In the first essay, I argued that the bishops' July 16 statement was largely an appeal to trust. In the second, I showed that it contradicts a number of key sources, and raises doubt about the trustworthiness of the statement overall. In this third and last essay, I put the July 16 account in the context of two other official OCA reports. I show that every time the OCA reported on and assessed the Fr. Symeon affair, the results were never fully trustworthy. Questions that should have been asked weren't. Sources that should have been consulted weren't. Alternative points of view were excluded. Stark contradictions were allowed to stand. And the tale of Fr. Symeon grew, from a deeply flawed report that had some factual basis, to a version where even the nuggets of truth left in the first, flawed version had been abandoned.
My argument assumes the reliability of the documents publicly available for the three tales (the SIC report, the SMPAC memorandum, and the July 16 statement). In studying them, I had no reason to suspect that they were forgeries. But if I learn reasons to doubt their reliability, I will note this in any updates.
Before starting, the reader should be familiar with the basic list of sources for the Fr. Symeon story. Some of these will be brought into the discussion, without formal introduction.
The first, perhaps most important, official OCA account of Fr. Symeon was delivered on 16 November 2010 to the Holy Synod. This was a report written by a special investigation committee (SIC) that was formed by agreement between the two OCA bodies devoted to dealing with sexual misconduct. This SIC had four members: Bishop Michael of New York, Fr. Alexander Garklavs, Fr. Gregory Shafchuk, and Dr. Nikita Eike. They reported directly to the Holy Synod, because Metropolitan Jonah recused himself from the investigation.
The report was intended to address a specific incident on 22 April 2010, but the committee wound up answering various questions: who is Fr. Symeon, what was he doing in the United States, what was the nature of his involvement at St. Nicholas Cathedral, what were the details of the alleged misconduct, was the misconduct sexual abuse, who knew about it, what was done about it, and what were the pastoral implications?
This report is, to my knowledge, the most complete, detailed account of Fr. Symeon and his behavior in 2010. There is much to commend in it. The origins and the mandate of the committee are made clear. The committee's sources are specified. Interviewees are listed, as are the committee members who interviewed them. The dates when the committee met are noted. And there is a detailed timeline of events.
The authors of the report claim they used four types of sources (p. 2). The most important were interviews. They also used committee members' eyewitness accounts, documents in the public domain, and the three items provided as attachments (called sources IV, VI, and VII in the previous essay).
For all its strengths, however, the SIC report has critical weaknesses.
The SIC's choice of sources presents problems. Why were other written background documents not secured or included? For example, why was correspondence to and from the military recruiter not included among the sources (see list of four types of sources, above)? Why were records from the diocese in Greece not secured and presented (e.g. sources III and V)? Appendix C, Abbess Aemiliane's letter, is obtuse. Why was not Dr. Eike's letter included, to give the abbess's response some context?
Interview decisions are difficult to understand. This was a sensitive issue. Why were none of the interviews, except those with +Jonah, conducted by more than one member of the committee? Why were none of the nuns interviewed? Why was no one in the Monastery of Petra interviewed? Why wasn't Fr. Seraphim, the only monk +Jonah requested by name (source II), interviewed? Why were no parish council members or non-clergy employees of St. Nicholas interviewed?
Although the timeline is interesting and helpful, it raises questions that were never addressed and should have been. If Fr. Symeon was released on 11 April 2009 and he went AWOL from his monastery in October 2009, where was he for the intervening six months? What was he doing? Under whose authority was he? And if the monastery had already released him in April, how could he be considered to be AWOL? If Fr. Symeon came to the United States on 9 December 2009 and stayed at the Chancery until February 2010, what was he doing there, and under whose day-to-day authority was he? If the committee speculated that the three-day incarceration happened in January 2010, wouldn't this have occurred while he was living at the Chancery, in New York, where at least one of the members of the committee would have known about it, and would have been able to supply details? When did +Jonah endorse Fr. Symeon to +Michael (mentioned p. 7) for a possible placement?
Furthermore, three incidents on the timeline are mentioned, but discussed nowhere else:
What bearing do these three events on the timeline have to the case? Given the effort taken to introduce the reader gently to all the other incidents, these unexplained references are perplexing. In addition, they do not fall under any of the four types of sources the report claims the committee used.
There is an important internal contradiction. Twice (pp. 4–5) the committee infers that Fr. Symeon's release from the Monastery of Petra was improper, since the bishop's permission was not indicated. This is flatly contradicted by the report itself, in Appendix A (source IV), which states that +Kyrillos gave his consent (in language that conforms to +Melchisedek's description of the custom [p. 4]). This criticism also contradicts sources III–V.
In introducing the reader to Fr. Symeon, the report discusses what prompted his release from the monastery in Greece. It claims that +Jonah made no formal written request to Metropolitan Kyrillos. Because this is the report's only discussion of what motivated Fr. Symeon's release from the Monastery of Petra, it is implied that +Jonah made no written request to anyone at all. This again contradicts appendix A of the report (source IV, first paragraph, which the report failed to include in their English translation), which refers to +Jonah's written request of 8 April 2009. It also contradicts sources II, III, and V (+Jonah's written request, the monastery's discussion of the request, and +Kyrillos's acknowledgement of the request).
How closely, and with what intent, had the authors of the report read their sources?
The report claims that Fr. Symeon “took a swing and tried to hit a police officer." But according to D.C. Criminal Code, §22-405, Assault on a Police Officer is defined as follows: “Whoever without justifiable and excusable cause, assaults, resists, opposes, impedes, intimidates, or interferes with a law enforcement officer on account of, or while that law enforcement officer is engaged in the performance of his or her official duties shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, shall be imprisoned not more than 180 days or fined not more than $1,000, or both." If the SIC's statement is true, then why was he not charged with assault on a police officer? The only charge on which he was detained, according to source XVI, was the simple assault on “J," and even that is classified as “charge no papered" (sic).
In most reports, concluding recommendations adhere closely to the narrative found in the body of report. Readers should be able to easily understand the rationale for closing recommendations, which should remain within the purview of the committee. The last two sentences in the fifth recommendation (p. 12) departs from this protocol. The report accuses Abbess Aemiliane of pledging canonical allegiance to Elder Dionysius. This is nowhere shown, or even addressed, in the report. It also recommends that the “Holy Synod should not endorse any monastic community that is associated with the Elder Dionysios." Once again, this issue was never brought up in the report, and it departs from the objectives of the investigation (p. 2).
Three months after the SIC issued its report, the Sexual Misconduct Policy Advisory Committee (SMPAC) of the OCA delivered a nine-page memorandum to the Holy Synod of the OCA to discuss a series of sexual misconduct cases that, it claimed, Metropolitan Jonah mishandled. On the committee writing the memorandum were two members of the earlier SIC—Fr. Alexander Garklavs and Dr. Nikita Eike—as well as Fr. Eric Tosi, Fr. Michael Matsko, Fr. Theodore Bobosh, Dcn. Peter Danilchick, and James Spencer.
Using that SIC report, the SMPAC memorandum severely criticizes +Jonah. A responsible reader should read it alongside the response from +Jonah, to put the memorandum in some perspective. I do not mean to get into the February 2011 dispute between +Jonah and the SMPAC. I mean merely to point out that the memorandum offered, and was met by, a sharp line of argumentation. The case of Fr. Symeon, the only part of the memorandum of concern here, is discussed at pp. 4–5.
If the SIC report shows deeply flawed restraint, the SMPAC memorandum shows unrestrained flaws. In its eight paragraphs, it stretches the tale well beyond what the previous SIC report, its only credited source, allows. Fr. Symeon came “into conflict with the police." His 2009 AWOL episode is now “disordered and abusive" behavior (¶2). The confusion that the SIC describes as allowing Fr. Symeon to think he could perform a marriage ceremony becomes in the SMPAC memorandum the fault of +Jonah's calculated consideration. Where the SIC report merely asks whether Abbess Aemiliane withheld information (p. 9), the memorandum accuses her of doing so (¶7).
Some details are invented wholesale. Fr. Symeon is claimed to have counseled the nuns. Abbess Aemiliane is said to accuse anyone who questioned Fr. Symeon's conduct of wrongdoing. Neither claim has a basis in the earlier report.
The memorandum also contradicts the SIC report. Where the SIC report commends (p. 9) Metropolitan Jonah for a response that placed Fr. Symeon under a kind of house arrest with the nuns, the SMPAC memorandum finds the advice for Fr. Symeon to remain in their company “incomprehensible and disturbing" (¶4). Where the SIC report notes that +Jonah worked with SMPAC in July 2010 to establish the framework for investigation of the Fr. Symeon case, the memorandum claims that SMPAC was “[n]ever consulted by His Beatitude about the case." (¶8)
The timeline is contorted. An event that occurred in September 2010 (¶2) is said to have been known by +Jonah when he allowed Fr. Symeon to hear confessions earlier that spring and recommended him for a chaplaincy in March and June 2010 (¶3).
The memorandum claims that several (i.e., three or more) of the five recommendations in the SIC report (p. 12) were ignored or overturned by +Jonah, but does not specify which. Did +Jonah fail to pray for Fr. Symeon, “J," and Abbess Aemiliane (recommendation 1)? Did he fail to facilitate help for Fr. Symeon's alcoholism (recommendation 2)? Did the OCA canonically receive Fr. Symeon (recommendation 3)? Did the Holy Synod fail to encourge +Jonah to consult and brief his Chancellor and Chancery staff (recommendation 4)? Did the Holy Synod endorse a monastic community associated with Elder Dionysios (recommendation 5)? The accusation is as absurd as the questions it prompts.
On occasion the memorandum even contradicts the Gospel. +Jonah is accused of offering hospitality to the nuns (¶7). To whom is a Christian not to offer hospitality? And at the time the memorandum was written, the nuns were being given hospitality not by +Jonah but by the parish council of St. Nicholas Cathedral, in whose rectory the nuns were staying.
+Jonah is accused in the memorandum of allowing Abbess Aemiliane to participate in meetings at the Parish Council, which suggests that she was involved in discussion and decision-making. Review of the minutes of the Parish Council (of which I was then a member) show this was not true. Parish Council meetings are open to anyone who regularly attends the parish (parish bylaws, VI.10). Abbess Aemiliane was then attending St. Nicholas, so she was permitted to be a visitor at the council meeting. She exercised that prerogative rarely, once to explain why she and her nuns were in the rectory, and perhaps a couple of times more at the request of the parish council (minus +Jonah), to be a recording secretary, not to be a participant.
The trajectory established by the previous two tales of Fr. Symeon is picked up by the July 16 statement. For example, the chronology is jumbled. +Jonah is said to have learned of Fr. Symeon's alcoholism and then accepted him into the OCA, the reverse finding of the SIC report. He is said to have looked for places for Fr. Symeon in different jurisdicitions not in 2010 but in 2012, after learning of allegations of rape. The July 16 statement also says the cleric was part of the OCA, flatly contradicting several parts of the SIC report. And just like the SMPAC memorandum, the July 16 statement exaggerates the SIC report, making the time when Fr. Symeon fired the gun an act that involved drunkenness, threats to women, and violence. The July 16 statement also flattens a complex chain of events into a simple account, and it omits any consideration of alternate points of view. There are many other problems, already discussed in the previous essay.
All three official accounts play with the timelines, contradict sources known to the authors, insinuate points that cannot be proven (or are disproven by other documents), omit sources, and leave important questions unaddressed.
To be fair, the July 16 statement does not indulge in as many excesses as the SMPAC memorandum does. But those numerically fewer excesses found a qualitatively greater impact. The July 16 statement, addressed to the public, not a church body, provided the world an assessment of a tenure, the measure of a man. It was the only thing many ordinary people would ever read about +Jonah, and it would color their impressions of who he was and what he had accomplished in his four years. No thanks or congratulations are given for his service. No acknowledgments or achievements are noted. One walks away from the July 16 statement with the impression that he was a terrible bishop and a wicked man.
In criticizing these three tales, I do not blame any specific individual—that awaits the investigation I have consistently called for. Having been on committees before, I know that the balance of members' roles and perspectives can be obscured in a final report. On the other hand, each member of a committee has a responsibility either to defend a report to which his or her name is attached, or to communicate a minority's dissent to the body overseeing the committee. Perhaps there was dissent on the SIC or the SMPAC. Perhaps there was dissent even among the bishops on the July 16 statement. I certainly hope so.
Let us assume, for the moment, that the three tales were told with all earnestness. In what kind of organization does one find this kind of investigative culture? I think of secular, nonreligious organizations to which I belong. And I think of the basic threshhold of standards for reporting and analysis. I know that had I been the author of a report analogous to any of the three listed here, and circulated it within those secular organizations, I would have faced criticism, demotion, or expulsion. I most certainly would have had to give an account to the entire group for what I wrote.
We have seen that the bishops appeal to trust to persuade us (essay 1). The best case they have against +Jonah contradict key sources, including official OCA reports (essay 2). The SIC report and the SMPAC memorandum show that some OCA leaders conducted their investigations and wrote their reports with what seems to be the same recklessness that colors the July 16 statement.
So of course I disbelieve what the OCA bishops said about Metropolitan Jonah. Shouldn't you too?