MI- Church officials oust deacon about abuse
For immediate release on Friday, April 25, 2014
Church officials oust deacon about abuse
But they keep allegations secret for months
Victims group blast "irresponsible behavior"
A support group for clergy sex abuse victims has written again to a Michigan archbishop in response to his letter about a registered sex offender who had been serving as a subdeacon. They want him to help them make sure the wider community knows about the man’s record and the possible danger that he poses and they also want to know why abuse reports were not immediately reported to law enforcement.
Members of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, sent a letter earlier today to Archbishop Nathaniel Popp (517-522-4800), the leader of the Romanian Episcopate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). They thanked him for responding to their letter asking if Robert A. Mitchell was still serving as a subdeacon. The group was relieved to know that he had been removed and that steps were taken to ensure that no other convicted child molester will be given a leadership role in OCA.
However they express concern that the archbishop has not used every avenue available to warn the community about this dangerous predator. The group reported receiving a disturbing email from Father Moses Berry stating that officials in Michigan kept secret the reason Mitchell was no longer active in the Church.
(The complete text of the letter, sent by FAX and email, is pasted below.)
Mitchell was convicted of child abduction in 1998 in Illinois. He is registered in Michigan as a tier 3 sex offender and is under a lifetime requirement to register. Tier 3 sex offenses are considered by the state to be the most serious of all sex crime convictions in Michigan.
After his conviction, Mitchell returned to his home state of Michigan. On November 18, 2001, he was received into the Orthodox Church by Popp and joined a parish in Popp’s archdiocese, Saint Raphael of Brooklyn Church in Detroit (23300 W Davison Avenue, Office: 313-533-3437). During his first year as a member of this church, Mitchell served as Head Usher and as Director of Fundraising on the parish council. On March 2, 2003, he was tonsured as a Reader and blessed as Subdeacon by Popp.
Mitchell was also elected president of the Council of Orthodox Christian Churches of Metropolitan Detroit on December 8, 2009. He continued to serve in this position through at least April of 2013.
In addition, Mitchell was involved with another Orthodox group called the Brotherhood of Saint Moses the Black (BSMB). He founded the Detroit chapter of the group and served as its first president. This national group is an Orthodox outreach to the African American community.
“We hope that Archbishop Nathaniel will now publicize information about Mitchell’s status more widely,” said Cappy Larson of SNAP. “We also hope he will make public any information he has about another member of the BSMB, a former deacon in another Orthodox jurisdiction and a friend of Mitchell’s, who was also apparently removed from ministry and reported to the police for suspicious behavior with minors.”
Melanie Jula Sakoda, also of SNAP added, “We respectfully challenge the timing of the archbishop’s report to law enforcement on Mitchell as well. He wrote that he reported the new allegations once they were “substantiated.” However, kids are best protected when allegations of child sexual abuse are forwarded to the authorities when they are first brought to the Church’s attention.”
Grass Lake, MI 49240-0309
April 9, 2014
Re: Subdeacon Robert A. Mitchell
Dear Archbishop Nathaniel:
Thank you for responding so promptly and with so much detail to our letter of March 31, 2014. We are relieved to learn that Mitchell has been removed both as a subdeacon and also from the Council of Orthodox Christian Churches of Metropolitan Detroit. We are also pleased to hear that the parish of Saint Raphael of Brooklyn has been told that the new allegations of sexual misconduct against Mitchell have been substantiated and has been warned of the risk that Mitchell presents.
However, we are still concerned that you have not used every avenue open to you to insure that the general public is aware that the outward appearance of this man as a pious Christian leader does not tell the whole story. In fact, we received a disturbing email on April 6th from the president and co-founder of the Brotherhood of Saint Moses the Black (BSMB), Father Moses Berry. As you know, the brotherhood was another Orthodox group with which Mitchell was involved.
Father Moses wrote that after seeing that Mitchell was no longer listed as an active subdeacon, he inquired as to why this was but did not receive any satisfactory answers. The priest alleges that Mitchell’s situation was kept secret from the brotherhood by those in Michigan who knew about it. This serious allegation is exactly the sort of situation that an open and transparent publication of Mitchell’s record and of the substantiated allegations would have avoided.
We hope that you will now publicize information about Mitchell’s status more widely, along with any information you have about another member of the BSMB, a former deacon in the Patriarchal church and a friend of Mitchell’s, who apparently was also defrocked and reported to the police for suspicious behavior with minors.
Also, we respectfully challenge the timing of your report to law enforcement on Mitchell. You wrote that you reported the new allegations when ORSMA substantiated them. However, children are best protected when the allegations of child sexual abuse are forwarded to the authorities when they are first brought to your attention.
Finally, we congratulate you and the rest of the synod for taking steps to insure that the OCA will not be giving any convicted sex offender a position of leadership in the Church in the future.
Cappy Larson of San Francisco, CA, SNAP Orthodox Director (firstname.lastname@example.org)