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Bringing in the Sheaves:

The New York/New Jersey Episcopal Selection Process Concludes

The OCA's report describing what took place at the Extraordinary Assembly of the Diocese of New York-New Jersey was brief:

...During the assembly, the delegates discussed a motion to postpone the selection of a candidate until later in the year. This motion was defeated in a 56/42 vote, and the election was allowed to proceed.

Initially, three possible candidates had been proposed by the Diocesan Episcopal Search Committee: the Very Revs. David Brum, Michael Dahulich, and David Mahaffey. By joint decisions, Father David Brum withdrew his name. Fathers Michael Dahulich and David Mahaffey were nominated. Other names were brought forward, but the nominees declined. The delegates voted on the proposed candidates.

The Assembly cast 55 votes for Father Michael Dahulich and 33 votes for Father David Mahaffey. Ten votes were deemed invalid.

The Assembly suspended the rules of a second ballot and, according to election procedures, will submit both names to the Holy Synod for consideration in their election of a hierarch for the Diocese of New York and New Jersey.”
(This summary has since been updated. Read it here.)

The report leaves out several significant events at the meeting, and even more that are important towards understanding what happened in Clifton - and why. 

The Background

On July 1, 2009 the Synod announced the Diocese of Washington-New York would be split back into its constituent parts, becoming again two dioceses: Washington and New York-New Jersey. An episcopal search process was initiated for the New York-New Jersey Diocese. At the time wrote: 

The search should not take long or be very difficult. According to sources close to Syosset, one candidate already has the approval of all the bishops for this position.... The ‘approved’ candidate, Archpriest Michael Dahulich, Ph.D., is the current Dean and Associate Professor of New Testament and Ethics at St. Tikhon’s Seminary."  (Read that full story here.)

The July 27th Memo

Well, the search did not take long - less than 60 days - but it proved to be rather difficult. 

In its initial July 27th memo to the clergy and laity of the Diocese, announcing the process the Episcopal Selection Committee informed the Diocese that:

“Our difficult task is to identify two candidates to be presented for a vote at the Extraordinary Diocesan Assembly. Obviously, one may ask why only two names will be presented. To make an understatement: That s a good question! And, truly, such a determination is difficult to the point of anguish; and yet in prayer, faith, hope, and love throughout the process, we feel it must be so ... and for these reasons....

The Search Committee, by recommending two names to the Assembly on August 31st is trying to prevent any attempt to mitigate the vote and avert the dilution of votes scattered among a multitude of candidates, thus denying any one candidate from receiving either the two-thirds vote required by Statute for a first ballot nomination, or the 40% required on the second and last ballot for two names to be submitted to the Holy Synod of Bishops for election.”

The committee declined to name the two candidates they had chosen, but did announce that: 

“Official letters were drafted today and will be mailed to the nominees on Tuesday July 28th informing them that they have been selected by the Search Committee for presentation to the Extraordinary Diocesan Assembly as candidates for election. The letters request a reply indicating consent and the presentation of an autobiography. Nominees replying in the affirmative will be interviewed by the Search Committee in person or by teleconference prior to Diocesan Council meeting.”
(Read the memo in full here.)

The memo disappointed some, including this website, which editorialized: 

“There is nothing ‘conciliar’ about four appointed men, all clergy, all of whom were intimate in the previous dysfunctional diocesan administration under Metropolitan Herman, privately reviewing candidates in a closed, ’noncompetitive’ process (their words, not mine) and coming up with only two nominees after only three weeks of searching, neither of whose names can be released. Rather, delegates will be allowed to know their names only two weeks before the election, but not given any opportunity to discuss them together before the election. Nor will they be allowed to do as at the Extraordinary Assembly.”
(Read the editorial here.)

The August 17th Final Report

On August 17th, the Search Committee released its “Final Report”.  After explaining once again that they ”...had wanted to recommend two names to the Extraordinary Diocesan Assembly to avoid any dilution of the vote which would deny any nominee from receiving either the two-thirds vote required for a first ballot nomination of a single candidate, or the 40% required on the second and last ballot for two names to be submitted to the Holy Synod of Bishops for election”, the Committee announced it had not selected two candidates, as it had told the diocese only two weeks earlier, but five.  The committee explained that  contrary to what it had announced two weeks earlier, “Five candidates were identified, instead of two, due to the possibility that any of them might decline to be considered for, or accept the nomination as, Bishop of New York and New Jersey.” 

The committee then announced that indeed two had declined to be nominated, and “following in-depth interviews.... in which every individual was exhaustively considered and evaluated,”  three candidates were being put forward. The Committee failed to explain why the former reasoning for offering just two was no longer operative or desirable. 

The Search Committee’s about-face on the number of candidates, their lack of explanation for now offering a third candidate, and the inclusion among the three of Fr. David Brum, whose previous consideration for the Diocese of the South had elicited a rare negative public statement from the Special Investigative Committee last Spring and who had been earlier rejected as a nominee in W/PA,  did not go unnoticed.

The August 22nd Memo

So, in offering an August 22nd “Clarification” of the process in which the Search Committee established new rules that required real time verification of episcopal candidates nominated from the floor, the Committee gave a spirited, if controversial, defense of the candidacy of Fr. David Brum. In the end the defense raised more questions than it answered.

As August 31st neared, calls arose for both clergy and laity throughout the Diocese - and beyond it - the process to be reconsidered with less haste, and more thoroughness, since  it was revealed that at least one of the Search Committee members had never heard of the SIC’s letter concerning Fr. Brum ( despite their  “exhaustive consideration and evaluation” ). Moreover, new evidence concerning Fr. Brum’s  previously undisclosed employment in Syosset during 1998-2000, and the key role he played in Protodeacon Eric Wheeler’s termination as OCA Treasurer in 1999 emerged.  (Read that story here.)  This combination of new evidence, overlooked evidence, campaigning on behalf of one candidate by the Committee, and constant ‘clarification’ of new rules had called the process itself into question.

At the very least the process was unravelling - and in public. In a last ditch effort to assauge clergy and laity who complained that the candidates had not been allowed to address the Diocese or its issues, the Search Committee decided to once again reverse a previously stated position, and release three podcasts of interviews with the candidates. Two weeks earlier asking questions and hearing from the candidates was considered  unnecessary - but  now the Search Committee  wrote, in an August 26th memo, that   “We strongly urge and expect all clergy receiving the audio interviews to share them with their lay delegates and all interested parishioners.?” (Emphasis in original). 

But still the calls for postponement grew, including one from the Lay Chair of the Extraordinary Assembly itself, John Kozey.  (Read that here.) The tension between the Search Committee and the Special Investigative Committee grew more heated and public as well, with Fr. Karlgut dismissing the SIC, even as the SIC demanded their letter questioning Fr. Brum’s candidacy be given as equal distribution as Bishop Benjamin’’s defense of the candidacy was given by the Search Committee. 

Such was not to be the case, though.

The  Extraordinary Assembly

On August 31st, after a Divine Liturgy, the Extraordinary Assembly convened in Clifton, New Jersey. Following the published agenda, Fr. Karlgut presented a report on behalf of the Search Committee, followed by questions. During the questions  he announced that the Search Committee had decided to remove Fr. Brum’s name  in light of the fact that his candidacy had become divisive. Yet had already been informed earlier that morning that Fr. Brum had removed his own name from consideration. split the difference by writing: “By joint decisions, Father David Brum withdrew his name”, later revised to "Fr. Brum's name was withdrawn by joint decisions."

Whether Fr. Brum removed his name, had his name removed, or both, at this point there remained only two candidates, Frs. Dahulich and Mahaffey.

Fr. Karlgut then read a brief statement from Fr. Mahaffey, which Fr. Karlgut stated he had received the night before. Fr. Mahaffey stated that he wished to remove his name from consideration, if the election, as John Kozey had proposed, was delayed. It was thus made clear to all present that if the Assembly was postponed, there would remain only one ‘official’ candidate - Fr. Dahulich. 

A motion to postpone the Assembly was offered. Those who wanted a delay until no earlier than December 1, 2009 argued that the process was clearly flawed, but it could be corrected.  Those who opposed argued that everyone was gathered, money had been spent,  a search had been made, and a delay would not affect the outcome since there would only be one “official” candidate remaining....

The motion  was defeated, 56 to 42. 

Nominations were then accepted from the floor, and four persons were nominated, three of whom were present but declined nomination. A fourth, Igumen Marc Labish of New Skete was nominated, but could not be reached.  The vote was taken and Fr. Dahulich received 55 votes, Fr. Mahaffey 33,  Fr. Labish 2 (which were immediately disqualified according to the rules and placed among the 8 other invalid ballots.) 

As one delegate wrote to “It’s a wonder Mahaffey still got any votes after that letter --  was all this calculated? I am forcing myself not to surmise...” 

Since neither candidate received a two third’s majority, the rules required a second ballot. As there were only two nominees a second ballot was pointless, though. Thus “The Assembly suspended the rules of a second ballot and, according to election procedures, will submit both names to the Holy Synod for consideration in their election of a hierarch for the Diocese of New York and New Jersey.”

And so, after what the Search Committee called an “exhaustive” two month process,  in which two candidates became five, then three, then two - and finally only one if the delegates voted to postpone the election - the process ended with the rules suspended and an outcome indicated two months ago. 

Quelle Surprise. 

The OCA has now conducted two episcopal searches in the past six months; one, a conciliar process in WPA which ended in multiple candidates, of which the eventual nominee received 2/3 of the vote  on the first ballot; and a closed, directed process in NY-NJ, that nevertheless unravelled in public, and ended with only one candidate after the second threatened to walk, who still could not get 2/3 of the vote. So the Synod, not the Diocese, will elect the next Bishop of New York, which seem to be goal of the whole confusing enterprise to begin with.

The Diocese of the South is now conducting an episcopal search using the same process and model that was used in  - you guessed it - New York/New Jersey. 

Metropolitan Council member  Dmitri Solodow recently wrote: “Have We Learned Nothing?”. (Read that reflection here.)  The real question however is: “Are we incapable - or just unwilling - to learn?”

-Mark Stokoe




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