Thursday, December 6, 2012

On Bishop Matthias: Background to the Texts

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 mention it.

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.


  1. This guy should know better not to post articles with wrong and misleading information. Who and what are the writers sources? Nevertheless, while some of the information is correct, there is also some wrong information. Better get your facts straight. Continue to pray for the complainant, her family & her boyfriend, her priest, Bishop Matthias & his family and the entire Diocese of the Midwest.

  2. Well and good -- I hope. Please strengthen the case, however, by explaining why the young woman was instructed NOT to inform her priest of the proposed visit. That [previous published elsewhere] element alone raises a host of red flags for me.

  3. Seraphim - I am merely posting the other side of the coin, the views expressed are the author's own, not necessarily mine.

    Reader - Apparently you skimmed the editorial? Feel free to read it, your question's already answered.

    1. Thank you for noting that. Yes, it is a paragraph which I accidentally missed! Nonetheless, it does not assuage my worries.

      (1) Bishops do not (should not, that is) travel in secret. I do not agree that OCA priests in the town where Bp. Matthias was visiting should not have been informed. If the bishop were concerned about the reactions of other people, nothing prevented him from writing a personal note to the parish explaining the circumstances.

      (2) In addition, an experienced bishop -- as well as any experienced priest -- knows that close personal friendships with laypeople are fraught with danger from misinterpretation by people not part of the relationships. Whatever be the case with Bp. Matthias, the situation was avoidable and is hard to excuse.

      (3) As for the young woman, she should have asked first for help from her priest, not from her bishop. It never would have occurred to me to approach my bishop (now reposed, sadly) to be "first responder", even though I knew him fairly well, and was a member of his cathedral parish.

      (4) The language of the e-mails may or may not be innocent. Whatever be the case, it is not language appropriate for an Orthodox bishop. I would not tolerate such language from anybody at any level, even within my own family.

  4. I am so very grateful this clergyman shared this information with you. It is exactly as I know the truth to be. One point, the interest in the boat trip which features the architectural uniqueness of Chicago was in order to potentially take his extended family members on it when they visited Chicago.

    Thank you for posting all of this! May it be blessed!