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The Cancer of Clericalism

Against the corrupting view from the incense-filled sacristies

I was dismayed over the weekend to learn this:

In 2004 Bishop Demetri of the Antiochian Archdiocese entered a guilty plea to a reduced charge of attempted fourth degree criminal sexual misconduct. To be specific he “grabbed the breast of a North Carolina woman seated next to him at a slot machine in the Turtle Creek Casino outside Traverse City” and was “highly intoxicated” (see here for more) as was evident from the closed circuit video that captured the event. He was drunk, he was gambling, and he sexually assaulted a woman.

Bp. Demetri was relieved of his duties and then suspended (it should be noted that the Antiochian Archdiocese recently deleted their pronouncement on this issue from their website, but a cached version is available here). In 2008 he was “restored as vicar of the Iglesia Católica Apostólica Ortodoxa De Antioquia México-Venezuela-Centroamérica-El Caribe in the Exarcado De El Caribe”(see more here). This was all covered on this blog some years ago (see here).

In a surprising new chapter to this saga, it seems Met. Joseph is making Bp. Demetri a locum tenens of sorts (a pseudo-locum tenens) for the Diocese of Los Angeles and the West.

In the comments section of that posting (on an Orthodox blog), a sharp dispute has arisen between critics of this move by the Metropolitan, and Archpriest John Morris, a staunch clerical defender of the disgraced bishop, who chides the critics:

Shame on all of you. Have you never heard of forgiveness. His Grace had a drinking problem and dealt with it. He sought and received treatment and has been sober for many years. He is a pious man who has many gifts that would greatly benefit the Church. It is a great tragedy that some narrow minded people refuse to forgive him and allow him to use his great talent to benefit the Church.





The critics are completely right, of course. Frankly, it’s shocking in 2016 to see that a) a convicted sex offender would be restored to active ministry, much less as a bishop, and b) that a priest would defend it. Given what the Catholic Church has been through over the past 15 years or so — a problem entirely of its bishops’ own making, because they reasoned as Fr. Morris is reasoning (and were assisted in doing so by many in the psychiatric profession) — it should be painfully obvious that a church cannot afford to do this. 

Leaving aside the legal liability, consider the much greater moral liability here. Who is going to respect a bishop (or priest) who is a convicted sex offender? That Bishop Demetri is on track to be restored to the active episcopate invites contempt for the hierarchy. A bishop is the spiritual father of his diocese. Nobody can respect the authority, except in a formal sense, of a bishop who has so thoroughly humiliated himself publicly: drunk, at a casino, grabbing the breasts of a stranger. A move like this also shows disdain for the woman +Demetri publicly groped while drunk. The Donald Trump campaign never recovered from the onslaught of allegations (made plausible by Trump’s own bragging on the Billy Bush recording) that he sexually assaulted women in pretty much exactly the same way Bishop Demetri did. Trump denies any of it ever happened. In his case, Bishop Demetri admitted that it happened, and had to, because it was captured on closed-circuit camera.

The church — all churches — are fighting an existential battle with the powerful dissipating forces of modernity. If the church doesn’t have its moral integrity, what does it have? It has never been easier for the laity to turn its back on the church. This is a sad fact of life in the 21st century. The scattering of the sheep is happening to all churches in the West. We Christians — all of us — are in a spiritual war in which a fierce and determined enemy is advancing on all fronts. We can’t take anything for granted.

We desperately need leadership. The church is a fighting army, not a parading society that exists for the pleasure of an old boys’ club of generals. Clericalism is a cancer robbing the church militant of the ability to defend itself and advance on the Enemy’s positions. Orthodox clerics who don’t understand that in the Year of Our Lord 2016 should stick their heads out of the incense-filled sacristies and see the world as it truly is.

UPDATE: I have removed the photo upon hearing from Bp Demetri’s lawyer that he is no longer on the sex offender list.