Overdue: An Update on the Sexual Misconduct Issue by the Greek Archdiocese
Recent Allegations Are Disturbing
In the spring of 2002, during the daily revelations of sexual abuse in the Catholic church, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA), with some fanfare, issued its policy on clergy sexual misconduct.
The announcement proclaimed that the archdiocese wanted “to make clear the extreme seriousness” with which it regarded this matter. A Hotline telephone number was listed and the policy was to be sent to all the parishes.
Question: Has anyone heard anything about this matter since then?
In an article in 2002, this writer raised concerns about the credibility of the process at the time because the GOA was claiming that the policy was an update of an existing document, when in fact no such existing policy had ever been revealed to the faithful. I also questioned how serious the Archdiocese was when two letters I had written to Archbishop Demetrios about this subject had gone unanswered. In one of those letters, I inquired about a GOA priest who had been convicted of child molestation some years ago, but had been allowed to continue his priestly duties. The information about this priest’s conviction was also sent to the two Archdiocesan attorneys involved with the misconduct area , Emanuel Demos, the General Counsel, and Cathy Walsh.
Shortly after the policy was unveiled, a “workshop” was devoted to it at the 2002 Clergy-Laity Congress, yet nothing was reported about that by the Archdiocese, either. Ms. Walsh presided at that meeting and Mr. Demos was at the head table, along with Bishop Savas, the Archdiocese Chancellor, who had been named to oversee the misconduct area.
The policy called for an Advisory committee. It took about a year for this body to be named, although the names have not been made public, and so far only one meeting has been held (in October 2003). Not only have the names not been released, there has been no report about what happened at that first meeting. Will there be any more meetings? Will any information be given? It is now approaching two years since the policy was announced. There have also been no reports from Bishop Savas about the number and nature of the calls to the Hotline, or about other communications he may have received during this time, including about the disturbing report outlined at the end of this article.
At the 2002 Congress, it was a prominent point in the Finance Committee session that part of the Archdiocese money troubles were due to settlements that were paid for sexual misconduct cases. It was also revealed that as of August of 2002, the Archdiocese would no longer have insurance coverage for sexual misconduct and would have to self-insure from its own budget. Wouldn’t it be proper to inform the faithful what the experience has been on this matter? Have other monies been paid out and, if so, what effect has this had on the budget? At an Atlanta clergy meeting last fall, it was reportedly stated that some $2 million has been paid in settlements. Is this true?
At this point , it is questionable whether many of the faithful know about the misconduct policy or the Hotline. It does not appear that there was any emphasis given to introducing this matter at the parish level, let alone any education program implemented. Were parishes told to place it on the agenda for their General Assembly meetings? It also does not appear that the Hotline number has been given any ongoing prominence by listing it in the Orthodox Observer, the Archdiocese newspaper, or in the Greek-American press, or on web-sites.
In spite of its early claims of seriousness, the Archdiocese does not appear able to change its organizational culture enough to be more open with the people about the misconduct matter. (This lack of openness seems to apply to other important issues, also, such as the charter, fiscal matters and questions about monasteries in the U.S.).
In one example, the suspension of priests, the Archdiocese apparently does not want to give full information on such actions. In the November-December 2003 Orthodox Observer, under the “Clergy Update” section, a belated suspension is listed, but no reason for it is given. Whatever the reason, shouldn’t the faithful be told what it is? And shouldn’t they know whether a suspension is temporary or permanent?
A disturbing report, currently circulating, contains what appear to be credible statements by two men who have come forward to say that they were molested as teenagers by a priest who is now serving in the GOA. The priest was in the Antiochian Archdiocese at the time of the alleged offenses. This report also indicates that key bishops and lay leaders of the GOA had been told about this situation over a period of some time and have apparently taken no action. The report includes copies of letters that had been sent to the hierarchs about this. Is this case an example of how the misconduct issue is being handled in the GOA and in other Orthodox jurisdictions? This particular matter certainly raises questions about inter-Orthodox relationships. If the charges here are valid, did the GOA accept this priest into its ranks without a full investigation of his background? Did the Antiochian Archdiocese reveal all that it knew? The people are due an explanation on this matter, as well as an update on the overall issue.
As this is being written, the U.S. Catholic bishops are releasing their latest report on the child sexual abuse problem in their churches. The press reports tell us that this study was commissioned by the bishops as part of a series of reforms meant to restore trust in their leadership. Orthodox bishops: please take note.
(Paul Cromidas is a retired Family Service agency executive director. He has taught sociology and has served as a parish council president. He is a board member of Orthodox Christian Laity. The views expressed here are his own).