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Tuesday, August 09, 2011

OCA: Mark Stokoe Dismissed From Church Positions

Joseph Flavius has the story at Byzantine Texas.    Mark's contributions to bringing an end to the scandals that plagued the OCA are well known.  Unfortunately there has been a lot of gossip about his personal life, most of which he has not denied, that has been spread by his detractors.  I intensely dislike this kind of "gotcha" game.  It bears repeating that gossip is among the most sharply condemned sins by Scripture and the saints. But all of that aside there are obviously some standards that have to be upheld for persons occupying offices within the church. Unless he was prepared to deny the allegations or repent, his removal was necessary to avoid scandal.  And truth be told, he probably should have resigned.  This is very sad.

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have no reason to believe anyone is a worse sinner than myself, nor does the Church permit me any other position. None of us know the details of whatever struggles Mark may or may not have committed himself to as far as specific sins. Nor is it any of our business: the details of that are private to him, his father-confessor and perhaps his Bishop. I hope the actual Christians in the Church will keep that in mind.

Ed said...

Thank goodness. While I agree that the man, like all in the Church, especially in leadership, need to be held accountable for their private actions, his public actions more than warranted his removal.

Whatever his initial intentions, much of his later work became a circus of lies, fabrications, innuendo, muckracking, and character assassination. It was absolutely time that he be called to account. Such a reckoning really needed to happen years ago.

Proskomen said...

We'll have to wait until the letter is published to know for sure, but I suspect that this doesn't have much to do with the rumors (true or not) about Mark Stokoe's personal life.

A few months ago, Fr. Alexander Webster filed a complaint with the Metropolitan Council's ethics committee, relating to charges that Stokoe was abusing his position on the MC.

Anyway, the matter was referred to Bishop Matthias, and I think this is what he was ruling on. He may have chosen to deal with Stokoe's personal situation at the same time, though.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

Proskomen
That's an interesting point. We will have to wait and see what the letter says.

Ps-Iosifson said...

Private struggles with sin are one thing, not struggling at all which is shown via cohabiting and a public record document referring to a marriage-like arrangement between Mr. Stokoe and his partner contrary to Orthodox teaching is another. None of this is rumor, it seems. Such actions are not befitting one in a position of authority in the Church, which is quite different than saying what should happen to laity with no position of authority in the Church.

There is an add equation of 'not judging' with placing one's head in the sand and not noticing what's right in front of one's face. Assuming an unmarried couple living together and sharing a bedroom - gay or straight - is not having sexual relations is simply silly, it's purposefully naive to the point of actually condoning the situation. Not interrogating is not the same as not noticing. Baptism is illumination, not blinding. One can still be innocent as a dove while also being wise as a serpent - in fact, we're commanded to be.

The real question is whether Met. Herman will be deposed for an equally blatant, un-Orthodox lifestyle, across the street from the oldest monastery in the western hemisphere and next door to St. Tikhon's seminary. Again, assuming a long time companion is simply a friend is painfully, purposefully ignorant and naive. It;s not as if they are both under monastic vows and the one is cell attendant to the other. At the least, such situations are scandalous and prone to temptation and or offense in the same way mixed monasteries were in the early church - such situations were banned for good reason.

Anonymous said...

I'm certainly happy to say that those who pursue sexual sin (including self-stimulation and the viewing of pornography) should indeed refrain from offices of the Church. But let's be clear: the Church condemns as sin sodomy. I see no reason two women or two men could not live together, be in love, and be chaste. Holy Tradition blesses same-sex affection (obviously) and in some periods the Church has blessed unions of brotherhood (we know in some instances these included the raising of children and cohabitation). Please note that I am in no way conflating this with the Sacrament of Marriage or with modern gay lifestyles - however, nothing I know about personally in this case falls outside the bounds of Christian life. At the end of the day, this seems to me to be a matter to be dealt with by a spiritual father, not guesswork on Internet blog comments.

Its also helpful to bear in mind that the Church offers broad economia over related sins such as divorce and the use of contraception with respect to Eucharistic communion - I suspect its much easier to judge those with less common struggles and suggest our concerns should be with our own souls.

Alice C. Linsley said...

"Holy Tradition blesses same-sex affection..."

If you are referring to homosex, you must have a different "Holy Tradition" than the Church.

Proskomen said...

The real question is whether Met. Herman will be deposed for an equally blatant, un-Orthodox lifestyle, across the street from the oldest monastery in the western hemisphere and next door to St. Tikhon's seminary.

Good question! I want to ask the same about a certain voice-hearing blogger. "She" goes to an OCA parish.

The problem with deposing Metropolitan Herman is that it is really difficult to depose a bishop. Also, I may be mistaken, but I think a spiritual court puts the accuser at risk of being deposed himself.

Anonymous said...

Today promises to be exciting in OCA blogdom. I should pray a little more for those mentioned above while awaiting publication of the letter. Bill, tGf

Btw, is there a special spirit of perversity who provides the word verifications?

Anonymous said...

Alice, the fact that you cannot distinguish between affection and sex, nor were apparently able to note that I explicitly stated that sodomy is considered a sin by the Church is actually annoying. Basically, I said the exact opposite of what you imputed to me. I hope at least other readers will note that.

Nathaniel said...

I am more than a little concerned with the "homosexual hunt" that is being advocated on the blogosphere. That being said, I'm pretty sure that MS was removed for other issues unrelated to his domestic situation, most specifically his unethical use of stolen communication and his ongoing conflict of interest. These issues alone are enough to remove him from his position.

Ps-Iosifson said...

I'm not sure that simply paying attention can be likened to a witch hunt. I'm also pretty sure transparency can and should pay attention to the kind of (open) secrets that were used to compromise those in power in the past.

In fact, it's often alleged sotto voce that this is a darker side of the Schmemann legacy in the OCA as an institution: he controlled the Synod by stocking it with hierarchs he knew were compromised in one way or another and thus beholden to him. This continued after his unexpected death leaving the Synod without a strong hand and visionary, until Kondratick stepped in to fill the void (especially following the equally untimely death of the also quite influential Meyendorff).

Nathaniel said...

I'm only saying that I have enough experience with the ECUSA descent to know that the tactic of "root out the homosexuals" can easily backfire. You have to be more discerning.

Ps-Iosifson said...

I agree. Manifest, unrepentant sin (e.g., participating in a gay marriage, cohabiting romantically) by those in authority should not be tolerated. One need not start a McCarthy-like 'Pink Scare' and actively search out rumors, etc., but when it's open and right in front of your face then something has to be done. Allegations with some sort of corroboration other than rumor and innuendo should be looked into, with an assumption of innocence. Such investigations are primarily to remove any stain of suspicion or gossip. Monastics and celibate clergy should not be living in potentially scandalous situations, i.e., the mixed monastery analogy.

In addition, everyone has been making the distinction between homosexual orientation or urges and homosexual acts. The fact that someone 'acts gay' or 'effeminate', or even if they had gay experiences earlier in their lives (e.g., Fr Seraphim Rose) is no reason for defrocking or harassment. However, sexual misconduct should not be tolerated in the ranks of the clergy - that's the broad metric that should be used, not a lack of tolerance over homosexuality in particular. It also seems there is need to reaffirm some discipline surrounding the chalice when it comes to sexual sins, in general. Cohabiting couples (gay or straight), for instance, should be kept from communion more often; actively sexual single people should be kept from communion more often, for their own sakes; in general, there should be more discipline surrounding communion practice in contrast to communing anyone who approaches the chalice and 'seems Orthodox'.

Teena Blackburn said...

From what I can tell, there is more than one issue here. One is the question of an ethics violation per "stolen" e-mails and the second is Mark's sexuality. It is no secret that he is gay when his partner is listed as his husband on an obituary. Apparently, his (non-celibate) gay relationship is common knowledge. If Mark is celibate, then he should say so to prevent scandal in the church. If he is celibate, or even not but struggling to be obedient to the church, then there's no problem. If he has sex with his partner and is unrepentant, then he is causing public scandal by regularly going to Communion and holding office in the OCA. All of us are sinners-the question is whether you call your sin for what it is and try to repent. If you do not think there is anything to repent of, then I don't see how you could be allowed to receive Communion or hold office in the Church. This man is not merely a private person-he is very public, and that matters.

Fr Theodore said...

Speculation is nothing but gossip, which John pointed out is "among the most sharply condemned sins by Scripture and the saints." Gloating over the downfall of a fellow sinner ranks right there with it, too. St. Silouan said that love could not bear that kind of attitude. A letter is to be published. It may or may not satisfy inquiring minds. Regardless, perhaps silence would be the best commentary - as the old men realized in John 8:7-8.

Mark did a service to the Church at one time - God can and does use sinners for such things (otherwise, no person would be of any use for the kingdom). If he has now had to be disciplined, for what ever reason, it might be worthwhile to remember that Joseph the Betrothed was revealed as a "just man" in as much as he was prepared (before he knew better) to put his pregnant-out-of-wedlock fiance away quietly, rather than subject her to condemnation and punishment. This is a case in which most of us would do well to emulate his example.

Ps-Iosifson said...

I don't think anyone is "Gloating over the downfall of a fellow sinner ranks right there with it, too" and St. Silouan condemned the idea that we would hardheartedly enjoy the damnation of a sinner. That is not the case here. All that is being supported is the idea that the leadership of the Church - which Mark was as a Met Council delegate - must be held to a higher bar than the average sinner in the nave. The same is true of priests who are deposed if remarry - something allowed to the laity, out of economia. I would also argue that manifest sin (not speculation-based gossip or innuendo) not only unrepented of but defended and institutionalized (which is what gay marriage is an example of, which the son-in-law reference to Mark's long time companion signifies) requires withholding of the Sacraments for the best interest of the sinner him/herself. The same goes for heterosexual couples living together in fornication, and of straight singles lives of promiscuity. The same would be true of any manifest sin that is celebrated publicly and officially - a layman becoming President of the "Greed is Good Society", let's say, or the "Gluttony Foundation".

The example of St. Joseph doesn't fit all that well. It may perhaps refer to Bp Matthias, but Mark has made a name for himself by attacking such traditional, quiet discipline and the abuse it too often engendered. It primarily breaks down because Mary was, in the world's eyes, not in any position of authority or power. Were the sinner in question the Empress, the abbess of a well-known convent, the wife of a powerful priest, etc. the way in which discipline would be meted out would be much different. A good example was the way in which Tolstoy's actions required a public condemnation of his work and his public excommunication - such would never have been required in a 'domestic matter' within a Galilean carpenter's home.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Father.

Heracleides said...

In regards to Stokoe, I say good riddance to bad rubbish; if that marks me as a person who is "gloating" in Fr. Theodore's eyes, then so be it. I'd express the same sentiments to Fr. Bobish if he were to be disciplined for, say, turning a (not so) blind eye and communing a "married" homosexual couple within the parish entrusted to his care by Bishop Matthias.

Mr. G. Z. T. said...

If Mark is celibate, then he should say so to prevent scandal in the church.

I don't think this is how that works at all.

James the Thickheaded said...

At heart, the issue seems to center on the conflicts of interest involved in attempting to serve both as a voting member of the MC and an independent ombudsman championing a particular perspective on leadership in the Church. Some conflicts of interest can be resolved through careful personal disinterest and studied promotion of the interest of others at the expense of your own; others cannot because the conflicts do not cleanly lend themselves to simple separation. Given the two interests do not separate cleanly in this case, this should have been obvious from the beginning and a condition of service. This is not to say that the ombudsman role is not necessary and solid effort at transparency not beneficial, but simply to suggest one cannot be both a player and referee at the same time and expect anyone to trust the outcome is a foolish bargain. The Bishop seems to have grasped this in principle... but not fully, and so Stokoe's service is depreciated more on the basis of effect than principle (as the dismissal reads). Yet taken as a measured matter of the breadth of tolerance, it is clear the risks involved in violating this principle must have been seen as worthwhile so long as the love for the Church lay firmly and clearly in view. The Bishop's explicit mention of his observation of "outright hatred for the Church" on the site deserves special notice as consistent with his concern for the intention given recent advocacy there of positions contrary to settled church teaching. Note that in the end it is this intention alone that seems to serve as the basis for removing the blessing to serve.

But a larger issue remains: Perhaps were the decision processes of the MC at heart to insist on a higher degree of consensus through expectation that all members of the MC be prepared to be fully accountable for their decisions in all meanings of the term, these issues might not arise. Accomplishing this requires a more careful selection process at the front end for people who can work together and shoulder the burdens equally, or at least in proportion. These events speak to dysfunction, but also importantly to an effort to begin addressing it and seems to me we can only pray succeeds.

Contrary to suggestions, I see no particular reference to the dismissed's personal state of sin as a factor, and thankfully it is not my place to be involved there.

Anonymous said...

Whoever is without sin, let him throw the first stone. As Christians we strive for perfection, but none of us is perfect. Only God.

Ps-Iosifson said...

It's always interesting to see when people are willing and not willing to trot out "Whoever is without sin, let him throw the first stone."

That is, presumably child sexual abuse is a sin one can rightly and safely see as cause for suspension and defrocking. Not always, of course, so these lines of acceptability/unacceptability change. Sexual misconduct of clergy in general, too, though again not always. A couple of years ago it was financial mismanagement, embezzlement, lack of transparency, disobedience, unbrotherly relations with fellow bishops, bad relations with lower clergy, traveling too much, being too outspoken and impolitic, unilateralism, etc. Then again, not always.

The issue of being a married homosexual in a position of leadership in a Church that does not accept homosexuality as right or good, and definitely does not marry homosexuals is a problem. It isn't a matter of sin or proclivity, it's a matter of the standards we expect from our leaders, clerical and lay.

Add to that the conflict of interest James laid out so well - "attempting to serve both as a voting member of the MC and [as] an independent ombudsman championing a particular perspective on leadership in the Church" - in addition to Mark's stated defense that the site has the bishop's blessing while it moves even further from transparent, objective "News" about the OCA into "Editorials" about the OCA (and Orthodoxy) and the direction it needs to take and it makes perfect sense that Mark was removed from his leadership positions in the Church.

(The fact that it was related as having taken place "without warning" is simply an example of Mark's inability to understand the difference between the investigative journalism the OCA so desperately needed and the partisan editorialzing he usually descended into - the OCA got the journalism it needed despite the editorializing agitation of Mark's work, not because of it.)

Anonymous said...

Oh what a lot of crock.

He's being removed because he's a pain in the ass, period.

It has nothing to do with his private life.

It has to do with the fact that....gasp! he's revealed the rather banal reasons for so much of the fiscal and other hanky-panky that the hierarchy is involved with.

And, the response is, of course...that somehow the "Church" is being insulted. Actually, it's only the "bozos" in charge that are being insulted. The ordinary parish layperson has nothing to be worried about.

This is a response from the hierarchy that, like the Roman Catholic Vatican, think that it is the Church.

Ponder this, if you can. Do you really think bishops have a deeper understanding or deeper experience of the Ultimate Mystery?

If you do...you're a deep, or shallow fool, however you take it.

Ps-Iosifson said...

I should clarify that apart from an obituary (and who wrote it, is it accurate, etc.?) no one really knows whether Mark Stokoe is gay or not. Rumors and alleged 'open secrets' are not the kind of proof a priest or bishop would need to act. So, any discussion of what 'should' be done if that information is correct should always have that caveat: we don't know. I think Bp Matthias was right not to countenance the rumor in his letters to Mark, the MC and the DOM DC.

Of course, the "if" caveat was not always given by Mark when it was only rumors and unsubstaniated allegations flying around about Mets. Theodosius and Herman, Fr. Kondratick, et al during the financial crisis in the OCA (not to mention coverage of the Antiochian scandals), but it's a caveat that should always have been added.

While Mark has revealed a great deal of important information over the years, I'm not sure how much of it was 'proven' before it was revealed online. I'm not if what was written always rose to the level of proof required to undertake an actual investigation, except insofar as a response to an allegation seems to be expected. Is that different than expecting a response regarding the unsubstantiated allegations that Mark is living in partnered gay relationship? I'm not sure.

I can definitely say that I have always wished Mark was more of a journalism and less op-ed. I think he's done a service to the OCA despite his editorializing, not because of it.

Father Catalin Mot said...

Well, dear brothers and sisters, I am pleased to find out that after all these years of turmoil, JUSTICE has been finally served! Finally we are going to see some transparency and people who have no business to hold positions in The Church leadership, are finally ELIMINATED! I wish the same "treatment" for Skordinsky & Comp, it is time for some REAL ACCOUNTABILITY here!
That being said, I can't conclude, before I present my sincere congratulations to His Grace Bishop Matthias of Chicago, A big BRAVO YOUR GRACE! as for Mark Stokoe, I hope that he will reflect and meditate more on these things and I hope and pray that he will truly repent and come back with a totally different attitude, not thinking(as he did in the past),that he is some sort of "lay king" here, who can do everything and who can get away with everything!
This action against Mark is a proof that "Yes, we can do it!" and shows that no one is above God and His One,Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church! No more breaking in people's e-mails, using the information against them and manipulating and trying to corrupt Bishops of The Church, to provide them with information collected from The Sacrament of Confession and other places! No more games Mark, trying to blackmail everybody who doesn't share the same ideas with you! No more manipulations, in terms of influencing the authority of The Church, who should be really in the hands of our Hierarchs and Clergy, to make decisions under the pressure of lay people! Archbishop Job, of blessed memory, did the worst mistake of his life to push for Mark Stokoe's election in MC and DOMWC, too!
As for you Mark, I hope this will be a good time to repent, to reflect on what you did wrong and instead of thinking and seeking ways to revenge, by preparing your "guns" to attack from the shadow (as your style is),it's better for you to look for salvation in The Kingdom of Heaven, that's the reason for us to go to Church!
But if you don't understand that and if you are continuing your malicious and vicious way of doing things, then I can't tell you more than the Greeks will tell you:"Αιωνια σου η μνημη, αξιομακαριστε και αειμνηστε αδελφε ημων!"
Hopefully you will not go that far!
May God bless you and help you to find salvation instead of Church politics, because Church politics, will not save you!

Billy Bean said...

All of this makes me long for communion with Rome. Ironic? Perhaps; but at least there, you know what "The Church" is, and what she teaches.