"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, July 16, 2012

Sex and the Canons

Last year at Orientale Lumen in Washington, I was on a panel with (inter alia) the great Robert Taft and Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church of America. Taft ended his remarks by turning directly to the metropolitan and saying something to the effect that "some of us are 40-year-long fans of the OCA" and expressing the fond hope it continue to flourish. I greatly cheered that remark. I gave greater expression to and analysis of my esteem for OCA structures in my presentation to the Huffington Ecumenical Institute's symposium in March of this year, which you may watch here.

Now the OCA has been undergoing considerable struggles for some time, and today further details were released about the resignation of Jonah, the shocking details of which you may read here. Some scurrilous nonsense has been spread about in the last two weeks by ignorant journalists and bloggers and this is unfair and unhelpful (to put it mildly) for at least two reasons, one personal and another more academic. On the "personal" front, I have known the OCA chancellor John Jillions for the better part of a decade and work alongside him at the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies. He is as fine an example of a gentleman-scholar and priest as I have ever known, and the idea that he would be party to some kind of politically inspired putsch is risible and absurd to all who know him.

On the more "academic" front, those alleging that the metropolitan was removed for his statements on homosexuality ignore the unanimous witness of the canons concerning clergy and sexual sins. Several years ago for an article I never finished I slogged through every disciplinary canon in all the councils--provincial, local, ecumenical, of East and West--that I could lay my hands on: one thing was constant, consistent, and completely clear in all of them: any hint of any sexual sin--including even consensual sins--of any kind, by anyone (perpetrator, "supervisor," or even victim) is grounds for permanent removal from ministry and perpetual ineligibility for any office in the Church. (The fact that some canons even say that boys who are sodomized by priests are themselves ineligible for holding ecclesial office struck me initially as rather unfair--blaming the victim--until I realized that the ancients knew what we only discovered about 20 years ago in modern psychological research: most victims of sexual abuse go on to become perpetrators, and even those who do not almost invariably end up deeply damaged and thus not ideal candidates for the enormous psychospiritual demands of pastoral ministry.)

Several studies of the canons, for those who are interested, may be found in the works of the Orthodox canonist Patrick Viscuso, including  An Overview of Orthodox Canon Law (Orthodox, Theological Library) and Orthodox Canon Law: A Casebook for Study: Second Edition. Also not to be missed is Viscuso's fascinating study--which I reviewed for a canon law journal years ago now: A Quest For Reform of the Orthodox Church: The 1923 Pan-Orthodox Congress, An Analysis and Translation of Its Acts and Decisions. That congress was a fascinating affair, and Orthodoxy could have developed very differently if even some of the proposals from 1923 were carried out more widely.

An older, and not comprehensive, but still useful, study remains that of Peter L'Huillier, The Church of the Ancient Councils: The Disciplinary Work of the First Four Ecumenical Councils. Additionally, see the short little book of the Greek scholar Lewis Patsavos, Spiritual Dimensions of the Holy Canons
          Finally, a new study was released earlier this year, and is being expertly reviewed in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies next year: Wilfried Hartmann and Kenneth Pennington, eds., The History of Byzantine and Eastern Canon Law to 1500 (Catholic University of America Press, 2012), 356pp.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Anonymous comments are never approved. Use your real name and say something intelligent.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...