Plea to Delegates to the 2008 Clergy-Laity Congress to challenge the Archdiocese’s Clergy Sexual Misconduct Policy and their commitment to child safety…
Pokrov.org Note: This piece subsequently appeared in The National Herald on June 14, 2008, under the title “Archdiocese’s Clergy Sexual Misconduct Policy is Insufficient.”
This July the 39th Biennial Clergy Laity Congress will convene in Washington, D.C. Since the summer of 2000, I have attended these conventions entirely at my own expense both as a very concerned, devoted member of the laity, and also as a member of the Archdiocese’s Clergy Sexual Misconduct Advisory Board. It was my hope that while attending these meetings that I would help bring awareness to the very serious problem of clergy sexual misconduct within our church, while professionally and proactively ensuring that preventative procedures, policies, and appropriate responses be developed and enacted.
However, in 2006 while attending the Clergy Laity in Nashville I met three very seasoned, well respected clergymen. After our introductions, I was asked if I were a member of the Ladies Philoptochos. I replied that I was there as a member of the Archdiocese’s Clergy Sexual Misconduct Advisory Board.
Immediately one of the priests began to laugh. He called the Archdiocese’s misconduct policy a “joke.” He added that for many years the Greek Orthodox Church had mishandled matters of clergy sexual misconduct and that this problem continued. To illustrate his point, the priest then shared the history of a former clergyman by the name of Emmanuel Koveos. He said that some 30 years ago he had personally attended spiritual court hearings after Koveos had sexually molested a young girl while he served in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. The priest continued, poking fun at how for many years thereafter Koveos was moved from parish to parish while many knew of his continuing sexual improprieties. He joked how, decades later, Koveos was caught abusing another young girl while he served in Vermont, but this time he went to prison and was finally defrocked.
The clergymen were quite stunned when I informed them that it was my young daughter whom Koveos had sexually victimized in Vermont. Very embarrassed, the three priests immediately apologized for mocking the issue. Sadly, their disclosures and attitudes clearly demonstrate that not much has changed since my daughter was violated in 1997, despite my many years of advocacy.
What’s more, a few years ago I happened to meet the Parish Council President from the St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Hartford, Connecticut. She immediately began telling me how months earlier Emmanuel Koveos had presented himself as a respected clergyman at her parish and that he partook in Holy Easter services there. When she and the other members of the parish council discovered that Emmanuel Koveos is a convicted sex offender and that he had been defrocked, they immediately refused to allow him to continue serving at their Church. Disgracefully, the Koveos family began to harass and threaten her and the other members of the council, insisting that Koveos be allowed back into the altar. Truly appalling! Not only did Koveos’ presence place the women and children, as well as the parish council of this unsuspecting community in jeopardy, it also exposed the Church to potential liability. But, who consented to this? Who is protecting the Faithful when these defrocked priests are secretly permitted back into our communities?
Last year I was outraged and very disappointed to learn that Archbishop Demetrios was refusing to defrock (Fr.) Nicholas Katinas even though a Church investigation revealed that he had sexually abused children. What Katinas did to his young victims is inexcusable! However, our spiritual leader’s response is even more deplorable.
Subsequently, a civil lawsuit was filed against the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of New York, the Metropolis of Denver, the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Dallas, and the former Fr. Katinas. The trial is expected to begin in September. I commend these victims for their tremendous strength in coming forward and offer them my heartfelt prayers. I truly empathize. It won’t be an easy battle for anyone.
For the sake of these victims and their families, I pray that they can settle out of court quickly and quietly. These courtroom dramas are callous, merciless, insensitive, and cruel. On the other hand, I fear that only through a very public trial and a sizeable judgment will the Archdiocese finally be forced to accept the seriousness of clergy sexual misconduct within the Church. Only then will they implement appropriate procedures to prevent abuse and to effectively respond to allegations.
Clergy sexual misconduct is a very real and serious problem within the Greek Orthodox Church. I implore all delegates who will be attending the Clergy-Laity Congress this July to challenge the Archdiocese’s Clergy Sexual Misconduct Policy. Question their commitment to child safety within the church. Insist that the corruption and secrecy within our hierarchy be stopped, and that those who sexually violate our children be held completely accountable. Stipulate that victims deserve compassion, not alienation and blame. Ensure that preventative procedures, policies, and appropriate responses be better developed and utilized. Demand that the Archdiocese include on their Web site a link listing the names and photographs of all clergy suspended or defrocked for sexual misconduct.
We cannot allow this continuing crisis to destroy our children, our communities, our faith, nor our Church. Reform is vital! The future of our beloved Greek Orthodox Church depends on it.