Local leaders of the Orthodox Church in America say they are saddened by the removal of the head of the church, but that there was no choice after allegations he mishandled a sex abuse case.
Metropolitan Jonah -- head of the 80,000-member, Syosset-based church in the United States, Canada and Mexico -- resigned amid questions about whether he failed to report a rape allegation against a priest to OCA officials or law enforcement, according to the church. On Monday, the church released a detailed letter, saying Jonah knew about the case as early as February but took no corrective action.
Instead, he tried to get the priest to pursue a military chaplaincy and later transferred him, the letter said.
Jonah could not be reached for comment.
"It certainly is a sad and unfortunate situation. But Metropolitan Jonah's resignation is in the best interests of the church," said the Very Rev. Jonathan Ivanoff, rector of St. John the Theologian Church in Shirley, one of five parishes on Long Island.
He said Jonah's alleged actions were a "flagrant" violation of church policy, and noted that the church synod, or leadership board, was unanimous in its condemnation of Jonah.
"You don't hide this stuff. You don't shuffle it around. You don't ignore it. You deal with it," Ivanoff said.
In a July 6 letter to the synod, Jonah said, "I . . . beg forgiveness for however I have offended you, and for whatever difficulties have arisen from my own inadequacies and mistakes in judgment." He added that he had "neither the personality nor the temperament" to lead the church.
The Very Rev. John Klingel, rector of St. Andrew's Church in Dix Hills, said, "The sad part of it is that Metropolitan Jonah was very good at traveling and meeting other religious leaders and representing our church nationally and internationally."
He added that the church has gone through several changes in its top leadership in recent years. "It's disappointing," he said. "Every time that happens, there's an adjustment for everyone. It exacts a toll."
The Rev. Martin Kraus, rector of Holy Trinity Church in East Meadow, said he is praying that the church can maintain unity amid the turmoil. "We trust in God that no matter what happens, we work together. We love everybody involved and want what is best for everybody."
Ivanoff said he has known Jonah since their days in the seminary in the 1980s, and he had viewed him as "a very good, moral man . . . He was a very quiet but reflective person. He was a very good thinker. He could cut through the issues of debate and get right to the heart of the matter."
The day before the church's vote to elect a new head in 2008, Jonah was not even a candidate, Ivanoff said. But that night, Ivanoff said, "he gave an impromptu speech that just blew everyone away with the candidness and frankness and forthrightness with which he spoke."
The next day, he was elected head of the church overwhelmingly.