Why I Disbelieve What the OCA Bishops Said about Metropolitan Jonah
Part Two: Testing the Only Argument That Can Be Checked Publicly
I mentioned in the previous essay that only
one argument in the July 16 statement can be checked against sources available to the
public. That argument, which takes up about a quarter of the statement, is presented as
the best specimen of +Jonah's malfeasance. Although the bishops claim that some names
need to be withheld, it is well known that they are
discussing Fr. Symeon Kharon, the subject of much public
discussion in Orthodox Internet venues.
For checking the bishops' account we are fortunate to have a number of publicly available
documents. I have listed all sources known to me in the
appendix, and refer to them in this essay by roman numeral.
First, a bit of background. On 8 April 2009, Metropolitan Jonah requested from the
Monastery of Petra the release of a Fr. Seraphim (Starkhof) and with him other monks for
the establishment of a monastic community in the Dallas or Oklahoma area (source II).
The only one released with Fr. Seraphim was Fr. Symeon Kharon (sources III–V). He
seems to have met +Jonah only in December 2009 in Moscow (source VIII). He came to the
United States shortly after, where a series of disturbing events occurred.
The July 16 statement's account of this “most disturbing and serious matter" takes
the story from there, covering events from December 2009 up to and beyond February 2012.
But their account is difficult to reconcile internally and externally. Indeed, more than
40% of the claims made by the bishops about this affair contradict key, publicly
Because my case rests upon a core part of the Synod's July 16 statement, I reproduce the
relevant section here.
[¶4] The most disturbing and serious matter, indeed the final matter that
caused us to ask the Metropolitan to resign or take a leave of absence and enter a
treatment program, involves the Metropolitan's poor judgment in critical matters of
Church governance, lack of adherence to the PSPs, and the risk of serious harm to at
least one other person. While the names, dates and other details must be held in
confidence to minimize the risk of further harm, we can say the following.
[¶5] At some point after his enthronement as our Primate, Metropolitan Jonah
unilaterally accepted into the OCA a priest known to him and to others to be
actively and severely abusing alcohol, which more than once was coupled with
episodes of violence and threats toward women. One of these episodes involved the
brandishing of a knife, and the other the discharge of a firearm, the foimer
resulting in the man's arrest. The man was also incarcerated for three days in yet
another incident, shortly after he was accepted into the OCA by Metropolitan Jonah.
While under Metropolitan Jonah's omophorion, this priest is alleged to have
committed a rape against a woman in 2010.
[¶6] Metropolitan Jonah was later told of this allegation in February 2012, yet
he neither investigated, nor told his brother bishops, nor notified the Church's
lawyers, nor reported the matter to the police, nor in any other way followed the
mandatory, non-discretionary PSPs of the OCA. The alleged victim, however, did
report the rape to the police. We know, too, that the alleged victim and a relative
were encouraged by certain others not to mention the incident, and were told by them
that their salvation depended on their silence. As recently as last week
Metropolitan Jonah was regularly communicating with one of those who tried to
discourage the reporting of this crime by the alleged victim and her relative. In
addition, the Metropolitan counseled the priest to pursue a military chaplaincy,
without informing the military recruiter of any of the priest's problems. Finally,
the Metropolitan attempted to transfer the priest to other Orthodox jurisdictions,
and ultimately did permit him to transfer to another jurisdiction, in each case
telling those jurisdictions there were no canonical impediments to a transfer.
[¶7] We have started an investigation into the rape allegation, and cannot
assume whether the allegation is true or not. We only know that earlier allegations
of misconduct by this priest were handled by Metropolitan Jonah in a manner at a
complete variance with the required standards of our Church.
It is not easy to see the specific problems without first breaking down the four
paragraphs into a chain of claims. Some of those claims are merely inferred or
insinuated, and I have marked them below with square brackets. Each claim that is
problematic I have highlighted.
- +Jonah became acquainted with a priest he knew to be an
alcoholic (herein, AP). [¶(aragraph), 5 §(entence) 1]
- +Jonah unilaterally accepted the AP into the OCA.
- Episode 1: In a drunken state the AP was violent, threatened women, and brandished a
knife. He was arrested for this. [¶5§2]
- Episode 2: In a drunken state the AP was violent, threatened
women, and discharged a firearm. He was not arrested for this. [¶5§2]
- Episode 3: The AP was incarcerated for three days shortly after acceptance into the OCA. [¶5§3]
- The AP is said to have raped a woman in 2010. [¶5§4]
- There are [other] allegations against the AP. [¶7§2]
- +Jonah mishandled allegations against the AP. [¶7§2]
- +Jonah was told in February 2012 of the event in
- +Jonah did not [in February 2012]:
[but he should have done so.] [¶6§1]
- tell his brother [OCA] bishops
- tell the [OCA's] lawyers
- tell the police
- follow the mandatory PSPs
- [The AP was still in the OCA in February 2012.]
- The alleged victim (AV) told the police. [¶6§2]
- “Certain others" encouraged the AV not to mention the incident.
- “Certain others" said the AV's salvation depended upon silence.
- +Jonah regularly communicated with one of the “certain others."
- [+Jonah orchestrated a cover-up.]
- +Jonah counseled the AP to pursue a military chaplaincy. [¶6§5]
- +Jonah withheld from the military recruiter information about the AP's problems.
- +Jonah tried to transfer the AP to other Orthodox jurisdictions.
- +Jonah told each jurisdiction that there were no canonical
impediments to a transfer. [¶6§6]
- [+Jonah did Q–T in 2012, after being told of the
Anyone may spend time reading the sources to test these claims
for him or herself. Here are the contradictions I have found:
- Claim A: +Jonah became acquainted with a priest he
knew to be an alcoholic.
This contradicts an official OCA report from November 2011
(source VIII), which unquestioningly states (p. 7) that +Jonah learned of the
alcoholism only after December 2009. That is, +Jonah did not become aware of Fr.
Symeon's condition and then take him under his authority. It was the other way
- Claim B (and part of E): +Jonah unilaterally accepted
the AP into the OCA.
This is contradicted by the same report (source VIII), which
states that Fr. Symeon “is not now, nor has ever been a cleric of the
Orthodox Church in America" [p. 1] and “Fr. Simeon was never formally
received into the OCA" [p. 8]. An email from +Jonah to a bishop from the Antiochian
Archdiocese (source IXa) concurs: “He applied to the OCA, but we have
declined to accept him." A search of the pastoral
changes posted on the OCA's website from January 2010 to the present shows
no record of Fr. Symeon entering or leaving the OCA.
- Claim D: Incident 2, use of a firearm.
This exaggerates the same report (source VIII), which (at p.
8, ¶ 3) makes no mention of drunkenness, of threats to women, or of acts of
violence during this particular incident. Fr. Symeon is said to have offered a small
gun to a young Russian woman in his company “to shoot and then [he] shot a
couple of bullets into the ground" (ibid.).
- Claim I: +Jonah was told in February 2012 of the 2010
This is contradicted by a public statement made by the
godmother of the alleged victim (source XV) in an article written by George
Michalopulos, who interviewed her. The godmother claims to have mediated news of the
alleged rape to Metropolitan Jonah three months later than the statement claims:
“No one here knew what had happened to her in 2010 until she contacted me in
mid-May of 2012. At that time she and her husband had contacted the police who said
that nothing could be done without more evidence. They then decided to turn to the
church in order to initiate an ecclesiastical court to defrock him. She wrote a
testimony of her story later in May and sent it to a ROCOR priest and to me, asking
that I pass it on to Metropolitan Jonah, which I did. She included a confidentiality
statement that it pass no further." (Incidentally, this testimony corroborates claim
- Claims J and K: +Jonah should have immediately
approached the OCA. The AP was still in the OCA in February 2012.
These are contradicted by the material that contradicts
claim B (see above), and by sources that show that after the monastery was
transferred to ROCOR (sources XI, XII), Fr. Symeon, even while in the San Francisco
area, deemed himself to be under the authority of the monastery (source XIII). That
is, according to these sources, by 2012 Fr. Symeon was no longer around OCA parishes
or +Jonah; he was in ROCOR circles. Thus, +Jonah's first reporting obligation was to
the ecclesiastical structures not of the OCA but of ROCOR (sources
- Claim T: +Jonah told each jurisdiction that there were
no canonical impediments to a transfer.
This is supported by a May 2011 letter from +Jonah (source
X), but it is also contradicted by an email sent one month earlier from +Jonah to a
bishop of the Antiochian Archdiocese (source IXa): “Some unfortunate things
happened with him and the DC Cathedral community and the OCA, which make it
impossible for me to accept him canonically." That is, +Jonah informed the
Antiochian bishop that there were canonical impediments attached to Fr. Simeon.
- Claim U: +Jonah tried to move the priest to other
assignments in 2012, after being told of the rape.
This is contradicted by same material that contradicts
claims J and K, and it is contradicted by the SIC report (source VIII), which puts
+Jonah's attempts to reassign Fr. Symeon in 2010, well before any rape allegations
There is a major problem that has no bearing on the sources. Claim P—Metropolitan Jonah orchestrated a cover-up—is
an insinuation built upon a hasty generalization. That is to say, the only way one can
get from claims M, N, and O to inferred claim P is by assuming a middle premise,
something like “All persons who communicate regularly with anyone encouraging
someone to be quiet about a crime are orchestrators of a cover-up." If that is true,
then about a decade ago anyone who regular contacted those who tried to cover up
financial irregularities in the OCA are themselves guilty of orchestrating the cover up,
no matter how innocent the communication.
The accusations that +Jonah was covering up a rape and harboring a rapist priest
(combination of claims P and U) are especially troublesome. They are not my invention.
They were understood by most ordinary readers. The secular media used these insinuations
to shape the headlines of their stories: “Orthodox Church in America Head
Metropolitan Jonah Dismissed over Alleged Rape Cover-Up" (Washington Post, 20 July 2012)
and “Orthodox Church in America Exec Fired for Not Removing Rapist Priest"
(Philadelphia Inquirer, 17 July 2012).
If the bishops were mistaken in accusing +Jonah of P and U, a retraction or clarification
should be offered, since the statement falsely damaged +Jonah's reputation, among
Christians and non-Christians alike. If the bishops did mean to accuse him of P and U,
then they need to clarify their logic and explain why their chronology conflicts with
those of independent sources.
This does not prove that the July 16 statement is wrong. But it does give excellent
reason to doubt it, and to ask for clarification from the bishops. Are some of the
sources forgeries? (Three features of source X make me suspect it is fraudulent.) Are
there additional details that explain their position? Was the July 16 statement put
together too hastily? Who wrote it? Could the faithful be given a more trustworthy,
complete account of what happened? Would the principal authors of the July 16 statement,
as well as the earlier official OCA report (source VIII) it so frequently contradicts,
recuse themselves from an investigation process? More important, how many of the other fourteen allegations, most of which
are asserted without argument, have the same problems as this one? How can the rest of
the July 16 statement be trusted?
In the next essay I will argue that the statement cannot, because it exemplifies the
OCA's culture of deeply flawed reporting.
Appendix: List of Publicly Available Sources Regarding Fr. Symeon
- 2006-Dec-07: “Warrant of spiritual fatherhood" from Metropolitan Kyrillos of
Thessaliotis and Phanariophersala. Confirms the enrollment of Fr. Symeon as
a priest-monk. Source: Pokrov.
- 2009-Apr-08: Email from +Jonah to Elder
Dionysius requesting a Fr. Seraphim to bring a community monks from the
Monastery of Petra, in Karditsa, to settle in the Dallas/Oklahoma area. Source: Entrance of the Theotokos
Monastery. (All sources from this monastery, now named after St. Nina, were
available publicly on their website from 17 August 2012 until removed at an
unknown date; these documents continue to circulate on the Internet.)
- 2009-Apr-11: Selection of Minutes from the Monastery of Petra regarding +Jonah's request
on 8 April 2009 for monks. An English
translation is also available. Source: Entrance of the Theotokos
- 2009-Apr-11: Canonical letter of release from the Monastery of Petra of two monks
(Fr. Seraphim Starkhof and Fr. Symeon Kharon). Scroll to
page 13. The English translation on p. 13 differs from the one issued by the
monastery. Source: Pokrov, Entrance of the Theotokos
- 2009-Apr-11: Letter from Metropolitan Cyril of Thessaliotis and Phanariophersala
confirming the validity of the monastery's letter of release. An English translation is also available. Source: Pokrov.
- 2010-May-19: Pastoral letter from +Jonah to Fr. Symeon. Scroll to
page 14. Source: Pokrov.
- 2010-Sep-01: Letter from Abbess Aemiliane to Dr. Nikita Eike in response to queries.
to page 16. Source: Pokrov.
- 2011-Nov-16: Report of the Special Investigation Committee regarding Fr. Symeon,
addressed to the Holy Synod of the OCA. This official OCA committee was specially
convened to determine the basic facts of the 22 April 2010 incident concerning Fr.
Symeon. Source: Pokrov.
- 2011-Apr-27: Email (6:58 p.m.) from James Spencer to the Holy Synod (cc to SMPAC)
forwarding the following string of emails:
- 2011-Apr-23: Email from +Jonah to +Basil (Essey) regarding Fr. Symeon
- 2011-Apr-27: Two emails (12:24 p.m. and 1:07 p.m.) from James Spencer to
+Melchisedek and the SMPAC concerning previous item.
- 2011-Apr-27: Email (3:04 p.m.) from James Spencer to +Melchisedek and
+Tikhon regarding previous items.
- 2011-May-07: Letter from
+Jonah, no recipient specified, granting Fr. Symeon to be enrolled in
“another Most Holy Church." Source: Entrance of the Theotokos
- 2011-May-24: Letter from
+Hilarion (ROCOR) to Abbess Aemiliane inviting a canonical transfer of her
monastery to ROCOR. Source: Entrance of
the Theotokos Monastery.
- 2011-May-25: Letter from
+Jonah to Abbess Aemiliane authorizing the transfer of her monastery to
+Hilarion (ROCOR). Source: Entrance of
the Theotokos Monastery.
- 2012-Jun-03: Letter from
Fr. Symeon to +Hilarion (ROCOR) requesting to be released from ROCOR to the
Monastery of Petra. Source: Entrance of
the Theotokos Monastery.
- 2012-Jun-14: Email from
+Hilarion to Abbess Aemeliane indicating that Fr. Symeon had never been
accepted into ROCOR. Source: Entrance
of the Theotokos Monastery.
- 2012-Jul-18: Statement from a person who identifies herself as the godmother of the alleged
rape victim. Source: Monomakhos.
- 2012-Aug-22: Document from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia regarding Fr.
Symeon's 22 April 2010 incident. Source: Pokrov.