The Other Side

The Other Side

This link above is an interesting post. Some of these stories sound pretty familiar to me and probably to you too—not because any of us necessarily recognize the actual people but because similar situations are much more common than the church generally acknowledges:

Being a clergy wife, my default sympathy is with the priest every time I hear about one of these kinds of things—and even more, with the priest’s wife, who is usually quite invisible in these stories. (This is after all a clergy wives’ blog, one of the few places we have any kind of a voice—and it isn’t a very loud or powerful voice, just enough I hope so we all know we aren’t alone. )

And yet. The truth is, there is always –at least- one other side to any story, especially the kinds of stories that end as badly as the ones in this Orthodox Leader post tend to do. Every parish council, every bishop, can not automatically be the bad guy or the only one at fault, if a priest finds himself stuck in a hopeless conflict. That would be impossible—priests, like any other class of people, include the good, the bad, the well-meaning, the self-centered, the inexperienced, the incompetent, and on and on— just like anyone else.

Here is a (incomplete) list of offences I’ve seen over the decades, in the Orthodox church and in other churches:

Parish has priest after priest, old, young, conservative, liberal etc. None are good enough and are squeezed out one after another by the opposition of the parish council because none are the original priest—who happened to be the brother of a powerful lay member of the parish.

Bishop ordains a young man against the advice of his parish priest and with incomplete education. Young man can’t make a go of his parish, blames his former parish priest.

Priest plays favorites in the parish. Parishoners not among the favorites, predictably, leave.

Priest makes an offhand remark on social media, anonymous person takes it as irreligious (it was not) and tattles to bishop, bishop smacks the priest down hard and sudden.

Priest tries to put the lid on a practicioner of superstitious folk magic in a rural parish. Bishop doesn’t support him.

Priest feels up a laywoman. Bishop makes him apologize, everyone smiles, priest goes scot free.

Parish treasurer finds after crunching the numbers that there is not enough money to fulfil the priest’s pet project. Treasurer becomes pariah for reporting the facts.

Alcoholic priest over a period of years causes scandal in his parish, finally losing his driver’s license and getting arrested in the middle of a service. Bishop transfers him to a distant parish. Many years of trouble ensue before he is ordered to get help. Many additional years ensue before he finally leaves the Church.

Like I said, my default sympathy is most of all with the clergy wives. But even clergy wives are not always innocent victims and bystanders in the drama that is church life. It is sadly not unusual to hear the remark “well, he’s not so bad (the priest)—but his wife…..!”

I’ve seen those remarks both deserved and undeserved. But for wives there is in fact if anything less wiggle room than for the clergy when it comes to any mistakes or faults they have. What is most appalling is to see the powers that be scramble to salvage the man’s priesthood by scapegoating the wife—even if she did place herself in a position to be the scapegoat. It’s highly unlikely that a wife is inexplicably crazy and her priest husband completely innocent. Possible, maybe, but highly unlikely.

Let’s see, who have we left out? Deacons? Choir directors? Readers and subdeacons and church school kids maybe…..

Priests are not special. If they are forced to be ‘every man for himself’ as the post reluctantly suggests, so in fact is everyone else.

But maybe if you saw the other side of some of those stories, you would realize maybe it isn’t so simple. The details so carefully left out about –why- somebody did something they supposedly did to somebody else, what preceded and what followed….. if you didn’t get the other side of the story direct from the person who’s been cast as the villain, it may be good to sit lightly on the version you’ve been told before labeling anyone, lay or clergy, as the bad guy…..

I’ve seen outright lies told in these kinds of stories. Flat contradictions between what a priest claims a bishop said to him, and what the bishop tells other people he actually said to the priest. And in all this you have other people caught in the middle. The difficulty is that sometimes the liars have convinced themselves of the truth of their own lies. And since they tell them as truth, with the other side left out, others find the lies convincing.

The Byzantine TX blog reposts the Orthdox Leader’s post and asks an additional question that is worth pondering—where will bullied priests go if the jurisdictions become united?

I don’t know if it’s going to become a real question any time soon.

But when you look at the other side, though a unified Orthodoxy may make it hard for a ‘bullied’ priest to find a place to go, it will also make it harder for bishops to simply shuffle around bad, incompetent, alcoholic and abusive priests, as we know has often been done in the past. I guess it is an ill wind that blows nobody any good.


3 responses to “The Other Side

  1. Pingback: Orthodox Collective

  2. Dear presbytera,

    I do not think Fr. Basil was trying to disregard the instances you mentioned and I think he would agree that there are multiple sides to each story. Rather, it seems to me that it is easier to find out about the type of abuse you mention than the stories he recalls and he was simply trying to highlight that aspect.

    As I am coming to learn, bishops have differing reputations and, while they may or not be fully deserved, there are usually patterns which lead to these reputations. In one instance, I was speaking with a friend who had been asked about going to a particular parish, which would have been, for lack of a better term, more prestigious than his current one. The person asking was in a position to arrange the transfer, but my friend declined: as long as he had a choice in the matter, he would rather not serve in that parish because of the reputation of the bishop in whose charge the parish is (regarding his relationship with his priests).

    My final thought is that, as the story I tried to link at byz-tex shows, a unified administration is no guarantee that shuffling alcoholic priests around would be avoided. As long as we’re on this earth, there will be scandals, trials, and temptations. Sometimes I wonder if, as priests, having studied theology, prayed, and experienced the fallen side of human nature, we shouldn’t even expect these trials to come from inside the Church more often than they do. I don’t know. For now, all I can do is to pray for grace and strength, and struggle to remain faithful to God and His Church and help those He has placed in my care do the same.

    I’ve gone on rather at length and I apologize, but I hope my thoughts make some sense.


    • presbyteraanonyma

      Thank you for commenting, Fr. Peter– your comment is by no means too long. I did not seriously think a unified administration would guarantee an end to the shuffling of problem priests– I just thought I should look for any possible silver lining, should we ever get such a situation. Your friend has heeded the old adage ‘buyer beware’. I think that in regard to reputation, you are right that patterns are the thing to pay attention to– especially when it is a matter of public knowledge. Apart from that, much depends on personal discernment regarding any individual story or complaint. If we hear similar things from several sources unconnected to each other, that certainly increases the credibility of the complaint. But sometimes, if it is possible to get one or more other sides to the story than just that of the person who tells it with himself or herself as the victim, it changes the picture a little. I knew of one case, for instance, where a priest came charging into an area announcing loudly to all the other parishes in the area that his bishop had -asked- him to start a mission there; however, I heard from said bishop’s lips that this same priest had desperately -begged- the bishop to allow him to do this. Two very different views, and in any particular situation, it seems best to be careful about deciding to accept one or the other.


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