Midwest Clergy Wives Speak Out

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

midwestclergywives@gmail.com

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To the OCA Synod of Bishops:

Masters, bless!

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.”

Sincerely,

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!

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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

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5 responses to “Midwest Clergy Wives Speak Out

  1. Pingback: Orthodox Collective

  2. Pingback: On Clergy Discipline | Fr. Peter Michael Preble

  3. Matushkas, have you considered that you are hearing only one side of the story, that perhaps this young woman is being used by not only her priest but others amongst the ranks that have an issue with His Grace’s Guidelines to discredit and oust him in order to be able to continue running their own show? Where were your voices when allegations against Abp. Seraphim Storheim were made? Where are your voices against the support of debauchery of your own who communes homosexuals in his parish and is himself divorced, also a sin? Is it only because you have so called proof against one whom your husbands don’t like because of his guidelines?

    This young lady gave permission, with the blessing of her priest, to release confidential items in the report. I think she was used by him for his own gains! That is abuse! Where are your protective voices about that?

    And furthermore, if His Grace were a predator, there would be long history. There is none.at.all. Have you considered that?

    Why should any of your female parishioners trust you with confidential matters when you foment division in your diocese? I wouldn’t.

    Ladies, I am one of you. I think you need to consider the long term damage you are doing to yourselves, your husbands and your parishes.

  4. Affirm Courage: Heal the Abused & Abusers

    Glory to Jesus Christ!
    Dear Presbyter Anonyma,

    We thank God and I praise your letter which states the silent ministry of each presbytera, protonica, dobrodijka, preoteasa, khorea, mother, and matushka for centuries. It is painful and saddening to realize that such messages still need to be shared in an anonymous fashion. It requires courage to declare anaxios at any time, even when facts make it blatantly obvious. God bless you for taking courage to do so in a detailed, discerned fashion.

    What creates deep consternation is the observable silence on this issue from men – clergy and male laity. The lack of response leads one to perceive some type of hidden complicity, false guilt or fear of being criticized or other reason. These are God’s children that are to be protected by men who bear the fullness of ensuring the safety of God’s women and children.

    Healthy patriarchy protects, prevents, heals, nurtures, educates and saves as coworkers with our Lord. Healthy patriarchy deals with the issues discretely, tenderly but completely with courage defusing the fears, despite the squeamish nature of sexual abuse and our own sexuality. Many healthy fathers: we thank God for what you are in fact doing. The rest of us are to rise to embrace this yoke and cross with grace and love.

    Authority and truth come from within the Church, the Body of Christ, not from an office perceived to be above the body. “The Holy Spirit – The Church,” reigns in truth not as the authority of an office or the officer alone. Bishops preserve, protect and proclaim the fullness of the faith from within the fullness, the circle of the Church. Bishops testify and correct while they bear the honor of character to do so.

    The Orthodox Church in America struggles with transparency, truth and graceful discipline. The Synod of Bishops flounder about as they are being taught in our time, how to function by grace and truth in the context of abuse cases, with the added maddening exposure the internet provides. However, God’s grace is at work to freely unveil all darkness to the light. We are all coworkers of grace with God in this regard. His light is within us. “The kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:21.

    Truth is like oil (on water), it always rises to the top.
    Правда як олива, завжди випливає на верха.
    Ukrainian saying

    For this reason we need to pray incessantly to Mother Olga of Alaska for her protection and healing of all of the faithful – especially the abused and the abusers. Remember – most often only the abused abuse. These include the manipulative and power hungry. As the Lord embraces each and every one, so must we for the upbuilding, repentance and healing of each person concerned.

    Our common efforts to ask God’s mercy by praying the Akathist to Matushka Olga is a first step. Her prayers and ours can increase an awareness for healing the abused girls, women, and boys but also for the prevention of abuse and protection of these children of God. This needs to be affirmed and entrenched in all parishes and families. Much consistent education is needed, affirmed, repeated, in “Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into…” the lives of youth and young adults.

    Lovingly with gentle firmness and truth, the educating of boys and men on how to treat girls and women is needed. Affirming girls and boys and ourselves as temples of the Holy Spirit – filled to the brim with amazing humanity creates God’s grace for sobriety and wholeness. When these qualities will be fostered in all times and places, abuse can and will be prevented. “The Light of Christ illumines all.”

    Matushka Olga of Alaska shines today for us – a light of gentleness, tenderness, meekness and insight for healing and guarding the wholeness of children and adults. St. Herman of Alaska, our Ever Blessed Theotokos and Joseph the Betrothed all guide us and teach us in our ministry to children and adults. Let us turn to them with open hearts and minds, to let the balm of grace pour out through them and us to all.

    Akathist to Matushka Olga of Alaska
    http://oholy.net/stolga/Akathist_Matushka_Olga.pdf

    An article on the Life of Matushka Olga of Alaska by now Deacon Kevin Wigglesworth.
    http://www.cjoc.ca/pdf/Vol-3-W-1%20Kevin%20071228.PDF

    Matushka Olga teaches “God can create great beauty from complete desolation.”

    You are all God’s co workers in spreading the gospel of Christ. When we spend more time praying and loving than criticizing, we see real fruit from our efforts.

    “And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life. Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Phil. 4:2-4

    What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?
    Romans 8:31-32

    “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13

    Rejoice in your perseverance and dedication to the truth with grace.

    In Jesus Christ,

    Tymofiy Hawrysh, Reader
    Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
    http://mapleleafap.ca

  5. Dear Another Wife:
    You offer a confused theory in your attempt to defend Bishop Matthias, claiming that the reasons for the complaint have to do with some guidelines. Interesting notion–but ultimately a red herring.

    You should remember that the substance of the complaint against Bishop Matthias had to do with boundary crossing communications by him to a young woman and was submitted to the OCA’s Holy Synod of Bishops. They directed that an investigation be carried out. It was. Investigators concluded that Bishop Matthias had committed sexual misconduct. The Holy Synod endorsed the findings of the investigation and now Bishop Matthias must compete a rigorous course of counseling, peer mentoring, and examination before any possibility of restoration might take place.

    Rather than chastising these clergy wives, doesn’t it make more sense to place responsibility at the feet of Bishop Matthias? Should he not have considered the potential consequences of his actions and the damage that they could cause before he started texting and e-mailing?

    Also, as far as a “history” of predation is concerned, this issue is far from resolved. No one else has yet come forward to file an official complaint–but this does not mean that there are NOT other victims out there. It only means that they have not yet come forward publicly.
    A priest of the Midwest Diocese.

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