The following was contributed by a clergyman of the Diocese of Chicago and the Midwest of the American Orthodox Church (OCA).
The REST of the story concerning His Grace Bishop Matthias.
It is important that people be allowed speak out against sexual
misconduct in our church in a safe environment, in appropriate contexts
and in appropriate ways. Incidents in the not-so-distant past that have
been quietly swept under the rug are unconscionable. Concerns that our
Church stay honest and transparent about these issues are genuine and
ought to be affirmed.
But has the pendulum swung too far in the other direction, so that it is
impossible to get a fair hearing for the accused? Should there not
also be a safe and appropriate way for people to speak out for them?
Our society has come to a regrettable place: so many of us automatically
read and hear sexual content and perverse intentions in all sorts of
innocent casual discourse. How tragic that we in the Orthodox Church
are doing so well in following the example of the culture around us!
Maybe our propensity for reading sexual content into messages, where
there is none, says more about us than we’d like to admit?
When I saw the text messages, I, like many others who’ve been using the
internet for more than a week, figured that there was much more to the
story than what was being shown to us. I assumed that the investigation
would bear that out, that the Synod of Bishops would look at the entire
situation, make a ruling according to the facts of the case, and that
would be that. I naively assumed that the people WITHOUT any facts
would listen, even for a moment, to the people WITH the facts.
I could well be wrong, but I am praying that the majority of us in this
diocese, who have remained silent about this, have done so because, in
spite of how it looked, they knew to be cautious about leaping to
judgement without the facts, and they had a suspicion there was more to
it - especially so after having met Bishop Matthias and knowing what
kind of person he is. But because Bishop Matthias, to his credit, has
not come forward to explain the situation, we are left to wonder, and to
trust the process alone.
I don’t think we should need to hear “the other side of the story” in
order to trust that our bishops have made the right decision. But I
think it would be a help to those who want to give our bishops the
benefit of the doubt, but have been tempted to think otherwise because
of the one-sided gossip.
Providentially, most of the basic facts about this situation were not
hard to obtain by doing a little digging, and they are public knowledge
in many places, and I present them here in the detail that they are
generally known. The confidentiality of the woman/parish/etc. will
still be maintained.
That background is this:
Bishop Matthias had known this woman and her boyfriend for a over a year
and half, and the boyfriend was a long-time close friend of Bishop
Matthias’ son, Fr. Matthew [Moriak]. When Bishop Matthias would come on
pastoral visits to their parish, or parishes in the area, they would
always go and visit with him. Bishop Matthias has always had a great
talent for connecting with and ministering to couples in this age
bracket, and, as that was also the case here, they began to form a close
relationship of trust and mutual respect.
Her parents, who were not even Orthodox, were glad that their daughter
and boyfriend had a friend and mentor in Bishop Matthias, and they had
him over to dinner multiple times, including meals as casual as ordering
pizza, and they became friends as well.
Later, she was going to take a position in a distant city and, it being
the first time she would leave home to live elsewhere, her parents
were worried. Although Bishop Matthias wasn’t right near the city she
was moving to, just closer to her than the parents would be, they
arranged together for him to help her out as much as possible when he
was able, for which they were very thankful. I offer all that
background to explain why Bishop Matthias felt especially obligated to
make sure her needs were met, and that she was communed and anointed
when sick, etc.
To clarify about one visit specifically mentioned in the complaint, the
“item” he wanted to give her was an icon! (as she was newly chrismated).
She had wanted to talk to him about various things in her life after
her conference ran late that day, so Bishop Matthias stayed up late and
counseled her on various issues, after which she and her boyfriend
profusely thanked him! Likewise there was mention of a boat ride,
referring to a large group-tour of Chicago via the river, which she had
previously taken and enjoyed so much that she was trying to talk him
into taking the ride with her, so his text about that was referring to
the request she had already made.
So the friendship of this woman, her boyfriend, Fr. Matthew, and Bishop
Matthias continued and became comfortable enough that there was the
normal kind of inside jokes and ribbing you might expect. She would
bring him gifts such as CDs or cookies, and he began to consider them a
part of his family.
Leading up to the texts in question, the woman became ill and was having
difficulty dealing with her sickness. She contacted Bishop Matthias to
talk over her frustrations with her sickness, and she expressed her
thanks and gratitude for his willingness to help her through it. Bishop
Matthias had been scheduled to go a meeting, but it was cancelled at
the last minute, which freed him up for a few days, so he offered to
come visit her, as the local priest had not yet been there for a visit. She felt quite awful, and he was trying to cheer her up, and was
willing to drive all the way there on his free days to do so, which he
did for her sake, and also because of the duty he felt toward her
parents. People who know Bishop Matthias would know that he does this
sort of thing quite frequently.
As this was going on, the boyfriend knew that Bishop Matthias was going
to take this extra effort to visit her, so he teased him a little, via
text, about the special care he was offering her, saying that “the word
on the street is...” Bishop Matthias entered into the banter himself
and texted her the same phrase he just got from the boyfriend, and he
joked about her being his “favorite”, to which she replied with “LOL”,
and so he assumed the joke was understood as a joke. As the banter
continued, since she had already used the word ‘crush’ in a previous
text, he used it as well, in what we all know now to be a very poor
attempt at humor. That is all there was to it, none of the ridiculous
things people have read into it. After he learned that she had taken
these texts in the way she did, he immediately called off the visit.
About not telling the local priest about his visit: this was because
Bishop Matthias knew other families in the parish whom he thought would
feel slighted if it got out that he had come to anoint and commune her
while not visiting with them as well. I think this is quite common, but
for some reason many priests choose to be offended about this, so I
Concerning sleeping on the floor with an air mattress: this is no
mystery to anyone who knows Bishop Matthias. He’s not much for spending
a lot of money on expensive hotels when a little bit of floor is all he
needs. He always travels with an air mattress and uses it whenever he
can. Last summer he came on Project Mexico with us for a week and he
slept in a tent on the rocky ground with the rest of us, even though
they’d offered him a comfortable bed in the guest house. Naive as it
was, his offer was simply to avoid putting her out at all, since she was
sick and had her mother to worry about too.
About the letter that Bishop Matthias wrote to the diocese: people
seemed upset that he did not admit to being what they all assumed he
must be (some sort of sexually deviant person). It makes no sense that
people should want him to apologize for being something that he isn’t. If someone took my sloppy communication and accused me of having sexual
intentions with it that I did not actually have, why would I
apologize for having had intentions that I never had? On the contrary,
it would be all I could do to not get quite angry about it. He
apologized for what he actually did, he did not apologize for what he
did not do. Who would do differently?
Reflecting on all this, among close friends and family there are certain
things that are understood as ‘inside jokes’, certain ways we rib one
another, and a level of trust and shared experience that we know what
kinds of things we can say and not say. Ever been over to dinner with a
tightly-knit family and overheard their camaraderie? It can sound
pretty crazy, or even inappropriate, when you don’t know the history and
context of each comment. And if that’s true in a conversation or an
email, all the more so with text messages, which are continually used
for all kinds of teasing banter between friends (as anyone under the age
of 30 can tell you).
I have several times misjudged a relationship and said stupid things or
made jokes that were not appropriate for a particular situation, God
forgive me. If I was kicked out of my parish every time I did so, I
wouldn’t have been around for long. I’m glad those around me can
tolerate my mistakes so much better than some in our diocese can
tolerate them in our bishop.
I pray that he endures all the continued and unjust slander stirred up
against him, and that he returns to continue his episcopal ministry as
soon as possible. I am sure he will be an even better bishop for having
gone through all of this.