Proposed Amendment to Mandated Reporting Law
The following was a statement made by Catherine Metropoulos to the senate and house of the Vermont legislature. Pokrov applauds Metropoulos’ presentation as well as her efforts to protect other children after her twelve year old daughter was molested in the Dormition Of The Mother Of God Greek Orthodox Church in Burlington, Vermont by the former Father Emmanuel Koveos.
I thank you for allowing me this opportunity to share with you today why I feel it’s so very important that Vermont’s Mandated Reporting Law should, and without question, include our clergy. I will also speak about the importance of including in this law mandated reporting of information obtained from confessions and why.
Years before the clergy sexual abuse within the Catholic Church made headlines across the nation, the former Rev. Emmanuel Koveos was convicted and imprisoned for sexually molesting our then twelve-year-old daughter during a Greek language lesson at the Dormition of the Mother of God Greek Orthodox Church in Burlington. (State vs. Koveos – Docket number 398-1-97). We were very lucky and thank God that we had the insight at that time to immediately contact the police and not our spiritual leaders when we learned what had happened to our daughter. What we have since discovered about both Emmanuel Koveos’ past and what the church already actually knew about him and his behavior, combined with his numerous parish reassignments over the years depicts a pattern much like what has been uncovered within the Catholic Church of late. Had we not contacted the police ourselves, there is absolutely no question in our minds that this incident involving our daughter would never have been reported to the authorities but instead squelched and buried within the church. We were stunned to witness the manner in which our spiritual leaders responded to cases of clergy sexual misconduct, and especially as in our case, following a jury conviction!
After Emmanuel Koveos was released from prison in 1998 he successfully obtained a job working as a chanter in another Greek community in Lowell, Massachusetts. I questioned how our spiritual leaders, and with a clear conscience, could allow this convicted child molester back into yet another church community especially where there were so many unsuspecting parishioners. I worried constantly about other woman and children while this predator masqueraded, once again, quietly behind the sanctuary of his collar. Although the man was “suspended,” he was still a priest and the Greek Archdiocese could reinstate him at any time. Our patriarch in Constantinople had no intention whatsoever of defrocking him. With relentless and constant pressure from our family, Emmanuel Koveos was removed from this position in Lowell and finally defrocked in December of 1999.
We cannot allow this cycle of abuse to continue within our religious communities. We must make our clergy accountable for their actions. No one is above the law. To ensure that future cases of clergy sexual misconduct would, in fact, be reported to the proper authorities and dealt with by trained professionals in an appropriate manner, the clergy must be added to Vermont’s Mandated Reporting Law.
My intent today is not to denounce my church, my religion, or any other denomination. As a matter of interest, I recently accepted an invitation by His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America to take a position on their newly formed Clergy Sexual Misconduct Advisory Board. It is my goal to do whatever I can to prevent another child from having to walk in our daughter’s shoes. It is the responsibility of us all to do whatever we can to ensure the safety of all children, and it’s for this reason that I feel that mandated reporting of information obtained in confession is also invaluable.
Although I truly appreciate, understand, and respect the clergy’s position that the confidentiality of the confessional is sacred and that by including this into law would violate the canons of the church, I do not agree, however, when it comes to the safety and well being of children. Children must take precedence above all else. I question, though, how any member of any church could live with him or herself knowing that a child’s safety and well being was at stake? How could they ignore abuse of God’s children? It should not matter from where this information is learned; what does matter are our kids.
To better understand my perspective, for a few moments I’d like for you to step into our daughter’s world to see exactly what happens to a child after they have been sexually molested. What happens to these children when their childhood has been disrupted and stolen from them, robbed of their innocence. How for us, a happy little girl so full of life who loved cuddles, hugs, and kisses suddenly wouldn’t let anyone touch her, not even me, her own mother.
“How could you let him do that to you?” her friends would ask. Embarrassed, she became angry and withdrawn as she tried dealing with feelings of guilt and shame. She blamed herself for what happened. She blamed herself for telling. The close and open communication I once cherished between mother and daughter vanished. Depression quickly set in, as did self-inflicted pain and self-harming. She began burning herself with matches and cutting herself with razors blades. She cried all the time, especially herself to sleep. She felt different from her peers and lacked self-esteem. Eating became an issue as she fluctuated between binge eating and starvation. Nightmares interrupted her sleep. She lost total interest in school and all other activities. Drugs and alcohol became her escape. Our family life was in a total upheaval. A once happy home was now filled with despair, fighting, yelling, anger, tension, fears and anxiety. Therapist after therapist failed to help her. So did I.
In the spring of 2001 our daughter attempted suicide. Desperate to save her, one morning at 4 AM we handed her over to two professional escorts, two total strangers, who flew her to Utah. It was one of the most difficult things I ever had to do in my life, something I will never forget. For the next seven weeks we did not see nor speak to our daughter as she survived the mountains of Utah at a special wilderness program. During this time she was hospitalized twice for dehydration and exhaustion. We worried about our daughter constantly.
From Utah, we immediately flew her to Montana where she was enrolled in a therapeutic boarding school. There she encountered a very intense two-year therapeutic and academic program.
That year and the next our daughter was not home for Thanksgiving, or Christmas. Our holiday and special occasion photos are empty without her. She missed her brother and sister’s birthdays. We were not together when she turned 17. Days, weeks, and months passed without seeing our child and her us, precious irreplaceable family memories never to be.
Since our daughter attended this special school in Montana, she’ll not have a senior prom or high school graduation this spring. There will be no high school memory book with her photo in it. No high school ring. She was robbed of the opportunity to play varsity soccer, her favorite sport, and all that goes with being a teenage high-schooler — teenage years that can never be replaced. The hands of time forever ticking away.
For victimizing our daughter, Emmanuel Koveos spent a total of four months behind bars.
Please help spare another child from having to walk in our daughter’s shoes. It’s because of my love for all children that I feel so strongly that mandated reporting of information obtained in confession is also important and should be included in this law. It is the responsibility of us all to put first our children and to do everything in our power as lawmakers and citizens to make them a priority above everything else.
Never in our wildest dreams did I ever think that something like this could ever happen to our daughter and us. But it did. And if it can happen in our family, it can happen to any one of you sitting here listening to me today. Crime affects every walk of life. No one is immune. Please consider first our children, for you never know if the next child victimized might be someone from your own family. The burden of their safety and all God’s children now rests in your hands.