Most of us human beings depend on the ties that bind to be able to make the most of this life. The first and most important of these is family. Family ought to be the place where most of us feel safe and protected.
Outside of family, then there are things like Church, which ought to be like a second family, and then we have other ties, other loyalties which are usually a little less stable – jobs, recreational clubs – and, in this day in age, online social media.
I have noticed, as a female, that it is important not just for little boys to see men being men, but that it is important for most men to have time to be around and relate to other men without the presence (or with the minimal presence) of women.
Once upon a time, work was almost always one of those places. However, there are a few high-stress, high-emotion jobs which are still predominantly or exclusively male where there is a strong sense of fraternity. This, in itself, is not a bad thing; for instance, it’s hard for most of us to imagine being attacked in combat, constantly encountering the worst in humanity as a big-city police officer, or carrying the spiritual load of a good pastor or priest.
In these professions, these callings, it’s natural that strong fraternities would develop, and it’s one of the ways that people these people learn to handle life. These groups present themselves as being composed of people being held to a “higher standard”, and for that reason, the public generally allows members in these groups a little more leeway when it comes to matters of benefit of the doubt and such things. After all, these people have dedicated their lives to direct service to others.
The problem arises, then, when that fraternity, rather than actually holding their members to the higher standard to which they purport, actually use it to cover up bad behavior. I’m sure that no member of the Minneapolis Police Department would want to believe that one of their members would recklessly kill an unarmed woman, but being held to that “higher standard”, it’s a scandal when it seems they acted to try to cover it up.
A lot of that same sort of attitude has pervaded the Roman Catholic Church, that even if priests do behave badly, their fellow priests and the hierarchy of bishops and cardinals are encouraged to ignore the victims. Eventually, when this sort of rot is allowed to grow, anyone within the fraternity who tries to speak out against it is forced out.
However, one doesn’t have to have a felony-level story to see this even in the Orthodox Church (though there have been numerous incidents, mainly involving money, within the Orthodox Church here in the US – Fr. Dokos of Milwaukee, for example, or the theft of donations by the OCA hierarchy, etc.) For example, here, a new priest was recently installed at one of the local churches. The church in question is over 100 years old, and has a weekly attendance between, say, 50 and 80.
The new priest, clearly, should not be the leader of a parish. I’ve seen myself that he seems to be very confused about what he’s doing up in the altar, even during Sunday liturgies, and that even with all the liturgical books, he still makes noticeable mistakes. When it comes to special services, things fall apart even more. I’m close to a number of people from the parish, and I heard that he had completed the service on Great and Holy Thursday – with the twelve Gospel readings – in less than three hours (I heard he cut out all the antiphons.) He cancelled Royal Hours completely, and during the Paschal service (which, based on the times the members started sending “Christ is Risen” on Facebook had to have been at breakneck speed, he left the winding sheet – which is brought to the altar when everyone goes out for the procession – in the middle of the church for the entire service, DESPITE THE FACT THAT EVERY LITURGICAL BOOK SPECIFICALLY SAYS WHAT TO DO AT THIS POINT!
There are also smaller things – at one vespers service, he told a woman to go behind the iconostasis to retrieve something. His handling of Communion is downright bizarre, prompting someone to ask my husband if the priest perhaps had a spoon fetish, because while giving Communion to the congregation, the Communion spoon went back into his mouth over and over. Ostensibly, this could be to remove any extra remnants of the Body and Blood from the spoon, but nobody I know – even cradle Orthodox – have ever seen anything so weird at Communion before.
As bad as his knowledge of services and Orthodox practice seems to be, a lot of that could be forgivable if it weren’t for the fact that his personality goes way beyond “odd”. Meeting people, as with when he met me, he seems completely awkward. That in itself isn’t the rub, there are plenty of people out there who are awkward and shy in social situations. However, even with most shy people, if you say “hello” to them one-on-one, you get a sense of warmth. With him, this isn’t the case. It’s more of a “deer in the headlights” type reaction. Starting a service, as I have witnessed myself, he seems to start with that, progress to overwhelmed and frustrated, and progress to so angry he’s about to blow up. Unfortunately, the choir director – a woman temporarily filling in – seems to generally be at the brunt of his anger. He treats her with the utmost contempt, seeming to blame all his mistakes on her, being generally rude with wild gestures and hand motions and, if he doesn’t like what she’s doing, ordering the subdeacon to sing on top of her – from the altar! This sort of behavior is not indicative of someone who is incredibly stable – a must for a priest!
Furthermore, it’s terribly sad when multiple friends who did go to the Paschal service there reported back that there was “drama” and that he snapped at her during the service. (But it wasn’t the first time he’d snapped at her that week, I’d heard!) I seriously wonder, how can a priest not be at peace by the end of the Liturgy?
Not only this, but there was an incident nearly three weeks ago, where a male member of the parish council allegedly followed a woman congregant with a small child from the church into another building on the church’s property to yell at her in a small and dark hallway. She reported it that night to the priest, and he has yet to respond to her email. She feels so unsafe that she and her family haven’t been back – even for Holy Week or Pascha.
I know that in this case, the dean and Bishop +Paul (Gassios) were contacted several times, but their responses (which I have seen) indicate that they don’t take the situation seriously, nor that they consider this a pressing matter. (Though responding to this blog apparently is!) Rumors around speculate that Bishop +Paul is using this priest to try to get the parish closed – after all, the land the church is on is worth a good bit, perhaps even as much as $1,000,000!
Unfortunately, this priest’s actions – and the inaction of his “fraternity” – have already done a lot of harm to the parish in the small amount of time that he has been there. I know of a significant percentage – somewhere in the ballpark of 25% – who have already had enough and have a foot and a half out the door. At this point, if somebody took this situation seriously – the dean, the Bishop, the Metropolitain – and took some real leadership here, admits that there are serious concerns, and works to fix them, these people might be convinced to come back. The longer nothing is done, though, the more remote that possibility becomes. For some of us, Church is important enough that they will do what they have to to keep going, despite all these issues. Some of them will even attempt to fight the fraternity, not to destroy it, but for the honor of the whole, but it is wrong for the Church leadership to expect that every person serious about church, or Orthodoxy, is that tenacious. Fighting the fraternity is not something the average lay-person ought to have to do; however, if they want the faithful to believe that they actually do believe in the “higher standard”, they need to make sure that standard is adhered to amongst themselves.