No one has come up with any nuts-and-bolts answers as to why the OCA should proceed headlong into into instituting the regime of the Sex Czar. The appearance that it is merely a ruse to continue the present assessment to Syosset has not been lost on many. Others have pointed out that such an office short-circuits the normal canonical relationship that exists between a bishop and his presbytery. The closest answer that the OCA Nomenklatura has offered is that “maybe” our insurance carrier is mandating such a policy.
Unfortunately that’s not good enough. For one thing, if true, this creates the illusion that this is merely a pro forma gesture intended to mollify our legal team. If on the other hand this was approved by a simple majority of the bishops who would rather not deal with these problems in the first place, then this raises a whole slew of uncomfortable questions. The most serious being why do some bishops feel that they have to cede yet more of their authority to someone outside the episcopate? This leads to the next question: then what is the purpose of the episcopate? To enforce liturgical rules only? Otherwise, the OCA should devolve into an openly congregational form of ecclesial polity, with a central administration whose only purpose is to coordinate certain national ministries and/or otherwise enforce discipline.
CONGREGATIONALISM VS HIERARCHY
Lest anyone think that this is overstating the case, we already have in our ecclesial model a Metropolitan Council which is superior to the Holy Synod –in fact if not in theory. The Metropolitan Council for example has statutory authority to create line-items in the budget on its own, independent of the Holy Synod or the All-American Council. It can modify, alter, or otherwise emend the budget in the intervening years between All-American Councils and in defiance of the stated wishes of the previous Council. To our knowledge, this system is nowhere replicated in the other jurisdictions. This raises interesting questions, the most immediate being that it is certainly curious that a truly local Church which prides itself on “conciliarity” and (supposedly) desires the input of the laity would deprive the laity itself of their stated wishes as conveyed by All-American Councils.
Be that as it may, it is clear that the Sex Czar, who is an employee of the Metropolitan Council, will have actual authority over the episcopate. Once this is realized by the majority of the people, the idea of true episcopal responsibility will in time be viewed as superfluous. Instead, the highly-centralized bureaucratic clerical/lay governance that was put in place decades ago (as exemplified by the Metropolitan Council/Syosset axis) will be solidified once and for all. For all intents and purposes, the Holy Synod will be replaced by a Holy Politburo.
This is certainly one way to do an end-run against the gradual elimination of the dreaded “head tax” but it is too clever by half. This was not necessarily the impulse behind this concept. The continued and augmented aggrandizement of power centralized in Syosset is what is driving this locomotive.
Of course, this will not be without unintended consequences. As mentioned in Part II of this Essay, the continued demoralization of the priesthood will proceed apace, followed by the continued demographic implosion that has gripped American Orthodoxy over the last several decades. It will erode priestly independence (which based on my own experience is more robust in the OCA than in the GOA). And as stated, it will make a mockery of the OCA’s long-envied belief in diocesan autonomy, which is one of the hallmarks of our autocephaly.
Because of these questions, it is impossible to come to no other conclusion that this idea has not been completely thought through. That it is at best, merely a band-aid for a problem that may not really exist, one conjured up in order to create opportunities for increased bureaucratic featherbedding.
THE IMPACT ON THE PRIESTHOOD
How will a Sex Czar impact the priesthood? As noted in Part II, it is our contention that it will be by and large, negative.
For one thing, there is no provision for named priests to have an advocate. This is not adversarial process but a punitive one. It flies in the face of Anglo-Saxon Common Law, the right for a named individual to face his accuser, and an open trial by jury. According to the proposed guidelines, if a bishop thinks or suspects that there is a problem with “sexual misconduct,” he will have no choice but to turn the priest in question over to the Sex Czar. At that point, not only is the Sex Czar superior to the bishop, but the priest will have no advocate. This makes it therefore a punitive process, not a judicious one. Moreover, there is no distinction between molestation (which is a crime) and lustful thoughts and/or actions (which is a sin and not the purview of the state). The former needs no investigation but immediate police action; the latter requires repentance.
This is no small thing. One of the hallmarks of the OCA’s self-understanding is that it is a local Church –indeed, the only local Church on this continent. More than any other jurisdiction, it makes an honest effort to be sensitive to the folkways and customs of American people. This extends even to the ability of laymen to help nominate our own bishops. (If Orthodox unity is truly on the horizon, then this will be one of the gifts that the OCA will bring to an American Orthodox Church.) The input of the laity is reinforced by the self-understanding of the English-speaking peoples. One of the greatest distinctions that is found in the Anglosphere is immediate control of our local institutions when it comes to governance. In the area of the law, one of the hallmarks of our culture is our insistence on the presumption of innocence and habeas corpus. Trial by jury was invented in pre-Norman England and it was the basis of English Common Law. The very concept of the Rule of Law is impossible without understanding our history. Indeed, our ways fly in direct conflict with the Byzantine imperial tradition of arbitrary hierarchical action. Simply stated, both cannot exist within the same institution, much less the same country.
A single phone call from the Sex Czar or a visit from a private investigator, will mean that a priest is on the radar, even an innocent one. One simply cannot overestimate the possibility for mischief or score-settling, even within the ranks of the priesthood. If the parish council finds out, then his ministry in his parish is effectively over. Even if nothing comes of it, the very fact that he is on the radar will demolish the trust that exists between him and the parishioners. It can in fact be used by antagonistic parish elites to increase their leverage over him. As for his family, the resulting turmoil could be devastating. Under such a scenario, which pious woman would want to encourage her husband to pursue the priestly vocation?
In fact, what man would want to go into the priesthood? Would parents would want their son to undertake a grueling seven year journey to an M.Div., incurring massive debts along the way knowing that it could be all for naught at the drop of a phone call? What would happen to the seminaries, which are heavily dependent upon head-count (i.e. tuition) for their economic viability? We saw the economic wreckage that was visited upon St Vladimir’s Seminary a few years ago when the Antiochians withdrew just three students. Could either seminary long survive if each year saw fewer and fewer students? As for those priests who are presently serving, it’s probable that some will go ahead and take early retirement rather than have to worry about The Dreaded Phone Call from Syosset, especially if it is in relation to an incident or a misunderstanding that took place decades earlier. (This is not far-fetched: the present Archbishop of Canada has been suspended from his ministry because of allegations that are over thirty years old.)
This brokenness can take many forms: alcoholism, eating disorders, porn addition, or adultery, among others. All of these things can play havoc with a man’s family and push him over the edge. Therefore, when we come across a priest who has fallen into depravity, we are left with only two realistic choices that have any explanatory power: (1) that our system for weeding out questionable men is completely inept, or (2) that the dysfunctions of most parishes combined with an uncaring episcopate caused the priest in question to succumb to sin. (Some could interject here that a third choice exists: that the Orthodox priesthood is a “dumping ground” and it is exclusively the preserve of only the most mediocre and/or sexually immature men.)
The first option is unlikely –in fact it’s patently ridiculous since it would involve a conspiracy so massive that it would rival anything found in the fever-swamps of Conspiracy Theory websites. Not only the man’s parish priest who recommended him to the seminary would be singularly inept, but the seminary’s professoriate, his classmates, visiting speakers, his father-confessor, and of course the ordaining bishop as well. As for the Dumping Ground scenario (which was truer in the immediate post-immigration period), that is belied by the sterling character of most priests that most people know.
Some might interject here that we have veered off into tangential points. Instead, a case could be made that if there was any reason for concern about how to stop abuse from happening in the first place, our Church would do a better job of seeing what our priests need in order to function better as priests. What it would take to not brake them in the first place.
A Sex Czar in Syosset who reacts to every allegation is not going to solve a problem that may not exist. And if there is a problem, he will probably make it worse.
THE EPISCOPAL-PRIESTLY RELATIONSHIP
And what of the privileges and duties of the episcopate? Canon law is clear on this point: the priests and deacons are deputies to the bishop, acting in his name. All juridical and executive authority resides in the diocesan bishop alone. He is responsible for the well-being of the clergy in his diocese. Perhaps this concept is honored more in the breach than in the ideal but it doesn’t make it any less true. My contacts in the other jurisdictions have told me that seminarians make every effort to avoid serving in certain dioceses which are led by bishops who have a long history of throwing parish priests under the bus at the first sign of trouble. Presently, this problem is not as acute in the OCA as it is in other jurisdictions but the creation of an official inquisitor will undoubtedly result in a similar situation. It may take some time, but it will happen.
Under this new regime however, the normal relationship between a priest and his bishop is interrupted. If a priest feels burdened by lustful thoughts and seeks spiritual counsel from his bishop, the bishop will have no choice but to turn him into Syosset. Contrast this with a layman can go to his confessor and confess his struggles on a frequent basis; such a spiritual regimen helps him from actually falling into sin. Such a repentant journey would be denied the priest.
This is most unfortunate. Truth be told, it’d be better for all concerned to not bring it up. It’s rather conjectural –certainly within the realm of possibility but hypothetical nonetheless. The most important issue however is what this means for episcopal governance. By ceding their archpastoral authority to Syosset, the bishops are inserting a central bureaucrat into the hierarchy of the Church. It’s clearly uncanonical. The priest receives his antimension from his bishop. It’s in his name that he celebrates the Divine Mysteries. In some ways, it’s no different than having roaming monks going to parishes and hearing confessions.
So what will the reality be? First, an increasing number of priests will not develop a proper relationship with their bishop. Even a slight word said in jest could compel the bishop to act. It’s possible that priests will instead cultivate a spiritual relationship with an hieromonk and receive guidance from that quarter. What if the bishop suspects something untoward about the priest? Can he compel the monk to make the priest “come clean” merely so the bishop will not have to answer for his own “negligence”?
What is being described is nothing less than a Spanish Inquisition-like scenario in which fear abounds on all sides.
“DON’T WORRY, BE HAPPY”
Needless to say, the advocates of the Sex Czar will argue that innocent men don’t have to worry. This of course has been the siren song of prosecutors since time immemorial. It’s also nonsense on stilts. The historical record is littered with the names of innocent people who have been arbitrarily punished by judicial authority. Ever hear of Socrates –or Jesus? How about Chrysostom, Maximus the Confessor, or Avvakum? These men were unjustly persecuted by religious authorities.
And are we really to believe that centralized authorities are above using official means to punish people they don’t like? The litany of names mentioned in the preceding paragraph certainly gives the lie to those who believe institutions can do no wrong. Of course some would say that this was long ago, that we have “evolved” since then and take greater care when leveling accusations. And anyway, this is America and things like that don’t happen.
Would you permit me to bring up a rather recent case? One that is presently tearing our Church apart?
Consider our current Metropolitan. As anybody who has ever met him knows, he is manifestly a sane man. Yet he was the subject of an uncanonical conspiracy instigated by the Best and the Brightest in the OCA. Certain Metropolitan Council members even yelled at him in public meetings. Another priest ridiculed his physical appearance in front of him and many seminarians. Uncanonical actions were taken to curtail his power. Some of his supporters were threatened with deportation and/or ecclesiastical court. Yet it was he who was trundled off to a facility which “treated” priestly pedophiles –a shameful and disgraceful episode that would have broken other men. If the Metropolitan had to submit to this atrocity, then what makes any priest think that he would immune from such an action?
Indeed, to this very day, the humanist, materialist, and anti-Christian psychiatric paradigm is considered the only viable therapeutic course of action to “treat” His Beatitude for his supposed failures.
Given what happened to our Metropolitan, what assurances do we have that priests who have been critical of the leftward drift of the OCA won’t receive the Dreaded Phone Call? This path has already been pioneered in those Christian denominations that have succumbed to the worldly blandishments of priestesses and homosexual “marriage.” For them, the journey began decades ago precisely under the rubric of “sexual misconduct.” It was Traditionalist critics only were singled out for opprobrium, ultimately silencing their voices. Liberals who were guilty of misconduct were instead lauded as “courageous” and “martyrs to homophobia.” Thus did the libertine view gain the upper hand in these mainstream denominations.
“Don’t worry, be happy” is meager reassurance that it “can’t happen to me.” And anyway, it’s not much of a mission statement.
Equally important, is that this therapeutic (in reality, punitive) model can in no ways be trusted in light of recent events. For example, the classified Sexual Investigating Committee (SIC) report of Nov 16, 2010, was illegally leaked to a website that has long had an adversarial relationship with the Orthodox Church. It is unknown at present who provided this confidential information to the website in question, but the fact remains that in doing so, this person exposed the OCA to a defamation suit at the very least. That this was probably done to cause collateral damage to His Beatitude is beside the point (in fact, the report itself exonerates him).
A pattern of vindictiveness, score-settling, and exposure based on the flimsiest of evidence (the Report for example states that despite the allegation of rape, there was no actual rape) has been proven. The seal of the Confessional as well as episcopal-priestly relationship was cast aside in a most cavalier fashion for nefarious reasons.
This is not to say that if there is in fact criminal misconduct, the perpetrator should not be subjected to the fullest measure of the criminal justice system. Indeed, the presiding bishop or respective authorities should immediately notify the police. If an arrest is made, and charges leveled, then the cleric in question should be immediately suspended. If the court system finds him guilty, then an ecclesiastical court should be convened and he should be removed from the ranks of the clergy as early as possible. On the other hand, it is ridiculous to expect that the Holy Synod has the capacity or the competence to conduct a criminal investigation on its own. That is beyond its purview.
Overlooked in all of this is the fact that there is still no hue and cry from the laity that a problem of “sexual misconduct” really does exist. More importantly, there seems to be a conscious(?) willingness to conflate “misconduct” with actual criminality.
Consider: adultery, homosexuality, eating disorders, and porn addiction are sins. They are not crimes. These are not the purview of the state and are therefore not criminally actionable. The OCA as a national corporation thus would not be dragged into any court of law should a priest be caught in flagrante delicto with an adult. A child of course is another matter entirely. Unfortunately, once that happens, it is too late for a Sex Czar to do any good. The molestation of a child (or the sexual assault of an adult) has to be handed over as quickly as possible to the police as noted above.
So the question is not so much how prevalent this problem is but what the problem is. Are we talking about lustful thoughts, lustful actions with adults, or child molestation and/or assault? Or is this fevered hysteria ginned up to remind everybody how wonderful and necessary Syosset really is?
If on the other hand, it is true (as one correspondent recently wrote) that Syosset received allegations on a bi-weekly basis, then the OCA has more problems that can be solved by a single individual drawing a six-figure salary in Syosset. Indeed, such a man would be inadequate to the task. Under these supposed circumstances, it would in fact be unconscionable for Syosset to not expand this office, adding additional people and throwing as much money as necessary at the problem.
At this point, your humble correspondent shall go out on a limb and assert what he thinks is the real problem in the priesthood. It is my contention that the real problem stems from the lack of decent compensation. One of the positive legacies of Fr. Alexander Schmemann has been that parishes need an educated, married priesthood. I think we can all agree on this. Indeed, the concept of a celibate clergy in a parochial setting is one which should be avoided at all costs.
Unfortunately, the legacy of immigrant Orthodoxy on the other hand was one of celibate clergy serving in parishes. This was mainly because of the poverty of the immigrant generation. I dare say that a great many of these men were true to their vows. Sadly, we know of many who were not. And therein lied the problem which Schmemann tried to address. For the most part he succeeded. I know of precious few parishes in the OCA in which there are celibate clergy. Even within missions the preponderance of family men is astonishing to behold.
To be sure, he did advocate for the creation of a Metropolitan Council, but that was because he was very sober about the quality of the episcopate and the unmarried priesthood as then constituted. There was a real fear that without a firewall of laymen with some integrity, the episcopate could very well ruin the Church. And those waiting in the wings were no better.
Unfortunately, Syosset has chosen to make an idol of an obsolete paradigm and is prepared to keep the clerical elite devoted to this idol going at all costs. However the cupboard is bare and try as they might, no amount of invoking the holy name of Schmemann is going to fill the coffers. It is not merely the depressed economy that will see to it but increasingly the bishops, many of whom are actively interested in directing diocesan monies to parochial needs. One wants to think that this is necessitated by the good order of the Church. If not, then the economy will see to it that it is.
Earlier, I made mention of the hamfisted nature of what increasingly looks to be a naked power grab. The use of inappropriate tools, the inability to see what the real problems are, the obeisance to a moribund paradigm, is nothing but a recipe for failure. Instead of trying to fashion a one-size-fits-all solution to a problem that may not exist, our church would be better served asking what the real problems are and do everything in their power to augment the authority of those who are most immediate to the problem –the bishops.
However, an honest inquiry would reveal unpleasant answers. In my contacts with priests in other jurisdictions, I have been told that the pathologies that exist in the priesthood are due because many of these men are caught in vice between unsympathetic parish elites and an irresolute bishop. I imagine that priests in the OCA –who are notoriously underpaid–have similar stories to tell. Pathologies erupt under these circumstances. Some, like pedophilia, adultery, fornication, are acted out. Others are sublimated and are expressed as porn addiction, eating disorders, and chaotic home situations.
May I suggest instead that if Syosset is rolling in money that it use these funds to normalize remuneration rates for priests across the board? Perhaps block-grants of monies can be doled out to parish priests who make below an agreed-upon minimum salary. At the very least what is called for is a program all parish council members must undergo which stresses the need for adequate priestly compensation. (Yes, I will talk about tithing until I’m blue in the face.) No priest should feed his family with food stamps and it is nothing less than a disgrace that the central administration is oblivious to this reality. What else are we to expect from an administration that is presiding over a shrinking pie and obliviously wants to expand this pie in the face of economic reality?
Instead our elites should point out that the sign of a mature local church is one in which only married men are assigned to secular parishes whereas those who chose a life of celibacy should repair to the monastery. Otherwise, priorities are skewed and pathologies emerge. Let me be blunt, a priest is also working out his salvation. It’s unconscionable to put a single man in a parish setting, regardless of his own sexual maturity.
I’m just a simple man and I have a simple solution, one which won’t cost $125,000 per year. If you know of a situation in which a priest is molesting a child, call the police. Then call his bishop. If the priest is having an affair with an adult, call his wife, then call his bishop. It’s not rocket science.
As for the bishops, I am calling on them to take back their church from the bureaucrats. It’s nothing but a naked and clumsy power-grab. If they don’t, then they will not be able to withstand the next encroachment on episcopal authority that will come down the pike. Eventually the laity will ask if they’re all that necessary. Under such conditions parish formation will come to a screeching halt. And then when the next All-American Council occurs it will be even more poorly attended. The coffers will of the OCA will dry up in due time. At that point, the interminable who-was-here-in-America-first gamesmanship between the OCA and Constantinople won’t matter because there will no longer be an OCA.