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Reflections On The Scandal

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2.15.08
A Proposal for the 2008All-American Council

Facing the Realities


Certain realities have taken hold in the OCA crisis.

I think that it might help if these realities were acknowledged by all sides.

On the one hand, the 'outraged' need to recognize and come to acceptance of the fact that the full truth about the roots of the financial scandal and the extent of the financial corruption is not going to be revealed or fully investigated voluntarily by the Metropolitan and the Holy Synod, for whatever reasons. Continued efforts to force it out, even if those methods ultimately work to some extent, will leave us with a Church divided, a decimated leadership, no repentance, and no forgiveness.

On the other hand, those resisting a full, impartial, investigation with public disclosure regarding the scandal, should recognize the futility of efforts to try to put the scandal away. The scandal will not go away, but will, in fact get worse - as the last two years have shown - unless some clear and definite means are agreed upon, whereby an end to continued misuse of funds and abuse of people can be assured.

That being said, the expected report of the new 'investigative' committee, the opening of the flow of money from the Mid-West, a united Synod announcing 'that all has been done that can be done' and a strong stand against those who would publicly pursue matters, is what might be expected. This would be spiritually fatal for the Church, I believe. We continue to bleed financially, and in more serious ways, through all kinds of schemes which, because they are ultimately concerned to cover up the scandal rather than cut off the source of power by which it feeds on the OCA, only aggravate the situation enormously.

A very, very serious breach has developed between the bishops and many faithful (and many clergy). People are aligned on one side or the other. Still others - either largely ignorant of what has been going on, or confused and torn - confine themselves to dealing with their immediate situations in the belief that it is not wise, proper, or required of them to get involved. Both sides could give strong reasons from their point of view as to why the other side is the major source of this breach, through the actions and attitudes of those involved.

There has not, in my opinion been a serious calling in question of the place of bishops and their legitimate role in the Church. (Though the nature of that role within the full Orthodox teaching, is something which I think requires some good study and reflection...) Rather, what has been called into question is inadequate action, or misuse of that role, resulting in a lack of trust. It has arisen in the case of specific bishops with regard to their conduct in their own dioceses; with Metropolitan Herman with regard to his role in the central administration and handling of the scandal; and with the Holy Synod in regard to its silence about much of the scandal. The perceived lack of integrity in partial and hobbled investigations has very obviously strained efforts by the Bishops to act in solidarity on all matters, especially regarding the scandal.

Without restoration of trust and co-operation, even some kind of acknowledged stalemate, if it were possible, would hardly be a positive basis on which to function in trying to live and declare the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.
One Option in the Face of the Realities:

Continue With a View to Outlasting the Other Side

There are reasons which could be advanced by both sides as to why these 'realities' need not, or should not be accepted. One side could continue to push for full revelation, compensation and acknowledgement by the wrong-doers, feeling that eventually the truth will have to come out, one way or another, for there to be healing.This side could continue to insist that truth and accountability, etc. cannot be compromised.

The other side continues to hold to silence and such half-measures as will give appearance of correcting problems, while the secrets remain hidden. It hopes that recovery of funding and eventual exhaustion will eventually lead to the cessation of hostilities. It could insist that matters such as protection of the episcopacy and its prerogatives are at stake, regardless of the reasons which have brought such opposition, and no compromise can be made without the episcopacy losing some of its proper authority.

If this situation continues, it will leave a very divided body, full of wounds.


A Second Option:

A New Beginning, Without Acceptance of On-going 'Bad Practices' or Compromise of Episcopal Prerogatives

By recognizing and accepting the two realities of our present polarization, a new beginning MIGHT be made, and not just a compromise or cessation of hostilities, IF there were a FULL break with the past.

The Cost to those Seeking Full Revelation of the Scandal

On the part of those outraged, this would mean a willingness to cease probing and pushing for full revelation of the scandal and its roots, and a willingness to co-operate in attempts to learn from the scandal and to work with the episcopacy to correct weaknesses in all areas of Church (e.g. healthy communication, proper procedures, reform of structures based on careful and thoughtful education and attention to a full, Orthodox understanding of the Church). It is my own conviction that, at bottom, there is not a serious questioning of the episcopacy or its proper prerogatives, or of the need for respectful and obedient working under and with the episcopacy in the work of the Church. If the Holy Synod were to act with clarity, honesty, and determination to address the abuses in the present, respond to concerns, and work to address concerns, the people would be glad to get on with the work of the Gospel in their own sphere, in full cooperation with the Bishops.

The Cost to those Keeping the Details Secret

For those unwilling to reveal, or to pursue the uncovering of the full nature of the scandal, it would mean that they would have to ensure that all financial practices or other obligations related to the scandal are ended once and for all. It would mean that all persons who are compromised by their presence as part of the central administration, or connections to it while these events unfolded, retire from any further influence over the financial affairs of the Church. This includes Metropolitan Herman. This does not imply guilt. It is necessary for a new beginning. It is my own conviction that the bishops are, for the most part, dedicated to the people and the Church, terribly overworked, with incredible pressures and responsibilities, and they too need a new beginning, and a way out of the impasse caused by the inheritance of matters which were not of their own doing, at least initially. They too need a reprieve from decisions (and non-decisions) made in regard to them, which, whether for good or ill in the long run, have become a huge weight upon them and the Church as a whole.

If the identification of these two basic realities is reasonably accurate; that is, that the Synod will not pursue a full and complete investigation, and that the opposition to this silence is not going to be appeased, it will take courage, faith, and good will in Christ, for a major turn-about (repentance) to be made on both sides. If that is done, solutions could be looked for based on the recognition of these realities which would allow both parties to break the pattern of interminable accusation and/or defence and deception. Perhaps, we could move forward positively.

What guarantees might be offered on both sides, what 'concessions' could be made, or assurances given, or steps taken to reach out to the other side, as an indication of good faith that we acknowledge the harm done and affirm that seeking Christ and reconciliation, not punishment of, or enmity with those on the other side, is our goal? And what benefits would accrue to each side should there be a humble, respectful, and serious effort to consider the suffering of each side, and to express love to those who have used us so poorly?

The Benefits for Both in Relation to the 2008 AAC

Coming to the AAC with this acceptance of the realities for making a new beginning, there could be a positive focus and some hope and energy for turning toward one another. Rather than anticipating great tensions and frustration, there might be good expectations. I believe that the 2008 AAC might be an occasion for praise and thanksgiving to God.

How long it might take, and what steps it might take, for those on both sides to be convinced that there can be a new beginning, I cannot imagine. But with willingness on both sides to consider significant changes in their attitudes and ways of dealing with one another, and to hear the concerns of one another it might be done. We need to engage in attempts to find means and practices which will prevent as much as possible such a situation from happening again.

It is important for the Bishops and the clergy and people to engage one another at the AAC and in the future. This must be done respectfully, since we all bear the image of God, and we are wrestling ultimately, not against one another, but against the invisible powers of wickedness. This struggle is not only with the working of the evil one in others, but in ourselves. To engage in dialogue, hearing one another, and seeking a way to bring closure to a terrible trial, does not suggest that laity or clergy usurp the role of the bishops, nor that the bishops demean themselves. It does mean that we are one Body of Christ, and that any attempt of the laity to act without the bishops, or of the bishops to act as if they were the Church, apart from the people and regardless of their concerns, is a breach of communion with Christ, as well as one another in the one Body. There have been, in my opinion, systemic difficulties, and lack of understanding in many Orthodox circles in the past and present regarding the importance of proper and good communication if we are to be in communion with one another the Lord. Instead, too much has been influenced by political and other, worldly assumptions about authority which do not presuppose being one Body in Christ.

A. What Acceptance of These Realities Might Mean Those Who Are Keeping the Roots of the Scandal Hidden

1. The Benefits of Recognizing These Realities and Seeking Solutions Together

The Metropolitan and the Synod simply continue to lose the confidence of the people by pseudo-investigations, half-information and propaganda to make things look like they are trying to deal with matters when they have no intention to do so in any complete and thorough way.

Acceptance of the realities of the current situation would mean:

• Relief from the constant pressure to bring out the truth, or to investigate and establish it, and the exhausting exercise of strategizing, explaining, controlling, compromising, etc.. It would alleviate the aggravation of tensions and conflicts among the bishops, through having to deal with the issues of the scandal.

• Leaving behind a great weight and pre-occupation and huge consumption of time, etc., with an opportunity to turn to positive pursuits in the Church, with hopefully much more positive relations and the possibility of reconciliation with those who have been affected by this scandal.

• An end to constant negative publicity and information, and war within the Church.

2. The Challenges

What would be required of those who have opposed and prevented the full revelation of the truth of what has been done, in order to regain trust might include:

(a). Full and definite steps must be taken to bring any continued drain on the Church's finances to an end in order to stop the bleeding and begin again:

- for example, paying Ms. Kondratick the money on the condition that she and her husband and compatriots will not in any way continue the conflict with the Church;

- bringing to an end the Metropolitan or bishops taking on liabilities or authorizing expenditures such as hiring legal firms, without knowledge and agreement of the Metropolitan Council or Diocesan Council, and without these Councils and those in charge of finances and the Church as whole having access to the full financial obligation of any such authorized expenditures, or full financial accounting of monies spent, with approval as to how the funding of such expenses will be made.

- a full and proper audit of all the financial affairs of the Church which would ensure that all monies are accounted for and that there is no money continuing to be paid as blackmail or as part of previous agreements to keep 'unthinkable' actions from being divulged or prosecutions activated.

(b). That those involved or implicated or compromised by the possibility of having been part of misuse of Church funds, be barred from any position where they would have any responsibility for dealing with Church funds.

(c) Definite proof would need to be provided that there are no discretionary or secret accounts of the Church in existence, or if there are to be such, that they be fully audited (with provision for privacy), that the amounts be known, and be within reasonable limits.

(d) All indebtedness or outstanding commitments (e.g. blackmail payments, if such exists) must be brought to an end, so that all the financial obligations and resources of the Church can be accounted for, thus putting an end to hidden drains on Church finances for unknown purposes and the need for financial accounting confusion which goes hand in hand with such hidden obligations.

(e) That there be changes to the Statute if necessary, so that the Metropolitan and others cannot interfere in the administration of funds in any way, but that financial matters be dealt with by clear and established practices and audits. All monies provided for Church use must be recorded, as must all disbursements. If monies are given to the Metropolitan or to Bishops or clergy personally for other purposes, then those who give them and those to whom they are given must be clear that these monies are not the responsibility of the Church, and that those receiving them will be fully accountable for any use or misuse made of them, and for any costs incurred through misuse of those funds. These would not be Church funds.

Currently, where the major officers of the Central Administration report separately to the Metropolitan, we are in not in any different situation than when all reported to the Chancellor, if neither are accountable or bound to operate by clear principles, in the light. We have simply changed personnel. Rather the administration must be handled according to methods and principles to which the Bishops also are committed. Should the Metropolitan or bishops want to set policies or create projects, which have budgetary implications, and want to access monies for implementing those policies or projects from the central administration budget, they would need to go through the Metropolitan Council and there should be no undisclosed projects of which the whole Church cannot be made aware.

(f) The Communications Officer and other key officers should not be mouthpieces of the Metropolitan or producers of propaganda on behalf of anyone or any position, but responsible for informing the church of what is happening of importance for the whole Church to know. One would hope that without the scandal to explain there would be much more independence given to secretaries and the communications officer to report fully what was dealt with, and decisions made, within clear privacy and confidentiality guidelines of course, not with an open-ended policy where matters which affect the Church are partially reported or not reported, or re-worked by the Metropolitan or others.

(g) The Metropolitan, the last remaining person from the central administration, because of his role and involvements during the past 8 years, should not carry on in the office of Metropolitan. This would be a major requirement for restoring trust and an act which would demonstrate the Synod and the Metropolitan's appreciation of having the pursuit of the roots of the scandal abandoned.

(h) At the moment it seems clear that the central administration still does not have the ability to carry out its tasks for the Church, but is tied to the Metropolitan and his agendas. Furthermore, we are still a long way from full audits and full control of expenditures charged to the Church and all monies given to the Church. No financial commitments should be entered into without clear indication of the costs involved and the way in which those costs will be determined and paid, without violating designated funds and other commitments (i.e. no more Proskauer/Roses, etc.).

(i) Desire to communicate with, and to consider what the people have to offer, and not to violate their position in the face of authority, in their efforts to share their concerns or to make their feelings or circumstances known (as any good confessor would do).

(j) Confession and seeking of forgiveness for the fact that many warnings of irregularities and inappropriate practices in the handling of money, regarding discretionary accounts, etc, were dismissed lightly, and not followed up.

(k) Official apologies to those who were mistreated, dismissed, or in other ways belittled as a result of their efforts to insist that truth and honesty must prevail in Christ's Church.

B. What Acceptance of These Realities Might Mean for Those Who are Determined to Get to the Roots of the Scandal

1. The Benefits of Recognizing These Realities and Finding a Solution

(a) Being freed from the temptations of despair and anger and condemnation, which separate from the presence of God, and give way for the devil to work and destroy those whom are attacked and may be misrepresented, and those who commit these sins by succumbing to and justifying these passions.

(b) Experiencing the freedom of knowing that the bleeding will not continue, that practices are being implemented which will allow the administration to handle finances, with all expenditures being properly approved, fully reported, and clear knowledge available of all financial obligations undertaken, with their terms and limits.

(c) Being freed from the choice of either being silent about wrong-doing and the injustices done to those around them and thus becoming complicit in them and suppressing the truth, or being considered disobedient and having to oppose the hierarchy.

(d) Being assured that their hard labours and sacrificial giving for the sake of Christ, the poor and the ministry of the Church for the salvation of their neighbours, is being used to the glory of God.

(e) Being freed from a great depressing cloud in the effort to do the work of Christ and to speak to others of Him without having to respond to questions about the sorry state of corruption in the Church.

The Challenges

(a) The closure of the www.OCANews.org site, or its re-direction, upon key steps being implemented to bring all connections with the scandal to an end.

(b) Agreement not to pursue the details of the scandal or its roots, but to leave it to God's judgement, working and healing.

(c) Efforts to undo the effects of public judgements and attacks on others, to join in the effort to repair the harm done to the Church and to reach out to those scandalized by the public sharing of real and perceived wrongdoing in the Church.

(d) Forgiveness of those who have wronged them, or have been perceived as wronging them; and asking forgiveness from those whom they have been attacked or misrepresented.

(e) To be respectful at all times of those given rule in the Church as its servants by Christ, and to consider how best to communicate one's concerns, and how to understand and submit to the working of God through those given spiritual authority, without violating one's own relationship with Christ.
Summary:

The Possibilities for the 2008 AAC

1. Accepting the basic realities in our present situation, described above, there must be dialogue among the laity, clergy and bishops, as a basis on which the bishops can weigh the possibilities for action. They need to lead the Church in stopping the bleeding from the scandal and begin a process of healing. The focus would be on what is required to stop the continued effects of the scandal, and the continued financial drain from it on the Church. They must focus on what must be changed in order to assure that no individual or group of individuals can be in a position to circumvent agreed upon, clear and honest procedures for dealing with financial matters or investigative or disciplinary measures of the Church.

2. There must be working sessions with all delegates and bishops involved, with preparatory materials provided ahead of time to parishes and delegates.

Information should be prepared and made available to parishes and delegates regarding the purpose of the discussions, the scope of topics to be considered, the nature of the discussions as hearing one another and providing input regarding ways to bring the effects of the scandal to an end and procedures and structures and policies to prevent, as far as possible, such a situation happening again.

This information is necessary for delegates to come equipped to enter into the discussions. Furthermore, they need this information to get feedback from their fellow parishioners whom they are representing, before they go to the Council. This will also ensure that the whole Church is aware of and praying for, the Assembly as one body. It will also pave the way for reports from the Council, and the follow-up to the Council which must take place across the Church in order to heal the Church and to be united and move on.

A bishop should be assigned to a each discussion group of delegates, who would discuss what needs to be done. This then should be brought back to the plenary session. It might be good to have a lay delegate and/or priest report with the bishop from each working group as to the conclusions reached or proposed actions needed, as agreed upon by each group. It would be good to have the working groups discuss one or two key issues at a time and meet a good number of times during the Council. I also think that it would be good to change the membership of the working groups for each new topic.Perhaps there could be a good number of sessions so that most people get to work with a good number of different bishops.

3. There should be rules set regarding addressing one another in these sessions and a monitor appointed to stop a person when the rules are broken. For example, no accusations, derogatory remarks or disrespectful manner of speaking should be allowed by anyone, Bishop, cleric or lay. Address the issues with the focus on solutions. There must be someone skilled in dialogue and reconciliation who could provide a clear list of do's and don'ts to allow serious dialogue to take place.

4. It is important that the deliberations and suggestions be summarized in different key areas and that, before the end of the Council, the Synod of Bishops give an initial response to the deliberations and an indication of how they would process and act on what has been provided by the Council.

5. If the Metropolitan will not resign prior to the AAC, a secret ballot should be taken regarding the advisability of Metropolitan Herman continuing to exercise the duties of Metropolitan, with the results made known at the Council. Because the scandal has not been brought to a resolution, and since, by his positions in the central administration over much of the long time that this scandal has plagued the OCA, like many others who have been dismissed or let go and without assigning any guilt, it has been voiced by many that it is not possible to make a new beginning while he continues to be in charge. A secret ballot might make clear to both the Metropolitan and the other bishops to what degree this perception is held. But in the end, by retiring or resigning, the Metropolitan would be relieved of a virtually impossible task of continuing to preside over the OCA, given the history of the scandal and all of the complications arising from efforts to deal with it.

Conclusion

The key issue seems to me to be that the Bishops have decided from the beginning that the details of the scandal must never be revealed. If the rest of the Church is to accept this position, we must have every confidence that the deviations from honest communication, from definite and clear principles of financial management and full disclosure of all financial transactions, from proper procedures for dealing with complaints (with protection of 'whistle-blowers'), from proper discipline and dealing with those who harm others in the Body of Christ, whether bishops or clergy or laity 'without favouritism', as is stated over and over and over in the Scriptures, must be ended decisively and thoroughly.

The bishops and others involved in the hiding of the roots of the scandal or blocking of its full disclosure, will give account to God, with their reasons, and the roots will be left behind as far as the rest of the Church is concerned, once the possibility of those roots distorting the Church's life, are dealt with.

The scandal has unearthed and revealed many confusions, inadequacies, and distortions in our life as a Church. This can be very positive if we face them. We are not in Byzantium. We are not under an emperor (for a least a good number of decades yet, by God's grace). We also don't have funding from the State. We need to recognize the realities of the culture within which we live, counter it where it departs from the Gospel, and affirm aspects of it which are good, but which may not have been affirmed before because the Church has not lived in such a culture. All of this should be done by trying to access and live out of the fullness and depths of the Tradition of the Orthodox Church. It is important to understand and live the ecclesiology of the Scriptures as expressed in the Tradition and to drop the baggage and distortions inherited from previous political regimes within which the Church has lived.

I pray that the Lord will be merciful to us if we turn our hearts to one another and to Him, and to the suffering world around us for which He died.

A Final Note

Do I think that the scenario described is possible? No, because the bishops appear, as of now, to have set their hearts on another course. The recent indication that the SIC will not complete their work until the end of the year, (though I did not expect much of the committee anyway) seems that now there is little point, indeed a great waste, in having an AAC.

But, what is impossible with men (I am using a gender specific term!) is possible with God.

Spencer Estabrooks is the Director of the St. Arseny Theological Institute, the theological institute of the Archdiocese of Canada (OCA), located in Winnipeg. This proposal was sent to the Preconciliar Commission last month.)