Reflections On The Scandal
THE SITUATION WITHIN THE ORTHODOX CHURCH IN AMERICA: SELECTED ANALYSIS AND RECOMMENDED SOLUTIONS
It is reasonably expected that many persons have come to know at least something of the events of the recent past 12 months, as affect life within the Church. In the following pages, a few areas of concern connected with those events will be discussed. Given the making of an effort to be concise, it is very possible that not every single aspect of every problem will be discussed thoroughly; however, these few short words are offered in terms of perspectives which (in some cases) have been mentioned by some persons or (in other cases) seem to have been mentioned by almost no one. The perspectives are critical as we continue first to address the fundamental question “Are the allegations true ?” (Sometimes restated as “To what extent are the allegations true ?”), and then seek to see Church life returned to “normalcy” in terms of focus on its calling from God.
1) The “problem” associated with Proskauer-Rose and the “collision course” concerning its report;
2) The problems caused by the borrowing of U.S. $1.7 million;
3) The problematic perception of the Central Church Chancery;
4) The impact that these have on the life of the Church, particularly within the foreseeable future;
5) Summary of proposed solutions.
Speaking methodologically, #4 here will be more or less treated in “running fashion” throughout these analyses and proposals; the other areas will have sections of focus. The purpose in all cases is the offering of some considered and experienced perspectives in areas that very much have become critical to Church life (whether we like it or not), these perspectives also being something not yet substantively found in the rather voluminous print dedicated to the subject to date.
THE “PROBLEM” ASSOCIATED WITH PROSKAUER-ROSE and the “COLLISION COURSE” CONCERNING ITS REPORT
It is very possible that one could find this topic heading sounding strange or unusual; however, it is very much the case that, perhaps accidentally, the utilization of the Proskauer-Rose law firm has certain problematic aspects to it. These aspects have come to have very real and potentially even greater impact on Church life. The problem stems from the actual nature of the Proskauer-Rose law firm on the one hand, versus how its utilization (and therefore its efforts) for the Orthodox Church in America has been portrayed, on the other hand. The apparently most serious dimension of this problem is the “collision course” presently in place, between those who have been led to see Proskauer-Rose as a “tool of the Church” (& who are therefore expecting a massively substantive “report” from the firm) on the one hand, and those who were at the lead in retaining the firm (for good reason), and who are (no doubt) being counseled by the firm to report nothing, on the other hand.
Proskauer-Rose was retained to help protect the Church; Proskauer-Rose was not nearly so much particularly retained to somehow broadly report facts to the Church – without a clear and honest beginning of this kind, nothing else can ever really be accomplished. Proskauer-Rose (hereafter often referred to as “the firm” or “PR”) is a prestigious law firm with a number of specialty areas of concentration; one of these is its “Criminal Defense and Corporate Investigations Practice Group”; the firm has handled such niceties as “ ... bribery and official corruption allegations, money laundering investigations, customs fraud, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act matters ...”, to name only a few. Its style is to help keep “...its clients’ potential criminal activities out of the limelight...”; it offers success in “...persuading prosecutors to refrain from bringing criminal charges...” (cf., self-description of PR, brochure).
PR was retained because of the nature of the allegations raised. The retaining of PR made sense precisely because the language of the allegations which were raised suggests violations of law (in addition to all the moral / propriety matters suggested); and the finding of evidence (early on) supporting some specific allegations makes it reasonable for us to be concerned about all of them. For the Church, however, it is not simply a matter of violations of American criminal or civil law; there is the “higher law” of morality or ethics or ... (pick a descriptor) that we must answer to in the Church. It is not suggested here that this is not known or believed; what is being raised is a real concern, that the heavy apparent reliance solely on PR (i.e., in a less-than-directed manner) places one dimension of life on a collision course with another. A fictionalized example will be offered here to illustrate some of this; the example, humorous though it may be, reflects the problems to be faced.
A Fictionalized Example:
[Disclaimer: The following fictional example is deliberately framed in stereotypical ethnic terms, so as to illustrate how actions can evoke a sense of “outrage” on the part of some; let no one be distracted by details of the example itself!]
Let us envision an earthquake in Armenia (such as did occur previously). In this setting, upon hearing the reports of the quake a number of our Romanian brothers made a concerted effort to raise funds specifically to help the Armenians in this time of need (many clergy have, over the years, known Armenian students at Seminary, for example, and would easily have a personal motivation and caring in this example); and, the effort was blessed with success. HOWEVER: the funds then came to be diverted, going not to Armenians in need but rather instead to (heaven forbid) Hungarians! (perhaps an attempt to control flooding in the wine-growing region of Lake Balaton, or whatever...).
This fictionalized example can illustrate many things: one could easily see and might expect our Romanian brethren to be viewing the diversion to Hungarians as an action reflecting “...error, lack of good judgment, and sin...” (cf., statement of the Lesser Synod); but the same diversion action may or may not be illegal. Being legal would not make it alright (especially to Romanians); but if the action also were illegal, a prudent person would not wish to exacerbate an already wrong action by helping to bring about additional consequences deriving out of American criminal or civil law liabilities, simply because it would be the Church who would bear the costs of this occurrence.
In the Church, we must deal with both (broadly speaking) moral and legal implications of all kinds of things. In looking at the retaining of PR, several things become readily apparent: 1) PR is focused on the legal dimensions; 2) PR will “take the lead” in advising the Church in its legal focus – but one should not expect the same level of attention on the moral focus to come from PR; 3) as such, a “raw report” from PR should reasonably be expected to be something reflecting its focus; 4) if PR is worth its billable rates (the figure of $695.00 per hour has been mentioned) then it will advise its clients not to do anything which might encourage the bringing of legal action against said clients; 5) normally, one would expect the kind of information to be received from one’s attorney in a “raw report” to be what one never routinely divulges, for exactly these kinds of reasons and concerns; 6) one could then easily see PR producing a report which, in normal thinking, PR would advise the Church (as any other client) not to divulge.
There can be a legitimate need and concern here: it is bad enough (as per our above example) that Romanian donations meant to help Armenians were diverted to Hungarians: why on earth would the Church want to make things worse by risking the need to defend itself in various American legal actions? Having spent “one hundred large” (i.e., U.S. $100,000) or more to retain PR, one would not reasonably expect to throw their counsel into the Long Island Sound.
There is much, much more to the matter. Like it or not, PR has been touted about as the entity “doing the investigating for the Church”; the perception, deriving even from some Church statements themselves, is that PR is investigating the allegations and that everyone else is looking for the answers from PR. The Church at large has been given the sense that PR is preparing (for “us”) the answers to the fundamental questions: Are the allegations true? (or) To what extent are the allegations true? Like it or not, this also is the present state of affairs. In the Church we are of course not firstly concerned with the American criminal and/or civil liabilities of actions (although these are very much realities about which we must be concerned): we are concerned with what is right, meaning, what is of God. (Regardless of whether legal or illegal, is it right to divert donations from Romanians to Hungarians instead of Armenians?).
The Church therefore must take the lead in addressing this current reality of perception; without doing so, we cannot even begin to expect that we can accomplish the doing of God’s work, let alone come to place our “... focus on Christ, and His saving mission, and on our shared participation in that mission, and to direct their energies to the work to which we have all been called: proclaiming the fullness of the Gospel to the peoples of North America.” (cf., statement of the Lesser Synod). The reason why this is so is: there is a major “distraction” to many, in the form of the essential question: Are the allegations true? (or) To what extent are the allegations true?
If it can be accepted that these current divergent patterns of thinking and these specific on-going activities in the Church are elements “on a collision course”, then the following functional solution is offered:
1) The “PR report” must actually be in 2 distinct segments: one which is a litigation report, and then one that addresses for the Church the question: Are the allegations true? (or) To what extent are the allegations true?
2) This second segment of the report would be directed: a simple method would be for (at very least, as per established functioning) the Lesser Synod of Bishops, meeting with PR, and providing PR with the specific sub-questions that must be answered under the topic: Are the allegations true? (or) To what extent are the allegations true?
3) This consultative effort will permit PR to craft a text which avoids increasing the Church’s vulnerability to (civil or criminal) legal action, yet addresses the question and sub-questions properly. This text would be drafted with the expectation that the answers would be known throughout the Orthodox Church in America.
4) It is difficult to speak in advance of the litigation segment of the report, as one does not yet know any of its contents. If PR determines that there is some level of vulnerability to prosecution in one or more areas, this will have to be shared with at least the members of the Metropolitan Council (for this entity has the task of defending in legal actions, just as it has the task of entering into loan agreements, as per the Statute of the Church), but in some kind of “eyes-only format”, for the reasons stated above.
5) One would hope that reasonable people (some of whom may serve on the Metropolitan Council) would understand the need for this approach and format. Instead of there being no broadly-disseminated report (which option the fellows charging $695.00 an hour most likely would prefer) there will be a report for dissemination; however, any actual “litigation matters” would have to kept totally confidential, for obvious reasons.
6) One person called this approach “a middle approach”; that is probably as good a description of it as any. That same person suggested that “the middle approach is always the wisest approach”, and that might well be so; the determination is, of course, left to the Holy Synod of Bishops. However, the determination needs badly to be done soon; for a number of reasons the restiveness of the people within the Orthodox Church in America is such that Church life conditions could deteriorate even more than up to now, if we must wait until the winter of 2006 to even begin thinking in these terms; we have PR at work: PR needs to be directed in this fashion at this very moment (for we have already paid the firm one hundred large to date – we should receive the best available result for the Church, and even spend a bit more for that, if need be).
THE PROBLEMS CAUSED BY THE BORROWING OF U.S. $1.7 MILLION
A trained and/or experienced person can understand the thinking behind seeking the loan in question (hereafter often called “the Loan”), especially in terms of the possible legal ramifications of the allegations involved. At the same time, from the very first hearing of the considering of the Loan, it was suggested in a number of quarters that this action in itself was quite risky, and something which in the ultimate would not be good for the Church, especially where efforts to “move forward” are concerned. In this discussion there will be no criticism here of the making of the Loan per se; that is so simply because at the time of the making-up of the loan arrangements, the Church was faced with negative realities coming in all directions, facing a need to be concerned about obligations, legal ramifications, etc., etc., etc., in a difficult climate (as an example: a lay person said, recently, that the Loan should not be necessary – that all the interest could be saved by a agreed-upon schedule of “special assessments”. When that person was asked if he would agree to and support such a plan, he responded: “...Not the way things are now!...”. This person is one who cares for the Church, yet also is looking for a substantial improvement in structural credibility; and the point here is: many people feel exactly this way! One must “begin somewhere” to find a solution). (For purposes of discussion here it is being assumed that the arrangements for the loan have “closed”).
The long-term ramifications of the Loan are not good at all; they constitute a drain on the resources of the Church at what is a critical time for us. One person expressed the fears of many: if we are not careful, the Orthodox Church in America could move perilously close to bankruptcy; and what then is to become of the classic vision of and the calling for the Church? In the alternative, meeting the 20-year obligations of the Loan will make it much, much more difficult to address all the other existing needs of the Church.
The existent reality is that the economic condition of many parishes is far from good or great or wonderful; this was a stated concern by many in the days as the 2005 All-American Council approached. It has been suggested that a 20-year loan (of seventeen hundred large) cannot be realistically sustained, given the reasonable projections of various kinds that are before us; such circumstances would then require the elimination (i.e., early payoff) of the Loan through of some or other assets. Such being the case, it therefore would make sense to make certain constructive decisions “up front” (now) as it were, so as to then maximize the opportunity for the Church to seek to be true to her calling and vision in the utilization of available resources. In so many ways, it is visibly clear that the last thing that we need in the Church is to be in debt for 20 years to cover seventeen hundred large (1.7 million dollars) !
1) A decision be made to relocate the offices of our central administration out of Long Island, and to the Stavropighial Monastery/Seminary property at South Canaan (as an aside: regardless of the strange claims of some monastic of argentiferous fame, St. Tikhon’s Monastery and St. Tikhon’s Seminary are as much the “territory” of the Metropolitan as is anything else in the Archdiocese of Washington & New York, for they are stavropighial; when the Metropolitan is at St. Tikhon’s Monastery or St. Tikhon’s Seminary he is precisely on “his own territory”);
2) In the course of this action, the Long Island properties would be straightaway marketed and sold, with the proceeds being used first to repay the Loan.
3) At the same time, the central administration would acquire the existing South Canaan building (that is now owned by the Diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania) at market value (or at the cost of its construction, whichever is the greater amount). This arrangement will then enable that Diocese to properly provide for the residence of Vladyka Tikhon. Other building structures on the property could be brought into service as needed for the functioning of the central administration.
4) The overall effect of this relocation is to functionally reduce certain operating costs for the central administration, while freeing the Church from the burden of the Loan. At the same time, the choice of relocation is one not at all foreign to His Beatitude, an important factor as well.
THE PROBLEMATIC PERCEPTIONS OF THE CURRENT CENTRAL CHURCH CHANCERY
It is unfortunate to have to speak in these terms, simply because one fears that in spite of our best efforts to the contrary, someone will interpret the discussion “personally”; and that is not the point here at all. The discussion here centers on the impact of the changes that have occurred in the Chancery Office, and particularly the impact of the “unsettledness” that is widely perceived in the Church.
There will be no discussion here of the decision to remove the previous Chancellor; rather, the discussion here is centered on the realities of existent perceptions, and the need to actively then have in place a functioning chancellor sooner, rather than later. The existing remaining Chancery staff is no doubt working very hard; and much of the responsibility (previously handled by several) has fallen particularly upon one priest (who also has parish responsibilities as well); the point here is that, for Church life at this time, this situation (being literally “understaffed”) not only risks wearing down the chancery staff, but leaves the Chancery less able to function; and this comes at a time when (for matters of restoring credibility, etc.) it is imperative that the functioning be improved. (People have come to notice this, people of very much diverse backgrounds in our parishes; it is a situation badly in need of improvement). In other words, a chancellor is badly needed.
This particular analysis falls also under the category of “moving on” (it is a truly lousy phrase, but also one that everyone and his uncle seems to use today). If we wish Church life to indeed “move” at all, in the way that it is called by God to do, then there are certain concrete steps which must be taken; the idea is that, when taken together, these steps can serve to restore structural credibility and help people to then focus upon the calling that we have received in the Church.
1) To help with the current need for “settledness” it would be helpful for the Holy Synod to confirm that the office of chancellor is vacant, by an announcement similar to that which was utilized a number of years ago (and which included the announcement of the beginning of a “search process” of some sort).
2) At the very least, an acting chancellor needs to be sought and appointed; this would be someone who is not being asked to be secretary / acting treasurer / acting chancellor simultaneously.
3) A deliberate effort must then be made to seek a chancellor. Given the current state of affairs, it is further imperative that the chancellor be someone who could be looked to, from across the Church so to speak, in terms of his visibly embracing the classic vision of Orthodoxy and our calling from God, and with it then the vision of the Orthodox Church in America that we have received. Such clergy certainly exist in our Church; the task is to actively seek them out. At the same time, the turning of thoughts to this process will in itself become part of the “moving” process that is so badly needed.
4) An effort must be made to give clear and tangible and positive and valuable meaning to that which some describe as “moving forward” or “moving on”. This is no easy task; such is why we need a stronger functioning chancery, rather than the weakened situation that we now have. In the Church, one would think that this need is to be seen simply as “normal”; but at this time, it is beyond critical in necessity.
We live in a world of “instant posted response”, deriving out of the experience of amazingly faster technological abilities to communicate; this can be good and bad (as everything in the fallen world is). The various responses to the April 9 message of His Beatitude can function as good examples of the problem at hand. From a “Churched” perspective, the content and understanding of the message was clear and necessary; however, the many existent distractions (unfortunate as they are) connected with the very subject matter caused the message of the text not to be so clear, for all too many persons (and the posted “responses” of various kinds, among other things, reveal this). Discounting cynicism (because we must, of course) it still needs to be seen that we badly need the reestablishing of functional chancery structures that, with credibility, can then proceed to help, support, and encourage that message expressed (in different settings) by His Beatitude, the Lesser Synod and the entire Holy Synod of Bishops. Within this context, the serious filling of the position of Chancellor should be seen as critically essential.
SUMMARY OF PROPOSED SOLUTIONS
1) The PR report must actually be in 2 distinct segments: one which is a litigation report, and one that addresses for the Church the question: Are the allegations true? (or) To what extent are the allegations true?
2) This second segment of the report would be need to be directed; such could be done by (at least) the Lesser Synod, meeting with PR, and providing PR with specific sub-questions that must be answered under the topic: Are the allegations true? (or) To what extent are the allegations true? From this segment, the Church at large would be informed of the answers to that critical question.
3) A decision be made to relocate the offices of our central administration out of Long Island, and to the Stavropighial Monastery/Seminary property at South Canaan. In the course of this, the Long Island properties would be immediately marketed and sold, with the proceeds being used first to repay the Loan.
4) At the same time, the central administration would acquire the existing residence building (now owned by the Diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania) at market value (or at the cost of the construction, whichever is the greater amount). This arrangement will then enable that Diocese to properly provide for the residence of Vladyka Tikhon. Other building structures on the property could be brought into service as needed.
5) To help with the current need for “settledness” it would be helpful for the Holy Synod to confirm that the office of chancellor is vacant, by an announcement similar to that which was utilized a number of years ago (and which included the announcement of the beginning of a “search process” of some sort).
6) At the very least, an acting chancellor needs to be sought and appointed, this would be someone who is not being asked to be secretary / acting treasurer / acting chancellor simultaneously.
7) A deliberate effort must then be made to seek a chancellor. Given the current state of affairs, it is further imperative that the chancellor be someone who could be looked to, from across the Church so to speak, in terms of embracing the classic vision of Orthodoxy and our calling from God, and with it then the vision of the Orthodox Church in America that we have received.
8) The rationale behind these and all other implementations must be clearly and accurately conveyed to the Church “at large”, making a special effort to constantly correlate the various implementations with the vision of the Church, and in a manner that is credible and thoughtful.
All of that which the Church needs can be accomplished (some parts of it may be more difficult, others less difficult), in that we believe in the Church of Christ and Her Life and Her Mission and Her Calling, and that the Lord God will make the seemingly impossible to become possible. It is therefore prayerfully hoped that this analysis with proposed solutions will in some way be of service to the Church, particularly in these difficult days; it is offered only in that spirit and for that purpose.
(Archpriest) George Johnson
Saint John the Baptist Parish Johnstown (Conemaugh), PA