Bishop Matthias Moriak, the former Chicago bishop of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), who had to retire amid allegations of sexual misconduct two years ago, sued church leaders for breaching his retirement contract. He filed the lawsuit against Metropolitan Tikhon Mollard, First Hierarch of the OCA, and Detroit Archbishop Nathaniel Popp, leader of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate, in Cook County Circuit Court last month. Both defendants received papers served during the national Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in Chicago. Bishop Matthias alleges that church leaders violated the terms of his retirement and a recent employment agreement when they terminated a parish assignment in response to complaints from the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests. The suit alleges, “This is a case about broken promises and the repeated failure to honour one’s legal obligations. The legal questions involved aren’t complex. Indeed, they require only a straightforward application of civil law”. OCA officials didn’t return requests for comment. Bishop Matthias’ assignment to a parish in Pennsylvania angered victims’ advocates, who said allowing the ousted bishop to return to any form of active ministry violated the church’s zero-tolerance policy.
Bishop Matthias, born David Lawrence Moriak, stepped down from his post as head of the Midwest diocese in April 2013 after the church determined that remarks to a female parishioner in Ohio qualified as sexual misconduct. Matthias said at the time of his ouster, “I do repent of using poor judgment, of using inappropriate words that I thought were being received as humorous. It was never my intention to cause a complaint of any harm or discomfort. In fact, I was quite concerned for her health and well-being. I’m sorry that my kindness and generosity to this person was viewed with suspicion and ulterior motives”. Terms of the retirement package included permission to serve in any parish, as long as he has the blessing of the local bishop. That agreement included the parish in Columbus OH, where his son serves as a priest. Although the Orthodox Church allows its priests to marry and have children, married priests cannot become part of the hierarchy. As a widower who didn’t remarry, Bishop Matthias could become a bishop. After his retirement, Bishop Matthias moved to West Virginia where he purchased a home and secured a retail job to make ends meet. According to the suit, Archbishop Nathaniel, the most senior OCA bishop and leader of the Romanian Episcopate, contacted him in November 2014 to fill temporarily a parish post in Hermitage PA. Because of the temporary nature of the job and the move required, Bishop Matthias initially declined the request. Archbishop Nathaniel returned six months later to offer a guaranteed one-year appointment approved by Metropolitan Tikhon and other bishops. Bishop Matthias quit his retail job, leased his house, and moved to Hermitage.
According to the suit, after victims’ advocates aired their concerns in the media in July, Metropolitan Tikhon told Bishop Matthias he could continue to serve with his blessing, but the parish had to remove any references to his position from its website. Bishop Matthias declined. In August, according to the suit, Metropolitan Tikhon proposed removing Bishop Matthias from the Pennsylvania parish and moving him to a monastery for three months with a 7,000 USD (430,000 Roubles. 44,500 Renminbi. 454,000 INR. 9,080 CAD. 9,620 AUD. 6,200 Euros. 4,560 UK Pounds) stipend. He also acknowledged in that email that Bishop Matthias had “acted in good faith in all of this”, and admitted that he and the bishops “failed in fulfilling” their “responsibility”. In the suit, Bishop Matthias seeks damages, including lost wages and expenses incurred from the move to Pennsylvania. The suit also claims Bishop Matthias suffered emotional distress. The suit said, “After losing his beloved wife, the church was his entire life. Now that, too, was being taken away from him”. The OCA, one of several branches of Orthodox Christianity in the USA claims about 100,000 adult members nationwide, with about 5,000 in the Midwest.
8 October 2015
Manya Brachear Pashman