Orthodox Church in America dismisses archbishop for failing to remove rapist priest

Citing the sex-abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia and at Pennsylvania State University, the Orthodox Church in America has dismissed its presiding archbishop for failing to remove a priest who had raped a woman and been jailed for other violent acts.

The Holy Synod of the church, whose members number about 85,000 in the United States and Canada, announced this week that Metropolitan Jonah, 52, had stepped down Saturday after ignoring the church’s procedures for responding to sexual misconduct.

“Metropolitan Jonah has repeatedly refused to act with prudence, in concert with his fellow bishops, in accordance with the Holy Synod’s policies,” the synod said in a statement.

“In light of the recent widely publicized criminal cases involving sexual abuse at Penn State and in the Philadelphia Archdiocese and the Kansas City Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church, the extent of the risk of liability to which Metropolitan Jonah has exposed the church cannot be overstated,” it said.

Church leaders say they are cooperating with law enforcement and investigating the rape allegation. The Rev. Erik Possi, a synod spokesman, said Tuesday the church was not releasing the accused priest’s name.

There are 36 parishes in the Diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania, which comprises half the state, and about 2,000 members in the Philadelphia area.

Born James Paffhausen in Chicago, Jonah converted to Orthodoxy from Episcopalianism at 18 and was ordained a priest in 1994. He was made a bishop in early 2008, when he took the name Jonah, and was elected primate, or presiding archbishop, later that year. He was the first convert to head the OCA, which is based on Long Island.

“At some time after his enthronement as our primate, Metropolitan Jonah unilaterally accepted into the OCA a priest known to him and others to be . . . severely abusing alcohol, which more than once was coupled with episodes of violence and threats toward women,” the synod said.

These episodes included the “discharge of a firearm” and the “brandishing of a knife,” which led to the man’s arrest. In 2010, he was alleged “to have committed a rape against a woman.”

Although informed of the rape allegation in February, Jonah “neither investigated, nor told his brother bishops,” and did not report the incident to police or church lawyers, according to the synod.

When the woman reported her alleged rape to police, however, she and a family member were admonished by unnamed church officials “that their salvation depended on their silence.”

As recently as last week, the synod reported Monday, Jonah was “regularly communicating” with the person who was instructing the woman to keep quiet.

Furthermore, it said, Jonah first encouraged the priest to pursue a military chaplaincy “without informing the military recruiter of any of the priest’s problems,” and then allowed the man to enter another Orthodox jurisdiction while assuring it there were “no canonical impediments” to a transfer.

Church law calls for a new metropolitan to be elected within 90 days, but Possi said there were “many steps that must be taken” and indicated that it could be longer.

The Orthodox Church in America traces its roots to the Russian Orthodox Church, whose missionaries created their first North American missions in Alaska in the late 18th century. After the Russian Revolution, in the 1920s, the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in America became self-governing, and in 1970 severed itself from Russian Orthodoxy to become the OCA.

While the bishops and archbishops of many Roman Catholic dioceses have been accused of covering up clergy sex abuse, only Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston and Bishop Manuel Moreno of Tucson, Ariz., have resigned for that reason.

On Tuesday, a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge is scheduled to sentence Msgr. William J. Lynn, former head of the archdiocesan clergy office. Last month, Lynn, 61, was found guilty of felonious child endangerment for his 12-year role in recommending the assignments of priests whom prosecutors said he knew to be child abusers.

Jonah’s resignation is not the first scandal to mar his church in recent years.

In 2005, the OCA’s former treasurer, Protodeacon Eric Wheeler, accused the administration of spending millions of dollars in church assets for personal use or to mask deficits in church accounts.

According to some reports, Jonah was elected primate three years later because, as the newest bishop, he was untainted by financial scandal.

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NJ Priest Arrested in Alleged Sex Abuse of Mom, Child

Prosecutors in Ocean County have charged a Catholic priest for allegedly making inappropriate sexual contact with a mother and her child.

Marukudiyil C. Velan, known as “Father Chris” by his parishioners at the Visitation Roman Catholic Church in Brick Township, N.J., touched the alleged victims at their home Saturday, said prosecutors.

Velan, 64, had been assigned to the church as a visiting priest since 2001. The mother told investigators he befriended her family before the alleged incident.

He was arrested Saturday and charged with criminal sexual contact and endangering the welfare of a child.

Velan remains in Ocean County Jail on $75,000 bail, said authorities. Attorney information was not immediately available.

The Diocese of Trenton said Monday it has withdrawn Velan’s ministry privileges while the investigation continues.

“The bishop has pledged the diocese’s full cooperation with this process,” the diocese said in a statement. “Our victims’ assistance coordinator has been made available to those impacted by these troubling allegations, and the diocese will provide whatever support possible.”

Officials from the diocese are asking anyone with information to contact them at 888-296-2965 or at abuseline@dioceseoftrenton.org.

Complete Article HERE!

Improvising Illinois priest barred from pulpit

An Illinois priest forced out of his parish by Belleville’s Catholic bishop for improvising prayers during Mass will no longer be able to preach in public as of today.

The Rev. William Rowe said Monday that Bishop Edward Braxton has suspended him and removed his “faculties,” or license to practice ministry under church law. The move has been associated in recent years with the punishment of clergy accused of sexually abusing minors.

Rowe, the pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church in Mount Carmel, Ill., has not been accused of abuse, but he has clashed with Braxton over altering the liturgical prayers of the Roman Missal — the book of prayers, chants and responses used during Mass.

Last month, St. Mary’s parishioners learned that Braxton had officially removed Rowe, their pastor of 18 years. But a separate letter from Braxton recently informed Rowe, 72, that not only would he have to leave the church, but that he could not preach in public anywhere.

Rowe said he could no longer celebrate public Masses or preside at weddings, funerals or baptisms. The only exception, Rowe said, involves a dying person; he can still hear a confession, baptize or anoint that person.
Rowe was scheduled to witness a wedding Saturday — and four others over the summer — but won’t be able to preside. He also will not be able to preside over a funeral Wednesday for an elderly St. Mary’s parishioner.
“That’s very hard for the family,” Rowe said. “I’ll be there, but I can’t participate.”

A spokesman for the diocese, Monsignor John Myler, did not respond to a request for an interview.

According to Catholic liturgical practice, priests are duty bound to the prayers written in the Roman Missal, but Rowe had deviated from the text for decades. He said he did so when the official words didn’t connect precisely with the message he was hoping to convey.

Before a new Vatican-mandated English translation of the Missal was instituted in December, Braxton warned Rowe to stick to the prayers in the Missal. The priest offered Braxton his resignation but later rescinded the offer.

Many of St. Mary’s 500 families have asked Braxton to allow Rowe, who has been pastor there since 1994, to stay. They paid for billboard space near Braxton’s house in Belleville and gathered 1,500 signatures on a petition. Rowe has appealed Braxton’s decision directly to the Vatican.

Rowe, who has been a priest for 47 years, packed up the St. Mary’s rectory Monday afternoon. He’ll move today 45 miles northwest to St. Joseph Catholic Church in Olney, Ill., where he was pastor for four years in the 1980s.
“They’ve welcomed me there,” Rowe said. “I can work as volunteer, play guitar in the school, do Bible study for teens.”

St. Joseph’s pastor, the Rev. Gerry Wirth, said Rowe “doesn’t want to retire.”

“He wants to help people any way he can,” Wirth said. “And we’re ready to give him whatever opportunities are permissible now.”

Complete Article HERE!

Bishops, Oaths, and Conscience

Today’s Washington Post reports on a highly troubling story (Arlington Diocese parishioners question need for fidelity oath) about a rising trend in Catholic dioceses to require workers — including volunteers who teach religious education — to affirm some sort of “fidelity oath” in order to continue their work or ministry. The story ends with this:

The Rev. Ronald Nuzzi, who heads the leadership program for Catholic educators at the University of Notre Dame, said many bishops “are in a pickle.” They want Catholic institutions to be staffed by people who not only teach what the church teaches but whose “whole life will bear witness.”

Nuzzi said he keeps a photo on his desk from the 1940s that shows all the German bishops in their garb, doing the Nazi salute.

“I keep it there to remind people who say to do everything the Church says, that their wisdom has limitations, too.”

Anyone who fully understands and values the breadth and depth of Catholic Christianity must be appalled by this trend, especially when such oaths appear to be written in ways that clearly are contrary to Catholic teaching. What is more troubling, however, is the perspective expressed by some — both clergy and laity — who see no problem with such a practice.

Complete Article HERE!