UPDATED–Orthodox pastor arrested on a sex charge, victims respond
For immediate release: Thursday, October 20, 2016
A Serbian Orthodox priest was arrested last week on a sex charge and a St. Louis based victims’ group wants church officials to stop some parishioners from rallying around him.
Father Daniel James Mackay, pastor of Saint John the Wonderworker Orthodox Church in Eugene, was arrested on October 12th on suspicion of purchasing sex with a minor on more than one occasion and also of using the girl to traffic cocaine.
Members of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, responded to the news.
Melanie Jula Sakoda, one of the two Orthodox Directors for SNAP stated, “Since, according to the police, this apparently wasn’t a ‘one time’ offense, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that kids in the parish were also victimized. Parents need to be acutely aware of this possibility and not rush to the defense of the priest in front of their children. It’s really hard for survivors to come forward, and public displays of support for the clergyman, and I’m already aware of one in this case, can have a chilling effect on these important disclosures.”
The survivors’ group publishes specific guidelines on “What to do when your priest is accused of abuse.”
SNAP also commented on the fact that the press release on the website of the Western American Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America was very different from the one appearing on the website of the Eugene parish in one important respect.
The statement on the diocesan website said that “While the criminal proceedings are pending and until the conclusion of ecclesiastical proceedings, Father Daniel will be suspended from all pastoral duties to which he was assigned.”
The release on the parish website said only, “While the charges are pending, Father Daniel who was the parish priest at St. John the Wonderworker Serbian Orthodox Church in Eugene, Oregon, has since October 12, 2016, voluntarily taken leave from all priestly ministry duties to which he was assigned.”
Cappy Larson of San Francisco, the other SNAP Orthodox Director, felt that this was another indication that at least some people in the parish were trying to minimize the seriousness of the allegations.
“The diocesan website states that Father Daniel is facing criminal proceedings now, and will later face church discipline. It also says that he is suspended from the priesthood until both are concluded. A suspension sends an unambiguous message to parishioners that abuse will not be tolerated, and it also makes it clear that the clergyman had no choice in the matter.”
Sakoda agreed with Larson’s assessment, “On the other hand, the statement on the parish website eliminates the word ‘criminal,’ never mentions ecclesiastical proceedings, and simply says Father Daniel took a voluntary leave of absence. It sends a very different message!”
Both releases said that while the clergyman is presumed innocent, the diocese took allegations of sexual misconduct seriously, and would cooperate with the civil authorities. Anyone who had been victimized by members of the diocesan clergy, or by church employees or volunteers, was urged to call the police and then report to the diocesan ombudsman at 415-930-9069.
Larson said, “I’m delighted to see that the diocese recommends that victims go to the police first. However, I’m concerned that a number for an ‘ombudsman’ who’s supposed to take reports of sexual assaults was given without clarifying who answers the phone, or even what times the phone is manned. I don’t think Church officials realize how difficult it is for survivors to come forward, and how important it is not to make this process any more difficult.”
“Moreover, if the diocese has a sexual abuse policy and an ombudsman, it should be prominently displayed on its website,” added Sakoda. “I couldn’t find any information at all on the site about reporting clergy abuse.”
Both women encouraged anyone who experienced, witnessed or suspected abuse by Mackay to contact the civil authorities. They said that any little piece of information could be helpful to the police.
And both women urged Serbian officials to prohibit public displays of support for Mackay which, they say, intimidates and deters other victims, witnesses and whistle blowers from reporting known or suspected abuse.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. SNAP was founded in 1988 and has more than 20,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)