This e-mail is making the rounds; I saw it posted on Facebook. God grant these ladies are heard. I expect we’ll see it posted elsewhere online and discussion of it soon. After the letter from the clergy wives, there is included an excerpt from an older letter of Fr. Thomas Hopko about “Discipline of Clergy Accused of Serious Crime: Applying Church Canons Today”–Presbytera Anonyma
Concerned Midwest Clergy Wives
To the OCA Synod of Bishops:
We, the wives of clergy serving in the Midwest, are writing to express our concern with your recent decision to possibly bring Bishop Matthias back to pastor the Midwest.
We were saddened and disappointed by +Matthias’ clearly predatory behavior toward one of our young converts. You have correctly acknowledged the secrecy, coercion and emotional manipulation of his words and actions as sexual misconduct. We clergy wives are often the ones pastorally dealing with the debilitating effect of sexual harassment on so many of our women. We take such pastoral abuse very, very seriously –for us, our children, and our young adults.
Therefore, we are scandalized by your response to this admitted sexual misconduct. We consider this decision unwise, a violation of scripture and ecclesial order, unhelpful for +Matthias, and a betrayal of the Midwest and our children.
This is not about forgiveness. We “forgive all by the Resurrection,” but that does not mean reinstatement to holy orders. It is negligent to entrust leadership to an abuser. To place a scandalizer over the diocese he scandalized destroys the peace of the Church. It perpetuates the abuse against this young woman to restore her offender to authority over her, and for her predator to apologize for her confusion while maintaining the “purity” of his “conscience motives.” In fact, His Eminence Nathaniel’s letter, which holds “forgiveness” as a “wedge” over us and equates it with restoration to the episcopacy, is itself a furtherance of pastoral abuse by attempting to manipulate us.
This is not about rehabilitation. We continue to pray for +Matthias, and wish him well. Since the accusations surfaced, we were hoping he would voluntarily step down. This would show greater love for Christ’s Body than oneself, and would uphold the scriptural standard of “blamelessness” by “avoiding even the appearance of evil.” Then, +Matthias could truly “complete the remaining time of life in peace and repentance.”
This is not about “second chances.” The integrity of the episcopacy of the Orthodox Church in America has been destroyed –not just by one man’s failings, but by your misapprehension of their seriousness and permanent effect.
This is not about “mercy,” as if the episcopacy was a concession given out of pity. Rather, true mercy helps the sinner accept the consequences of his words and actions. Being a bishop is not necessary for anyone’s salvation; it is a position of service, and those who have disqualified themselves are not condemned but are obliged to serve in other ways.
This is not about repentance, either. A bishop’s duty is not to sin and then “demonstrate” repentance, but to be the icon of Christ in our midst. +Matthias’ behavior has prohibited that. The Apostle Paul says a bishop must be above reproach, and have a good reputation in the sight of all. This does not mean he is mistake-free or perfect, but it does mean he cannot have ever preyed upon his spiritual child.
This is not a matter of +Matthias never committing the same sin again. Counseling may help him personally, but it will not restore +Matthias’ lost moral authority. A “peer bishop” review won’t fix what has been broken, either. The tragic fact is –and we are deeply sorry to say this, +Matthias simply has lost the authority he had to lead.*
We cannot sing “Many Years, Master!,” when we feel the need to explain the master’s sins to our youth. What would we teach our young people about trusting the episcopacy? –about feeling comfortable around their bishop? Indeed, this action impugns all clergy. To ask us as mothers to answer inevitable questions from our children after every archpastoral visit perpetuates +Matthias’ abuse against us all. We will not enable sexual misconduct. We cannot, truthfully, say “axios.”
Concerned Midwest Clergy Wives
* +Matthias’ letter only confirms our conclusions. His non-apology demonstrates a complete lack of understanding his sin, just as his letters to the young woman and to the Midwest explaining his leave. He asks forgiveness for “poor judgment,” and “careless words”; he says he is sorry that he “offended,” “confused,” and “caused hurt.” Such lines are indicative of those avoiding personal responsibility for sexual harassment. Nowhere does he apologize for preying upon this young woman (a married grandfather driving four hours to a college girl’s private apartment, taking her out to dinner alone, the two of them in his private apartment for hours until after midnight, telling her that she is his “favorite” and that he has a “crush” on her, telling her to keep their relationship secret, denigrating her confessor/priest, suggesting a boating date, telling her his attraction to her is stronger than her boyfriend’s, agreeing to spend the night with her, manipulating her under the guise of “trust” and his lack of friends, etc.). Then, +Matthias proclaims his innocence: “Conscious motives behind my interaction with this woman were not impure.” This is another self-justification. “Conscious intent” is irrelevant to words and actions of sexual harassment. We women have experienced this and are deeply offended by this letter and its whole approach!
Excerpt from a September 2011 letter of Fr Thomas Hopko, “Discipline of Clergy Accused of Serious Crime: Applying Church Canons Today”:
A clergyman guilty of a transgression and/or crime who genuinely repents may be allowed to continue in Communion. He may, with true repentance, be blessed to partake of the Holy Mysteries under the conditions required of all faithful communicants. However, every effort must be made to see that the guilty man’s repentance is genuine and long-lasting. Thus there will always have to be a time during which the guilty clergyman refrains from partaking of the Holy Mysteries as a normal part of his process of repenting. How long this time is, and what is required of the guilty clergyman during this time to prove the genuineness of his repentance, is decided by the responsible bishop (with the knowledge and approval of the Synod), or the Synod as a whole.
Under no circumstances whatsoever, however, may a guilty clergyman whose sin and/or crime would preclude him from being ordained in the first place, or to remain among the active clergy if he is already ordained, be allowed ever again to serve at the Holy Altar or to perform any episcopal, presbyteral or diaconal duties. Clergy sin and crime is a serious matter, and it must be treated seriously. The integrity of the Church, the success of the Church’s mission and witness, and the respectful treatment of the Church by its own members and those outside it demands this, for nothing so undermines the Church’s image in the world and trivializes its divine message than clergymen convicted of transgressions and crimes being allowed to continue in their ministries.
An essential element in the guilty clergyman’s genuine repentance is his voluntary cessation of all clerical functions. He may perhaps be permitted to “stand among the clergy” when partaking of the Holy Mysteries, but under no circumstances whatsoever may he lead, celebrate, serve or assist in Divine Services according to the office to which he was ordained. Although it may be argued that “oikonomia” in this matter under very exceptional circumstances may be applied for the salvation of souls (other people’s souls, not the soul of the guilty clergyman), it is virtually impossible to imagine what these circumstances could possibly be.
The application of such a rule, never to be violated or dispensed with for any reason, is not excessive punishment. In fact, it is not “punishment” at all. It is rather the appropriate procedure to protect the Church and all its faithful members from confusion, offense, accusation and scandal. The repenting clergyman himself should insist upon this action, and accept it as an unambiguous sign of his genuine repentance, and of his gratitude for the “oikonomic” blessing to continue as a Communicant of the Holy Mysteries because of his repentance, and of his unqualified love for the Church. His failure to do so proves that he does not truly repent for his sin and cares nothing for the well-being of the Church, the success of its mission and the salvation of the souls for whom the Church exists. Indeed, no clergyman – bishop, presbyter or deacon – is so necessary to the Church’s life and work that he has to keep functioning in office after having been proven guilty of an act, or many acts, that would preclude his ordination in the first place. The repentant clergyman’s contribution to the Church’s well-being and the salvation of souls, beginning with his own, is exactly his cessation, not continuation, of ordained service.
A repentant clergyman may, perhaps, be blessed to continue wearing clerical dress, especially at church services, after being reinstated to Communion in the Holy Mysteries. But under no circumstances may he be permitted to wear the sacred vestments of his office since he is no longer an active servant. He is, on the contrary, a penitent clergyman. Once again, this is not a punishment. It is an appropriate action for the sake of the Church’s integrity, well-being and peace.
I don’t believe that quibbling over the nuances of various terms for cessation of service — suspension, deposition, unfrocking, etc. – is helpful. Indeed, I believe that it should be avoided because it obfuscates rather than clarifies. It seems to me that basically only two actions are in order. One is that the transgressing clergyman is excommunicated for failure to repent. The other is that he may be blessed to receive Holy Communion after properly repenting, but never again to function in office because of his genuine repentance and sincere love for Christ and the Church.
The argument that a clergyman who has sinned in a way that precludes his serving may be reinstated in office by “pastoral oikonomia” as an expression of God’s mercy to sinners is unacceptable. Indeed, it is simply wrong and foolish. God’s forgiveness, mercy and compassion have to do with Church membership and Communion in the Holy Mysteries. They have nothing to do with ordination and ordained ministry. A man is not ordained, or allowed to continue in active ordained ministry, as a sign of God’s forgiveness of sins, or His mercy and compassion toward sinners. Nor is the guilty man’s repentance demonstrated by his continuing to serve in his ordained ministry. In fact, as we emphasized, just the opposite is true.
To repeat this point another way, mercy and compassion are certainly in order in all circumstances. In the case of a “fallen clergyman”, mercy and compassion are demonstrated in two ways. In regard to the guilty clergyman they are demonstrated by permitting him, after deep and serious repentance, to participate in the Holy Mysteries. In regard to the whole body of the faithful, they are demonstrated by not subjecting the Church’s members to confusion, scandal and a necessity to explain why a clergyman guilty of egregious transgression and/or crime is still serving at the Holy Altar and exercising clerical duties.
Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko
Church New Year 2011