Previously, we mentioned how these new rules superseded episcopal authority as stated in Article IV of the OCA’s own Statutes. They also contravene Article XI of the Statute by reducing the authority of the Diocesan Courts. More ominously, they prejudge a clergyman guilty if he does not respond within 21 days after being accused. To our ears, this is unprecedented and contrary to secular jurisprudence, where — at least in America — the accused has the Constitutional right to not incriminate himself.
It is bad enough that the accused will have to go before a hostile board and prove a negative (which is impossible) but now he will be forced to do so before he has the time to hire competent legal counsel. He will not even be aware of the charges against him. This is ghastly. Think of it, how will a lowly priest, usually with a meager income, be able to hire a lawyer to represent him in such a short period of time?
Are the people who put out this document not aware that it takes several months for defense counselors to find exculpatory evidence which may exonerate the defendant? Regardless, such a prejudicial recommendation would severely limit the Diocesan Court in adjudicating the case in an impartial manner.
There are additional reservations being voiced with how these new ORSMA rules are being implemented. First, without Synod approval, these rules are already in use. Second, they have not been approved by the All-American Council which according to OCA Statute is the “highest legislative body” of the Church and the only venue where changes to said Statute can be made.
In other words the ORSMA is a multi-pronged attack, slowly chipping away at the body politic of the OCA: against the bishops, against the Diocesan Courts, and against the All-American Council. Soon, the Statute of the OCA will mean whatever the powers-that-be in Syosset deem it to be.
Most injurious however is the human toll. Now, any disgruntled parishioner or parish council member can make or facilitate a false accusation against a priest and ORSMA will be instantly activated.
The accused will have his ministry permanently crippled and his economic well-being all but destroyed. A transfer would be out of the question; after all, what other church would hire a priest who left under a cloud of scandal? And even if they wanted to hire him, he couldn’t serve until the ORSMA process had run its course. This could take several months or perhaps as long as a year.
The bishop is powerless to stop this even if it is a glaringly obvious miscarriage of justice. In the meantime, the priest will be in financial limbo. How will he feed and care for his family?
On so many levels, it is clear that this entire process doesn’t pass the smell test. More questions are being raised than answered. Consider: some may suspect that the sudden “need” to upgrade the Sex Czar from a part-time position to a full-time one means that the case load of sexual misconduct must be such that it couldn’t be met under the present regime.
Or does this merely mean that the OCA has a backlog of old cases that need investigation? Is this upgrade the by-product of an expected torrent of false accusations that will overwhelm Syosset once the word gets out that the Sex Czar position is now full-time? Or is this just another way for Syosset to justify its stranglehold on the dioceses by adding yet another make-work position, thereby keeping the monies flowing to the Central Administration?
What is the genesis of this obsessive sexual misconduct miasma that so exercises the Chancellor in his daily fulminations? Is it a legitimate concern for alleged victims of clergy abuse or is it merely an attempt to preemptively frighten the presbytery as a whole? OCA clergy are markedly docile in the best of circumstances, now they will be cowed into an unbearable obsequiousness at precisely the time when virile men of God are needed.
Are these new rules being inspired by Scripture and Tradition or by insurance agents and legal lobbyists who will be (and indeed, already are) fiduciary beneficiaries? It will of course be next-to-impossible to ferret out this information but we can be assured that Syosset has already sent a lot of money to its legal team to execute this process.
To be sure, there is no doubt that having clear clergy misconduct guidelines in place are helpful. But they must be true to Orthodox ecclesiology. They must also be balanced, which these new proposals clearly are not. For one thing, they are adversarial. Secondly, they err on the side of the alleged victims. Not only is this prejudicial against respondents but it accepts the hysterically comical, and absolutely unrealistic, post-modern paradigm that women are always victims and men always predators. Such draconian rules have been tried in the secular workplace in the wake of the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings but, human nature being what it is, have failed miserably. While the comparison may not be apt (as the parish is not a place for sexual banter and flirting), it is a place for people to come together and pray and if need be, console each other.
Cameraderie and fellowship are part-and-parcel of church life. ORSMA would throw a cold pail of water on normal pastoral relationships between priests and parishioners. It is possible that seminaries will inculcate a liturgical functionary style of priesthood at the expense of a pastoral one.
Clearly ORSMA has not been thought through. Moreover, the OCA is not many things: it’s not growing, it’s not wealthy, and it’s not vibrant. But it’s also not drowning in a sea of sexual abuse cases. Last year, we published an official report from the Roman Catholic Church in America. This report stated that in 2011 there were only seven (7) credible allegations against priests.
Think of it: out of a population of 42,000 priests, of which at least 98 percent are celibate (Byzantine Rite and Anglican Vicariate priests are allowed to be married), there were only seven cases that merited investigation. Compare these numbers with the OCA, which has perhaps no more than 1,000 active or retired priests and who are in any case married. If we used the same algorithm to calculate the number of miscreant OCA priests the numbers would be in the negative.
This cannot be stated enough. The OCA is simply not dealing with enough credible cases of clergy misconduct to justify the creation of yet another full-time employee in Syosset while its other ministries are withering on the vine. Such a fundamental change must be given a full and complete hearing at every level of the Church, not just front-loaded conferences which are self-promoted and propagandized by the Chancellor in his daily musings.
At the very least, the only proper place for these changes must be made at the All-American Council. Otherwise, we run the very real risk of turning the OCA into a private chaplaincy of a few well-connected families. Not only will the priests be demoralized but the bishops will be turned into actual hirelings. As it is, the OCA is well on its way to becoming an Eastern Rite Presbyterian Church (USA), where a select group of Protopresbyters actually rule, keeping the bishops as figureheads and liturgical curators.
Next: Part III: The Emasculization of the OCA?