Reflections On The Scandal
Fr. Christopher Wojcik - Clayton WI
“By observing vanities and lies you have forsaken your own mercy.”
-- St. Cassiane (6th irmos of the Holy Saturday canon)
While the ongoing investigation is cause for some hope for those who desire integrity in our Church, perhaps
I am not the only one dissatisfied by the almost “business as usual” tone of the most recent minutes of the meeting of the OCA Synod of Bishops. Distressing is the continuing mode of disparaging those who have dared to ask the questions about the breakdown of integrity in our central administration. In particular, a comment from a senior archbishop again complains that the internet has caused so much trouble. Completely lacking from our Synod are statements accepting blame or actions accepting consequences for their role in allowing the troubles to fester for so many years in the first place. One wonders how long it will be before our chief shepherds realize that the scars and betrayal are neither the fault of the internet nor of those asking questions, but the reality that lies behind the troubles in the first place.
Archbishop Kyrill is recorded to have “expressed the distress of all about the negative nature of writing on the internet, the divisive results, and the scandalizing of faithful people. He expressed the bishops’ support of the Metropolitan’s efforts to restore the good reputation of The Orthodox Church in America.” This focus on image and reputation, while neglecting the reality behind the tarnished image, is, regrettably, not new for our Synod.
In Metropolitan Herman’s Lenten address on the situation, he wrote, “These questions have escalated into criticisms, allegations and discord that have ripped the very fibers of our Holy Church, tearing asunder the peace and love and unity among her pious children. They have become the source of divisions and scandal, to the detriment of the Church’s prestige and good name – in public venues, from the internet in individual homes to the front pages of major newspapers across the country.” Note again that the blame is placed on those who ask questions and not on the high-ranking perpetrators of the wrongdoing in the first place. Furthermore, the concern revolves around image, around “prestige and good name.” It was not the asking of questions that tore asunder peace and love and unity in the Church, but the severe breach of moral integrity by those consecrated and ordained to defend the Church.
And it was not the internet, but the reality of the petty bickering between bishops over the dissemination of this letter in Alaska and the West that is to blame for yet more cynicism among the faithful. It is telling that the Metropolitan’s address to the Synod was met with not only a cry against the internet, but also concerns over canonical order and the distribution of power.
This concern for image over reality led to the vilification of Protodeacon Eric Wheeler by many, including members of our Synod, a vilification that has quieted only after his allegations began to be corroborated time and time again.
This concern for image over reality led to the vilification of Archbishop Job by many, including members of the Synod, for simply asking the question, “Are the allegations true or false?” This vilification too only quieted as the sporadic answers have consistently come back “true.” And the internet is not to blame for the scandal of the deafening silence of Archbishop Job’s brother bishops in their failure to come to his defense, and for their failure to ask the questions that a leader should ask.
It was not the internet, but a concern for image that led our Synod to the scandal of approving budgets that spent twenty times as much money on external affairs as on missions. Nobody who attended the last All-American Council will soon forget the power-point photos of one OCA entourage after another in Europe and the Middle East promoting the OCA’s image at such events as high-profile birthday parties and a visit to the legendary home of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. It was not the internet, but the reality of these severely misplaced spending priorities that hampered the actual work of the Gospel: mission, evangelism,
The internet is not to blame for the scandal of the serious moral breach documented by the OCA’s accounting firm Konsen & Hostelley LLP of Independence, Ohio, that recorded “As directed by His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman, the Chancery transferred $62,997 of temporarily restricted funds in 2003, $469,017 in 2002 and $98,461 in 2001 to meet current obligations of the Chancery.” This breach we now know came at the expense of 9/11 victims, missions, hurricane and terrorist victims, and orphans. It is a moral breach that one priest described as “beneath contempt.” Securing a 1.7 million dollar loan to “repay” these pillaged funds will not change the reality that the faithful are going to have to pay twice for this intended charitable work -- the first time when they donated, and now when they “repay” their own donations that were pilfered, which is what this loan will require. That our faithful are scandalized when our administration consistently fails to live within its means, to say nothing of the fact that it pilfered from orphans, terrorist victims, and missions to fulfill its spending habits (and still ended up $1.7 million in debt), is not the fault of the internet, but of those making the spending decisions in the first place.
It is not the internet to blame for a tarnished image when our administration ignores the pleas for an investigation that come from almost all the clergy of the OCA’s largest diocese, from some seventy of our most respected and senior clergy, and even from resolutions of whole parishes, but only acts when it receives a letter from eight lawyers. The integrity of the Church was wounded by the reality of inaction, not by the internet.
It is not the internet to blame when the faithful are scandalized by the petty squabbling between bishops over who controls certain parcels of land or how many bishops it would take to depose a metropolitan. One wonders what would have happened if one of the bishops had just said (in the fashion of the desert fathers), “OK, you can control the land.” It was not the internet but the reality of these snide and cutting letters, often (ironically) concluding with a phrase such as “With deepest love in Christ,” that led to even more cynicism. The posting of innocuous minutes with a litany of brother bishops thanking each other will not fix the tarnished image of our Synod because the reality behind it is just as broken as ever.
As if this weren’t enough, according to our Metropolitan, more clouds and storms are still to come. Yes, without the internet, most of us would not know what was going on, but that would not change the reality that our Church is “ravaged by an illness.” It just means that we wouldn’t know about the illness. This illness is not a tarnished image, but the ugly reality that lies beneath it. As long as most of our chief shepherds continue to blame the messenger for the message, I cannot believe they understand the depth of betrayal that they have allowed to take place in our Church, a betrayal for which they are accountable not only to God, but also to the Church itself. It would be refreshing to see our chief shepherds begin by holding themselves accountable, in both word and action.