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10.1.08

OCA Publishes AAC Documents

The OCA has published a series of documents in preparation for the 15th All-American Council including the order for the election of the Metropolitan, two Statute amendments and four resolutions.  In addition, the OCA has published the summary notes from  the last of the Town Halls, held in Orlando, Florida, over the Labor Day weekend. 

Election Order

The order for the election of the Metropolitan follows the usual procedure outlined in the Statute, one that has resulted in the Synod, rather than the Council, choosing the Metropolitan in previous elections.  (Read that order of election here.) As presently conceived the first two ballots have been little more than straw polls, giving the Bishops a sense of the clergy and laity’s most popular choices, from which they thenselected who will become the new Metropolitan. 

One of the two proposed Statute amendments seeks to change this practice keeping the straw vote, but eliminating the decisive vote by the Synod.  Offered by Fr. Thomas Hopko, the former Dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary,  the amendment would have the new Metropolitan chosen by lot from the three names that emerge from the top of the Council’s straw poll.  (Read the full text of the  amendment here.) Supporters of the amendment cite the example of the Russian Council of 1917 as recent precedent, leaving the choice “to God”.  Critics cite the practice of “plunking” votes  (voting for only one candidate on a three person ballot) whereby a small minority, some 25%, can virtually ensure their candidate becomes one of the final candidates.  This amendment is sure to provoke much debate at the Council.

The order for election also includes the following curious instructions: 

“23. To this announcement ( of the name of the new Metropolitan) the Council shall respond by singing three times: “Axios,” and if the newly elect is a bishop: “Ton despotin kai archierea imon” 

And what happens if the Council does not think the Synod’s choice is worthy? Is the “Axios” of the people just an empty ritual, or does it have any meaning at all? Would loud shouts of “Anaxios” cause the wheels to slow - or just be rolled over and ignored, the Synod having spoken? 

Statute Revisions

The second proposed Statute amendment, offered by the Metropolitan Council, seeks to change how the internal auditors of the OCA are chosen and work. The origins of this proposed change lie in the recent scandal in which Metropolitan Theodosius dismissed one qualified Audit Committee Chairman (Mr. John Kozey), appointed an unqualified one (Fr. Paul Suda) in his place, who then reported to the Metropolitan Council that contrary to Kozey's warnings there was nothing amiss in the finances of the OCA, and then failed  to call a meeting of the Committee for two years, leaving the books unaudited while the Administration continued to misuse and divert funds. The new amendment seeks to place the Audit Committee under the authority and supervision of the Metropolitan Council rather than the Metropolitan, specifies the length of their terms, how and in what circumstances they may be removed and by whom, and sets forth necessary qualifications.  (Read the full text of the amendment here.) Given the total failure of the current  practice it is clear an alternative is required. Whether it is this, or some variant proposed from the floor, will be decided by the Council.  

Resolutions
 
The four resolutions all come from the two dioceses in Pennsylvania. The first entitled “Admission of Responsibility”  expresses its "hope that the Holy Synod of Bishops, clergy and lay leaders accept their own proper responsibility for the OCA’s woes”.  These woes are unspecified,  as is whose “responsibility” they are. Perhaps some sense of the diocese’s intent may be gleaned from the actions the resolution requests: that is, that the Bishops increase the “ timeliness” and “forthrightness” of their “communication with the faithful” so as to “re-establish some measure of trust”.  While most would agree that trust has been destroyed, what with millions of dollars gone, others have questioned whether the ensuing cover-up documented by the SIC Report is best described as a  problem of  “communication”. The resolution requests that  the faithful“continue to pray”, and that their “communication on the internet” be “civil and dignified”. The resolution would seem to suggest that the major issue facing the OCA is a lack of urbaneness. It is not what we say, apparently, but how we say it that matters most.

Or, if we even say it at all. Consider the following comments from the 15th Town Hall held in Orlando, Florida  over the Labor Day weekend. Given the historic events of the first week in September, with the release of the SIC Report,  the joint meeting of the Synod and Metropolitan Council,  and the Metropolitan’s forced retirement, the comments from the FOCA members gathered at their Annual Convention could easily be overlooked. That would be a loss, for many addressed the very issues these resolutions do. One unnamed speaker commented:

“Thank goodness for the internet because it is the only communication the faithful have. As a business person how does one effectively communicate? That is what we lack now. Nothing recapped from the prior fourteen meetings except what has been said. Most meetings said the same thing. Questioned how effectively has the (Synod)  communicated to the parishes. Vacationed in Ohio and priest there told it like it is. Told pros and cons. Refreshing. Church he is in is treated like game show 'I’ve got a Secret.' Need a computer or a dark corner to find out any information. 

We preach but we don’t tell it like it is. Not as optimistic as others who have spoken. Letter (from the Bishops) came three years later. Appreciates that they are sorry. Appreciates that +JOB lets his clergy and parishes discuss this. Where he is, it is not discussed. Impacted him from an emotional perspective. Not getting answers, afraid of asking questions. ....”

Another one was even more direct about the scandal:

“Came today not knowing what the issue was. It’s a secret only to be discussed in dark corners. Today is the first time she has received any of this information. She is here as one of those people that before today did not know that there was a problem....”

And yet another one...

“Info hasn’t filtered past the Mason Dixon line. Also with respect to FOCA. Would like to see respect as we go forward. Can’t have a conversation with some priests because she feels she doesn’t have the respect of her clergy. In order for church to go forward we need more respect for laity including women. Communicate on an adult to adult level. Internet is wonderful but no way to determine what is truthful or not..”

Like all 14 before it, the Orlando Town Hall offers an insight into the thoughts and concerns of  the most dedicated OCA members - average men and women willing to give up an evening or afternoon to express their concern for an institution they love.  Eastern Pennsylvania has it right, that communication is the issue - but it is not the internet, or its occasional raucous discourse, that is the problem. It is thinking that issues can be ignored, overlooked, hidden  in  hypocrisy in “dark corners”. If it can be known, the internet will make it known - that is the reality of the 21st century. Transparency and accountability are no longer "goals" - but requirements, even for the Church. While some have complained that spending a full day of the Council on the SIC Report was too much - the Orlando comments suggest that when it comes to information about the scandal, little should be assumed; and before the Church moves "forward", everyone should be on the same page - or at least have read the same Report.  (Read all the comments from Orlando here.)

The Second Resolution

The second resolution entitled “ Revision of Statutes [sic]” expands  on the theme of the first resolution by stating that the woes of the OCA  may be summarized as “ a period of great suffering and confusion on all levels of Church life”.  In this instance  the confusion is not the result of poor communication, but  “a multitude of interrelated historical, administrative and personal causes and failures” including “ confusion arising from both the content and interpretation of the Statutes [sic]”.  In short, cleaning up the Statute should help resolve our problems, personal and administrative failures aside. 

 Specifically, the resolution requests that “ attention must be given to the relationship of the Dioceses to the Central Church Administration”, and the “responsibilities of specific offices: the Metropolitan, the CCA, the Metropolitan Council and the All- American Council.”  Such a review is not to be done by the Council, the Metropolitan Council or the Administration itself - but by the Synod of Bishops through its “own deliberations”, using the “Committee of Statutes [sic] Revisions”, presumably the existing Commission on Canons and Statutes. (If not, that should be clarified.....) The resolution also requests the Synod to bring others into this process, including “experts from other local churches” to offer recommendations. That no such  consideration for participation or recommendations is offered to the Central Church Administration, the Metropolitan Council or the All-American Council, may give a clue as to the goal of such Statute changes: to move the OCA away from a conciliar form of governance to a more synodal one, a position long-advocated by the former Metropolitan Herman, the former Bishop Tikhon of the West, and the former Bishop of Alaska.  That the Statute needs revision is not a controversial position - that the Synod alone should oversee the process surely is. 

The Third Resolution

Finally, the Diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania offers a third resolution entitled “Renewal of Church life” which recommends that “every member of the OCA” through “ sacrificial offering of their lives, time, effort and financial support” contribute to the communal institutions of the Church -- monasteries, seminaries, dioceses, deaneries and parishes, as well as family life. As such the resolution is as non-controversial as apple pie.

It does set forth a revealing definition of “Christ-like” leadership qualities , though, that are  “always expected” from “Church leaders - Bishops, priests, deacons and lay leaders”. These are listed as “obedience, humility and love”. 

One could argue, given the past three years, that the scandal was only exposed, and the criminality stopped, by lay leaders, deacons and priests who led by doing precisely what was not “expected”. In the case of the OCA scandal, it was only by disobeying their Bishops, priests, deacons and lay leaders that some Bishops, priests, deacons and lay leaders were able to tell the truth. It is a lesson we dare not forget in definations of leadership and Christ-like actions. In  resolutions that focus on the passive forms of “obedience”, that minimize the lessons of the scandal by encouraging the laity to pray while the Synod decides, that blankets all with general responsibility so that none must take up any specific, the line between apathiea and apathy becomes very thin indeed....

The Fourth Resolution

The Diocese of Western Pennsylvania, however, is more blunt in its approach to issues.  Its resolution for the recent problems is simple and direct: stop the money. A $50 a person assessment rather than the current $100+,  in effect forces the changes Eastern Pennsylvania wants to discuss . Devolution of programs, people and authority must necessarily occur if the Central Church Administration receives only half of its current income, with the rest remaining in parishes or dioceses, or some combination of the two.  This resolution too will be the subject of much debate in Pittsburgh, as attempts to amend the figure to some higher number: $75, $80, $85 etc., are made. 

The All-American Council is now less than 40 days away. Any further resolutions must arise from the floor  of the Council, a situation that will surely happen. Several dioceses, including the Midwest, will be holding their annual Assemblies in the coming days, and are most likely to produce new resolutions in response to the OCA crisis. 

-Mark Stokoe

 

 
 

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