Reflections On The Scandal
Some Hard Questions
For The Metropolitan Council
by Archpriest John M. Reeves, State College, PA
Some may debate the need for a Metropolitan Council. Individuals are certainly entitled to diverse opinions on the matter. Is it canonical or not? Is it beneficial? Is it functional? This is all well and good. But debate must not be used to obscure the reality that, at present, the Metropolitan Council is fact. It exists. And as the OCA currently is constituted, by the delegates to the Second All-American Council in 1971, the Metropolitan Council has specific fiduciary responsibilities to the Church.
Our bylaws, also known as The Statute of the Orthodox Church in America, entrust the Metropolitan Council to oversee and manage the fiscal and administrative affairs of the Church. Members have pledged to uphold the Statute upon installation in this body. A member’s failure to uphold the Statute becomes a breach of a fiduciary duty, for which the law holds the member personally accountable.
Until such time as an All-American Church Council amends, or even abolishes, the Statute, it is our legally governing charter, imperfect though it and we are. It cannot be ignored by either the members of the Metropolitan Council or the administration.
In particular, the delegated competencies of the Metropolitan Council bear close scrutiny as they pertain to our management crisis. While the duties of the Chancellor are sometimes only vaguely alluded to in the Statute, the duties of the Metropolitan Council are expressly stated. Among its other responsibilities, the Metropolitan Council is charged:
To establish budgets;
To supervise the collection of revenues;
To maintain the central administrative bodies, and to allocate funds for the same;
To decide whether to purchase, sell, or mortgage the Church’s real assets;
To maintain an inventory of all Church properties;
To appoint committees on matters within its competence; and
To initiate, prosecute, and defend all legal matters affecting the interest of the Church.
(The Statute of The Orthodox Church In America, Article V, Section 4) (Read the Statute here).
Thus, the Metropolitan Council is expressly responsible for overseeing the financial affairs of the Church and bears legal responsibility for the same.
As the OCA currently is organized, each of the issues presently confronting us, whether to address charges of misappropriation, to encumber real property to obtain loans, or, yes, to initiate, prosecute, and defend the Church’s interest in legal matters, is the non-delegable responsibility of the Metropolitan Council to resolve.
Yet, could it be that the Metropolitan Council has been asleep, or at least dozing off, over the years in meeting its responsibilities to the Church? The recent statement following this past week’s Metropolitan Council meeting hints as much. The official, but unsigned, statement noted that the “allegations of financial mismanagement leveled against the Church administration over the past year have provided a serious ‘wake-up’ call for the members of the Metropolitan Council of the Orthodox Church in America.” (Read the Statement here.)
Additionally, the statement, issued in the name of the members of the Council, seems to give credence to some of Protodeacon Eric Wheeler’s earliest allegations and implications, based upon an “interim” report from the auditing firm. Noting that “clear trends have been detected” worthy of comment, the statement confirms that proper separation of duties was not maintained to insure financial integrity; that the OCA has been in a deficit mode for several years; that funds intended for charitable, missionary and other specific uses have been diverted; and that the absence of independent and true audits have impeded “real scrutiny and oversight of our finances and financial practices for many years...”
Yet, one wonders if this admission is more like crying “Fire!” only after the fire engines have arrived at the scene, a confirmation of the obvious. But once the embers have cooled and all the hot-spots have been put out, the Fire Marshal always makes an inspection. What caused the blaze in the first place? Was it arson, or was it negligence? Was it gross negligence, or an act of God? Or, was its cause unknown?
It is not enough for the Metropolitan Council to wake-up and cry “Fire!” now. And it will not be enough for the Metropolitan Council to help extinguish the “fire.” The investigation must look at those who bore responsibility before God and man, and who were entrusted by the dioceses and by the All-American Councils to protect the assets of the Church.
The pursuit of truth demands that the Metropolitan Council answer difficult questions. Did they do their duty? Did they ignore the conditions that allowed this “fire” to kindle? Did they take seriously the vows that they made at All-America Councils faithfully to uphold the Statute? In other words, did they take seriously their fiduciary responsibilities to the Church, whose stewards they are?
It matters not whether members of the Metropolitan Council felt they were “rubber stamps” for the Chancellor and/or the Administrative Committee. Legally, and morally, they were bound to set the limits and the standards for administration. Legally and morally they were bound to establish the budgets, oversee the collection of funds and allocate them properly. Legally and morally they are still the ones bound by Statute, and consequently by law, as those entrusted by the OCA to make decisions whether to buy and sell property, whether to encumber the Church’s property and to assume additional debt, and whether to initiate legal investigations.
The ultimate question is simply this: Do members of the Metropolitan Council now take responsibility for what they as a body appear, at a minimum, to have allowed to take place in the Church? An atmosphere of trust cannot be restored until those whom we have entrusted show due repentance and the trustworthy fruits thereof. If any member cannot, or if any member will not, assume this responsibility, that member must seriously reconsider his or her election, and step aside for the good of the Church and the restitution of trust and good order.
- Archpriest John Reeves