The Shameful Cover-Up Continues: The GOA and the Defrocking of Fr. Barrow

Author: Paul Cromidas
Date Published: 07/05/2005

Well, there it is: a brief, innocuous listing in the May 2005 issue of the Orthodox Observer, the official newspaper of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. The listing, in the “Clergy Update” section, reads:

“Returned to Status of Layman
Barrow, V. Rev. Gabriel – 02-22-05”

One could almost think that Fr. Barrow had decided to leave the priesthood and his request was then granted by his superiors!

Nothing was said about Fr. Barrow having been defrocked by Patriarch Bartholomew.

Nothing was said about the reason for the defrocking being allegations of sexual misconduct.

Nothing was said about a Spiritual Court having made the recommendation to defrock.

Nothing was said about how Fr. Barrow was accepted by the GOA after having been suspended by the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese.

Keep it as quiet as possible. That’s the GOA way.

It’s the GOA way of doing business in spite of its own policy on sexual misconduct which calls for fuller disclosure and even efforts to heal. Under the section, “Ongoing Responsibility”, the policy reads:

“It is recognized that the conclusion of the Spiritual Court does not put an end to the consequences for a Victim and Clergyman and their respective families, for the individuals involved and for the Church community at large. The Archdiocese has a pastoral responsibility to help bring healing to the affected individuals and parishes and to the general Church community.”

Shall we say that there’s a gap between policy and reality?

From the suspension of Fr. Barrow by the GOA in early 2004, there has been no real effort on the part of the GOA, or its Denver diocese, to reach out to the Webster, Texas parish near Houston, where Fr. Barrow served, or to the people of the overall diocese. The suspension was kept quiet, the Spiritual Court session was not revealed, and now the decision to defrock is covered-up. The GOA did not even plan to notify the men who testified at the Court, until it was reminded that it should!

By way of background, Fr. Barrow was suspended the first time when he was a priest in the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese in the late 1970s in the Toledo, Ohio area. In the mid-1990s he was somehow allowed into the priesthood of the GOA. How that took place is the large unanswered question that needs explaining by both the Greek and the Antiochian archdioceses. The GOA’s Metropolitan Isaiah, whose diocese includes Texas, has not offered any explanations, even though he was Fr. Barrow’s superior from the outset in the GOA.

The date given for the return of Fr. Barrow to lay status is February 22, 2005. Yet, until contacted by religion editor David Yonke of the Toledo Blade newspaper in May, the GOA had not issued any public statement about the defrocking. Nikki Stephanopoulos, the GOA spokesperson, indicated to Mr. Yonke that the GOA did not intend to say anything further about the matter, other than to list it in the next issue of the Observer. And, now we all know what that listing consists of. (The May issue of the Observer did not reach the faithful until late June).

In an ironic juxtaposition, the GOA ran an advertisement right under the Clergy Update section where the Barrow listing appeared. It asked anyone who had questions about the Archdiocese Clergy Sexual Misconduct Policy, or who wanted to report a complaint of clergy misconduct, to call a hotline number.

It said that all complaints would be “taken seriously”. Now, this ad does represent progress. I don’t think it has ever been run before, and I hope it is run in future issues.

The ad and this particular listing, however, reflect a conflicting reality: The GOA message seems to be: “We are saying we’ll take your complaint seriously, but if, indeed, we go so far as to defrock one of our priests based on your complaint, we won’t say we did and we certainly won’t say why. We’ll probably just say that he is being ‘Returned to the status of layman’.”

The GOA says one thing in print, but, clearly, its practice is something else.

In spite of the ad, it would appear that the GOA is refraining from mentioning the term “sexual misconduct” unless it has to. In another story in this issue of the Observer, there is a report of the latest Archdiocesan Council meeting. There is the usual lack of clarity, including that “…more than half…” of the $10 million debt of the GOA is “…attributable to legal fees and settlements…”. We’re not told what kind of settlements, but, previously the GOA had revealed that it had borrowed $1.5 million to pay for settlements in sexual misconduct cases.

So, there too, the GOA is being less than honest with the faithful. How the arithmetic adds up in this instance is not explained, either. If more than $5 million is for fees and settlements, how much is for each? Are we to understand that considerably more than the $1.5 million has now gone for sexual misconduct settlements? Why aren’t we being told what that amount is? By the measure of the relatively small GOA budget, these are significant amounts of money. And, then, of course, the GOA has also not revealed the names of clergy who may have been involved in these cases. The cover-up continues.

If the GOA is blaming sexual misconduct for much of its financial troubles, where is the concern by the leadership about this? We know the bishops want to cover things up, but where are the laypeople of the Archdiocesan Council? And, where is the GOA’s Clergy Sexual Misconduct Advisory Board? (Could it be that this board is ineffective because Metropolitan Isaiah himself is chairman of this body?) As they say these days, “Where is the outrage?”

If this were a Roman Catholic situation, there would be parishioners picketing with signs demanding accountability from their bishops. The GOA and other Orthodox jurisdictions may not have the magnitude of problem in sexual misconduct that the Catholics have, but they do have the problem and they should have learned something from the Catholic experience by now. The Toledo editor, mentioned above, has said that in his experience, “…the Orthodox churches are less forthcoming with these things than the Roman Catholics, and that’s saying a lot.”

Throughout the Barrow case, it has not been the GOA or the Antiochian Archdiocese that have been forthright with information; it has been lay people, including victims, who have spoken up and who have involved the press. Yet now, with the listing in the Observer, the GOA has the audacity to deal the faithful a “coup de grace”, saying, in effect: “It’s over. You don’t have to know anything more about it. A priest has been returned to layman status. Case closed.”

The laity should be saying, “Not so fast”, and it should be insisting on a full explanation by both the GOA and the Antiochian Archdiocese. Most of the explanation should come from Metropolitan Isaiah, who apparently accepted Fr. Barrow into the GOA. Both archdioceses, in this instance, need to show a new maturity by speaking the truth about this matter to the faithful.

Archbishop Demetrios, primate of the GOA, in his 4th of July message this year, extolled the “…principles of democracy, liberty and freedom…”, as he usually does. He also wrote that we in America have learned the necessity of having “…authentic relationships with God and with others.” I respectfully submit that the handling of the Barrow case by the GOA does not represent an authentic relationship with God and others.

References to related articles:

(Mr. Cromidas is a retired social service agency executive. He has served as a parish council president in a GOA parish.)