larson
Date Published: 04/12/2002
Publication: Pokrov.org

Greta Larson responds to recent OCA press release

Greta Larson, co-founder and web master of Pokrov responds after: OCA publishes further comments on Sexual Misconduct along with copy of its 1994 policy. Please check our other documents regarding the OCA Synodal statement on Sexual Misconduct.

After reading the OCA’s recent statements about Sexual Misconduct and its reaffirmation of its 1994 policy, I am appalled at the policy’s overall inadequacy — especially in light of the current Roman Catholic Scandals around the globe. It seems that the world is realizing that church administrations that continue to cover-up abuse and silence victims are unfit to lead the church. The OCA policy is seriously flawed in that it is vague and full of carefully crafted sentences that do not really mean anything substantial. It is the same policy that has been ineffective for eight years and has resulted in abusive priests that have simply been moved to a new parishes. The policy makes me seriously question the pastoral intentions of those who have promoted it.

As someone whose family was victimized within the church and had no recourse when going to the church authorities, my advice to anyone who is abused by an OCA clergyman, or in an OCA institution is to follow the guidelines we have published on Pokrov instead. Meanwhile, I have taken some time to go through the OCA’s policy guidelines and point out my concerns and comment about particular passages.

The OCA Policy says:
The Office of the Metropolitan will designate one or more persons as trained investigators to deal with cases of alleged sexual misconduct, and the services of Legal Counsel will be made available as circumstances may require

The Office of the Metropolitan will hand-pick trained investigators? Trained in what and by whom? Legal counsel will be made available to whom — The offender? I would also like to point out that the very first point in any misconduct policy should be go to the police immediately if there is any hint of abuse of a minor or if violence, rape (or forced sodomy) or any other criminal activity occurs. A crime is a crime, regardless of who commits it and where.

The OCA Policy says:
The recipient of a complaint lodged against a clergyman, Church worker, or Church member must immediately notify the diocesan bishop.

Like I said before, all criminal activity should be reported to the police first. Also, we often find that the bishops simply don’t respond. What happens then? This part of the policy begs the question: What if the offender is the bishop?

The OCA Policy says:
The diocesan bishop will immediately inform the Office of the Metropolitan that such an allegation or charge has been made.

What if the Metropolitan never responds? I know people who have personally sent him letters of this type and it’s been over ten years – – no response.

The OCA Policy says:
It is important that the Church administration be involved in this process since in the case of litigation the Church as a whole, rather than any specific person, parish, or diocese, is exposed to liability.

Notice that liability is the primary concern — not the safety of children and parishioners.

The OCA Policy says:
At this point, if deemed necessary the Metropolitan will appoint a trained investigator to the case. The investigator will be skilled in issues surrounding sexual misconduct, and particularly sexual addiction. The investigator’s duties will be to: a.] conduct a thorough investigation of the case resulting in a comprehensive written report addressed to the Metropolitan and the diocesan bishop; and b.] serve as advisor to the Metropolitan and the diocesan bishop in regard to issues surrounding the matter.

Again, there is no indication of what specific training this investigator will have. My guess is that if there is an investigator (an unheard of situation in the cases I know about) he or she will be hand-picked to intimidate the victim and make him or her feel small, stupid and like it was their fault. The investigator might make the victims feel guilty about what happened or about the fact that the abuse has made him or her question their faith. The victim will then possibly be too afraid, guilty or intimidated to come forward. There is no indication whether the investigator’s report will be available to the victim[s]. Of course, the investigator is hand-picked and paid for by the Metropolitan, so this person will most likely not be objective.

The OCA Policy says:
After reviewing the written allegations with legal counsel, the Office of the Metropolitan and the diocesan bishop shall determine whether to proceed with steps 6, 7, 8, and 9, and whether the relevant insurance carrier should be notified. If the complaint involves specifically criminal activities, then the police must be notified. Particularly strict regulations exist concerning the reporting of incidents involving children and other vulnerable people.

Again, what if the metropolitan’s and bishop’s judgement is not objective? What if it involves one of them? What if it’s a close friend who knows their secrets? By the way, what are these “particularly strict regulations” — church regulations? canonical regulations? moral regulations? It’s not really clear what is meant there. The fact that an entire investigation is supposed to occur (with no time-line indicated) before the reporting of abuse to the authorities is appalling. Again, I remind people to go to the police or law enforcement authorities first and immediately if there is any criminal activity! This is not a sin or a betrayal, it’s the law.

The OCA Policy says:
If so instructed, the investigator will then approach the accused person, and make that person aware of the accusations which have been made.

Instructed by whom? The Bishop or Metropolitan? The victim? Again, the language is unclear.

The OCA Policy says:
The diocesan bishop will relieve the accused person of their duties, without suspending pay, pending investigation of the matter. (This is a particularly controversial step, however it is better to err on the side of discretion.) At this time, the diocesan bishop will recommend that the accused seek private legal counsel (i.e., counsel not associated with the parish, diocese, or territorial church). He will also make pastoral resources available to the accused and his/her family through people not involved in the investigation.

What part of this step is controversial? If a clergy person is having allegations made which are being seriously considered, asking them to stop their duties as priest is simply the right thing to do. “Err on the side of discretion” — what does that mean? This could certainly be more clearly worded. Why does the policy recommend legal counsel for the accused, but no such advice is recommended for the victims?

The OCA Policy says:
The diocesan bishop will then contact the alleged victim[s] and their family[ies]. He will make pastoral resources available to them through people not involved in the investigation. This step is a pastoral, rather than investigative, initiative.

Beware: if you are a priest pastoring to victims, your job is to appear like a pastor so the church is less liable for damages. If you meet with victims and you actually pastor to them or believe them, you will be severely reprimanded or suspended. You may be ordered not to speak to the victims ever again.

The OCA Policy says:
If an arrest or formal charge has been made, the diocesan bishop will, in consultation with the Office of the Metropolitan, the investigator, and legal counsel, promptly prepare and have read to the parish family a written statement informing them that this arrest or charge has occurred and that the person charged has been relieved of their duties until the investigation has been completed. Keep a copy of this written statement. Say no more about the alleged incident at that time. The parish will need to be led through a process of healing, but only once the outcome of the investigation is known.

If I am understanding this correctly, the above statement says that if an arrest or formal charge has been made, then the parish will be verbally informed, but a written copy of the statement must be retained (by whom??) and after the announcement there is to be complete silence about the issue? Aside from the fact that this entire paragraph does not really make sense, I am incredulous about the fact that it actually says “say no more about the alleged incident at that time.” Again, the church is ordering victims to be silent. Shame on the bishops for this advice. Have they learned nothing from the past? The shame is in the denial and the secrecy.

The OCA Policy says:
Once the above steps have been completed the investigator will proceed with his/her formal investigation into the matter in the manner in which he/she has been trained.

Again, what is that “manner” of training? There are also no guidelines as to what sort of investigation will occur and in what manner or time it will be conducted?

The OCA Policy says:
The investigator’s report will be reviewed by the Office of the Metropolitan, the diocesan bishop, and legal counsel to determine what additional action (if any) should be taken.

Again, they are trying to minimize liability (when they are in fact increasing liability by asking for reports and then doing nothing — look at Cardinal Law of the Roman Catholic Diocese in Boston.) As a personal aside, when my sibling was molested at an OCA parish my parents asked for an investigation, but we were told the church didn’t have the resources. Has this changed? I haven’t heard from any of the more recent victims that this has changed. In any case, I strongly feel that an objective third party needs to investigate, rather than a Metropolitan-appointed “investigator” whose primary concern is the financial well-being of the institution rather than the spiritual well-being of Orthodox parishioners.

Also, I think it is only fair that the victims should get a copy of the investigator’s report. Why are they not included in the list of recipients?

The OCA Policy says:
Note: Do not be tempted to do more than what is specified above, such as take sides or extend financial assistance to one or another of the parties, even if at the time pastoral concerns seem to indicate otherwise.

Remember the priest in the parable of the Good Samaritan? Case in point.

The OCA Policy says:
The above guidelines are designed to keep the Church involved, but not entangled or enmeshed, in situations involving sexual misconduct. Such an approach will allow for a fair investigation, meet the immediate pastoral needs of those involved, and prepare the ground for long-term healing and eventual closure.

The only long term healing or closure will occur when the people of the church demand truth, justice and accountability. We must remember that policies and guidelines won’t do any good if they are mere political gestures. I challenge the people of the church to demand more than a reaffirmation of this so-called “policy” and ask the OCA hierarchs to be accountable for their actions and lack-of-action when presented with complaints. I challenge the people of the church to ask that all perpetrators and enablers of crimes to step down and all their names be turned over to the proper authorities.

Greta Larson