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The Midwest Assembly was attended by about 110 persons, chaired by the Chancellor of the Diocese, Fr. John Zdinak. His Eminence, Archbishop Nikon attended, as did the Chancellor of the OCA, Fr. John Jillions.
The agenda began with typical financial reports and a budget that needed to be passed. But some were anxious to talk about the “elephant in the room” and pushed to have that dealt with first. By a slim margin, tabling of budget issues was passed so that a discussion about the status Bishop Matthias could begin.
It began with Fr. John Zdinak laying a few ground rules and making some clarifications. He explained that the Assembly is not empowered to make any decisions about the matter, and thus any proposed resolutions about it would not be considered.
Fr. John Jillions then presented the assembly with a thorough summary of the situation. He explained that all the policies of the OCA were followed to the letter, that Bishop Matthias was placed on leave, and that an investigation was begun. They selected three very highly qualified and impartial professionals who had a great deal of experience in these matters. They were then left to work independently to conduct their interviews and make their report and their recommendations.
The results: while Bishop Matthias was found to be technically in violation of the policy, it was at the lowest possible level to be considered as “sexual misconduct.” So low, in fact, that they recommended to the Synod that he could be reinstated after a time of rehabilitation. The Synod of bishops reviewed all the details of the case and agreed it had that level of severity. They released a letter stating this decision, and the decisions are now in the process of implementation. Fr Jillions also warned us that one’s understanding of the text messages, without the other details of the investigation, would be misleading.
Fr. Jillions also wished to dispel a rumor that Bishop Matthias had a “file” on him during his time in the Carpatho-Russian Diocese. The truth is that, after 38 years of service as a priest, there was not a single complaint against him.
After this report, several different people came to speak at the microphone, continuing until after lunch, a summary of which would be difficult. Perhaps the main point of those who spoke against Bishop Matthias was that we ought not to confuse the question of forgiveness with whether or not he ought to be restored as bishop; these two are not the same question. Some who spoke felt, at times quite strongly, that this level of misconduct was enough to make his restoration to the diocese impossible.
Many other people reminded the assembly that we do not have all the information, and how easy it is for information taken out of its context to look different than the reality. The investigation team, which did have all the information in their hands, reached a conclusion quite different than those who wanted him retired. One priest pointed out that, at this level of ‘misconduct’, many priests would also be guilty of it on a regular basis, and he gave many examples. In spite of the fact that no one was privy to the complete details of the situation, some priests recounted to the Assembly that they actually took the confidential-leaked text messages and presented them to their parishes or parish councils, and, not surprisingly, there was outrage. In parishes where that was done, the priests reported that Bishop Matthias would not be “welcomed” there.Father Matthew Moriak, Bishop Matthias’ son, spoke eloquently for six or seven minutes. He said that, yes, those texts were stupid, and he had told his father as much. But to those who have read any sexual content into those texts, of which there was actually none present, it was clear proof that they did not know this man at all. He recounted his father’s years of service, how he was the first priest to ever have a woman read the Epistle in that parish, how he has tirelessly served the Orphanage in Guatemala for years, etc. The Abbess there, Mother Ines, has said that she has known Bishop Matthias very well for many years, and, were Bishop Matthias to resign, she would be happy to have him come and serve there in the orphanage full time.
Father Matthew also filled in some of the background about the relationship between the woman, her boyfriend, and her family with the Moriaks, which explained why Bishop Matthias mistook his relationship with the woman as being more familiar than she perceived it to be. Fr Matthew also expressed some dismay that people want his father to apologize for having had sexual intentions, which he could not and would not do, because it is simply not the truth.
Another priest who has known Bishop Matthias for decades, also reiterated, VERY vociferously, that those who had read sexual content into those messages were quite mistaken. He spoke of the horrible problems that internet gossip causes, and that, in his estimation, some who were speaking against Bishop Matthias seemed to have other motives.
It was difficult to gauge the overall feeling of the room, because most remained silent. Numerically, more people spoke against His Grace than on his behalf. But there was clearly more applause after those who spoke on behalf of His Grace. Only roughly ten priests (of the sixty or so that were there) stated they did not want the Bishop to visit their parishes. There were two votes that might be indirectly taken as a measure of the room temperature. The first was a motion to delay the budget discussion so that talking about our hierarchal situation might immediately commence (as mentioned above), and another voice vote to not allow his salary to automatically increase next year. Both of these passed by narrow margins (the first was so close that raised hands had to be counted).
After everyone was done speaking on this topic, the meeting moved ahead with its other normal items. Elections were conducted for Metropolitan council, Diocesan Council, etc. Besides those already mentioned, a resolution was passed to give the Diocesan Council more discretion in adjusting spending for the following year, in order to be able to react as the situation with our hierarch may change.
There was also the annual discussion on switching from a head-tax to a tithing model, which, drum-roll-please..., failed again. It was again sent to the Diocesan Council where a committee will be formed to deal with collecting the necessary data from the parishes, in order to implement a tithing model at our NEXT Assembly.