Let’s Get Real About Priestly Indiscretion

by Fr. Aris Metrakos

This article contains excellent advice for anyone contemplating the priesthood or discerning a vocation in the Orthodox Church (or any ‘church’ for that matter). Fr. Aris nails it.

Aren’t we disgusted with the shocking number of high-profile cases of priests engaged in pedophilia, homosexual activity, and adultery? Some excuse this behavior with the platitudes “a sin is a sin” and “we are all sinners.” Uh, excuse me?

Persons who say “a sin is a sin” don’t live in the real world. My wife is more than forgiving when I snap at her for no reason. I don’t think that she would be that charitable if I were to come home smelling of another woman’s perfume.

I concede that we are all sinners, but clergy relinquish the right to even think of engaging in certain classes of sin. When a priest sins sexually he damages the Church the way that crooked judges, lawyers, and police officers damage the legal system. How can anyone not understand this?

Looking back on my seminary years, nobody ever told me that I shouldn’t put my hand on an altar boy’s private parts, leave my wife for a man, or go to bed with someone other than my wife. Come to think of it, they didn’t tell me not to eat yellow snow, either. The faculty assumed that we all knew better.

There’s a saying about the word assume. If you don’t know it, ask somebody who served in the military to explain it to you. So, rather than assume that seminarians and young clergy know right from wrong with regard to sexual matters, here are some essential rules of behavior for those preparing for and serving in the priesthood:

  • If you are delaying ordination until you find Miss Right, then be willing to wait for the appropriate woman to come into your life. Rushing into marriage with the wrong person is like voluntarily infecting yourself with an incurable illness. Ask any married person — our spouse will either make us or break us. The priesthood poses enough difficulties without having the millstone of the wrong wife around your neck.
  • If you have sexual fantasies about anything other than a woman, get help. If these ideas persist, choose a different career.
  • If your heterosexual fantasies occupy as much of your time as they did when you were 15, see an experienced confessor. If you are married and have persistent sexual fantasies about anyone other than your wife, again, see the confessor.
  • If your marriage needs fixing, then go to counseling. If counseling doesn’t work, you have three options: separation, divorce, or “gutting it out.” Finding a mistress is not an acceptable alternative.
  • Appearances matter. Don’t put yourself in situations where your integrity can be challenged. Don’t stay in the same room with children when no other adults are present. Don’t go swimming with anybody other than other clergy, and certainly not with minors. Don’t meet repeatedly for one-on-one counseling sessions with the same person outside of normal office hours. Don’t meet with a long-time female friend in a hotel room when you are together at a conference. Don’t give rides to a woman or a child unless other people are in the car.
  • It’s not too late until it’s too late. If you are counseling a woman and you are attracted to her, send her to another priest. If you are about to walk into the bedroom of a person who is not your wife, walk away. If you are kissing someone other than your wife — stop, and get on the phone with a priest-friend whom you can trust.

All sexual misconduct is unjustifiable. Some child abusers excuse themselves because they were victims of abuse. Yet plenty of adult survivors of molestations go on to have normal sex lives. Get help. And before you put your hand where it doesn’t belong, remember how bad it felt when it was done to you.

And all sexual misconduct deserves the maximum penalty. When persons on the bench, in the bar, or with a badge undermine the legal system they get locked up for a long time; they are held to a higher standard. Priests who are pedophiles, homosexual predators, and adulterers need to be defrocked — not only to send a message but to protect the Church and her members. Some of them need jail time too.

And why give a wolf in shepherd’s clothing a second chance to ravage the flock? Maybe an adulterous pastor who had one occasion of adultery could be given a second — and last — chance, but only after plenty of counseling and a transfer to the other side of the continent. The rest need to be removed.

The second century priest-martyr Haralambos was dragged by his beard through the streets because he refused to deny Christ. In the 21st century, clerics drag the good name of the priesthood and the Church through the tabloids and the evening news. Sexual sin among the clergy must stop.

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  1. Thank you and hear hear. And in this era we lay folks need similar specific guidelines about extrmarital sex and abortion. No assumptions about us either please. Especially given the silence from the Orthodox pulpits and the absence of Orthodox priestly public witness in front of abortion centers as desperate or hardened young women enter alone.

  2. What a harsh and insensitive article. Getting real means that we acknowledge that anyone and I mean ANYONE can sin. To say we are all sinners is not an “excuse.” It is the truth. We’re also not supposed to judging others, either. Do the priest who fall not deserve our compassion and forgiveness just like everyday people?

  3. I appreciate the authors opinions, but I would be more interested in hearing what the canons say about such issues, as I see these as the opinion of the Church, and as such much more valuable. But, having said that, I think the author is right that there needs to be much more robust public discussion about these issues. We assume way to much about what people understand and or believe. May God help us with this!

    • Depending on the set of canons that you use, you’d find similar or harsher responses – suspension, then defrocking. If sex before marriage bars someone from becoming a priest – from communion for three years – I hardly think that the Rudder would be easier on clergy involved in adultery or pederasty. Not even the concession that Fr Aris makes for ‘if once, then shipped to the other side of the country’ is present there.

  4. First things first. You do not allow a predator to keep preying on victims.

    Second, the priesthood is holy. Of course, we are all sinners, but the priest must be held to a higher standard, as he represents something more than himself. If clergy are permitted to defile the honor of the priesthood, they must be rebuked publicly. Deacons, priests and bishops.

    Does that seem harsh? Take it up with St. Paul, and I quote:

    “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.” 1 Tim. 5:20

    Compassion for the repentant sinner? Absolutely.
    Continuing in the priesthood? Absolutely not.

    • To me, it seems harsh when “everyday” people who are not St Paul make such statements, especially in 2010. When they put rebuking over compassion, there’s something not right. Makes me wonder what that person has to hide that they’re willing to spotlight someone else’s flaws. He without a fault cast the first stone as Christ says.

      • Christopher says:

        What does the year have to do with it? While I wasn’t alive 2000 years ago, I can’t imagine that sex has changed a whole lot in that time. Nor the priesthood, nor human nature. “Put rebuking over compassion”? “Father” wasn’t picked out of the air as the standard form of address to a priest, and as a father of four, I can tell you that rebuking is one of the highest forms of love. Likewise, what “compassion” is there to be for a man who destroys his family by screwing around on his wife? As a father, I have to exhibit a certain level of behavior, and as a Father, a priest is held to a very similar standard of behavior in a different albeit quite parallel context.

        In a similar vein, thank you to Fr. Aris for bringing up the issue of young men nearing seminary graduation rushing into marriage prior to ordination. I’ve always believed that the potential for disaster there was high.

  5. Thank you for this article. Christopher, I’m with you. Sabrina, I think you’re totally “out to lunch” on this one. If we don’t judge ourselves, we will find ourselves being judged on the Day of Christ.

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