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Reflections On The Scandal

The Metropolitan Council Members:

Why Didn't They Do Their Jobs?

Gregg Nescott, Allison Park, PA

Earlier this week, a writer on the Orthodox Forum asked why the OCA's Metropolitan Council had failed to deal years ago with the financial mess now facing the Church. The writer asked:

"My question is not why were they elected, but why over the yearsthey didn't do their job? What caused these people (and I don't think any of them were "dumb" unless you mean it in its real sense
of "not able to speak"), yes, what caused these MC people to be "yes-only" people? Where did this attitude in our church start?


Please someone, can you answer this question for me?


So just where did this attitude of the yes-men originate andtake root in our Church? Was there a teaching of a false humility going around, teaching that one must never question a hierarch's decisions or actions? I would really like to know."

As a former Metropolitan Council member, let me try to tackle the difficult and important questions of why the MC became populated by "yes-men" and why "they didn't do their job."

On July 10, 2005, I resigned from the MC as the lay representative from the Diocese of Western Pennsylvania, citing my disgust with the emasculation of the MC. As I noted in my resignation letter to
Archbishop Kyrill and Metropolitan Herman, the last straw was the letter from the Chancellor of the OCA 10 days earlier to Archbishop Job, denying the request of +Job and the Diocesan Council of the
Diocese of the Midwest that the All-American Council in Toronto be provided with a "thorough and clear presentation" of all financial records of the Church, in order that the AAC might deal responsibly in
making financial decisions for funding the national church.

Fr. Kondratick's letter to +Job flatly refusing to produce additional financial records for the AAC relied heavily on his claim that the Metropolitan Council was fully in possession of all financial facts.


As I wrote in my resignation letter:

"But the response of the Chancellor of the OCA to Archbishop Job, in a letter dated June 30, 2005, was stunning. To state that the Metropolitan Council 'is provided with all pertinent information'
concerning finances and that 'thorough' attention is given to the budget before final approval by the Metropolitan Council is just not accurate: there remain expenditures in categories that cannot be divined from the documents provided to the Metropolitan Council for what is generally a pro forma budget review. Worse, the position outlined by the Chancellor that it would be 'inappropriate' to release additional financial information to the AAC 'without the
prior approval of the Metropolitan Council and the blessing of the Holy Synod' is simply disingenuous. If the Diocese of the Midwest and its Bishop are requesting a more detailed financial accounting, then
why shouldn't the AAC be in the position to receive these records, if the delegates vote to do so? Where, after all, is the harm? When is openness a bad thing?"

In that same resignation letter, I discussed the emasculation of the MC:

"The Metropolitan Council once held an important role in the Church,bringing together outstanding lay and clergy leaders from throughout the country. From talking with people who sat on those Metropolitan
Councils and from reading of those days, I know that those meetings were marked by open and spirited discussion, with differing points of
view argued, but with agreement invariably being reached in the best interests of the Church.

"Apart from the terms I have served as the Diocesan representative to the Metropolitan Council, I also was elected at least three times by All-American Councils as the lay alternate to the Metropolitan Council, the first time (I believe) in 1977, in Montreal. I had the
privilege of participating as the alternate in Metropolitan Council meetings in the 1980s where a spirit of openness, honest debate, and conciliarity still existed.

"In my opinion, those days are gone. Openness has too frequently been replaced by shadows and secrecy. Spirited and thought-provoking discussion has disappeared from a Metropolitan Council that, sadly,
can best be described now as a rubber stamp for the decisions of the Administrative Committee and the Chancery.

"Where opposing points of view were once treated with deference, they are now dismissed out-of-hand. Where fair and honest questions are raised, they are too often bluntly rejected. The idea seems to be to
drive through recommendations with as little discussion and dissent as possible. I was frankly shocked at the last two meetings in which I participated to hear virtually no questions being raised, no assumptions being challenged, and little discussion being encouraged.
I remember particularly in recent years when legitimate questions were asked about such things as the total amount being spent on travel, or an easy to understand breakdown of salaries and benefits for what is
now 28 paid positions at the Chancery. The Metropolitan Council members were told those figures could not -- or would not -- be provided."

The Metropolitan Council was once a valuable and valued part of the administration of the Church. How the MC train derailed -- and why the
MC didn't do its job and became a rubber stamp -- is based in part, I think, on at least six factors.

1. The Metropolitan Council may no longer represent the best and brightest among our clergy and laity.

I recall hearing about, and later meeting some of the giants of the MC in the 1950s and 1960s, people like Ivan Czap and Ross Chepeleff and many others, who were clearly among the leading clergy and laymen in
the Church when they served on the MC. I remember sitting on the MC in the early 1980s and being in awe of the talents and eloquence of the other members, me being just a punk kid at the time. In recent years,
it may be that the dioceses have not always sent their best and brightest to serve on the MC. (And I certainly dare not suggest that I ever could be counted among those best and brightest.)

Over the last two decades, some of the members came to the MC without much experience or knowledge of the national church, or even of their own dioceses. Years ago, a diocese sent a priest and his Matushka as
their MC representatives because it spared the cost of two rooms for accommodations. In several instances, a single parish has had multiple representatives serving at the same time on the MC, or a diocese has
sent as its representatives individuals from the same parish. For years, two members from the same parish were appointed and reappointed to fill the only two seats on the Administrative Committee of the MC
that were open to laity, from among all the lay men and women throughout the United States and Canada. Admittedly, a single parish may be blessed with several talented MC candidates, but the question
must be asked: Are our dioceses and AACs electing the very best people they can find to sit on the MC, assuring a diversity of viewpoints and experience?

2. The members of the Metropolitan Council have not always been elected and do not always serve according to the Statute of the OCA.

Article V of the OCA Statute requires that one clergy and one lay representative to the MC are to be elected by the diocesan assembly, with vacancies in those positions to be filled by the diocese. Yet in
recent years, some members of the MC were not elected by their diocesan assemblies, but sat by appointment of the diocesan bishop.
(To my knowledge, no one knows how many members presently are appointees of their bishops to the MC, instead of being elected. But whether the answer to that question is "several" or "many",
appointment to and service on the MC at the behest of the bishop is clearly not what the Statute intended, and could very well make such appointees less responsive to their diocesan assemblies.)

Similarly, the OCA Statute built in term limitations, to assure that individuals were not elected to serve extended, or even life terms on the MC, presumably to encourage turnover in membership, and fresh
approaches and thinking on the Council. The Statute specifically states, "All elected members, whether representing the several dioceses or those elected by the All-American Councils, may succeed themselves in office for one term only."

Since the periodicity of AACs has been three years and the longest term for a MC member elected by those AACs has been six years (the remaining terms being for three years), the logical conclusion is that
the longest period of time one individual may serve on the MC is a maximum of twelve consecutive years, less if elected to three-year terms. Yet this rule has been disregarded, with some individuals sitting on the MC for longer terms, and others, having been ineligible
for re-election at AACs, simply returning as diocesan representatives, frustrating the intent of the Statute. If indeed new ideas are necessary to the vitality of the MC, arbitrarily encouraging and permitting some individuals to serve longer does not well serve the
Church.

3. The rise of the Administrative Committee has led to the corresponding decline of the Metropolitan Council.

Somehow, 15 or 20 years ago, the Administrative Committee of the MC became the tail that wagged the dog, obliterating much of the authority and initiative previously exercised by the MC.

Article V of the OCA Statute states:

"The Metropolitan Council may, between meetings, delegate a committee consisting of the Chancellor, Secretary, Treasurer, and two other members to meet in conjunction with the Lesser Synod of Bishops upon
their invitation, to discuss normal church administrative procedures. This committee shall report back to the Metropolitan Council concerning all actions and decisions."

Somewhere along the way, a previous Metropolitan began appointing the lay and clergy members to this Administrative Committee, controlling
its composition, although the Statute reserved that privilege to the MC itself. Somewhere, two clergy and two lay began to be appointed, although the Statute called for just one of each. And somewhere, the
Administrative Committee began making all decisions about salaries and benefits and budget development and many other aspects of the finances of the Church, rarely if ever presenting regular reports of all
actions -- as mandated by the Statute -- to the full MC. If the purpose of the Administrative Committee was to shorten the length of MC meetings and limit the information brought to the attention of the
full MC, it succeeded in achieving that goal. If the purpose was to make decisions that were then not fully shared with the full MC, effectively keeping the MC in the dark, then that goal was also realized.

By way of example, the general level of salaries and benefits used to be shared with the Metropolitan Council members, with the understanding that these numbers were necessarily confidential and
were not to be disclosed outside of the MC. In recent years, when questions might be asked at MC meetings about salaries and benefits, the answer from the Chancellor or Treasurer would be that those were
confidential matters, shared only with the Administrative Committee. As another example, at the Spring 2002 MC meeting, the Chancellor and
the Treasurer, Fr. Dimitri Oselinsky, were asked how many full and part-time positions were being funded at that time by the central church budget. They never offered a direct answer, instead explaining
that the employees were included within each of the budgets for the departments of the Church. But what the MC was told then was that it was essential that new positions be added in the near future: a
part-time consultant to the Holy Synod on revisions to the Statute, additional positions within the Chancellor's office, and, eventually, a full-time director of development, with all compensation to be
reviewed by the Administrative Committee.

(It is certainly ironic, in light of recent revelations about how the Chancery was at that time already quietly invading restricted appeals and incurring huge unreceipted debts, that Syosset remained bound and
determined to ADD new salaried positions, instead of restricting expenditures and fully informing the Metropolitan Council of the financial mess.)

4. A culture of secrecy and withholding of information by the Chancery affected the meetings of the Metropolitan Council.

No one can dispute that there is inarguably a need for
confidentiality, at times, in the disclosure and discussion of certain personnel or otherwise privileged information. But there came a time when Syosset became slow in sharing routine information with the MC members, or sought to impose confidentiality on the MC for arcane, non-privileged information shared with the MC members, so that they
wouldn't then disclose this information to their dioceses.

For example, for years the lengthy packets of reports sent before each MC meeting were routinely mailed out only three or four days before the meetings, making it difficult for MC members to thoroughly digest
everything, so as to be ready to intelligently participate in discussions at the meetings. (They were also sent out via overnight Express Mail, a costly proposition for a church that needed to watch every penny, but a matter not for discussion here.) At times, some
reports were not distributed until the meetings actually commenced. The bottom line is that, whether intentional or not, the distribution of critical reports, including proposed budgets, at the eleventh hour
did little to aid the MC in understanding the problems facing the OCA.

Claiming budget constraints, one semi-annual MC meeting was held as a telephone conference lasting a bit more than an hour, in place of a one or two-day, face-to-face meeting. Confusion abounded, virtually no questions  were asked during the conference call, and members agreed that the  experiment was a waste of time. I recall Fr. John Tkachuk lamenting at
the end of that call how worthless the exercise had been, and pleading  that future meetings revert to past practice. Only a cynic would suggest  that this experiment was an intentional attempt to keep the MC in the dark  at a time when the OCA was rushing headlong into debt, but the practical
effect was exactly that. (I also recall that another semi-annual meeting  of the MC was cancelled and never rescheduled around the same year,  but I cannot remember the particulars.)

At times, questions asked by MC members of the Chancery staff were evaded or not answered, and certain information was not made available for the MC. When MC members would occasionally ask questions
about, for instance, the amount of money being spent on travel, the response would invariably be that those numbers were apportioned in each department's budget, and a church-wide figure could not be provided.

At other times, documents would be provided but the MC members would be warned that these reports were "confidential", even though the contents were clearly not of that nature. As one absurd example of
this culture of secrecy, the MC members received an up-to-date census for the whole Church, showing membership assessment numbers parish by
parish and diocese by diocese, only to be warned by Fr. Kondratick that these numbers were "confidential" and must not be shared. Considering the importance of census numbers to all financial planning
in the dioceses and the national church, it was clear that these numbers should be shared, and I provided them to my diocesan council and to the diocesan assembly, just as I had provided parish by parish census numbers when I was diocesan treasurer. Labeling such numbers
"confidential" was especially ridiculous considering our Antiochian brothers and sisters regularly publish statistics for all births and deaths and marriages and baptisms and members in their magazine, The
Word.

It was impressed upon MC members that there were confidential matters that their own Administrative Committee could not share with them, and
other matters that the MC should not share with the AACs or diocesan assemblies that elected them. That advanced a culture of secrecy that permitted Syosset to evade hard questions and accountability, while
continuing to act in the fashion that brought us to where we are today.

5. The virtual elimination of discussion and questions at meetings assured an ineffective Metropolitan Council.

When I returned to the MC at the Spring 2002 meeting, representing my diocese (after having been banned by the former Metropolitan from attending meetings as the lay alternate elected by the AAC in 1999 ---
a subject discussed in Document 20 on this website), I was stunned at the absence of discussion between, and questions from, the MC members. Remembering times of lively and productive discourse in years past,
the meetings now were substantially given over to presentation of reports, with precious little feedback. It seemed that most decisions had already been made by the Chancery and the Administrative Committee, and a shorter MC meeting was viewed by some as a better
meeting. When the rare questions were asked, they often were not answered, or answers were promised at a later time that never came. I specifically remember at that meeting the question being asked of the
Treasurer, Fr. Oselinsky, about how much money had been expended on travel in the previous year, and he was unable or unwilling to answer, offering a rather lame explanation that travel was split across the
various budget categories, and not readily accessible.

Just as the All-American Councils have become tightly scripted exercises, so devoid of open or spontaneous discussions by the delegates that a recent AAC ended with the Chair commending the delegates for 'being a great audience,' so too the MC meetings became
an exercise in non-participation for the members, following an agenda prepared and controlled by Syosset.

A most dramatic example of how uninvolved and out of touch with the dioceses most of the MC members had become was on display at the 2002
MC meeting, at a hotel in the NYC suburbs, a few months before the AAC in Orlando. Fr. John Dresko presented the new Fair Share plan that was
to replace the per capita assessments that financed most of the work of the Church. Under Fair Share, each diocese would become responsible for paying a pro-rated share of the total national budget, based on
the number of members in each diocese. The parishes could then contribute their share to the diocesan payment based on a tithe, or per-head assessment, or any other method they chose.

It became clear at one point in Fr. Dresko's presentation that the Fair Share plan was to be presented to the AAC as open-ended, essentially a "blank check" for Syosset, since under Fair Share the Administrative Committee would propose a budget for adoption by the
Metropolitan Council, and the total amount needed to fund each year's budget would be pro-rated out to the dioceses. In acknowledging this rather remarkable feature, Fr. Dresko informed the MC members that
'the beauty of Fair Share is that, once it passes, we will never again have to seek approval from an AAC for funding for the national church!'

I then indicated my concern about handing a blank check to Syosset, and asked what was to stop the Administrative Committee from recommending, for example, that this year's $2 million budget be
increased to $4 million next year, to fund Syosset's wish list. Both Fr. Kondratick and Fr. Dresko in unison assured the MC "that would simply never happen!"

With few other questions from an apparently unconcerned MC, the blank check version of Fair Share then sailed through MC unanimously, except
for a single vote.

Although we did not know then what we know today about the way finances were being handled at Syosset in 2002, I returned to Pittsburgh and explained to my bishop and diocesan council what the Fair Share proposal actually meant. Archbishop Kyrill immediately called a special diocesan meeting of all the clergy and lay delegates going to Orlando, and turned the meeting over to me to explain and discuss
with the people for two hours the potential problems with Fair Share. By the  end of the meeting, there were a lot of unhappy and angry delegates.  In Orlando, Fair Share passed, but only after the key blank check feature had been gutted, replaced by a modest per capita ceiling. In essence, the Fair Share adopted in Orlando, and in effect to this day, continued the per capita assessment, with a new name.

What is troubling about this example is that it was the MC members who should have discovered, discussed and debated the "Trojan horse" feature of the original Fair Share plan; but they seemed entirely
oblivious to the pitfalls of the plan, problems that the delegates of the All-American Council readily identified.

6. The adoption of the 'be a friend of Syosset, don't make waves' culture crippled the Metropolitan Council.

The last factor leading to the emasculation of the Metropolitan Council was the adoption of a "you're either with Syosset, or against us" approach. Those MC members who didn't make waves, those who
supported whatever the central administration wanted were rewarded as insiders and personal friends of Syosset, with positions on church committees like the Preconciliar Commission, with invitations to join
trips overseas, with church honors, and with other trinkets.

Clergy or laity who questioned the direction that Syosset was taking were treated as malcontents, just as OCA Auditor John Kozey was attacked and marginalized when he simply requested, and was denied permission to address the Fall 1999 meeting of the Metropolitan Council about his grave concerns about financial irregularities. (In 1999, after I first discreetly began asking questions after hearing a
few of the allegations that would later become the "Wheeler allegations", a prominent layman of the OCA with close ties to Syosset approached me and demanded to know why I was "trying to destroy the
Church.")

By 2002, it was clear to me that the clergy and lay representatives on the MC were, for the most part, unwilling to make waves, and were content to cede their responsibilities to the central administration.

Everyone who served on the Metropolitan Council between the late 1980s to the present time --- myself included --- bears a heavy responsibility for not asking the right questions, for permitting a once-vibrant and respected Council to become an ineffective and emasculated rubber stamp for Syosset.

The OCA Statute contemplates a strong Metropolitan Council at the center of the financial management of the national church. Some of the discussion above may help to explain "why they didn't do their jobs."
But the present Metropolitan Council members surely(?) must now be acutely aware of what mistakes were made, and what their role must be
in our Church.

 
 

 

Other Reflections:

Fr. Paul Harrilchak
Holy Trinity, Reston VA

Fr. Ted Bobosh

St. Paul, Dayton OH

Fr. Michael Plekon  

Special to OCAnews.org

Holy Trinity, Boston