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Orthodox bishops OK audit of 5 years

Action falls short of decade probe sought by dissenters

By Richard N. Ostling
Associated Press
Published March 3, 2006

NEW YORK -- With a former church treasurer leveling charges of financial mismanagement, bishops of the Orthodox Church in America decided at a special meeting Wednesday to order audits and work toward tighter fiscal controls.

"To encourage financial accountability and trust," the 10 bishops authorized a review of all special collections since 2001 and independent audits covering 2004 and 2005. They also vowed to implement such principles as "decisive financial governance" and "transparency of financial data."

Those steps, however, fell short of dissenters' demands for an audit of all church accounts over the last decade and a full-fledged investigation.
The bishops, who met at church headquarters in Syosset on Long Island, said they would continue work at their regular May meeting and possibly establish "a special committee of review."

The action came after allegations from the church's former treasurer, Protodeacon Eric Wheeler.
He said that church funds were spent on "embarrassing credit card debts," individuals who continually "leached off" family members and unspecified blackmail payments. Wheeler also questioned accounting for millions of dollars in gifts and said no full, independent audit had occurred since 1996.

Last week, 71 senior clergy urged the bishops to quickly launch an investigation of finances by a commission of bishops, priests and laity. Two weeks earlier, 57 priests issued a similar petition.
Among those calling for an investigation was Archbishop Job of Chicago.

Wheeler was an official at headquarters from 1988 till 1999, the last three years as treasurer. He said he was dismissed after pressing for financial information. A church spokesman told the Associated Press that no Orthodox Church officials were available to discuss the situation.

Wheeler sent his accusations last fall to the bishops and the Metropolitan Council, a governing body of 31 clergy and lay delegates, but neither body took action.
Wheeler said he intended his memo to be private, but it quickly leaked. Tumult increased with the January launch of the Web site, run by layman Mark Stokoe of Dayton, Ohio. He posted Wheeler's data and dozens of related documents.
In a subsequent interview, former church secretary Paul Hunchak told that Wheeler's depiction of financial troubles in the 400,000-member denomination was accurate. He said his superior, the church's chancellor and second-ranking headquarters official, Protopresbyter Robert Kondratick, spent hours shredding documents after Wheeler tried to learn what was happening to funds.

Wheeler named Kondratick and Metropolitan Theodosius, who retired as church head in 2002, as the chief perpetrators of "financial corruption."
Wheeler told the AP he could "justify everything" in his memo.

He decided to come forward now, he said, because "I found out that what was taking place when I worked there was still taking place in 2005."

Wheeler's memo said "numerous bequests" to the church went unreported and were diverted to unaudited accounts controlled by Theodosius and Kondratick. He also said control of special collections was questionable, that the U.S. government gave $67,000 for Bibles that were never purchased and that adequate accounting was lacking for $1.95 million the Archer Daniels Midland Foundation granted between 1993 and 1999 for a Moscow project.


Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune



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