For context see the Metropolitan Joseph: The Scandal section in our Archives 2020-23 linked at the top of this page.
Metropolitan Antonios (El Souri)
Patriarchal Vicar to the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
This brief report consists of a compilation of notes provided to Orthodoxy in Dialogue by various clergymen and laypersons of the Antiochian Archdiocese who attended Metropolitan Antonios’ meetings with parishes and deaneries and the recent Special Convention to nominate a new metropolitan for the Archdiocese. Metropolitan Antonios was appointed by Patriarch John of Antioch as patriarchal vicar to the Archdiocese during its transition to a new administration pursuant to the forced “retirement” of the adulterous and sexually predatory Joseph Al-Zehlaoui. It seems now that the Vicar’s assignment has more to do with damage control and PR for the Patriarchate and the Archdiocese than with actually pastoring the faithful, treating the clergy and laity as equal partners with the hierarchy in the good governance of the Church—as per the pre-Constantinian ecclesiological model—and bringing closure and resolution to the events leading up to this disastrous juncture in the Antiochian Church’s life.
Perhaps the most astounding item to come from the Vicar’s meetings was reported to us by a clergyman who writes: “Metropolitan Antonios clearly indicated that the Archdiocese sexual misconduct policy has no bearing on a bishop or metropolitan. The bishops are judged exclusively by the Holy Synod, and therefore the Archdiocese sexual misconduct policy has nothing to do with them.” When we asked said clergyman where “the Archdiocese sexual misconduct policy” can be found, he replied with a succinct “No idea.” This shockingly irresponsible, unpastoral, and possibly illegal lack of protocols for victims to report sexual abuse and misconduct at the hands of the Archdiocese’s hierarchs, clergy, employees, and volunteers stands in stark contrast to the admirable transparency of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and the Orthodox Church in America, as we reported earlier.
Whether (and where??) such policies actually exist for the Antiochian Archdiocese, the exemption of its bishops from contemporary sexual misconduct protocols is horrifying. The allegations against Al-Zehlaoui, far from being referred to the Holy Synod in Syria for adjudication when first reported to Englewood by the victim’s husband years ago, were swept under the carpet. Were it not for our recent reporting at Orthodoxy in Dialogue, which caught fire around the globe and forced Patriarch John’s hand, the resurrection of the same allegations regarding the same victim would have likewise been swept under the carpet. We remind our readers of the infamous case of Bishop Demetri Matta Khoury to demonstrate a pattern of utter disregard for the safety of its faithful from the sexual misconduct and criminality of Antiochian bishops.
Even so, Patriarch John and the Holy Synod failed to deal with Al-Zehlaoui properly, allowing him to “retire” and to publish a nauseatingly self-canonizing farewell on the Archdiocese website. He should have been tried by a jury of his peers and deposed from holy orders if found guilty as charged. Our sources report that, in his meetings with parishes and deaneries and at the Convention, Metropolitan Antonios demonstrated a remarkable talent for saying what his audience wanted to hear about Al-Zehlaoui: to some, he suggested that Al-Zehlaoui was guilty and would never again be permitted to exercise any form of ministry; to others, he portrayed Al-Zehlaoui as an innocent martyr who retired “honourably.” One clergyman said of the Vicar’s willingness to play both sides, “This was the most disgusting part to me.” Yet perhaps nowhere is the Antiochian Church’s failure in this matter more glaring than in its refusal to reach out and make amends with Al-Zehlaoui’s victim and accuser. We have already seen that Antioch’s institutional church is more concerned to protect itself from legal jeopardy than to offer pastoral care to the victims of its abuse.
We remind our readers that the Vicar seems more concerned about the imaginary dangers of LGBTQ people in our midst than the very real dangers of bishops who can’t keep their pants zipped and their hands to themselves.
The question of Al-Zehlaoui owing the Archdiocese between $1,000,000 and $2,000,000 was raised with the Vicar, and whether Al-Zehlaoui could be legally compelled to reimburse it. This has to do with discretionary funds “inherited” from the late Metropolitan Philip (Saliba). Metropolitan Antonios appeared to agree with the facts of this case.
Two speakers at the Convention, unsympathetic to Orthodoxy in Dialogue, noted that we would continue to gain traffic by our reporting if the Patriarchate and the Archdiocese failed to adopt greater transparency in this and other matters.
One clergyman ended on a note of cynicism:
What is clear is that there is and will be no real resolution. The Holy Synod just wants to bury this and to move on. And they, no doubt, think that’s what will happen and will continue to believe they did the right thing because no one will talk about it openly after a while. But the long-term effects are devastating. In reality, few people trust the Holy Synod, few respect them, and we all know they operate and will continue to operate in secrecy.
Earlier, we pointed out that all Orthodox jurisdictions are beset with shortcomings. failures, and corruption. Yet the Antiochian Church stands out for its intransigence in ignoring the safety of children, women, and men who are most vulnerable to sexual and other abuse at the hands of its bishops. The time may have come for the faithful of the Antiochian Archdiocese to take decisive action to protect themselves and their families. For some, this will mean finding a parish in a different jurisdiction. For others, it will mean withholding financial support until concrete reforms are fully implemented.
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