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The National Herald - May 31, 2008

Fr. Heropoulos Leaves Priesthood

By Theodore Kalmoukos

BOSTON.- Archimandrite John Heropoulos who served faithfully as Deacon to the late Archbishop Iakovos and was also one of the close confidants of former Archbishop Spyridon and specifically Director of his Private Archbishopric Office is leaving the holy priesthood and has petitioned to be defrocked and return to the ranks of the laity.

Very Reverend John Heropoulos is a priest gifted with pastoral and administrative abilities and also sensitive humane attitudes towards fellow humans. Proof of that is the donation of a kidney to a 16 year-old Greek American which saved his life. In an interview with The National Herald, Fr. Heropoulos spoke about his life changing decision citing over-exhaustion as a major reason for leaving. He said he was “burned out” and also was concerned of pressure on his remaining kidney, while he did not rule anything out including the possibility of marriage.

Starting with the basic question of if it is possible to name the reason or the reasons that he is leaving the holy priesthood, Fr. Heropoulos said, “I thank you very much for this opportunity. I have been a clergyman, including my years as Deacon, for approximately 20 years and I can tell you they were the best years of my life. I am so gratified for the opportunity that the Church had given me to serve the people and two Archbishops. I have come to the point where I have been burned out from all the responsibilities and also some considerations regarding the kidney due to some stress put on that, so I came to the decision that it will be best to end twenty beautiful years into a transition into some other work which is service oriented.”

A photo from Archbishop of America Demetrios’ visit to St. Paraskevi Church in Greenlawn, N.Y. Archimandrite John Heropoulos is standing behind the Archbishop, sixth from the left. Fr. Heropoulos announced that he is leaving the priesthood and petitioned to be defrocked to return
to the ranks of the laity

Asked if this decision is his, is it something that he decided at the very last minute or has he contemplated it for a long time, Fr. Heropoulos said, “This decision is completely my decision and it has taken place over the last three to four years. I went on sabbatical in June of 2007 and have completed almost a year sabbatical with the blessings of the Archbishop and the full intention of taking the sabbatical was to think, pray and reflect that was the correct decision.”

He went primarily to Greece for a period of time for reflection and then he returned and lives in Boston “so I can be close to my parents.”

Asked if he was sure it was his decision and not pressed by anyone else or any situation, he said “I was not pressed by anyone else or by any other situation”.

Asked if there are any reasons of ethical questions, specifically homosexuality, pederasty, or anything else, he said emphatically, “Absolutely not.”

Asked what he thinks of what is going in our Church with pedophilia, he said, “No comment.”

Asked how he feels about homosexuality in the priesthood, Fr. Heropoulos said, “I think that priests are obligated whether it is homosexual or heterosexual activity to abide by the ethics and morals of the Church.”

But Fr. Heropoulos said that he does not tolerate the homosexual lifestyle.

Fr. Heropoulos stated that his parents have been very supportive about his decision.

“I thank God I have a loving father and mother,” he said. “They are both 80 years old and they have always supported every decision in my life and they continue to support this decision, and I also have my brother’s complete support.”

Asked if he has any remorse for becoming a priest and did he change his mind about it, he said, “Absolutely not. The 20 years I was in the clergy were the best 20 years of my life.”

Would Archimandrite Heropoulos choose the same career path of going to seminary, becoming a priest again and especially a celibate priest, or would he follow some other profession? He say yes.

“I would,” he said. “If I had to do everything all over again I would definitely become a priest again, I would defiantly go to our School Hellenic College and Holy Cross.”

He agreed that initially he became a priest to remain a priest. To the Herald’s point that he did not become a priest to say at some point that he is burned out and leaving, Fr. Heropoulos replied with just one word, “Correct.”

Asked if is this burned out situation he mentioned and his concern about his kidney, is enough of a reason for someone like him to leave the priesthood, he said, “There are two issues. The one issue will be the burn out, the physical exhaustion and I only bring to your attention that during these 20 years that I have been serving two Archbishops, Iakovos and Spyridon in very demanding jobs which I am thankful for of course, but these jobs were very demanding. I always served very large communities as well as working on the full clean up at ground zero of 9/11 as a Red Cross chaplain, I have seen bodies, body parts, and countless other things. Then considering some physical situations regarding the kidney, I thought that after 20 very beautiful years that it was time to go to some other service.”

In regards and since you mentioned the kidney donation twice thus far, did he ever have any regrets about doing it?

“Never,” he said. “If I had another kidney to give, I would give that as well.”

Sources told the Herald Archimandrite Heropoulos is leaving the priesthood because he did not become a Bishop. If he had become a Bishop, would he have stayed in the priesthood?

“My personal decision to leave the priesthood and do charitable work has absolutely nothing to do with not becoming a Bishop,” he said.

Would Fr. Heropoulos consider getting married?

“At this point all that I have thought about has been limited to the huge decision from decommissioning out of the priesthood and I have not thought passed that, but I rule nothing out,” he said.

In terms of his new employment, he said, “Three weeks ago I began a new job with The Children’s Tumor Foundation. The headquarters is in New York City but there is a Boston Office. This Foundation deals with the disorder call neurofibromatosis. I will primarily be a spokesman for the disorder and a fundraiser. There is a hope to sponsor a Conference with Greek doctors to do medical research so we may improve health care to the Greek children in Greece.”

Asked if he has been offered a position to become the Dean of Students at the Holy Cross School of Theology by Fr. Nicholas Triantafilou, the president of the School of Theology and if Archbishop Demetrios did not allow this appointment go through, Archimandrite Heropoulos, said “I do not know anything regarding the communication between Fr. Triantafilou and Archbishop Demetrios. The only thing that I know is that I did have a conversation with Fr. Triantafilou regarding that position, but it was never really offered. We spoke about the position.”

Asked to describe what were some of the most beautiful experiences that he had as a priest, he said, “By far the best moments were serving as a parish priest working with the people in the three following communities, St. Nicholas in Flushing, St. Paraskevi in Greenlawn, New York and St. George in Hartford, Connecticut.”

When it was pointed out that he left out his time in the administrative position at the Archdiocese as a Director of the Private Office of the former Archbishop Spyridon, Fr. Heropoulos explained, “I leave that out only because those years were very challenging and difficult years for everybody, not me alone, and I always felt closeness when I was with the people at the grassroots level in the parish with sacraments and counseling and with that type of ministry.”

When asked if those three years close to Spyridon were difficult on him, and if so, in what way, he said, “Yes,” and added, “Anyone who remembers the years of transition in the Church during those years will know that they were very intense, political, and a trying time for everyone. By virtue of being the Director of the Office of the Archbishop I was put in the center of much of this which caused tremendous personal stress. However even in that position I learned many things, that we can’t control certain things in life and other we can.”

Fr. Heropoulos did not want to discuss any unique conversations that he may have had with the former Archbishop Spyridon on some ecclesiastical matters.

“I would rather not talk about that,” he said.

What he remembers most from Archbishop Iakovos was “his tremendous speaking ability” and from former Archbishop Spyridon “his deep concern for the future of the Church.”

He also said that he communicates with Archbishop Spyridon “very rarely through e-mail” and that he called him recently when Spyridon was in town.

Asked if he feels a sense of responsibility towards the students of Holy Cross who have gone there to study Theology to become priests and what message his departing the holy priesthood possibly sends to the young priests, he said, “The massage will be to study and dedicate themselves to high principals of the Church, but also to know themselves, to know what is in their heart and to also know far they can go but also their limits.”

[ The National Herald - May 31, 2008 - pp. 1 and 5 ]
[ The National Herald - www.thenationalherald.com/article/27910 - May 30, 2008 ]