How Are We to Respond to Clergy Sexual Misconduct?

An earlier post on clergy sexual misconduct (read it here) generated a number of very good comments.  These comments also reveal fundamental misunderstandings about the nature of social scientific research.  Many of those who did offer an opinion conflated the empirical, social scientific research on homosexuality and clergy sexual misconduct with the moral analysis of these issues.  Methodologically people have confused correlation and causation.  While there is a correlation between homosexuality and sexual misconduct among Catholic clergy–that is the two variables occur together–we cannot say on empirical grounds that the former caused the latter.  (You can read more about the difference between correlation and causation here.)

Understanding methodology is important if we are to understand the what the research does, and does not, tell us about the problem of clergy sexual misconduct.  So assuming a right understanding of the research, how should the Orthodox Church respond to the growing awareness of the harm caused by clergy sexual misconduct?  I’m not interested here in canonical discipline or the policing of misconduct.  Policing  is important but is largely reactive and rarely sufficient to undo the harm that has been done.  So my concern here is to help readers understand clergy sexual misconduct and offer some strategies to lower its likelihood.  In what follows, I’ll first sketch out a brief overview of the research into the problem and then  offer some practical, if hard and no doubt unpopular, suggestions.At this point in my career I have responded to something like 20 cases of sexual misconduct committed by clergy from a variety of Christian traditions.  I have also studied not only the John Jay report on sexual misconduct in the Catholic Church but research projects that have examined the characteristics of pedophiles, bullies and those who engage in various types of physical and sexual abuse of others.

While the majority of reported cases of sexual misconduct committed by Catholic clergy involved sexual contact between priests and  post-pubescent males, we have no research to tell us whether this has been a consistent pattern historically either in the US or worldwide.  Based on my conversations with Catholics in the US as well as from the Caribbean, Latin America, India and Africa, I suspect that the recent American experience is not the norm and that most misconduct is heterosexual in nature.  But this is based on only anecdotal evidence.

A more substantial difficulty with the conclusion that the crisis in the Catholic Church is rooted in homosexuality is the confusion between the moral evaluation of homosexuality and its use as a predictor of sexual misconduct.  I am unaware of any studies that track homosexual seminarians and clergy over time to determine whether they have engaged in acts of sexual misconduct and, if they have, how this compares to rates of heterosexual clergy.   Again, yes, the majority of those identified offenders are homosexual BUT we cannot conclude that sexual orientation is a cause of the misconduct anymore than we can assume celibacy is a cause.  To assume either is to do so in the absence of rigorous empirical evidence and is an example of confirmation basis (i.e., only paying attention to evidence that supports (in this case) one’s own moral position).

This moral bias is also evident in much of the psychological literature on homosexuality, albeit from the other side of the question.  For example, a recent article in the APA journal, American Psychologist argues that there is no difference between same-same and opposite sex relationships with regard to fidelity and psycho-social development of  children raised by same-sex rather than opposite sex parents.  Without getting involved in the methodological assumptions the authors make, if we take their conclusion at face value this means that homosexuality as such has no predictive value to help us understand and explain human behavior in the areas studied.   Therefore we must look to another, non-empirical, standard to determine public policy.

Returning to the sexual misconduct of clergy, there are no test, or series of tests, that predict the likelihood that a man (or woman) will exploit a professional or pastoral relationship for their own sexual satisfaction.  Even if we were to have a battery of such tests, they would tell us nothing about the individual’s chances of offending.  It may be, for example, that over a third of reported child molestation is committed by homosexuals but this doesn’t tell me whether this man who self-identifies as a homosexual will harm a child.

As I said above, I been involved in 20 or so cases of clergy sexual misconduct.  Mostly I have provided pastoral care to victims, though I have been involved pastoral with some perpetrators (and before anyone asks, these  were Protestant and Catholic clergy).  I’ve also worked with victims and perpetrators of other forms of sexual violence.  My pastoral experience leads me to conclude that clergy sexual misconduct, like all abuse, is a crime of intimate violence.  In other words, what is violated is personal trust.

The most effective perpetrators of intimate violence are those who can inspire and manipulate trust.  This is why the popular kids in high school who are bullies are more likely to get away with bullying.  And as I said above, sexual orientation and marital status do not predict the ability to abuse trust.  Whatever may be the theological merits of excluding homosexuals from holy orders and/or the restoration of a married episcopate these questions have no bearing on the prevention of sexual misconduct by clergy.

What these solutions do offer, I would argue, is a false sense of security and the (self-) satisfaction of having “done something” to address the matter.   Based on the empirical literature, the most likely outcome of excluding homosexuals from holy orders and raising married men to the episcopate is simply to create new opportunities for misconduct.

So what then might we do to help clergy avoid falling into misconduct?

To return to what I have said earlier, sexual misconduct is mostly a response to the demands of ministry.  Assuming this is the case, this means we need to focus more on personal and spiritual formation in seminaries.  This should include personal and group conversations about sexuality.  We would also do well to address questions of personal finance and how people relate to food and alcohol.  Based on what the Catholic Church is doing this means adding at least a year of seminary education.

In additon to criminal background checks and psychological testing for potential seminarians we should also add drug testing and credit reports for candidates for seminary and again before ordination.

Going a bit further, I would suggest we end the practice of ordaining neophytes (even those who have served as Protestant clergy) and anyone who has not attended seminary.

But changes in the seminaries and who we admit to them are not sufficient.

Parishes need to function in a healthy manner.  This means not only ending  the monasticization of parishes that we see in some jurisdictions but also the end of the lay trustee mentality that is widespread especially in our older, more established communities.  Each in their own way lend themselves to fostering bullying behavior and rewarding habitual violations of trust that increase the likelihood of sexual acting out.

Ideally this re-formation of parishes would be done by education but we cannot limit ourselves simply to this.  We must also consider transferring  or suspending clergy, removing council members, dissolving parish councils or closing the parish when necessary.

And we must also have clearly delineated expectations for who can serve as lay leaders both in the parish and in the diocese.  As a start, I would recommend that we draw our lay leaders from those who are weekly recipients of Holy Communion, who participate quarterly in confession, and who have a history of regular and increasing financial stewardship and volunteer service to the parish (say, 1-3 years) in which one wishes to serve as a council member.  Just to offer a general guideline, I think 3-5 years of meeting these standards in one parish would be appropriate for diocesan service and/or seminary.  Needless to say, if you’ve never sponsored an adult for baptism or chrismation you ought not to serve on parish council or attend seminary much less be ordained; we are a missionary Church and those who do not demonstrate a missionary spirit are not suited for leadership.

Finally,  priests will need better administrative support, continuing education, more and better time off and in many cases salaries commensurate with the psychological, emotional, spiritual and social demands that are made on them.

Yes, this is expensive and I can hear the arguments already.  But I would argue that this is by far cheaper than the monetary, to say nothing of the emotional and spiritual costs, of clergy sexual misconduct.  It is not that we cannot afford to take these steps; we cannot afford not to take them.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory


  1. All of our church members and clergy must be repeatedly taught to never protect sexual predators/offenders. Post in all church halls and newsletters a sexual misconduct phone number where such behavior can be reported. Those suspected to be guilty of sexual misconduct toward minors must be immediately reported to law enforcement. Those suspected of sexual misconduct with adults must be investigated immediately and defrocked immediately if guilty.

    A clergy sexual misconduct investigation committee must be formed and staffed by laity and clergy . Members must have specific, time-limited positions and they should be selected from various dioceses. The committee should have laity representing a wide range of socio-demographics.

  2. Geo Michalopulos :

    Fr, you’ve given us a lot to think about. There’s much that I agree with, but there are a few quibbles as well. I’d rather not get into them in detail at present because in my opinion, I think you left out the elephant in the room. And that is the nature of the episcopate at present, particularly in the colonial eparchies. Quite simply Fr, we don’t know how priests are chosen because we don’t know how these bishops as chosen. There is absolutely no accountability one way or the other. Horrendous mistakes are made –the removal of +Iakovos, his replacement with +Spyridon, +Philip’s recent attempt to demote the bishops of the AOCNA, the near-putrefaction of the OCA under +Herman and his predecessor, and so on.

    Leaving aside the question of how these incidents (and their perpetrators) have made American Orthodoxy look like a circus, the problem of the priesthood is also one of zero accountability. I think that accountability requires spiritual mentorship and with one or two exceptions in the three largest jurisdictions, I can think of no bishops who are true spiritual fathers to their priests. Instead I see bullying at worst or indifference at best. Our priests talk about Confession but how many of them go to regular Confession with their bishop and/or spiritual father? How can they if the bishop is 600 miles away and only comes to visit only to raise funds for some boondoggle (and then receives an honorarium on top of it)?

    At least four things have to transpire before accountability and spiritual maturity have even a chance of getting off the ground:

    1. The other jurisdictions must sever their administrative ties to their foreign overlords. (They can do this lovingly or firmly, but either way it must be done.)

    2. Concerted efforts must be made to create as many dioceses as possible. No priest should be more than 2 hour’s car drive from his bishop or 1/2 days’ ride from a monastery. If we believe that parish priests need spiritual counsel and/or refreshment, then they should be able to access these avenues without having to pay the price of a plane ticket.

    3. All dioceses must be autonomous. Their bishops must be chosen from within said dioceses. The people must be able to elect them. At the very least they must be able to nominate a three-man slate for the Holy Synod to choose from. These men could be married priests, monks from a monastery within the diocese, and even pious laymen. I prefer true celibates from that point forward because IMO the job of the bishop is to be a devoted father to his priests and it’s hard to do that if he has family obligations of his own (though not impossible).

    4. Only laymen who are spiritually mature should be able to serve on PCs, Diocesan councils, or serve as electors for bishops. This means that in addition to being sacramentally active, they must be known as true stewards of the Church. (Laymen is generic, that means women too.)

    That’s just a start. What do you think?

    • George,

      Thank you for your comment and suggestions.

      I do think that we need to a better job of accountablity in the Church–but I would add this needs to include not only the clergy’s accountablity to the the laity but their accountablity to the clergy.

      While I think there is a great deal to be said for local bishops as you’ve outlined, I don’t think that it will necessarily promote a better response to abuse. Remember, the Catholic Church didn’t start cleaning up the mess until the cases of sexual abuse of children was taken from the local bishop and given to Rome.

      As for married bishops, I simply don’t see the need.

      I do however see the need for spiritually mature laypeople in positions of authority but that’s going to be a tough sell in all jursidictions though some more than other.


  3. Fr. Gregory, I think you misdirect from the most important fact before us: The complete, demonstrated inability of the only ordained young never married to police their own ranks. Though they are possessed of sufficient resources so to do, the absence of so doing provides all the resource needed to relegate the invitation to debate along the terms you’ve framed into its due place.

    The only sane, available and scripturally supportable answer is to create local bishops choosing them from among the ranks of ’empty nester’ proven senior married clergy. After all, presently the only thing wrongly blocking such a person from serving in their due place the Gospel calls for is that the ordained young never married all bachelor cadre holds against them the lack of death of the wife. Defend continuing this disaster at the expense of the Great Commission and lotsa luck when its time to explain what you’ve done with what you’ve been given.

    • Harry,

      You are simply wrong. Whatever might be the shortcomings of our bishops in the matter the are shortcomings that much in evidence in Protestant denominations, medicine, law, education and psychology.

      You want to argue for married bishops fine–do so. But you haven’t engaged my arugments. What you have done is make use of other people’s pain to advance your own pet theory of what the Church needs to do. This is inappropriate.

      So too is your last sentence. Nothing I have written here has comes at the expense of the Great Commission and to imply otherwise ss wholly inappropriate and reflects the kind of bullying that is a problem in some parts of the Church.


      • Fr G: Does annoucing that ‘I’m simply wrong’ need some support in your world?

        You complain of the misdoings in Protestant denominations as if that concluded something yet you continue to avoid dealing with the massive hiding and enabling and covering up only in those places where the ordained young never married serve also as bishops.

        That about which you wish to argue has and had no consistent logical basis. The source article was a self serving pastiche of statistics excerpted out of context from studies cobbled together in an attempt to fog rather than to clarify.

        Do you work for the Catholics somewhere? Is that why you are doing this?

        • Harry,

          Sorry I was unclear. Let me try again.

          In many professions we see a hesitancy to discipline sexually abusive members of the profession. This is a problem in Protestant denominations, in medicine, in law, in education and in psychology and is not unique to the Orthodox Church much less to bishops or celibates. To suggest otherwise is simply wrong.

          For example, I was once reprimanded by a college administrator because I did not discourage a student when she wanted to report a classmate for making unwanted sexual advances. The administrator told me, in no uncertain terms, that I should have encouraged the student to not file a police report and instead bring the matter to her so the college could deal with the matter internally.

          To my way of thinking, this is no different then a bishop wanting to deal internally with clergy sexual misconduct. I didn’t agree with the administrator–I lost my job actually–and I would not agree with a bishop who wanted to hush up a priest’s failure. Likewise I have told a bishop to his face if was wrong in the course he was taking.

          For your part Harry you’ve presented no evidence that the bishops are engaged in a massive cover up of sexual misconduct. If you have evidence, make it public so that we can evaluate it.

          Finally, twice now, you have made disparaging comments about my Orthodoxy. This is unacceptable and you owe me an apology.

          If you don’t want to apologize that’s fine but without one, I’m done talking with you.


  4. Scott Pennington :

    “A more substantial difficulty with the conclusion that the crisis in the Catholic Church is rooted in homosexuality is the confusion between the moral evaluation of homosexuality and its use as a predictor of sexual misconduct.”

    It’s fascinating that a priest would make this observation. If the vast majority of cases of priestly abuse within the RCC were homosexual statutory rape (which they were), then the question is how to prevent such a travesty from occuring in the future. It seems you want to address priestly sexual abuse in general to the detriment of fixing a particular form of it. This is where the moral dimension comes in because homosexual statutory rape, and true pedophilia, are the gifts that keep on giving; i.e. the fact of the conduct creates a new generation of monsters inclined to abuse the youth. When you tie this in with the fact the homosexual activity of any sort under any circumstances is considered an abomination by the Church, you would think that focusing on this particular problem might be an imperative, especially given the homosexual subculture in the RCC priesthood.

    Studies or not, it seems to me a solid assumption that those heterosexual priests who are married and engaging in monogamous sexual relations have an outlet for their normal sexuality which would make abuse less likely. The combination of homosexual subculture in the RCC priesthood, combined with non-traditional, evil attitudes toward homosexual activity in general (that the churches are wrong and that it should be normalized), have created a population of priests who have no outlet for desires they deem to be either normal or, at least, internally morally defensible.

    Make no mistake, what occured (and I assume still occurs) in the RCC was primarily homosexual rape, not pedophilia. Homosexual priests felt the same way about 13-17 males as heterosexual men felt about a 14-15 Britney Spears or Miley Cyrus. It’s just that they had no monogamous outlet for their sexual desires so they did what was legally (and, of course, morally) forbidden.

    Purge the RCC priesthood of homosexuals and allow married men to be ordained and you solve most of the RCC priestly abuse scandal. What you would be left with would be much lower levels of heterosexual abuse. Then concentrate on solving that problem.

    • Michael Bauman :

      Scott, while you are right, your prescription is not sufficient. The one occurence with which I am familiar was a married Orthodox priest who molested the altar boys. His favorite is the son of a friend of mine. He had had previous know problems and was put in an administrative role. However, when the small parish, 12 hours from the nearest Greek bishop (who never visited) needed a priest, he was sent.

      His actions created a permanent scar in the family, drove many people from the Church and effectively destroyed the parish.

      I gained several things from the situation: The damage is never healed therefore strong preventative steps are required; the bishops don’t really care (so its up to us); people don’t want to believe that someone they know is an abuser (personally, I think the incidence of false reports of abuse is likely to be far lower in the Church and elsewhere, so we should trust the reports more than the accused–since the bishops don’t care); we are missing the boat when we ignore the tradition/teaching of the Church on human sexuality in its fullness. We don’t teach the fullness of what has been revealed in the Church, if we get any messages at all they are either apathetic or negative (again, the bishops don’t care, it is up to us).

      Even where the evil of abortion is stressed, it is as an evil without the context of the traditional/Scriptural male-female inter-relationship and our different roles in the Church and life; without the virtue of continence, without the meaning and reality of Holy matrimony and without the nature of genuine celibacy (which is so much more than just not getting married).

      Fr. Gregory’s main weakness here is two fold: he trusts the bishops too much and puts too much credence in modern psychology and other social sciences, or so it appears to me.

      Our overall weakness is that, despite all evidence to the contrary, we still expect the bishops to do something positive, pastoral and prophetic.

      There is zero chance of that happening as long as we are dissapated by the ‘diaspora’ and under control of bishops with dhimmi attitudes.

      • Scott Pennington :


        I agree that more needs to be done than what I suggested. And you make excellent points about how we tend to a shallow view of reproduction and celibacy.

        I too am distrustful of the social sciences. The social sciences have been politicized even more than environmental science and so in order for studies to have any value or bearing on a question presented to the Church, everything associated with the study would have to be examined to ascertain what, if any, biases are present in the hypothesis, methodology or conclusions drawn. Social scientists simply cannot be trusted on the basis of their scientific credentials.

        Unfortunately, to a great extent, we are at the mercy of the bishops. That is the way the Church is organized. If the laity can have a positive effect on the bishops then so be it. If they need to move to more responsible jurisdictions, so be it. If the bishops cease to live and teach the faith then the Church goes into a kind of dormancy, awaiting a revival of bishops of the St. Athanasios variety.

        • Michael Bauman :

          Scott, we are at the mercy of Jesus Christ. If we conform our lives to Him AND then obey Him through the bishops, they will get the message or get out of the kitchen. We can also, respectfully contiune to speak out as we are able. Those bishops we do have who are capable and willing will be brought to the front.

          The Church is not a moribund, human organization, it is the living Body of Christ or we are all deluded.

          I am fortunate, I see my bishop frequently and am able to converse with him directly, openly and honestly. I don’t always get the answer I want, but I love and trust him as do many. He is strengthened by that love and our prayers.

          My brother’s bishop is much the same. That’s two out of 65 about whom I have no question. There are likely to be others, but even if there are not, that does not excuse us from living as we called.

          • Michael,

            I guarantee you the wrongfully-in-office bishops will do no such thing whether the churches be filled entirely with saints or otherwise. Anyhow the requirements for bishops to do the right thing in the canonical tradition and in the mind of the fathers has nothing to do with whether the people they were among were more or less close to perfect.

            So many of us have spent what we thought of as ‘quality time’ with bishops and thought they were the ‘real deal’– and the the photos with the gay massuer come out.

            They cannot police their own ranks. This is demonstrated and for decades and decades not just a season. We have to make a change or we have no future.

      • Michael,

        You make a good point about married men abusing boys. This is sadly common which is why I think focusing on homosexuality and celibacy is red herring.

        Your point about the damage done by abuse is also spot on.

        Do I trust bishops too much? Maybe but whatever their failing as men they are still the one’s entrusted with the goverance of the Church and they need our support and prayers.

        Do I put too much credence in psychology? I don’t think so. Like I said, I’ve been involved in 20 cases of clergy sexual misconduct and know what psychology can and can’t do.

        I do know that having worked with this issue a lot my training in psychology and psychotherapy has been immensely helpful. This is especially the case when I have been able to draw on both psychology and the tradition of the Church.

        The problem I think that some might have with my arugment is that they don’t understand the limits of empirical, social scientific research. The social sciences have a very limited function–they can tell us what happens and even, within limits, why it happens. Go beyond this and you enter into philosophical or theological ethics. This is why as a psychologist I need to keep myself grounded in both the profession AND the Tradition of the Church.


    • Scott,

      I’m sorry but you’re not responding to my arguments or what the research says. I realize that the arugment may be counter-intuitive but the reality is homosexuality is no more the cause of clergy sexual misconduct then is celibacy or an all male priesthood. There is a corrolation to be sure but correllation is no cause and to date no one has established a causal link between sexual orientation and clergy sexual misconduct.

      If I may, what do you find fascinating about a priest, who is a psychologist and who has substantial experience with clergy sexual misconduct saying that there is a difference “between the moral evaluation of homosexuality and its use as a predictor of sexual misconduct”?

      As for your suggestion that ordaining married me will solve the problem of clergy sexual miconduct, this is simply wrong.


      • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

        But you are still left with this: Are all homosexuals abusers? No. Was most of the abuse (in the Catholic Church) perpetrated by homosexuals? Yes. Once they established the policy of not ordaining known homosexuals, the abuse rates went down.

        So yes, there is no way that any kind of empirical research could predict that a homosexual is an abuser. But there is still the empirical fact the overwhelming number of abuse cases in the Catholic Church was homosexual in orientation (pederasty, not pedophilia).

        Frankly, I am not sure that any social science can make causal predictions — especially those concerning complex human dynamics like the sexual abuse of children. That’s not to say social science is not important (it clearly is), but that it too has natural limits. It’s like saying that there is no evidence that capital punishment deters crime. That statement is true, but it’s true because the claim lies outside of the capabilities of the social sciences to make.

        • Fr. H: Do we really know that the abuse rates are down? Much too soon to tell really. And why is it only the civil authority’s involvement (civil or criminal) turned on the lights? With all those resources why no internal attention to such key ‘lived life’ requirements? All this misdoing was well known inside the leadership and yet they did nothing until the much complained of ‘Godless civil authority’ cleaned the church’s house for what were supposed to be ‘the overseers / episcopacy’ of the Christ’s church.

          I wonder whether the policy change of ‘not ordaining active homosexuals’ was just so much PR.

          Anyhow if the future is to be led by those who made decisions as in the past maybe it really is God saying we aren’t as Orthodox as we’ve been told we are.

          • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

            Well, we know court cases are way down. We know that the Catholic Church has learned a lot about the nature of sexual abuse. We know that sexual abuse was largely incomprehensible to JPII but not BVI who moved to act after being elected Pope. I think they are coming to terms with it.

            As for civil authorities, makes me see the value of a free press.

            Anyhow if the future is to be led by those who made decisions as in the past maybe it really is God saying we aren’t as Orthodox as we’ve been told we are.

            Could be. Lot’s of housecleaning to do.

        • Fr Hans,

          A few things…

          Part of the problem here is that we have no accurate information about the instances of clergy sexual misconduct in ANY tradition. Did the rate go down? There are certainly significantly fewer reports but it is in the nature of such abuse that there is often a lag between the event and the report.

          As I said, historically I would guess that most clergy misconduct by Catholic priest is heterosexual in nature. I would also guess that the large number of homosexual abuse what we saw in the mid-1960’s through the early 1990’s was blip. But again without good historical data all I can do is guess.

          I do know that outside Protestant denominations most of the clergy sexual misconduct is heterosexual in nature. The same I suspect is true in the Orthodox Church though here there is even less reliable data than for either Catholics or Protestants.

          As for the ability of the social sciences to make predictions about human behavior–they can but within narrowly defined limits. But these predictions are always qualified. So for example, under what circumstances is X likely to happen? The more we know about the circumstances, the more accurate our prediction.

          Is sexual orientation a factor in clergy sexual misconduct? Yes but it is, I would argue, the least important factor. Sexual orientation will tell you the likely way in which a priest will act out sexually but the cause of that sexual acting out is likely something other than if he is straight or gay.

          Clergy are subject to a whole range of stresses and temptations that they are often ill equipped to deal with. There are clergy in all traditions that are struggling with depression, substance abuse issues, problems in their marriages or families and frequently they fall. When I was in the GOA, for example, I was told that the Archdiocese employee assistance plan had the highest usage rate of any Christian tradition–GOA clergy were looking for help in large numbers.

          If I may, while I appreciate you reservations about the limitations of the social sciences, how do you actually know that capital punishment deters crime? I would argue that you don’t know this but you want to think its true. You’re making a prediction about human behavior but what is the basis of your prediction? 🙂


          • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

            I don’t know in any empirical way if capital punishment deters crime and I wasn’t making the point that it does. I was only arguing that the argument that no data exists does not really do anything to settle the issue because the lack of empirical evidence is due not to a lack of study of the issue, but the native limitations of social science.

            In the same way I would agree with you that an individual’s sexual orientation cannot be predictive of abuse, but it still doesn’t mean that aggregate numbers can’t apply, thus the example of the Catholic Church where the overwhelming amount of abuse was homosexual in character. And, if a blip, it is only a blip in the long view. In the three decades where the abuse occurred, it wasn’t a blip at all. So what happened? Why those three decades and not others? I think it is a reasonable question.

            I agree though with your assessment of GOA clergy. They are under tremendous pressure and many of them just don’t have the resources to deal with them properly. In fact, I think the stress is endemic to the system and we will unfortunately see more good men cracking under it.

      • Scott Pennington :

        Fr. Gregory,

        “I’m sorry but you’re not responding to my arguments or what the research says.”

        Yes I did. I criticized the political environment in which the research takes place. Who conducted the research, what was their funding source, what are their politics and what did they intend/expect to find? You should know that the climate in the social science research community is very politically correct regarding homosexuality – – but we’ll come back to that.

        “As for your suggestion that ordaining married men will solve the problem of clergy sexual miconduct, this is simply wrong.”

        You’re jousting at a windmill of your own creation. I never stated that it would solve the “clergy sexual misconduct” problem. You seem to persist in not wanting to solve one part of the problem at a time. If you defrocked homosexual priests and opened up the priesthood to married men, the sheer fact that there would be dramatically lower numbers of homosexual priests would result in a much lower instance of homosexual statutory rape, the core problem of the RCC scandal. It would not solve the problem of “clergy sexual misconduct” but it would go a long way toward solving the problem of “clergy homosexual statutory rape”.

        “If I may, what do you find fascinating about a priest, who is a psychologist and who has substantial experience with clergy sexual misconduct saying that there is a difference ‘between the moral evaluation of homosexuality and its use as a predictor of sexual misconduct’?”

        You left out part of the quote:

        “A more substantial difficulty with the conclusion that the crisis in the Catholic Church is rooted in homosexuality is the confusion between the moral evaluation of homosexuality and its use as a predictor of sexual misconduct.”

        First, the RCC priestly abuse scandal was largely perpetrated by homosexual men. We need not argue about that. Why would you conclude that homosexual statutory rape is not rooted in homosexuality? Or, to put a finer point to it: Is not any homosexual activity sexual misconduct? In what terms are you thinking and what does that say about your own moral evaluation of the situation? About your assessment of the reliability of the studies? As I’ve indicated, I do not trust the objectivity of studies that indicate that there is no correlation between homosexuality (or homosexuality plus an expectation of celibacy) and a greater propensity toward molestation. But even if this were so, if you get rid of the homosexual priests you get rid of the vast majority of the priestly abuse cases. Now, it may be that that type of abuse might be replaced with heterosexual abuse cases. That would be a good way to truly find out if homosexuals do have a greater predisposition toward molestation. Wouldn’t that be a useful piece of information to have? I do not dispute that there are “closeted” married gay clergy in the Orthodox Church or Protestant churches. I just don’t think that the magnitude of the scandal in the RCC involving gay clergy has a counterpart of the same magnitude among heterosexuals.

        Second, I find it interesting that a priest, whose calling has a great moral dimension to it, who is a psychologist and who doubtlessly knows that many social scientists find what they intend to find, would have such blind faith in the integrity of social science researchers and the processes they design. Tell me, what is the official opinion of the psychiatric community on whether homosexuality is a disorder? And why do they hold that opinion? The bottom line is, in a profession dominated by liberals, would you not expect to find an underlying attitude among the researches that homosexuality is perfectly normal and healthy? Would you not expect them to be politically sympathetic to the gay rights movement? Would you not also expect that this might affect their hypotheses, methodology, results and conclusions they report?

        I certainly would.

        • Real quick cause I’ve got to go to church–I wouldn’t deny that homosexuality is part of the problem in the RCC. I just don’t think that it is the cause of the problem.

          You are of course free to not trust the studies–but right now it all we have. A professional I have no reason to doubt the John Jay Report and if I–and others–do have criticisms of it.

          I agree with the APA that homosexuality is not a clinical psychopathology. Acting on homosexual desire is sin.

          Finally, you have strong opinions about the social sciences–may I if you’ve done any gradaute work in psychology or sociology?


          • Scott Pennington :

            Fr. Gregory,

            You have a very odd way of looking at this. If homosexuality activity is always a sin, homosexual desires are always disordered and if most of the abuse perpetrated by RCC priests in the current/recent crises was homosexual statutory rape (as you appear to admit above), then I do not understand why you continue to suggest homosexuality is not the cause of the problem. Especially in light of the fact that the homosexual priests involved did not have a steady monogamous outlet for their desires. This seems obvious to most people who look at the situation with some objectivity.

            As to my background, I am trained as a lawyer, not as a social scientist (although my BA is in political science and I have taken graduate level classes in that area as well). My disdain for the lack of objectivity in social science circles is not only based on that limited experience but on hearing countless stories of conservatives and Christisn students discriminated against in the process of obtaining the degrees they seek because they are not willing to accept the arbitrary moral postulates of the faculty. In the story above, you seem to take note of this bias:

            “This moral bias is also evident in much of the psychological literature on homosexuality, albeit from the other side of the question. For example, a recent article in the APA journal, American Psychologist argues that there is no difference between same-same and opposite sex relationships with regard to fidelity and psycho-social development of children raised by same-sex rather than opposite sex parents.”

            Moreover, the decision of the APA to declassify homosexuality as a pathology was not a scientific one but a political one. It was based on vocal protestations by the gay community, a conviction among many liberal psychiatrists that homosexuality was not morally wrong (as opposed to pedophilia, incest, bestiality, etc. – – some of which behaviors have lost their moral stigmas among academics since that time), and, frankly, greed. It is much easier to obtain and retain homosexuals as patients if one doesn’t focus on curing their pathology but only the consequent symptoms since it is less offensive to their political and spiritual sensibility to assert that there is nothing wrong with their inclination and activity.

            “I agree with the APA that homosexuality is not a clinical psychopathology. Acting on homosexual desire is sin.”

            That is an unfortunate statement for a priest to make. If neither having nor acting upon homosexual desires is pathological, then on what basis might you consider incest, bestiality or pedophilia pathological – – if you do? Is it because of the “consenting adults standard”? What is the basis of this standard in the social sciences as opposed to the legal system? Ultimately, some sense of normativeness causes social scientists to categorize these types of behaviors as deviant or not. It appears that you have two conflicting normative standards and therefore set religion off as a little world unto itself, unrelated to the world outside the Orthodox community.

  5. What more can be said? George, Michael and Scott have got it surrounded.

    At heart what is the reason the present group of ordained young never married bachelor bishops are seen not to police their own ranks arising from cases of non-celibate behavior, with teen boys or older?

    If what we have is all performance art and what’s needed is just someone who has a nice voice and doesn’t forget their lines and what to do when during the service, is it important what they do outside the church? Well if that’s it then these guys are more expensive than other available and let’s not fuss the rules that plainly aren’t what it’s really all about anyhow.

    If what we have is more than performance art and all this really matters, then, well, better have the people struggling not so well against sexual issues stand next to me and the rest of us outside the altar and help the church as we do.

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

      I’m with Harry on this one. Show me a Bishop who understands his calling and is faithful in fulfilling it (of sound mind and moral character, not “greedy for gain” as St. Paul says, and so forth), and I will show you priests and laity that will move heaven and earth for him. But show me a Bishop who does not understand his calling and I will show you a Bishop who confuses authoritarianism for leading as shepherd should, caters to wealthy laity, and controls his priests with fear.

      It is not sufficient to say that if we obey the Bishop we obey God. This presupposes that the Bishop seeks the will of God. But God has given us independent minds and bodies too, and if the Bishop teaches us how to find favor with God by conforming ourselves to Christ, that Bishop’s reward will be great. We can obey him. But if the bishop rules with no clear comprehension of what is proper to his office, then we have to express what is true and right even if it does not conform to the Bishop’s will.

      Obedience must be freely given, in order to retain its value. If obedience is forced, then it is no longer obedience but coercion. We are created to be free, and true freedom is found in obedience to God. Freedom, then, precedes obedience. And, if the obedience to a Bishop is not congruent with the freedom found in Christ, then it does not displease God to say no to what a Bishop might demand.

      If this sound heretical, consider this: God Himself does not force us to believe. There is never any coercion in His part. Thus, if a coercive bishop makes coercive demands, we are under no moral obligation to fulfill them. There will be consequences of course (especially for priests) if one says no, but that “no” may indeed be God’s will and may find His blessing in the long term.

      Think here of Arius. Or think of Met. Herman whose corruption was fostered in large part by coercive claims that rendered him above examination. It fostered (dare I say it?) a servility among the priests and laity that allowed the malfeasance that was finally uncovered to linger for almost a decade. Mark Stokoe didn’t buy the obedience at all costs bromide, neither did many others after a while. Finally, a brother bishop stood up and said “We’ve been raped!” and the floodgates opened.

      Harry’s point, and I agree, is this: What happens if the corruption (and servility on the other end) reaches the point where those elected to lead reflexively choose those with the same corruptions? It’s a good question. It allowed the corruption in the OCA to fester as long as it did.

      Strong bishops won’t be threatened by this line of questioning because they understand their authority and power comes from the Spirit of God (the power to heal, teach, guide, uncover the truth, etc.). Real power does not rest in structures or positions that grow increasingly authoritarian (don’t confuse authoritarianism with decisiveness). It rests in fulfilling their calling as Bishops — to feed the flock of God — with greater clarity and discernment each passing year that they serve.

      Authoritarian bishops however, will decry this line of reasoning because it threatens to reveal servility for what it is — a spiritual defect that confuses coercion for obedience.

      • Harry, I am with you 100%. In my lengthy years of observing the hierarchs and workings of many Church leader, I am comfortable saying that much of the leadership in American Orthodoxy exists in a perpetual state of Adolescence. Harry, your call to break up the cartel of celibate clergy who abuse authority is justified. The pathology has to end before the spiritual body count rises even more. We do not need a scientific study to understand this.

  6. I am certain that the vast majority of priests behave much better than the average man on the street. Most of the cases coming to light today are cases from more than 30 years ago. They came to light quite sudden and there is a tremendous amount of media attention and frenzy regarding this topic. The scandal affects many people not only those directly involved. Honest priests and family members of priests are terribly distraught. Even one case is one too many but this should not shake our trust in the Church or our faith. Some people go very far …. they blame God and the Holy Mother for everything.

    IMO, the cause of each case is the lack of faith. We all know that “the wages of the sin is death”. When a man of the apostolic succession, claiming to act in the person of God, commits such sin it is much worse. “It would be best for the person who causes one of them to lose faith to be thrown into the sea with a large stone hung around his neck.”

    Speaking of the RCC, Chief exorcist Father Gabriele Amorth says : “Here one sees the rot …. cardinals who do not believe in Jesus, and bishops who are linked to the demon”

    Elder Paissios Holy Mount Athos before his death in 1994

    Today they’re trying to destroy faith, and for the edifice of faith to fall they quietly pull out one stone, then another. But we’re all responsible for the destruction; not just those who destroy but we who see how faith is being undermined and make no effort to strengthen it. As a result the seducers are emboldened to create even greater difficulties for us, and their rage against the Church and the monastic life increases.

    Today’s situation can be resisted only spiritually, not by worldly means. The storm will continue to rage a bit, will throw all the flotsam, everything unnecessary, onto the shore, and then the situation will become clearer. Some will receive their reward, while others will have to pay their debts.

    Today there are many who strive to corrupt everything: the family, the youth, the Church. In our day it’s a true witness to speak up for one’s people, for the state is waging war against divine law. It’s laws are directed against the Law of God.

    But we are responsible for not letting the enemies of the Church corrupt everything. Though I’ve heard even priests say: “Don’t get involved in that. It’s none of your business!” If they had reached such a non-striving condition through prayer I would kiss their feet. But no! They’re indifferent because they want to please everyone and live in comfort.

    Today God tolerates what’s going on. Tolerates, so that evil people will be unable to justify themselves.

    • Eliot,

      Thank you for the quote from Elder Paissios! What we need is not married bishops or to worry whether or not priests struggle with sexual attraction men rather than women, but to cultivate holiness.

      I did a retreat just before Christmas and I concluded by telling the people the ONLY reason for the parish is to make saints. Anything that doesn’t serve the sanctification of the faithful–laity and clergy–is a distraction and needs to go.

      Finally, I draw great comfort from the Elder’s words about not minding one’s own business. More often than not it is, as the Elder says, simply the word of one who loves comfort.

      Thank you again.


      • A Beautiful Saying for those who don’t have little people pulling on their legs asking for juice. For those who are tasked with bringing forth the future the requirements are those but also to make safe the space for the young– in short: greater.

        If all I had to care about was getting it good for me and getting to the end of my life it would be easier than to also have to do everything I can to make the ‘path straight’ for those given to me to raise. I want to say ‘see, these bishops put on socks one at a time too and when it happens that one stumbles very badly they leave that job and come stand here next to us’.

        Holy Moses a local school superintendent pulled his car over to the side of the road in a snow storm and walked to a store to call for help. When the police came they tested him for alcohol and he failed the alcohol test. No accidents, no injuries. He was fired from the school system the next week by the school board because they just didn’t want someone in high authority to be seen setting an example like that. Our so called ordained young never married bishops twisted in the wind for weeks before even looking into much greater misdoing in positions of responsibility that are supposed to be so much higher!

        If Monks cared about monasticism’s support among the married faithful they would do something about the present misdoing in high ordained young never married places ‘monastic bishops that don’t live in monasteries except sometimes with one other person’.

        • George Michalopulos :

          Harry, as the married father of two fine young men, I know exactly where you’re coming from. I also know that I’m the most unqualified man ever for holy orders. Having said that, I’ve tried to be an active participant in my boys’ lives –T-ball, scouts, soccer, high school football, homework–you know the drill. I know I could have done a better job but given my gifts (such as they are) I tried to do the best that I could at the time with what I had. (Thank God for my wife.)

          Why do I say this? Because assuming that I did have the priestly vocation, I couldn’t have been fair to my family or my parishioners given my many inadequacies. Even more so if the episcopate were an option. I realize I’m being idealistic here, but as far as I’m concerned, the primary purpose of a bishop in this world, this day, is to be a proper father to his priests. These guys (priests) are on the front lines and they need to know they’ve got somebody covering their backs. For this reason and for this reason only, I prefer proper bishops to be raised from the ranks of true monastics. Otherwisie, I agree with you, empty-nester priests who’ve served in parishes for decades have the discernment and understanding that is required for the episcopate (as well as the other metrics laid down by St Paul).

          It’s all academic however at this point in the colonial eparchies since we honestly don’t know where these guys come from or how they were chosen. Witness that “archimandrite” who gave that speech last year at HC: when was the last time he served as the spritual leader of a monastery?

      • Fr. Gregory,

        I am very glad that you do appreciate the quotes. Indeed, the mission of the clergy is to help in the sanctification of the faithful. I do not think there is an always working strategy. Among the key requirements are a sincere desire for the Kingdom and … fear!

        St. Isaac the Syrian: “Fear leads us aboard the ship of repentance, takes us across the fetid sea of life and guides us to the divine harbor which is love.”
        St. John Climacus writes, “The growth of fear is the beginning of love.”

        ‘Fear’ has several stages: fear of death, fear of God, fear of divine retribution, fear of offending God. For the fear of God is revealed in obedience, humility and prayer. The fruit of fear of God is love.

        And again Elder Paisios:

        Today people don’t even want to hear about death. However, he doesn’t remember about death is living outside of reality. Those who fear death and love life’s vanities are in a state of spiritual stagnation. Bold people, who always keep death before them and think about it constantly, on the other hand, conquer vanity and begin to live in eternity and heavenly joy while still here on earth.

        May he who fights in the war for Faith and Fatherland cross himself and not fear, for God is his helper! God Himself will decide whether he is to die or to live. One needs to trust God, not oneself.

  7. Michael Bauman :

    Fr Gregory, Do you really mean: “Anything that doesn’t serve the sanctification of the faithful–laity and clergy–is a distraction and needs to go.”

    Almost anything can be used by God for our sanctification if that is what we are seeking, even Nietzche and personal sin. Almost anything can be made into an idol if we want it to be, even the Holy Scriptures and Divine Liturgy. If there a better way of stating what you are really getting at?

    We have a choice, we can look upon our bishops as idols that we sacrifice to either by giving money or serving them lavish banquets when they happen to stop by OR we can expect them to be the icons they are supposed to be.

    Human beings are either idol makers or icon makers. We either worship idols or seek God through icons. The fascinating fact is that the same idea, sustance, picture, service or person can be either.

  8. Scott Pennington :

    Fr. Gregory wrote,

    “It may be, for example, that over a third of reported child molestation is committed by homosexuals but this doesn’t tell me whether this man who self-identifies as a homosexual will harm a child.”

    But if, in fact, one third of all child molestation (not just reported, but all; admittedly a statistic we cannot know) was committed by homosexuals, and if the percentage of homosexuals in the society is 2-3%, does that not make it statistically considerably more likely that homosexuals will molest than heterosexuals? Not any given individual, but on the whole.

    What would be even more interesting to find out, given the priestly conduct in the RCC was not “child molestation” for the most part, is what percentage of statutory rape is committed by homosexual men as opposed to heterosexual men.

    • Scott said, “But if, in fact, one third of all child molestation (not just reported, but all; admittedly a statistic we cannot know) was committed by homosexuals, and if the percentage of homosexuals in the society is 2-3%, does that not make it statistically considerably more likely that homosexuals will molest than heterosexuals? Not any given individual, but on the whole.”

      Sorry, no. There are distinct types of molesters and each type corresponds with specific personality characteristics. It has never been determined if clergy molesters are more likely to be situational or preferential molesters. Representative samples have not been studied. Therefore, since it cannot be determined if most clergy molesters are Seductive Preferential Pedophiles (the majority of which are homosexual males), it cannot be inferred that the problem of clergy molesters is related to homosexuality. The majority of clergy molesters may be situational molesters that had more exposure/access to male alter boys than females, but until representative samples of clergy molesters are studied, this cannot be determined.

      • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

        Too much “it has never been determined…” and such. Sometimes you have to make decisions before the social sciences catches up, and especially when it’s an open question whether these sciences can penetrate the psycho-social complexity with any predictive precision anyway. Not knocking the social sciences here, only the notion that good judgment and common sense don’t seem to have any value in your scenario.

        Frankly, if you have an influx of homosexuals into the priesthood and then start to see the repeated abuse of adolescent boys increase (a worldwide phenomena as it turns out) and then decrease once known homosexuals were barred from ordination, it doesn’t take much to put two and two together.

      • Scott Pennington :


        Wrong again. It’s just a question of math. You can break down the subgroups any way you want in order to obfuscate; however, the fact remains that if 1/3 of molestations are perpetrated by homosexuals and the percentage of homosexuals in society is only 2-3 percent then homosexuals, on average, are many times more likely to molest than heterosexuals. That doesn’t mean that this particular person or that will or will not molest. However, given the stakes in the clergy abuse scandal in the RCC (lives destroyed and the bankrupting of dioceses), it should be taken into account

        And again, the overwhelming majority of what went on in the RCC was homosexual statutory rape, not pedophilia. If pedophilia is considered to include instances of molestation of pubescent males or females, then most males over the age of 14 and most all males throughout history have been (heterosexual) pedophiles, at least in their desires. This, of course, is nonsense and robs the term of any meaningful usage.

        You did hit on a significant point. One question you should ask is why more researchers are not studying “representative samples” to see if homosexuals do molest either pre- or post-pubescents at a higher rate.

        • Scott,
          To clarify, my statement of “representative samples have not been studied” applied to clergy molesters and not the population of male homosexuals. The RC clergy who molested or raped teenage boys may not have had access to molest or rape teenage girls due to the fact that females did not serve in the RC alter until the late 1970s. Excluding male schools/orphanages, many clergy molesters began “courting” their males victims after they began spending time with the them as alter boys. Females could not be “courted” since they were not in spending time with the molester in the sacristy.

          The John Jay College of Criminal Justice study states that most RC clergy abuse occurred between 1960 and the 1980s. Because disclosure of sexual abuse is typically delayed for approx. 30 years, significant numbers of women victims may not yet have come forward. If all female victims do come forward, the statistics will change. In my professional opinion, future statistics will show that RC clergy molestation/rape was more a crime of “convenience” than homosexual molestation.

          • Scott Pennington :

            That’s pretty delusional Petr. Men who do not have homosexual desires do not molest teenage boys. When your projected army of molested teenage girls materializes, perhaps then we can talk. For some reason you’re postulating that the molesters would have preyed on any teenager at hand. Why would you think that? And were teenage girls unavailable? It seems to me that priests in a pastoral role would come into close contact with girls too. Some smaller percentage of the molestation cases were of this variety. I think you’re projecting a lot of “if’s” and “when’s” in order to guard a very pc position.

  9. Obedience does not mean being stupid!

    Proper obedience means obedience lived with humility and unselfishness – but also with brains and a conscience. Conscience doesn’t drop out of the sky fully formed. It’s not a feeling or an opinion or a personal preference. Conscience is the hammer of Christian self-mastery. It’s the voice of God in our hearts. We learn to hear God’s voice by cultivating our moral judgment with the truth. And we find the truth in Scripture, in prayer and in the teaching of the Catholic faith Christ gave us for our salvation. The essential thing is this: We’re not robots. Obedience to the law is never an excuse for supporting or colluding in grave evil. We’re moral agents, and God will hold each of us responsible for our decisions, choices and actions. Obedience is never an excuse for being stupid. (Charles J. Chaput)

  10. Father Gregory,

    I fully support your recommendations and their associated costs which could help prevent clergy sexual misconduct. Please allow me to add the following finding related to psychosexual assessments for seminarians. Many pathological sexual proclivities can be hidden during psychosexual assessments, but other characteristics of molesters such as cognitive distortions, emotional congruence, interpersonal dependence, and low victim empathy could be more easily identified by experienced mental health practitioners.

    In another paragraph you mentioned lay trustee behavior and its impact related to clergy sexual misconduct. Sadly, I understand the pathology behind the lay trustee mentality and how it fosters bullying behavior, but bullying would not be a characteristic of a priest that molests. Mysoped child molesters are the only type of molesters that have bullying/aggressive personalities. These are the sadists that grab unknown children and ritually kill them. I am hoping you will post more about your thoughts related to bullying trustees and sexual misconduct in our Church.

    • Petr,

      You are of course correct when you say that “bullying would not be a characteristic of a priest that molests” and I did not mean to imply that it was.

      What I was getting at is this, what is the range of acceptable of behavior in the Church? If we turn a blind eye to bullying by either the laity or the clergy then we are less likely to notice, much less correct, other forms of inappropriate behavior.

      An image that might be helpful here is how white noise can mask other sounds. In like fashion if we become habituated to bullying we are more likely to overlook molestation or other forms of abuse. The more we accept, even passively, minor but habitual offenses against human dignity or petty acts of dishonesty the more likely we move toward accepting other, more serious sins.

      You other point about the limits of psychological testing in discerning who is, and isn’t, likely to act out sexually is also important here. At least as it stands now, when it comes to the moral character of future clergy, we are almost wholly dependent upon the discernment and the prudence of parish priests and seminary faculties. Yes the bishops should be more involved but even here we are limited to his abilities.

      And so this takes me back to where I began, we will evaluate potential clergy (and serving clergy) against the background of parish life. If that life is highly secularized, only minimally values the Church’s liturgical, ascetical, dogmatic and moral tradition, or tolerates (or worse, rewards!) lapses in charitity and truthfulness men who objectively should not be ordained are going to look worthy of holy orders because our shared standards are so low.

      Thanks again.


  11. Allow me to offer an apologia of sorts for my words here. I don’t want to take back the things I’ve said but I do think I was unfair to people in not providing a bit more context for what I said.

    Contrary to the impression I realize I have given here, I don’t think psychology or the social sciences in generally have much to offer the Church at least when our parishes and dioceses and seminaries, to say nothing of our laity, clergy and bishops, are living fully and faithfully the Christian life. My personal, pastoral and professional preference is simply to respect the freedom of others as they struggle to live according to the Tradition of the Church in light of their own consciences and within the concrete circumstances of their daily lives.

    Unfortunately it is sometimes the case that Orthodox Christians–to use a phrase my confessor uses now and again–confuse living the Gospel with opera. When this happens individuals, parishes and dioceses become increasingly dysfunctional and self-destructive. As I have told people, given my own unique (and admittedly eccentric) set of skills, when I’m invited into a situation it is NOT because things are going well but because things have become dysfunctional.

    Psychologists (at least those who do clinical work which part of my own training) are experts in pathology not health, failure and not success. Health and success, to say nothing of forgiveness and holiness, are not part of my professional concern as a psychologist even if they are central to my work as a priest and my life as a Christian.

    My interest in understanding the clergy sexual misconduct crisis in the Catholic Church has a number of facets. I was raised Catholic and so I have a continued respect and affection for the Catholic Church. Because of the things that have been brought to me over the years, I have had to become knowledgeable about sexual and domestic violence as well as clergy misconduct. Whatever may be the theological and social scientific limits of the analysis of the recent crisis in the Catholic Church it currently is the only wide ranging study of clergy (or professional) sexual misconduct. Put another way, if you want to understand clergy sexual misconduct, or indeed any kind of professional sexual misconduct, the John Jay Report is the place to begin.

    I would not deny that the vast majority of the reported misconduct committed by Catholic clergy both here and overseas has been committed against teenage boys. This abuse is unacceptable and those who failed to remove the offenders from ministry need themselves to be disciplined and, if appropriate, this should include removal from office and/or criminal prosecution.

    At the sametime PROFESSIONAL what interests me more than who was abused is the steps the Catholic Church has taken to correct the problem. To be sure, these steps have often included many missteps–but this is the nature of life in a fallen world.

    One of the points made here is that the Catholic Church has weeded out homosexual seminarians. I’m not sure they have, though they have worked very hard to weed out sexual active homosexual (and heterosexuals) from their seminaries. They have done this by intentionally focusing on forming candidates to live emotionally and socially healthy lives as celibate priests. They have, in other words, expanded the work of the seminary to include not only theological and pastoral education but also the personal and spiritual formation of seminarians.

    If the Catholic Church has turned a corner on its own sorry past, it is this emphasis on the personal and spiritual formation of future priests that is the reason. And it is this emphasis of formation that I think is what the Orthodox Church needs to learn from the recent experiences of the Catholic Church.

    Maybe I’m wrong, but unlike Catholic seminaries very little is required of a man before he attends an Anerican Orthodox seminary. There are as such no academic requirements–save a undergraduate degree (and that only recently) and most of the time at seminary is spent on academic coursework. Catholic seminaries, on the other hand. require a year of spiritual formation and a year of undergraduate philosophy BEFORE a man can enter the MDiv program. The program itself requires three years of full time academic work and a one year parish internship as a deacon.

    Once admitted to the MDiv program, spiritual formation remains a central and explicit focus of his education. Catholic seminarians are required to examine and understand what it will mean for them personally to live a celibate life. This is done not only in spiritual direction and confession but also in group settings with other seminarians.

    Given the sexually charged culture that we live in, this is critical for celibates. While most Orthodox seminarians will marry, I think helping seminarians examine and understand their own sexuality in light of the tradition of the Church is as necessary for the Orthodox seminarian as it is for his Catholic counterpart.

    This is just one example, and I offered others in my original post about which I would ask your comments.

    For now let me leave you with the two points that offer a context for my thinking here.

    (1) The social sciences are of relatively little value for us as Orthodox Christians when we are living an authentic Christian life. It is really only when this is not happening that I find my professional background to be of value; sadly I find that my skills are often needed.

    (2) The lesson from the recent experiences of the Catholic Church is that we need to emphasize spiritual formation not only for seminarians but also the clergy, the laity and the bishops. Just in this thread alone we have had several illustrations the harm done when holiness is not central to all that we do personally and as a Church.

    Thank you for your patience and your very generous comments that have helped me clarify my own thinking and the limitations of both my thought and the manner in which I present my concerns. May God reward your love for Christ and His Church.

    In Christ,

    +Fr Gregory

  12. Scott,

    Thank you for your comment upstream (April 28, 2010 at 10:51 AM).

    I’m sorry that I have not expressed myself clearly. Let me see if I can give better an explaination of my views.

    Homosexual desires are intrinsically disordered and acting on them either in fantasy or with another person is sinful. This line of reasoning is not unique to same sex attraction. Outside of marriage any sexual desire for someone other than one’s spouse is, in the strict sense, disordered even if it is not as disordered in the same way as are a same sex attraction. Needless to say acting on this desire for someone other than one’s spouse–again whether in one’s fantasy life or with the other person–is a sin.

    For this reason, same sex genital activity, masturbation, fornication and adultery as well as the various sexual peversions you list are all sins and as such unnatural.

    From the view of classical Christian moral reasoning to refer to them as psychopathological in the clinical sense is a grave mistake. The reason is that such a clinical classification carries with it the connotation that the person is not responsible for his or her actions.

    To take a non-sexual example, in Christian moral theory, an individual in a depressed state who kills himself is generally not seen as guilty of the sin of suicide. Why? Because the presence of a clinical psychopathology is seen to diminish his moral responsibility.

    In like fashion to make homosexuality a psychopathology in the clinical sense (and I agree we can use the term in a moral sense but only with the greatest of care) is to say that the individual is not morally responsible, or at least is less than full respons for his actions. Do that and you shift the conversation out of the moral realm and, however unintentionally, undermine the very tradition of moral reasoning that we would hold as Christians.

    As for the polticization of homosexuality by the APA–yes you are absolutely correct–but whatever might have been the subjective intent of the actors in this matter, they nevertheless were correct in removing homosexuality form the list of psychopathologies because in so doing acknowledged the moral nature of homosexuality.

    Regarding injustices committed by members of my profession, I am aware of them and have myself been treated unjustly. But so what? While we ought not to minimize the harm that is done to people, we shouldn’t give it more emphasis then it merits. For example, I’ve been mistreated by members of several different professional groups and religious traditions including Orthodox Christians. I don’t hold the Orthodox Church culpable for the misbehavior of its members and I wouldn’t tar the whole of professional psychology with the actions of a few.

    Hope this helps.

    In Christ,


  13. Scott,

    When you have provided counseling to an army of sexual victims, their very disturbing stories have familiar threads. You realize that these predators are far more interested in the powerlessness and age of their victims than their gender.

    Pray that all the other victims, including the females, will come forward. Pray that there is not an army of them. They will need our prayers and emotional support.

    • Scott Pennington :


      I will pray that. And I will also pray that you come to see that when a man molests and teenage boy, it is because he is attracted to teenage boys; i.e., because he is a homosexual. Power is an aphrodisiac for any male in a relationship where he is dominant, heterosexual or homosexual.

  14. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Not their gender Petr, their sex — male. Don’t collapse sex into gender. Most of the predatory behavior was male on male, that’s an empirical fact. Selection of the victim and the dynamics informing that decision is a secondary consideration.

    • Fr Hans,

      You last sentence is a forensic and clinical judgment. Can you help me understand what you mean when you say that the “Selection of the victim and the dynamics informing that decision is a secondary consideration” and how you came to this conclusion?

      Thank you.


      • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

        Revised April 29, 2010.

        Sure. I think the desire for sexual contact with adolescent boys precedes the techniques that molesters use to victimize them. Petr tends to sublimate the same-sex desire into a host of other considerations such as power, desire to dominate, etc. Those factors exist, but they don’t negate sex, that is, biological differentiation and the fact that most of the abuse was male on male.

        It this important? Sure is. When I ran summer camps one of the rules I implemented was that no staff member was ever alone with a camper. Even when talking one on one, they were to talk in a place in sight of other campers and counselors. I applied the same rule to myself. When GOYA was over and the kids were waiting for a ride, I insisted that another adult wait with me until all the kids were picked up.

        Much of this is just common sense and a necessary accommodation to the age we live in. But do I really know the people I chose to chaperon the kids? Mostly yes and I trusted them but I insisted on precautionary measures nonetheless. I can tell you though that if a person wanted to do youth work who was an active homosexual, I would not allow it (never happened but if it did). In fact, I never let anyone work with the kids who expressed what I considered too much eagerness to be around them. Call it common sense experience but what I found is that they usually needed the kids to work out unresolved issues in their own life. I wouldn’t allow that. The kids were not subjects in their attempts to work out their own healing.

        I mention these examples only to draw the distinction between the therapeutic view, and the practical policy considerations that people responsible for the well-being of children must make.

        I did have a situation once with a convicted child molester who came to my parish. He did his time, his therapy, etc. I had a boatload of young kids at the time (about 85, most under sixth grade) and decided he had to go to another parish. I just wasn’t going to run the risk. He needed to find a parish of retirees with no kids — good for him, good for the kids, good for the parents of the kids, good for me. No public shaming. All was handled privately.

        The molestations in the RCC was perpetrated by men on adolescent boys. These men desired young boys. That makes them homosexuals. Now the other factors might help the therapist understand the dynamics of that attraction and even the way the molestation was perpetrated. However, to conclude, as Petr insists although in a round about way, that the homosexuality of the perpetrator has to be sublimated into the background (or the secondary considerations be brought forward) may be appropriate in a therapeutic setting but does not speak to what policies should be crafted concerning the proximity of active homosexuals to adolescent boys.

        (I think that Petr sublimates sex into gender, that is, he thinks of sexuality in somewhat amorphous terms. The sex of the perpetrator doesn’t seem to factor into his thinking much. In other words, he seems to assume that same-sex attraction is of the same nature and character as opposite-sex attraction and the only valid distinction is whether the sexual acts were coercive or not. I’ll concede that a therapist has to be careful that his moral presuppositions don’t color his analysis, but Petr seems (he is not that clear) to carry this caution as far as to say that homosexual behavior is not objectively disordered. For non-therapists like myself however, that conclusion is the starting point. If I am misunderstanding him, he can correct me.)

        • Fr Hans,

          Thanks for the explaination it makes sense to me,

          I spoke offline with Petr and I don’t think he is thinking of terms in an amorphous fashion. Rather, and he can correct me if I wrong, the point he is making is that with regard to the dynamics of clergy sexual abuse the sexual orientation of the abuser doesn’t matter. This is to say that homosexual men abuse teenage boys using the same psychological techniques that heterosexual men use to abuse teenage girls. Again, the psychological process of manipulation is neutral relative to the sexual orientation of the abuser.

          Your point about the difference between how a parish priest and a therapist would approach the matter is a good one and one that I think both the side of the conversation need to bear in mind.

          Finally, my own concern here is not sexual morality–a settled matter in the tradition–but to point out that the response to clergy sexual abuse is found in the Church doing a better job both in the seminary and ongoing spiritual formation of the clergy and some fairly radical changes in the culture of our parishes and dioceses. By “culture,” I don’t mean Greek or American but the matters I listed toward the end of the original post. (Does anyone remember the original posts and my suggests amidst all the talk about sex???)

          Again, thanks for the clarification.


          • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

            Thanks for the clarification. It wasn’t at all clear this is what he meant but it makes sense now. Still, Petr has to be a bit more cautious. His assertion that there may be an “army” (if I recall correctly) of sexually abused girls in the Catholic Church appears true only if the clarification you offered above is the sole lens through which he evaluates the RCC abuse. He has to be careful not to see abuse where there isn’t any. That army won’t appear because, as his critics rightly assert, the abuse is largely the work of active homosexuals. It’s boots on the ground stuff.

        • Scott Pennington :

          All of this really boils down to the question of whether homosexual men are more likely, on average, to molest teenage boys than heterosexual men are to molest teenage girls. The sheer size of the RCC scandal suggests to many that they are. Given the PC culture of the social sciences, I doubt that many, if any, objective studies on this have been done.

          It may take a few more generations, once ephemeral political considerations have died down, in order to know (in a hard, empirical sense) the answer to this question. The area where it becomes utterly critical, however, is the issue of gay adoption. I have heard of studies that state that gay men are dramatically more likely to sexually molest adoptees than a heterosexual couple. But these are older studies and not widely respected in contemporary circles.

          If those earlier studies (or study, there’s one in particular I hear quoted) are actually accurate, then a hard rain will fall in another generation or so.

          • Scott and all,

            This conversation reminds of all the focus on the inner life and tremendous expense the Latin church expended on the abusers while the abused had to go to court to get anything at all. Did anybody else read of this abuser who was fretting about this and that while on the plane to the health spa here, and the counsellor there, and yadda, yadda, yadda. Who bought plane tickets and spas and career hand-holding hither and yon for his victims? Them? It’s the least the lawyers could manage to persuade the courts to order.

            From the perspective of the purpose of the church, let’s get past the focus on the particularities of the inner life of the man who wants sexual activity with boys or men and instead ask this basic question: Is not having what it takes to sustain a marriage and instead attraction and often sexual activity with men and boys what we defacto are seen to apparently require as a church in order to hold high office? Is that a recipe for growth?

            City bishops should be 50 years old+ clergy empty nesters or widowers with at least 20 years in parish life, along with monastics who actually live in monasteries with more than one other person — and an abbott who lives in, not next door.

          • Scott Pennington :


            I agree that priests should be married men. There may be some rare exceptions to this, but that should be the norm. As far as bishops, I don’t see anything wrong with them being celibate, whether older, etc. The problem in the RCC was that gay priests came into constant contact with boys on a regular basis, whether at the altar or in other pastoral roles. Bishops generally don’t organize or coach parish sports or summer camps. They don’t have the same frequent close contact with children and teens. I’m sure there are cases of abuse involving married Orthodox priests, even by Orthodox bishops, but the numbers are dwarfed by what went on in the RCC.

  15. Petr,

    If you would please, email me privately–frgregoryj gmail com

    Thank you.


  16. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    I agree that priests should be married men. There may be some rare exceptions to this, but that should be the norm.

    Here’s the rule although not followed very well: Married priests serve in cities and towns, single priests serve in monasteries.

    Having single priests not attached to monasteries running parishes and dioceses is going to cost us in the long run. There is a reason for the rule.

    • Scott Pennington :

      Fr. Johannes,

      I was speaking imprecisely and did not mean to denigrate hieromonks. I probably should have written “parish priests” or priests in the world. Thank you for correcting the incorrect impression which I did not mean to convey.

  17. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Scott it wasn’t meant as a correction, just as an expansion on your point.

    • Scott Pennington :

      Fr. Johannes,

      Well, thanks anyway (sincerely). I might have given the impression that I have something against celibate monastic priests and I didn’t notice that until you made your observation.

      • George Michalopulos :

        if I remember correctly, in the West, priests who lived in the world (ie parish priests) were called “secular clergy,” while those who were monastics were called “regular clergy.” (“Regular” coming from the Latin word regulus meaning “rule.”) Would that be a useful distinction?

        • Scott Pennington :

          Same idea, I suppose. But those terms could easily be subject to misunderstanding. “Secular clergy” sounds like the impious lot that follow the culture. “Regular clergy” sounds like clergy outside the monastary rather than inside. If we began using these terms to the extent that their accurate meaning became familiar, then maybe it would be useful. But we already have the term “hieromonk” which, I think, denotes a monk ordained to the priesthood as opposed to the episcopacy. I don’t know if there is a particular Orthodox term to refer to a married priest who serves in a parish, mission or cathedral, etc.

  18. Michael Bauman :

    It would seem the word presbryter would apply to those who serve in a parish setting vs. hieromonks.

    • Scott Pennington :


      But would “presbyter” not also apply to celibate parish priests? Actually, come to think if it, would it not apply to hieromonks as well? I thought that “presbyter” was just another word to designate someone who has been ordained to the middle of the three orders (setting aside for a moment the use of the word in New Testament times), “priest” being the way the word morphed into English: (presvyter (Gr.) –> Priester (Ger.) –> priest (Eng.).

      • If we are to avoid repeating the painful lessons of our experience we should either support and deploy trained professional people to investigate allegations of violations of canonical rules to do with celibacy beyond the civil police professionals who do this in cases or rape — or: If ‘celibacy’ is a rule that really means ‘not being caught as groom in a wedding to a woman’ lets just drop the differences in clergy titles and ranks and whatnot to do with ‘celibacy’.

        And by this I do not mean ‘fixer so-called priests’ whose mission is to protect whoever sends them and to discredit victims. But instead people who are tasked with getting to the whole truth. Indeed I think that to remain with clergy rank clergy must agree to being investigated by such authorities much in the same way doctors and other professionals require re-certification and compliance with and investigations by ethics boards beyond the civil police.

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

      Prebyter: think of it as “presider of the assembly (ekklesia).”

      • Scott Pennington :

        “Presvyteros” is old Greek for “elder”. Functionally you are correct since the Greek word for someone who offers sacrifices is “hierefs”. It seems to me that both could be applied to either a monastic priest or a parish priest since a monastic priest would likely preside over those monks ordained to the diaconate or the unordained.

        As far as “celibate vs. married” as not being logical, these are the two permissible possibilities for an individual. I’m using celibate here to mean someone who does not engage in sexual intercourse. However, monastic (if “monastic” implies community) vs. married leaves out hermit monks who do not live in the community of a monastery or a “church of the home” i.e.,a family. It also leaves out celibate laity who live in the world, are part of the Church but, also, not part of a husband-wife-kids family or a monastery.

        One thing we are overlooking is the unfortunate case of a man who feels called to the priesthood, enters seminary, approaches graduation looking forward to being a parish priest but simply can’t find a woman willing to marry him. He may have no desire to live in a monastery but that may be his only option if he wishes to be ordained. I personally have met such a priest in the Greek Archdiocese. He was allowed to become a parish priest. I agree though that it is dangerous for the priest and his congregation due to the temptations in the world.

        • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

          All true but the focus here is on priests. I not so sure anymore though how wise it is to have non-married priests in parishes. They can be good men, but rare, very rare, is the unmarried man who has any real sense about married life. They think they know but they really don’t. It’s a lot like having kids. Before you have kids you think you something about being a parent. Only after you have them do you realize you did not have a clue. This affects their understanding of the “paternal” dimension of their office. Many tend to confuse authoritarianism with authority.

          • Scott Pennington :

            Actually, Fr. Johannes, in my experience most married people don’t know much about married life and most parents don’t know much about raising children.

            It’s the culture.

            And, for my money, authority and authoritarianism are synonomous. Without the will to act in an authoritarian manner, and the objective power to do so, there is no real authority – – or order. A short anecdote:

            I recently left GOARCH for ROCOR. It had nothing to do with orthopraxis, the issue was otherwise. Recently I was at the ROCOR church for vigil. It was about 3/4 of the way through the service and there were a number of mothers there with small, but mobile and vocal, children. The children’s volume and activity had gotten well into the disruptive level. A Russian gentleman who chanted with the choir stops in the middle of the service and said in a loud authoritative voice, “I’m not going to continue reading the service if the children are going to be loud and run wild. It’s a disgrace to God. Control your children!”

            And they did.

            And they will remember it for weeks.

            And it will be a while, at least, before it happens again.

            This would never have happened in my old church. There is much to be said for authoritarianism. Authoritarianism, if exercised wisely, can instill a certain fear/respect that causes people to do what they know they should do but won’t bring themselves to do. It is absolutely indispensible and things go downhill rapidly without it. The fact that modern Western societies court a disdain for authoritarianism is symptomatic of their inherent moral weakness. We can see it in Western marriage/divorce, the spoiled unbridled habits of young people, and in the spending and saving (bad)habits of Western populations and governments. Absence of authoritarianism = surrender to the passions.

            It’s that simple.

            But I’m glad you brought up the distinction, Fr. Johannes. For some time I haven’t been able to exactly put my finger on the difference between the atmosphere or aura surrounding traditional society and modern societies. You can feel it if you visit more traditional cultures but it’s hard to put into words exactly what modern Western culture has lost that preserved a sense of order and morality in traditional cultures.

            It is authoritarianism.

            Children followed their parents, wives followed their husbands, husbands followed an ideal of manhood that has been lost. Obviously none of this was perfect or close to it. But I’m talking about tendencies. There was an expectation backed up by the spectre of coercion that strongly influenced people to fall in line.

            I suppose that cannot be regained without revolution, conquest or social collapse and reconstruction. It’s a shame.

          • Harry Coin :


            Are there maybe German philosophers in your family?

            There is a dimension of authoritarianism that leaves no room for morality. The dimension is automaton-like behavior according to fear of punishment: If one fears getting whacked on the snout one does what the the snout-whacker wants– whether the snout-whacker is wrong, right or who cares so long as the snout doesn’t get whacked. That’s why superstitions are popular– there is no real connection with the love motivating it all, just get through it and don’t forget to come to church or some snout-whacker will give you the business. You can see where cultish tendencies start– the temptation by the authority figure to whack the dog and bow before the boss.

            Morality is choosing right when nobody is watching. Obedience is doing hoping your snout-whacker of choice isn’t wrong.

          • Scott Pennington :


            It is nice when people do the right thing because they choose to regardless of potential negative consequences. However, most people operate on a much more primal level than that. Is not the threat of hell the most compelling threat to “whack one on the snout”?

            Without consequences, things deteriorate very quickly. There is only one problem with your attitude: People aren’t perfect. In fact, they are so imperfect that if you rely on them individually to police their own actions they will self-destruct.

            “There is a dimension of authoritarianism that leaves no room for morality.”

            Maybe some type of authoritarianism, but not what I’m talking about. In my example above, the parents whose children were acting up knew better than to allow them to disrupt a service. They just failed to act. Someone taking charge in a decisive way and demanding that they take up their own responsibilities not only rectifies the immediate situation but serves as an example: Some might resent the shaming they received. But some may see that the man who corrected them was right and they might voluntarily assume their responsibilities in the future.

            You’re postulating this mutually exclusive relationship between true moral choice and authoritarianism which does not really exist. The only place it does come to that is in a totalitarian culture where morality is defined by the state and all things are measured by utility to the state. That is not what I’m advocating.

            To put it another way, it’s better if people choose to do the right thing. However, creating a context in which social pressures also pressure them to do the right thing is also a good idea. The good will still be good because their motivation is pure regardless of the social pressures. The bad may be moved to do good due to social pressures, but at least good will be done and perhaps they will eventually see the light.

  19. Michael Bauman :

    Scott, Fr. Hans has it correct. Would it apply to non-monastic celibate priests? Probably, but you are correct, the idea of celibacy outside of a monastary is an oxy-moron. Only a ecclesial culture that does not have monastaries would even think of it.

    Side point, if we had a better developed traditional understanding of marriage and celibacy in the current context and acutally taught it, we’d avoid many of these conundrums, IMO.

  20. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Absolutely true Michael. I had a post written on this but decided not to post it but basically it said this: even the distinction between “celibate vs. married” is wrong. If the comparison were logical it would be “celibate vs. non-celibate.” IOW, “married” implies a community. The proper distinction is “monastic vs. married.”

    Moreover, the virtue that gives celibacy and non-celibacy it’s value is the same: chastity. Chastity for a single person is different than for a married person, but the end is the same: sanctification.

    Elevate celibacy as the primary criteria of higher office however (and in the USA this is the practice in some jurisdictions), especially men who have no real experience with monastic life, and all too often you end up with men who are poorly equipped to hold the office.

    • Michael Bauman :

      Fr. Hans, if “celibacy” meaning simply, not married, is looked upon as the primary criteria for higher office then we not only have poorly prepared (one could say wholly incompetent) candidates for said office, the micro-community which God created to give life to our larger communities and to be an icon of Himself and His Incarnation, marriage, is denigrated, devalued and ultimately destroyed. Using fake celibacy as a criteria is iconoclastic.

      • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

        Yes, you could say that in some (but certainly not all) cases this is all too true. I want to be careful of overgeneralizing though. There are some single men in the Church who are stable, wise, capable of giving sound counsel but I would say these are the exceptions. Significantly I think, at least as far as I see it, these too are men who are in some kind of community, almost a monastic life although not formally in a monastery. They usually bear some kind of sacrificial responsibility for other people, often family members.

        If the celibacy is the qualification of higher office and no real communal responsibilities are evident however, then you have men appointed who have not developed the discipline those responsibilities require or the wisdom they confer. They basically, as Harry says, are ordained bachelors. As bishops, they tend to run roughshod over priests because have no idea (and all too often no care) about the effects their decisions have on clergy families. They tend to be self-absorbed and emotionally immature.

        • George Michalopulos :

          I’ve stayed out of this debate but if I may offer my 2 cents: the necessity of married life for most endeavors is paramount. Even Sir Francis Bacon in his essays New Atlantis commented on the need for judges and magistrates to be family men. Only these men possessed the necessary rectitude and understanding to administer justice tempered with mercy. Raising children makes one very understanding of the way the world really works.

          This is not to say that I’m anti-monastic. Far from it. I believe we need true monastics in America. These can only be cultivated in real monasteries (of which we have now a plethora).

          Cross-pollination between parishes and monasteries should occur in the form of pilgrimages. And our bishops should be chosen from the ranks true monastics and spiritually-enhanced married priests who regularly go to monasteries with their families.

          • Harry Coin :


            While I’ve enjoyed a visit now and again to a monastery, I feel those visits are really more in the way of enrichment rather than requirement. I remember decades ago I was all gung-ho for monasteries and after I visited one a few times a priest pulled me aside to explain the reason one of the senior male monks called me ‘poulaki’ more or less was because he thought I was hot. That was more or less that for monasteries and me.

            The real monasteries are the residence of the people who live there, setting about their work. They aren’t and never were intended to be ‘for townsfolk’ and ‘for tourists’. Indeed monasteries historically looked upon visitors as a requirement of hospitality, and limit their numbers due to the distraction they can cause.

  21. Michael Bauman :

    Scott, I hope you do not really mean what the word authoritarianism connotes. Authoritarianism involves the suppression of the free will someone to the will of another. It makes genuine obedience impossible.

    Christ came to set us free from death and sin and unite Himself to his creation through us. The freedom He gives flows from his voluntary suffering. God did not sacrifice His Son, the Son willing gave Himself up. We can only realize the freedom of Christ if we enter voluntarily into a matrix of obedience to Christ, to one another and to spiritual authority. Therefore proper order in accord with our nature is established and maintained. That is the opposite of authoritarianism.

    Obedience allows for, even demands, that we be chastised from time to time by the elders or by the community as a whole or even just natural and logical consequences. However, obedience also requires that the elder submit his own will to the good of those whom he guides as well as to Christ and the Church. Authoritarianism does not allow for such mutual, voluntary submission. Harry is correct. Authoritarianism is an ideology founded on power and control not love.

    That is exactly why marriage is the metaphor that St. Paul uses to describe the Church and why we say that a bishop is married to his diocese and a priest to the holy table at his parish.

    • Scott Pennington :


      Authoritarianism in the political context is a tendency not a fixed ideology like totalitarianism. Any of the right wing governments in Latin America, for example, in the 1980’s would have been characterized as authoritarian. Putin’s Russia, as a practical matter, could be characterized that way. Most governments throughout history, including practically all Orthodox governments before the twentieth century, would be chracterized as authoritarian. Authoritarian is distinct from totalitarianism. Totalitarianism is a system where, in effect, the state and its leadership are substituted for God. Hitler’s Germany was such a system. Mussolini’s Italy also. Mussolini, for example, issued an order that all pronouns referring to himself were to be capitalized, just like those that reference God. If you google the term “authoritarian/authoritarianism” you will find a wide variety of definitions from absolute rule to that of conservative, non-democratic with a certain room for individual freedom.

      “We can only realize the freedom of Christ if we enter voluntarily into a matrix of obedience to Christ, to one another and to spiritual authority. Therefore proper order in accord with our nature is established and maintained. That is the opposite of authoritarianism,”

      No it is definitely not. It is absolutely absurd and disingenuous of anyone to posit the notion that modern ideas of political freedom are inherent in Christianity given its history from the very beginning and the witness of the Fathers. The winds of modern politics have caused such people to introduce a dishonest slant into what Christianity really is.

      “However, obedience also requires that the elder submit his own will to the good of those whom he guides as well as to Christ and the Church. Authoritarianism does not allow for such mutual, voluntary submission. Harry is correct. Authoritarianism is an ideology founded on power and control not love.”

      No, dead wrong again. First of all, I was referring to the political context, not that within the Church. However, even within the church the bishops are not really answerable to the laity. They do answer to their brother bishops. Now, if some council proclaims error as good teaching, the bishops may be convinced by the laity to later declare the first council not to be ecumenical, but that is a far cry from democratic accountability. Or, to put it another way, who determines what is, “the good of those whom he guides?” Certainly not the people themselves.

      It is a kneejerk reaction of those whose political ideas have been formed in the Western democratic context to characterize any form of government which is not highly representative of the will of the people as total despotism or totalitarianism.

      Michael, seriously, do you not see the utter absurdity of defending a representative democratic system which produces abortion on demand, high rates of divorce, single parenthood, a rabidly licentious culture, etc. against the form of government which has characterized Orthodox civilizations since the time of Constantine? Of declaring that type of government to be fundamentally unchristian?

  22. Michael Bauman :

    Scott, I am not defending democracy and nothing I said even comes close to a democratic or representative system. There is a clear distinction in my mind, however, between authoritative, hierarchical rule founded on mutual submission to Christ in love and an authoritarian system founded upon both the desire and ability to supress the free will and conscience of persons who are ruled. Traditional cultures put more emphasis on the good of the whole and adherence to the will of the whole. As vital and important as such an understanding is, in and of itself, it neglects the person as unique image of God. Modernism abhors community seeking the atomization of humanity which is insane even demonic. Christianity allows for the full freedom of the person, in Christ, while creating community through the same Christ.

    It would be great (though uncomfortable) if the bishops would clearly enforce liturgical discipline in line with the canons for such things as abortion and support of abortion, marriage, homosexuality, etc. especially on priests and, in synod, brother bishops. We don’t have that so we founder.

    We think we know better than our fathers who went before us. Nonesense, but in lieu of loving guidance, correction and discipline we gravitate to a state not unlike Lord of the Flies or the nihlistic vision of Nietzche. It is the undisciplined anarachy that eventually gives way to the ideology that power and position alone are sufficient to rule. It is the arrogance of power that allows and encourages the ascent to high office of unqualified, unstable people. It is the pride of self-will that allows and encourages all of us to write our own gospel and dispense with canonical discipline as unnecssary and draconian.

    Fr. Paul Tarazi in a recent lecture I was priviledged to attend described the parenting style of the Holy Scriptures as correction and discipline until it is obvious that one is unwilling to be obedient and repent. Then one has to face the full consequences of one’s disobedience.

    Without the discipline and correction however, we slide even more rapidly into the relativistic individuality of unbridled passions which we name ‘good’ and ‘compassionate’ etc. much like the world. That’s democracy, you are right.

    Perhaps there is a semantic misunderstanding between us, perhaps something more fundamental, but are we really as far apart as you supposed in your post?

  23. Scott Pennington :


    “Perhaps there is a semantic misunderstanding between us, perhaps something more fundamental, but are we really as far apart as you supposed in your post?”

    Probably “authoritarian” connotes something to you that I never intended.

    “There is a clear distinction in my mind, however, between authoritative, hierarchical rule founded on mutual submission to Christ in love and an authoritarian system founded upon both the desire and ability to supress the free will and conscience of persons who are ruled.”

    It really depends on what the authority wishes to supress and why. The motivation is important and that’s why I think authoritarianism, or any other form government, if it is not tied inexorably to the Church is doomed to failure.

    All the touchy feely language about mutual submission in love tends to throw me off. Also the stuff about authoritarianism being mutually exclusive to freely choosing good. Under the tsars, for example, a person could freely choose good and freely avoid evil. If they did not, they might be punished severely. But that does not, as Harry suggested, mean that everyone did the good or refrained from the evil out of fear of punishment. That’s a) simply not true and b) a canard that democratically minded people use to justify “freedom”. Otherwise you’re saying that every good action committed or every evil action avoided, whether under the Caesars in early Christianity or under the Byzantines, Russians, etc. was nothing more than the product of the threat of punishment by the state. That’s a bridge to far.

    The thing is, none of these democratically minded people would repeal the laws against murder or rape, etc. How about this, is a law against murder or rape only good because it is the product of a democratic process? If it were imposed by an autocrat, would it therefore be fine to murder or rape since the source of the law was not a representative body? Of course not.

    Shouldn’t we be free to choose the good or the evil? If I choose not to murder and there are laws against murder on the books, am I a free actor, or merely one who fears the whack on the snout? Are all criminal laws despotic?

    Seen in that light the whole line of reasoning is absurd. If my free will chooses to do evil because my conscience is either weak or malformed, should not the authority supress my free will and conscience? That was my point.

    I think, once we get down to cases and leave the abstract, we’re probably not that far apart.

    • Michael Bauman :

      Scott, my statements are drawn from a personal experience of having a penance given me by my bishop. I didn’t like it, I thought the reasoning behind the penance was incorrect–still do. However, I submitted to the penance without rancor and it is producing good fruit in my life. I was able to do that because of the love my bishop demonstrates on a daily basis for us. A love which includes preaching the Gospel and protecting us against all the wolves out there, even the one’s in sheep’s clothing. My bishop is a kind and generous man, but no one, least of all his priests, would describe him as ‘touchy feely’.

      In advance I was told what the standard was and I chose an action that resulted in the penance. I could have chosen to bishop shop. I could have chosen not to submit to the penance and experienced drastic consequences. My free will was never violated and in fact it was strengthened for Christ because of the entire process. That is not authoritarian, not is it democratic. It is loving hierarchical authority in action. The penance became a blessing for me and others. To me it is an experience of mutual submission.

      I contrast the actions of my bishop to those of +Nicolai in Alaska. He was authoritarian. He severely wounded the oldest Orthodox diocese on this continent. Authoritarianism always destroys because it is selfish and relies on the use power.

      It is a difficult balance to maintain (neither draconian demands nor giving into worldly desires), but one that, IMO, is required by Christianity.

      • Scott Pennington :


        I suppose we will simply have to disagree on the utility and wisdom of authoritarianism. I do not see authoritarianism and love as being mutually exclusive, any more than in the case of a parent who overrides the will of a child caught playing in the street who spanks him. The parent is being authoritarian, he loves his child and is doing what is best for him.

        In any case, if I’m correct about how this culture and Western European culture are progressing, like it or not we are in for authoritarian (or possibly even totalitarian) government at some point within the next generation or two. I’m pretty certain that Western style democracy will destroy itself.

        C’est la vie.

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