One year ago this past week OCANews.org went
on-line. Our goal then,as now, has remained constant:
• to be a source for news concerning the ongoing financial scandal in the OCA,
• to enable Orthodox Christians to share their thoughts about it,
• and to encourage Orthodox Christians to take action to resolve this scandal which threatens the financial and moral integrity of the OCA.
By any empirical standard, this task has been well-served.
OCANews.org has published 96 news articles concerning multiple facets of scandal, 8 editorials, 4 open letters, 3 interviews and 3 special investigative series, each three parts in length. We have published 47
reflections from 32 different authors, most written specifically for OCANews.org. These have been read by more than 250,000 visitors (on average 4,750 a night), producing 15 million page hits. Our reporting
has helped engender important articles in the print media: in the Associated Press, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and scores of local newspapers across the country.
More importantly, our coverage brought forth your comments - 3,498 of them at last count on 96 discussion threads. Whether anonymous or
signed most were informative and many thought-provoking. Some were irenic, others less so. Even more than the news articles, the comments have given us an honest snapshot of the mood, concerns, hopes and fears of the OCA in the past year.
Most importantly, despite the attempts to ignore, to overlook, to dismiss, to silence, to scare, to deny, to obfuscate, to belittle, to smear, to challenge, to thwart, to divert, to cover-up and even to justify the scandal, action to resolve it has begun to take place. The
financial misdeeds stopped. With one notable exception at the very top, the major figures of the old regime, under whose leadership - or lack of same - misdeeds took place, were removed, or are being removed, from
power. The Metropolitan Council, long moribund, has found new leaders, new life and a renewed purpose. Even the Synod has moved beyond its customary stasis in agreeing to the reorganization of the administration of Syosset, as well as the need for the Special
Commission to investigate it all.
Does this mean there is light at the end of our long tunnel? Perhaps, but as Kyra Nikoleavna, an elderly Russian emigre in the parish of my youth told me: “Dahling boy, don’t forget that if you see light at the
end of a tunnel, it means you are still in the tunnel.”
And so we are. Just when it seemed steps are being taken to change, the old ways reassert themselves. Take, for example, the recent letter of the Metropolitan, in his capacity as Locum Tenens to the parishes of
the Diocese of West, informing them that each parish is to be allowed one clerical and one lay delegate to the forthcoming Diocesan Assembly to elect a new diocesan bishop. (Read that letter here) Unfortunately,
the Metropolitan’s notice flatly contradicts the OCA’s own Statute in this regard which states in Article 7, Section 2:
“The Diocesan Assembly shall be composed of:
c. The priests and deacons of each parish, ex officio, and an equal number of lay delegates elected as provided for in Sections 6 and 7 of this Article;”
or again in Section 6 of the same Article:
“Every parish in the Diocese which has remitted all established assessments determined by previous All-American Councils for the support of the Church’s central organization and all assessments
determined by previous Diocesan Assemblies is entitled to elect lay delegates equal in number to the priests and deacons maintained by the parish. Parishes not having a priest are entitled to one lay delegate.
The parish will cover the expenses connected with the participation of its priests and elected lay delegates in the Assembly.”
Is it really too difficult to follow our own Statute in these regards?
The culture of decline (spiritual, theological, financial, moral, numerical, pick your poison...) that has beset the OCA for the past 15 years will not be fully halted by adherence to the Statute. But it will certainly not be solved by blatantly ignoring the same. If we have learned nothing in the past year, we have learned what those costs of ignoring the Statute have been. Dancing in our own Potemkin Village called Syosset, we watched passively as metropolitans, bishops, officers, auditors, Council members, staff, etc, created their
own rules as they floated by. In so doing we lost:
• $4.75 million in donations from the ADM Foundations, which remain unaccounted for;
• $1.7 million in misdirected charitable and administrative funds, which remain unaccounted for;
• $500,000 in investigative and accounting fees to learn that we lost the $1.7 million above;
and those are just the most obvious costs.Missing bequests, lost donations (down 75% this past year according to the 2006 budget), Alaskan mortgages - we haven’t even begun to deal with these continuing losses.
In short, a Potemkin Village may be just a facade, but it isn't cheap.
In the end, though, money is just money. The heart of this crisis, what we really have lost, is our integrity and good name. Some continue to blame this website for that. The truth is we lost both a long while ago. And for that loss, we all bear the blame – for remaining silent, complicit, complacent, frightened, passive, self-satisfied, self-absorbed, prudent, cynical, uncaring, (pick your own justification for continuing to dance) while evil worked among us. Unless we can admit that, and then begin to do something about it in our parishes, deaneries, dioceses and church-wide institutions, we are still dancing in the Potemkin village of our delusion; rather than admitting that we are
still deep in the tunnel. Really, really deep.
In time our good name may return, once we have restored our integrity. On a corporate level that will depend a great deal on the new Special Commission and its report; and how that report is shared with the
Church as a whole. We have only one chance in this regard. If this report is not done openly, honestly, fully and thoroughly - and seen to be so - it will fail in its task. And we shall become the man of which the
Lord speaks in Luke 11:24ff: “the last state of that man becomes worse than the first”.
Most important though, is the question of integrity on the personal level. One would have hoped from one’s spiritual leaders that those involved would have come forward freely at some point in the past year
to explain the actions, or lack of same: metropolitans, past and present; bishops, past and present; officers of the Church, current and former, auditors, staff, etc. Sadly, that has not happened. We have heard from lawyers, reporters, accountants - but not a word from those leading us in the last 15 years of decline. Having lost the opportunity to speak freely, and thus help restore their reputations (let alone their personal integrity) they now face the Special Commission's questioning.
What they say now (if anything) is proffered by compulsion, and thus tainted; rather than offered freely, and so covered by the balm of repentance. And so, yet another opportunity for those who lead the OCA to actually do so, is being lost....
In the end, tunnels, like life, can be understood in many ways, often contradictory. Tunnels are long but they also enable one to get through seemingly impassable obstacles. A tunnel is dark - but the light is never so
bright as at the end. After a year we can all welcome the light at the end of this tunnel - even though, as Kyra Nikoleavna warned, it means we are still very much in it.