Holy Synod reaffirms 1994 Guidelines for responding to sexual misconduct allegations

During their spring session April 1-4, 2002, members of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America reaffirmed guidelines for initial response to allegations or charges of sexual misconduct they initially had issued in 1994.

“In light of current media reports involving sexual abuse, the hierarchs felt the need and duty to reaffirm their position, as initially stated in 1994,” according to the Very Rev. John Matusiak, OCA Communications Director. “The hierarchs also stated that they will not tolerate ‘the horrible sin of sexual abuse at any age by any person.”

The 1994 guidelines offer detailed procedures for making an initial response to allegations and charges of sexual misconduct. The full text of the 1994 guidelines appears below.

1. Take seriously all allegations or charges of sexual misconduct. The Office of the Metropolitan will designate one or more persons as trained investigators to deal with cases of alleged sexual misconduct, and the services of Legal Counsel will be made available as circumstances may require.

2. The recipient of a complaint lodged against a clergyman, Church worker, or Church member must immediately notify the diocesan bishop. The diocesan bishop will immediately inform the Office of the Metropolitan that such an allegation or charge has been made. It is important that the Church administration be involved in this process since in the case of litigation the Church as a whole, rather than any specific person, parish, or diocese, is exposed to liability.

3. At this point, if deemed necessary the Metropolitan will appoint a trained investigator to the case. The investigator will be skilled in issues surrounding sexual misconduct, and particularly sexual addiction. The investigator’s duties will be to: a.] conduct a thorough investigation of the case resulting in a comprehensive written report addressed to the Metropolitan and the diocesan bishop; and b.] serve as advisor to the Metropolitan and the diocesan bishop in regard to issues surrounding the matter.

4. The investigator will obtain a written, signed and dated report as soon as possible from the person[s] raising the allegations or charges. This should include permission to approach the accused, if the accused is not yet aware of the allegations or charges being made.

5. After reviewing the written allegations with legal counsel, the Office of the Metropolitan and the diocesan bishop shall determine whether to proceed with steps 6, 7, 8, and 9, and whether the relevant insurance carrier should be notified. If the complaint involves specifically criminal activities, then the police must be notified. Patricularly strict regulations exist concerning the reporting of incidents involving children and other vulnerable people.

6. If so instructed, the investigator will then approach the accused person, and make that person aware of the accusations which have been made. The diocesan bishop will relieve the accused person of their duties, without suspending pay, pending investigation of the matter. (This is a particularly controversial step, however it is better to err on the side of discretion.) At this time, the dicoesan bishop will recommend that the accused seek private legal counsel (i.e., counsel not associated with the parish, diocese, or territorial church). He will also make pastoral resources available to the accused and his/her family through people not involved in the investigation.

7. The diocesan bishop will then contact the alleged victim[s] and their family[ies]. He will make pastoral resources available to them through people not involved in the investigation. This step is a pastoral, rather than investigative, initiative.

8. If an arrest or formal charge has been made, the diocesan bishop will, in consultation with the Office of the Metropolitan, the investigator, and legal counsel, promptly prepare and have read to the parish family a written statement informing them that this arrest or charge has occurred and that the person charged has been relieved of their duties until the investigation has been completed. Keep a copy of this written statement. Say no more about the alleged incident at that time. The parish will need to be led through a process of healing, but only once the outcome of the investigation is known.

9. Once the above steps have been completed the investigator will proceed with his/her formal investigation into the matter in the manner in which he/she has been trained. The investigator’s report will be reviewed by the Office of the Metropolitan, the diocesan bishop, and legal counsel to determine what additional action (if any) should be taken.

Note: Do not be tempted to do more than what is specified above, such as take sides or extend financial assistance to one or another of the parties, even if at the time pastoral concerns seem to indicate otherwise. The above guidelines are designed to keep the Church involved, but not entangled or enmeshed, in situations involving sexual misconduct. Such an approach will allow for a fair investigation, meet the immediate pastoral needs of those involved, and prepare the ground for long-term healing and eventual closure.