Re: Articles about Pennsylvania Parish and Father Sasoon Zumrookhdian

Author: Greta Larson
Date Published: 12/14/2002

Dear Editor:

As co-founder and web master of Pokrov.org for victims of abuse in the Orthodox faiths, I have followed your articles about Father Sasoon Zumrookhdian and the parish in Pennsylvania with interest.

Last year my staff discovered and investigated the lawsuit against Father Sasoon that occurred during his tenure in Fresno, California. We obtained court documents from the case – documents which, for $132, are available to anyone who requests them from the Fresno courthouse. A summary of the case is in the Lawsuit section of the Pokrov.org web site.

We found the charges to be very disturbing, and felt that information about the alleged behavior of Father Sasoon should be available on our web site which tracks abuse cases and allegations in Orthodox denominations. A summary of the case has been on our site since August of this year.

I am curious that the charges were not mentioned by Archbishop Khajag Barsamian in his initial letter to the parish, as they are publicly documented. It seems that, like in the Roman Catholic faith, the secrecy and cover up is a hard habit to break.

In Mr.Boghosian’s article of November, 23, 2002 he refers to Ms. King as having an ”affair” with Hayr Sasoon. What many people fail to realize is that sexual relationships between priests and parishioners are never consensual. The imbalance of power makes it impossible. One excellent book on the subject is ”Is Nothing Sacred” by Marie Fortune. Here is a quote that I have included on Pokrov.org:

The pastoral or professional relationship constitutes a ”forbidden zone” which exists because the one in power [the clergyman] has a relationship with another based upon trust. No matter who initiates an action or how willing the vulnerable person says he/she is, the [clergyman] always has the responsibility to set appropriate boundaries regardless of the situation or circumstances. (written by the Independent Board of Inquiry Regarding St. Anthony’s Seminary, Santa Barbara, CA. )

It is my observation that parishes under the influence of charismatic leaders who are charged with abuse often go to great lengths to defame victims and ignore charges presented. Sadly, this cult-like behavior only sets up further victims who will suddenly find themselves up against a group of ”disbelievers.” The parish spokesperson’s quote in the November 23 article (”Since when should the action of a somewhat heartbroken woman dictate the Diocesan policy, particularly when there is an acute shortage of qualified clergymen?”) was an example of this type of mentality. Every Christian should put the safety and respect of its parishioners above their need for a priest.

Since early this year, clergy abuse has been at the top of the headlines in every major newspaper in this country. It should be clear to aware people by now that whether someone is a ”half-Armenian woman” or a full Armenian woman, a cleric that enters into a relationship between himself and a congregant, let alone a boss who initiates a sexual relationship with his employee, has severely crossed the boundaries of ethical – let alone Christian — behavior. In fact, I felt that referring to Ms. King as ”the half-Armenian woman” was a racist remark, and very inappropriate for a journalist to write.

I do agree with Fr. Sasoon’s parish, however, that sending Fr. Sasoon to Argentina is not the answer. The priest shuffling (like that of Cardinal Bernard Law in Boston) has got to stop. Why should an Argentinian parish take the ”risks” that Archbishop Khajag doesn’t want the Pennsylvania parish to take?

Greta Larson, San Francisco, CA

Protection of the Theotokos, A Site for Victims of Abuse in the Orthodox Church https://www.pokrov.org Greta Larson: Web Master c/o Haight Mail Center, 1621 Haight Street #3, San Francisco, CA 94117-2815 Voice mail: 415-820-9645 Fax: 925-283-2305