ENGLISH VERSION: MARK STOKOE, the former editor of OCANews.org: «Accountability and Transparency: Blades that cut both ways, revealing guilt, defending the innocent»
"Portal-Credo.Ru": Mark, in your opinion, is the removal of the Metropolitan of the Czech Lands and Slovakia, Christopher major milestone for the Orthodox world or an event of local significance in the Czech Republic and Slovakia?
Mark Stokoe: It is a confirmation, more than a milestone. Confirmation that transparency and accountability in church life are both necessary virtues. Accountability and transparency can both reveal the guilty – and protect the innocent. In Metropolitan Christopher’s case, the fact that the Metropolitan dealt with this openly, and is now going to court to clear his name, shows how the two virtues can help us towards the truth, wherever it leads.
- Judging by some circumstances, Metropolitan Christopher lost control of his actions a long time ago. – How did he resolve the issue with his conscience?
- Well, in America one is innocent until proven guilty, so accusations, while they must be taken seriously, are not the same as guilt. I don’t know if the Metropolitan “lost control of his actions a long time ago”; but in this case, with accusations of up to 10 children, simple DNA tests will tell us all much as to who is telling the truth in this whole affair. Either they are his children – or not. The rest follows...
No matter the outcome of any trial, I don’t presume to judge or know another’s conscience. I have hard enough time dealing with the constant complaints of my own.
- We’re all sinners – and monasticism is intended to give us an example of humility and piety, but there are more than enough examples of Episcopal monastic sins. Don’t you think that the institution of high-ranking monks, especially those living – has outlived its usefulness? To clarify, I mean only higher-ranking clergy, of which Metropolitan Christopher was one.
- I have known two great ruling Archbishops: Paul (Olmari) of Finland and Anthony (Bloom) of Sourouzh. Both reigned over their Churches in every sense of the word, but both were extraordinarily collegial in their leadership style, and encouraged collegiality. Their Churches flourished because of it, for they realized their duty was not to rule, but to help others learn to rule themselves; not to be the “Daddy”, telling everybody what to do and how to do it, but to help the priests and laity in their Churches grow in “...unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13) This did not decrease their pastor ship, but enhanced it. When the young people of the Sourozh diocese were gathered to discuss how to form and run a youth group, they came into conflict with some of the priests present who wanted more control over the nascent organization. Finally the priests, playing their trump card, said: “Well, this is not for us to decide now, this is for the Bishop to decide.” After 2 hours of discussion, everyone had forgotten the Bishop was in the back of the room, for he had been watching silently letting the fruitful debate continue. When the priest spoke up to put the debate to rest, Metropolitan Anthony rose and said: “ The Bishop decides now. It shall be as the young people desire.” It was the greatest example of the “monarchical episcopacy” I have every seen. Metropolitan Anthony understood the ancient secular maxim that applies to the Church as well: ”The government that rules least, rules best.” All our bishops would do well to remember it.
There is another secular maxim, that applies equally well – and it, in fact, was said the Church: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” If our bishops are enabled to live and act as princes, why are we surprised some exhibit the faults of princes? It is as simple as that.
- Do you think this behavior of bishops is a pattern, or is it still a rarity?
- Is sin a rarity? Does unlimited money, unbridled power, and a culture secrecy make sin easier, or more difficult? You tell me.
- Did you know the Metropolitan Christopher? What is your opinion of him? Were there prior indications of the possibility of such behavior?
- I met Metropolitan Christopher when he was a priest-monk, the kind of wonderful young priest who, declining a bed, slept on the floor cheerfully, so another could rest more comfortably. I thought very highly of him from our first meeting, and I have heard nothing to make me change that opinion over the years I have known him.
His personal story is both interesting and compelling, if little known. There are not too many divorced Primates of Orthodox Churches. As a young man he married, and desired to follow his calling to the priesthood. His wife wanted to be a doctor. So, he put off his career in the Church and worked as a printer in a factory so his wife could attend medical school. They had two children. Unfortunately, by the time his wife completed her studies, and he his, she no longer wanted to be a “matushka” in a simple, quiet, provincial village. He took his vows as a priest seriously – and so she divorced him, and took the children. He eventually became a priest-monk, and while his children were no secret – he would introduce close friends to them – it was part of his life he did not trumpet about for fear of misunderstanding. And then he was made a bishop, and elected Metropolitan! “Poor Christopher”, I told a friend upon hearing of his election, “I just hope he doesn’t end up like St. Innocent of Moscow, The Enlightener of Alaska!” (Saint Innocent is famous in America for appearing in a well-known 19th century book about Orthodoxy, in a picture that has him sitting on his throne in Moscow with his son standing next him. The caption reads: “Metropolitan Innocent of Moscow, pictured with his son. The senior clergy of the Eastern Church are celibate”).
I am also reminded of the situation of the former Catholic Archbishop here in Dayton, Ohio, who was accused of molesting a young man in the 1980’s. The Archbishop demanded a trial, and was found not guilty. His accuser eventually admitted he lied, and the Archbishop visited him, publicly forgave him, and helped him find his way forward. Archbishop Bernadin went on to lead the Archdiocese of Chicago, and to become a Cardinal. I would hope Metropolitan Christopher could be as courageous and generous as Cardinal Bernadin should the outcomes prove similar.
- To what extent do lay people and members of the Church need to know the details of such defamatory cases?
- Let me conclude where I began. Transparency and accountability both reveal the guilty – but also protect the innocent. By dealing with things openly, as did Archbishop Bernadin, he was able to go on to greater things, like becoming a Cardinal. If everything had been “hushed up”, that would never have been the case. Light is the best disinfectant, and the light of Christ can clean, and heal, all. Let us pray that is the case here as well.
Interviewed by Svetlana Vais,