Reflections On The Scandal
4.06.04 Reposted from the from the Orthodox Forum with permission
Show Some Courage ...... And Get Deposed ?
Gregory Nescott, Pittsburgh
These past five months have been dark days for the Orthodox Church in America. Nothing in the 35-year history of the OCA --- including the
controversy over the church calendar change several decades ago --- has remotely threatened the stability and very existence of the OCA as does the present dispute.
Since the publication last November of Protodeacon Eric Wheeler's allegations of financial misconduct within the highest levels of the OCA, the Church has been torn by ugly, unseemly, and often public
exchanges between those supporting an investigation and those attempting to block such a probe.
As if it weren't troubling enough that parishioners are angry with each other for staking out their respective stands, and our clergy bait and taunt each other while claiming the moral high ground, now our bishops are firing salvos against each other!
The latest act in this tragedy from the theater of the absurd has just been authored by Bishop Tikhon of the West. After months of paralysis within the Holy Synod of the OCA, it was Metropolitan Herman who, 19 days ago, showed the courage to try to resolve this mess by ordering an investigation, firing the Chancellor, and
promising expanded audits. And what was his reward for this? A brother bishop instructs the Metropolitan in a letter that our Primate now has three choices: resign, retire, or face being deposed!
How could we possibly have gotten to this point?
Until very recently, there seemed to be little hope of any resolution to this crisis that would assist the Church in healing these divisions between her people. Two days after the release of Protodeacon Wheeler's allegations last November 1, I suggested on the Orthodox Forum that four steps needed to be taken if this scandal were to be resolved:
1. That an impartial and complete investigation of the allegations be undertaken.
2. That proper audits of all Church accounts be done for all relevant years.
3. That those responsible for any misconduct --- including the authors of any allegations determined to be false --- be held accountable for their actions.
4. That at the end of the investigation, the Church issue a public report to the faithful, outlining what, if any, problems had been found and what steps would be taken to restore trust, insuring that such problems would not recur.
What followed in those first months after November gave faint hope that peace could be restored in our Church. Some clergy and laity were openly attacked for simply asking for an investigation. Others were silenced or threatened. When one senior hierarch and his diocese
asked for an investigation, another hierarch publicly mocked that bishop on the internet, and sought support for his removal. Sadly, other hierarchs seemed to avert their gaze from the problems, adopting silence as their public position.
This dirty little "secret" remained a secret not much longer, as parishes learned of the allegations by word-of-mouth, through the internet, and by reading prominent stories in the national print media.
Against this background, the Lesser Synod met in January, and the entire Holy Synod met on March 1, with chances to defuse the crisis by authorizing an investigation. Instead, they chose to do little.
Just when it seemed that there was little hope for resolving this mess, one man unexpectedly stepped forward and attempted to apply the brakes to the OCA bus that was careening downhill, threatening to
carry the Church over a cliff.
On March 16, Metropolitan Herman announced that the Chancellor of the Church, Fr. Robert Kondratick, had been fired; that an investigation of all the allegations was being undertaken by a prominent New York
law firm; and that previosly announced complete audits of 2004 and 2005 would now include an examination of all appeals funds back to at least 2001, with the possibility that additional audits could be authorized, should the investigation indicate the need to do so. Our
Metropolitan has now also assured us that the audit reports and the "results of the internal investigation will also become part of our public records," with the whole Church being made aware of the findings.
Some have responded that these steps are not enough: that complete forensic audits back into the 1990s must be undertaken, or that all those working at Syosset during those years should be purged. But it
seems to me that a reasonable response should be to offer encouragement and support to the Metropolitan for these first steps he has taken.
Look at the positives. A number of the original allegations of malfeasance revolved around Fr. Kondratick. His abrupt dismissal, for issues of "obedience" and a refusal to assist in the audits
certainly may offer answers, in the affirmative, to some of the original allegations and to the question, "Are they true, or are they false?" An investigation by an outside, respected law firm is the best that could have been hoped for, with the alternative being an internal investigation perhaps conducted by some of those very
individuals implicated in the allegations. Likewise, the modest expansion of the audits cannot be faulted.
Certainly, much more remains to be done. The investigation and audits need to be fair and to be completed, with the results publicly reported. All those whose actions have placed the Church in this precarious position need to be held accountable. And broader problems relating to such issues as checks on the power of a few individuals to affect the financial well-being of the OCA, and threats to the conciliar nature of the Church ultimately need to be discussed.But the actions of Metropolitan Herman on March 16 have restored hope to a Church desperately in need of it.
Yet at least two dark clouds hang over us. The first is the problem of paying for the investigation and audits. The worst possible result for the people of this Church would be if the investigation and audits would have to be prematurely ended, because of an inability to
pay the lawyers and accountants. For a Church that ran a deficit of $1.8 million just between 2002-2004, and which has apparently been struggling to attract financial support since the allegations surfaced, new funding must be generated immediately to pay for the
Big-time New York City law firms are generally very good at what they do, and very expensive in what they charge. As parishes and individuals pray for the swift investigation and resolution of this crisis, they need to offer voluntary financial support to the Metropolitan and to the Church, to pay for the investigation.
The darker cloud on the horizon has now formed in the West. As if it weren't bad enough that the Diocesan Council of the Diocese of the West has now voted, with the encouragement of Bishop Tikhon, to suspend monthly payments of all assessments ("fair share") until at least the next meeting of the Holy Synod in May --- a protest considered and rejected earlier by parishes in other dioceses distressed by the initial failure to investigate the allegations --- we learn today that Bishop Tikhon has written yet again, demanding
that Metropolitan Herman resign, retire, or face deposition by the Holy Synod.
Not long ago, this same bishop trained his sights on
Archbishop Job of the Midwest, suggesting that he be deposed for having the temerity to simply ask for an investigation.The Bishop of the West additionally demands that the Metropolitan reverse his decisions of March 16, before he retires or resigns. Such
actions would abort the investigation, and return Fr. Kondratick as Chancellor.
The demands of Bishop Tikhon might be dismissed as the rantings of one who, in his extensive internet writings, has exhibited a repeated fondness for crude and shocking speech. Some may think his demands of
our Metropolitan now are a perverse or ironic joke.
But there must be no mistake about it: if Bishop Tikhon has his way, the budding hope of resolving this grave crisis will be ended, and the OCA bus will surely be driven over the precipice.