A Benchmark For Reinstatement,
Renewal and Revelation
The three benchmarks, established by the Midwest Diocesan Council in a "refinement" of the Palatine Resolution adopted by the Diocesan Assembly, are best described, like the Earth in the works of the late Douglas Adams, in two words: "Mostly harmless". Harmless, because the first benchmark had been met before it was made; and there is no chance the third will not be met, given that the Metropolitan Council meets in October with the All-American Council preparations on the agenda. So why did the Diocesan Council opt for "lines in the sand" that seem drawn in an open desert?
The most obvious answer is that they appeased most, satisfied none, and bought time for everyone.
It bought time for the Metropolitan and the Synod. The Synod, Lesser or Full, has now met six times in the past 18 months. Even the most disinterested observer would admit they have demonstrated little leadership in the crisis that engulfs us. Will holding a seventh meeting lead to a different result? The optimists say: "Hope springs eternal". Realists point out that it is the definition of insanity to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect a different outcome. Pessimists, well, they need say nothing because the realists are gloomy enough. Archbishop Job, to his credit, is clearly an optimist. If a vision of the OCA exists beyond diocesan sovereignity, Potemkin villages or the brute exercise of authority, the only hierarch talking about it seems to be the Archbishop of Chicago.
Which is not to say insanity, or at least muddled thinking, does not exist in the Midwest as well. Clergy on the Diocesan Council who feared withholding, arguing that "the ministry programs of the OCA would suffer if money is withheld" - simply refuse to acknowledge reality. The newly-disclosed 2006 financials reveal the OCA spent four times for lawyers and accountants than it spent on program ministries last year. How much more damaged could program ministries be? "Miscellaneous" was a bigger line item than some OCA program ministries. Nevertheless, these clergy were appeased by giving Syosset more and more time through mostly harmless benchmarks. And in the process, both those who were ideologically opposed to withholding on any grounds, and those who adamently supported withholding, were left unsatisfied.
In short, benchmarks one and three leave the OCA once again treading water, which in these days passes for swimming, in a Church struggling to stay afloat.
But benchmark two is different. It reads:
"The August 2007 assessment payments to the Central Church will be remitted after the release to all Church members of all reports of the special investigation commission and when the commission renews its unhindered investigation, as directed by the Metropolitan Council."
Here again, the first part is "mostly harmless". There is only one report of the Special Investigative Commission, not many, and its release would indeed be welcome. Heaven knows we have clamored for it for the past six months! But in truth, we already know much of what is in it, from both Metropolitan Council and Synod statements about it. Based on what Proskauer Rose released to the Special Commission, as edited by the lawyer appointed by the Metropolitan as legal counsel to the Commission, the Report details Fr. Kondratick's financial shenanigans with the Church's funds for more than a decade. While the details promise to be "stunning" - the term is the one used by the Metropolitan Council and Synod, not OCAnews.org - Fr. Kondratick has already been summoned to a Church Court. The verdict, Syosset has said, will be reported at the appropriate time. It will be interesting to see how the Metropolitan explains Fr. Kondratick's misdeeds and the fact that in the midst of them the Metropolitan re-appointed him to his office, twice. The Metropolitan may do the honorable thing and retire with dignity; or he may choose to continue to serve, ignore the splatter and and pretend no one else notices it either...
It is the second part of benchmark two that bears the closest scrutiny though. Look at the terms again: "and when the commission renews its unhindered investigation, as directed by the Metropolitan Council." This condition is problematic for the Metropolitan, one that he may not be willing to fulfill, or more importantly, may not survive if he does so.
First, for "the Commission (to) renew its unhindered investigation" means that Gregg Nescott, having been restored to the Metropolitan Council, will be restored to the Special Commission. Otherwise, how could the Special Commission be "unhindered" if the Metropolitan can throw off members, especially those who disagree with him? Or does the Midwest seek accountability only after the plunder is in the bag?
There were no grounds to dismiss Nescott to begin with, as attested to publicly by two Archbishops (+Kyrill and +Job), and as has been conclusively demonstrated in a point by point refutation of the Metropolitan's claims for doing so. (Read that story here) The Metropolitan himself has recently stated Nescott's dismissal was "all a misunderstanding" (....and really the doing of the late Archbishop Kyrill). So let us take the Metropolitan at his word, and let him now correct the "misunderstanding", thereby returning the Commission to its "unhindered" status as soon as possible.
And if that appeal to good faith is not sufficient, then let it be done because it was "directed by the Metropolitan Council." Specifically, Resolution #1 adopted unanimously by the Council in March 2007 and later affirmed by the Synod of Bishops the following week reads, in part:
"Therefore, be it resolved, that the Metropolitan Council endorses the appointment of Archbishop JOB, Bishop BENJAMIN, Father Vladimir Berzonsky, Father John Reeves, Gregory Nescott and Dr. Faith Skordinski to serve on a Special Commission continuing the investigation to a conclusion in the most appropriate way;
Be it further resolved that the Special Commission be independent and free of interference from anyone outside the Special Commission.
Be it further resolved that the Special Commission provide a final written report of its investigation to the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council as soon as possible, but not later than the Fall of 2007."
If, therefore, the Metropolitan refuses to reinstate Gregg Nescott to membership on the Special Commission, "as directed by the Metropolitan Council", the Midwest Diocese is now committed to begin withholding on September 1, 2007.
Furthermore, in December 2006, the historic joint meeting between the Synod and Metropolitan Council stated:
"The participants of the joint session were stunned by the magnitude of today's revelations and have agreed to implement the following actions:
1. A Special Committee was appointed by His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman to complete the investigation by Proskauer Rose and to keep the Metropolitan Council advised of developments as they occur...."
The Commission attempted to keep the Council advised of developments in their own Statement of January 31, 2007. That Statement read, in part:
"The Commission has agreed that the restoration of trust must be the primary goal of the investigation, and that at the conclusion of its work, a written report to the Church must be made. These questions are among those that need to be answered concerning the crisis that has affected the Church:
What exactly happened?
Why did it happen?
What can be done to prevent this from happening again?
Why will those responsible for permitting it to happen not be in those positions of responsibility again?
The Commission also acknowledged the need for apologies and repentance to be offered before the Orthodox Church in America can move forward."
(Read the whole statement here)
That Statement, adopted by the Commission and sent to Council members, was subsequently overriden and withheld from publication by the Metropolitan. It was replaced by a memo written by his lawyers, drastically reducing the scope and purposes of the investigation to focus solely on the investigation Proskauer Rose had done on Fr. Kondratick. For the Commission to be "unhindered" it must renew its investigation as it desires, as the Metropolitan Council's resolution in March 2007 directed, not as limited by the Metropolitan and his lawyers. His past reluctance to allow the Special Commission to pursue its inquiries as it desires, or to view all the evidence it wishes to see, may make this aspect of the benchmark problematic for the Metropolitan as well.
Should this not happen, though, the Diocese is committed to begin withholding on September 1, 2007.
Finally, the Metropolitan Council directed in its unanimous resolution of March 2007 that the Commission's work should be completed, and a final written report of the Special Investigative Commission of its full investigation should be presented to the Synod and Council, no later than Fall 2007. Winter begins on December 22, 2007.
Should a full report not be issued by then, the Diocese is committed to begin withholding on December 23rd, no?
If the Commission started again next month they would have six full months, more than enough time, to complete their full report and avert the Midwest's benchmark.
Like the Earth, the Midwest's benchmarks are "mostly harmless". Douglas Adams' characters found out the exceptions can be deadly. The Metropolitan may be about to learn the same lesson. The Archdiocese of the Midwest has set the clock on reinstatement, renewal and revelation ticking....