“Catechesis” (Greek for “instruction”) is the formal name for classes
given to those wishing to join the Orthodox Church.
In addition to covering everything from the origins of
Scripture to the theology of icons, I’ve always left
room in my curriculum for questions. Over the years,
I’ve heard some pretty interesting ones. But
there’s no question as to which took the cake.
A few years ago, a woman asked, “Can you explain
what would happen if you were accused of sexual misconduct
— how someone would submit an allegation, and how it
would be dealt with?” Good thing I wasn’t
sipping my tea at the moment, or it might’ve come
out my nose.
That one caught me off guard, but after a little shock I
welcomed it as insightful. It so happens that
accountability in such matters is extremely important to
the Orthodox Church in America. A decade ago, our central
administration came out with official “Policies,
Standards and Procedures on Sexual Misconduct.”
These were inspired largely by lessons learned from the
tragic experience of our Roman Catholic brethren.
Given the focus on it, you’d think this document was
a lost Apostolic writing. Clergy must review it annually
with their parish councils. So, equipped with the
familiarity that comes from repetition, I was able to
(nervously) explain what the procedure would be for
dealing with me — including that allegations
involving a minor must be reported to both church and
And that even in cases of consenting adults, any sexual
contact between a member of the clergy and someone not
their spouse is deemed “non-consensual” by
definition. Although not legally abusive, such a
relationship would be considered spiritually abusive, and
the offending cleric defrocked.
When I finished explaining, my class said that was one of
our most valuable sessions ever. I was quite surprised. To
be honest, we clergy sometimes feel burdened by all the
compliance reports and supplemental training — not
to mention having to run criminal background checks on
every adult in the parish who has more than incidental
contact with minors, or is deemed a person in authority.
But there’s no question it’s worth it, if it
protects even one person. And as my class shared,
it’s refreshing to belong to a church where clergy
are held accountable. None of them were former Roman
Catholics, either. They were all referring to the
personality cults fostered in independent churches of
their pasts, where abusive pastors (sexually or otherwise)
can reign with impunity.
Which is why this question about sexual misconduct, as
much as it may seem a departure into current affairs,
actually has direct bearing on formal instruction in the
faith — because accountability isn’t some
concept imported from the “secular world.”
It’s a theological value, integral to the very
identity of the church. So having accountability
isn’t just about good governance. Actually,
it’s about good ecclesiology.