Sexual Misconduct: An Orthodox Blind Spot?

Date Published: 05/10/2009

Pokrov has now been online for almost ten years. Considering all the reports we have had since we first began our ministry, we wonder if the Orthodox – or at least the Orthodox hierarchy — have a blind spot concerning clergy sexual misconduct.

For example, as of January 1, 2009, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA) rescinded the suspension of Fr. Demetrios Kavouras. Kavouras was arrested in a prostitution sting in Florida on May 11, 2006, and he was suspended from the priesthood the following day.  No reason was given by the Archdiocese for either his 2006 suspension, or for his recent reinstatement. Doesn’t the GOA owe the Faithful an explanation for returning Kavouras to active ministry?

Similarly, Pokrov reported in March of 2009 that Bishop Demetri Matta Khoury, formerly a hierarch in the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America (AA), had returned to active ministry as the auxiliary bishop of the Antiochian Archdiocese of Mexico.  Khoury had been charged with fourth degree sexual assault in 2003. Shortly after his arrest, Metropolitan Philip Saliba directed him not to preach or preside at any liturgical service. Khoury was retired from active ministry in 2004, after he pleaded guilty to attempted fourth degree sexual assault. Do the Faithful in Mexico know that their new auxiliary bishop is a registered sex offender who has spent time in jail?

Lastly, the newly installed metropolitan of the Orthodox Church in America, Jonah Paffhausen, was interviewed in December, 2008, by the Religion News Service (RNS).  RNS asked Paffhausen about his prior service as abbot of the Monastery of St. John of San Francisco in Manton, California, where he gave refuge to the defrocked GOA priest Michael Rymer.  Rymer had been defrocked by the GOA after a mentally-challenged parishioner alleged that Rymer had initiated a sexual relationship with him. In response, Paffhausen said, “…the church leader’s responsibility is that such a priest would be immediately removed from his role…” Yet court records show that a letter was sent from the Manton monastery to Archbishop Demetrios Trakatellis, head of the GOA, requesting that the clerical faculties of the defrocked priest be restored.  How are the Faithful supposed to reconcile what Paffhausen said in the RNS interview with his monastery’s request to the GOA?

Pokrov can truthfully assert that these three examples are not isolated cases. Orthodox hierarchs appear to have a certain “blind spot” when it comes to sexually incontinent priests. Does the Orthodox Laity also share this blindness? If their eyes are open to the problem, then the Faithful need to find their voices and demand accountability for clergy sexual misconduct from their bishops.