Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Metropolitan Jonah, Sexual Abuse, and the Orthodox Church

The media has devoted much attention to the sexual abuse scandal plaguing the Catholic Church, most recently a case surrounding sexual abuse cover-up in Philadelphia. Now, an eerily similar scandal has emerged in the Orthodox Church involving Metropolitan Jonah (a.k.a. James Paffhausen).

The Washington Post reports that the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) forced Metropolitan Jonah to resign from his Primate post this month. Jonah has been accused of failing to take appropriate action against an Orthodox priest accused of sexual assault. Johan reportedly accepted the priest into the OCA despite the man's history of violence against women. In February, Johan reportedly learned that the priest had been accused of rape in 2010. The Synod claims that Jonah failed to alert church authorities or contact police upon learning of the rape. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Synod spokesman Rev. Erik Possi said that the church would not release the name of the accused priest. Detroit Archbishop Nathaniel will serve as Jonah's interim replacement, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The OCA website states that Metropolitan Jonah tendered his resignation as Primate of the OCA in a July 6th letter to the Holy Synod of Bishops. In the letter, Jonah admits that he had "neither the personality nor the temperament for the position of Primate," and apologized for any difficulties arising from his "mistakes in judgment."

In a July 16th statement, the OCA Holy Synod claims that the priest's victim reported the rape to law enforcement, but were told that "their salvation depended on their silence." The statement claims that Metropolitan Jonah encouraged the accused priest to become a military chaplain, failed to alert the military recruiter to the priest's history of violence, and ultimately allowed the priest to transfer to a different jurisdiction.

According to the Synod's statement, this is not the first time that Metropolitan Jonah has taken inappropriate actions regarding sexual abuse cases. The statement also accuses Jonah of giving a sensitive Synod report on sexual misconduct investigations to unauthorized persons. Because the report contained the names of reported victims and perpetrators, the Synod feared a leak of personal information and increased church vulnerability to legal liability.

The OCA Holy Synod expressed disappointment that Metropolitan Jonah was allegedly abdicating responsibility for the scandal. The Snyod accused Jonah of "poor judgment in critical matters of Church governance", claiming that he repeatedly refused to cooperate with bishops and "act with prudence" in accordance with the Synod's policies on sexual misconduct. Additionally, the Synod expressed disapproval of Jonah's "repeated pattern ... of taking other unilateral actions that were contrary to the advice of the Holy Synod and/or the Church's lawyers."

Several Orthodox commentators have defended Metropolitan Jonah. In a vitriolic commentary at the American Conservative, columnist Rod Dreher called the Holy Synod "a pack of ravening wolves" and accused them of handling the situation in a "sleazy, corrupt way." (See www[dot]theamericanconservative[dot]com/dreher/metropolitan-jonah-ousted/) Monomakhos called the debacle an "ambush," accusing the Synod of blind-siding Jonah and presenting a "one-sided story." (See www[dot]monomakhos[dot]com/this-is-far-from-over-the-ambush/)

However, sexual abuse victim advocates are pleased. The Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) expressed approval that Metropolitan Jonah was removed, accusing him of doing a "wretched" job of handling clergy abuse cases. SNAP urged the OCA to replace Metropolitan Jonah with a leader who would protect congregants from sexual abuse.
"The OCA’s synod of bishops should think long and hard about Paffhausen’s permanent replacement. Not only must this candidate by a man with "clean hands," it must also be someone who knows that actions protect kids, not words."
In a statement at Pokrov (an organization devoted to abuse survivors in the Orthodox church), SNAP expressed disappointment in the OCA's "deeply rooted pattern of secrecy in sex cases," urging the OCA to reveal the name of the accused priest. If Pokrov's list of individuals in the OCA who were publicly accused, sued, sanctioned, or convicted of sexual misconduct is any indication, the OCA has much work ahead regarding sexual abuse in its ranks.

I admit that I know nothing of the OCA's internal struggles or politics, and that there may be dimensions to this scandal of which I'm not aware. Having said that, if the allegations against Metropolitan Jonah are true, I'm relieved that he was forced to resign. Religious leaders who fail to screen clergy, take victims seriously, or report allegations of sexual assault are guilty of moral cowardice. Religious leaders have a moral responsibility to protect their congregants and hold offenders accountable. If Metropolitan Jonah failed to do this, he is unworthy of a position of leadership.

The issue is also an institutional one. The OCA, like the Catholic Church, must not allow the development of a clerical culture that trivializes sexual abuse, shuttles abusive priests from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and maintains institutional silence. It is the OCA's responsibility to ensure that future leaders do not repeat Metropolitan Jonah's alleged mistakes.

As a final note, Metropolitan Jonah was an ally of several Religious Right causes. For example, he was a signatory to the right-wing Manhattan Declaration (see www[dot]manhattandeclaration[dot]org) and a speaker at the anti-abortion March for Life in Washington D.C. (see here and here). If Metropolitan Jonah had spent less time warring against LGBTQ rights and women's reproductive choices, and more time rooting out sexual abuse in the Orthodox church, this scandal could have been averted.


  1. These incidents of abuse in closed societies is truly disturbing, thanks for the reporting, Ahab.

    1. Donna -- Thanks. What I don't understand is why the media and blogosphere have been comparatively quiet about this scandal. The Catholic church scandal in Philadelphia and the Sandusky scandal have received ample coverage, so why not this?

    2. Teh OCA is extremely small, so small as to be almost irrelevant, and the case is small and does not have many facts connected to it. Not much to report right now.

    3. Anonymous -- Good points. I hope the case received more attention if additional facts emerge.

  2. Well, at least the OCA did force the guy to resign, however belatedly. They're doing better than the Catholic Church, where culpability for the cover-ups runs to the very top and has done so for decades, if not centuries.

    Dreher's post is just weird. Neither he nor any of his commenters even mention the underlying issue.

    1. Infidel753 -- Yes. The Holy Synod did the right thing in this situation.

      I used to read Dreher's column, Crunchy Con, years ago on Beliefnet. While I didn't always agree with him, his column was insightful and enjoyable. His angry tone now surprised me.

    2. The "underlying issue" was published nearly a week after Dreher's original column.

  3. Above someone stated they are doing better than the Catholic Church. Really, The Orthodox Church is in fact as guilty or more guilty than the RCC. How many cases of sexual abuse by clergy are there really, that the church is hiding the truth.

  4. Orthodox church is better regarding taking action against these cases. If you will at POKROV.org more thoroughly there is a detailed description about it.


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