2.2.06 Latest News
Three Part Series Begins:
The Culture of Fear,
Half Truth and Deception
A multi-page letter mailed this week to members of the OCA Metropolitan Council and obtained by OCANews provides fresh insights into the fear, half truths and deception emanating from Syosset.
In this first of three articles, OCANews reveals Syosset’s ongoing campaign of intimidation against whistle-blowers, despite its public declaration of ‘Best Practices’.
On Friday, we examine the two year audit currently underway in Syosset. While trumpeted as a 'Best Practices’ response to questions of financial mismanagement, evidence from the Metropolitan Council letter reveals this as a half-truth, at best.
On Monday, we conclude the series with additional documents demonstrating how the Chancery has misinformed, misdirected and deceived the hierarchy, clergy and laity of the OCA since 1996.
Part One: The Culture of Fear
On November 17, 2005 Metropolitan Herman announced that “ ...beginning January 1, 2006, the Chancery of The Orthodox Church in America will employ ‘Best Practices’ for non-profit organizations. I believe that this decision will serve us well in both the present and the future.” (Read “Best Practices' here)
Best Practices’ suggested corporate reform measures are not a series of legal mandates, but clearly outlined “aspirational” goals. Adoption of ‘Best Practices’ is a public commitment to move an existing non-profit towards one that reflects more clearly the “culture of responsibility”. The goal of such a change in corporate culture, according to ‘Best Practices” is: “... the preservation and effective stewardship of the charitable assets of the nonprofit corporation."
As such, ‘Best Practices’ makes few actual recommendations regarding accounting procedures (arguing that in the non-profit world, “one size does not fit all”). It does, however, make several detailed and specific recommendations regarding corporate ethics. Section 9.3 is very clear that non-profits shall “e) ensure that “non-retaliation” protections are in place for employees who disclose potential legal violations under the reporting system.”
In the past four weeks OCANews has noted a progressive weakening in the OCA’s proclaimed commitment to ‘Best Practices”, evidenced in word and deed.
• On January 12th, less than two weeks after ‘Best Practices’ were claimed to be adopted by the OCA, Fr. Paul Harrilchak of Reston VA wrote a short reflection on the scandal. This reflection was later published, with permission, on OCANews.org. (Read his reflection here) OCA News has learned that later that same week Harrilchak received a letter signed by Metropolitan Herman, ordering him to remain silent on these issues. In a telephone conversation with OCANews, Fr. Harrilchak would not discuss the contents of the letter directly, but did confirm he had received such a letter.
• By January 20th the decision to “employ” “Best Practices” beginning January 1, 2006 had been reduced to “...initiating the process" of adopting "Best Practices."" To quote the decision of the Lesser Synod: “His Beatitude has further initiated the process of adopting “Best Practices” procedures in administration, and administrative practices established by other similar not-for-profit religious institutions..” (Read the statement of the Lesser Synod)
• On January 30, OCANews learned that Protodeacon Eric Wheeler received an official letter from the Metropolitan, directing Wheeler that he is no longer permitted to post or discuss anything regarding the finances of the OCA on any public forum. Protodeacon Wheeler confirmed receiving the letter from the Metropolitan.
Wheeler has received two previous letters from Syosset ordering his silence: in October 1999 a directive ordered him not to discuss these issues in public; a second letter arrived in November 2005 after he had written to the Holy Synod and Metropolitan Council, ordering him not to discuss these issues in private. Wheeler has been scrupulous in complying with these demands.
The apparent trigger for the third letter were the following startling revelations, posted on the private OCA clergy-list some days earlier. Wheeler’s name had come up in an exchange, and in order to correct a misstatement of his position, Wheeler entered the following discussion :
(Editor’s note: At the specific request of the list moderator, Fr. Tom Soroka, OCAnews does not quote exchanges on the clergy list without the express permission of the author. However, since this post is of exceptional importance, and as we believe that Protodeacon Wheeler is prohibited from giving us permission, we are posting the relevant exchange for our readers.) The post begins with a statement, followed by Wheeler's response:
“(Name withheld by request) wrote:
Fr. Alexey reminds us that these discretionary funds were at the Metropolitan’s complete “disposal,” and that he could utilize such funds as he saw fit.
While the Holy Synod resolved that the Discretionary Account of the Metropolitan was not to be audited, at issue is the money from the Archer, Daniels Midland Foundation and the Andreas Foundation that was placed into these accounts. The fact is, the donor
never designated this money as discretionary. Metropolitan Herman was never made aware, nor has he ever seen, as of our December 2005 conversation, the original grant forwarded to Mr. Andreas requesting these funds. I saw the original grant as has Father
Secondly, the St. Sergius Chapel account maintained by Father Kondratick, where probably half the off the book money was placed, to the best of my knowledge does not, and never did fall under the discretionary account of the Metropolitan.
Thirdly, once Mr. Andreas was asked to produce a letter in June 1999 stating his intentionas to how the contributions were to be used, the money dried up. Nowhere in Mr. Andreas’ letter does it state that it is intended for a discretionary account. I have seen a copy of the letter, as has Father Kondratick. The members of the Holy Synod, including Metropolitan Herman were only read portions of this letter.
The exchange continues:
(A second person) wrote:
Would any of those who call for an investigation - and, by the way, don’t you think the Holy Synod has investigated? What were they doing all this time?
I don’t see Father Memorich responding with the 10 best things the Holy Synod was probably doing, and I do not seek to be suspended over irreverence, so let me post something serious.
A normal part of an investigation would be to question what many perceive as mere allegations. I have received no call from the Holy Synod or its representatives to explain any further my comments, which only begin to scratch the surface of what
was taking place with regard to the funds of the church. For the record, my allegations are true. I was there, as was Paul Hunchak, as was Father Kondratick.
Paul confirmed what I said as being true; Father Kondratick has not responded. If Father Kondratick ever responds “yes”, the three of us would be in agreement.
If Father Kondratick responds “no” he would be lying.....”
Wheeler has not posted comments since that exchange.
• On January 29th, Greg Nescott, a long-time member of the Metropolitan Council, posted the following on the internet. which we quote in full, with permission:
“You can’t depose a layman, but I guess there are other steps that can be taken to silence or intimidate him, according to the rules by which the Orthodox Church in America is now operating. Allow me to explain my crushing experience this week.
It’s really very simple. For the past four years, I have been the Vice President of the parish council at St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Allison Park (Pittsburgh). Today at the parish annual meeting, I was to have been elected President, an outcome rather predictable in light of my three-decades-plus service on parish and diocesan councils, and on the Metropolitan Council.
But a funny thing happened on the way to my ‘coronation”. I will explain by simply setting out here the 10-sentence statement I read to the annual meeting before the election of officers:
“Two months ago, when presenting the Nominating Committee report to parish council, I advised council I would today be running for president, since our current president is ineligible to be re- elected, due to the term limits set out in our parish by-laws.
“This past Monday evening, I was called to the residence of Archbishop Kyrill, who I have worked with and supported for 28 years, as long as I have worked for and supported this Cathedral parish. Present with the Archbishop was our pastor, Fr. Paul Suda, who also serves as Chairman of the Auditing Committee for the national Church.
“I was informed by the Archbishop that, because I had recently spoken out publicly in favor of an investigation by the Holy Synod of Bishops into serious allegations of financial misconduct at the highest levels of the Church, raised on November 1, 2005 by former OCA nationaltreasurer and secretary to the Metropolitan, Protodeacon Eric Wheeler — and additional allegations raised by others since that time — the Archbishop would not approve my election today as president of this Cathedral. His Eminence further advised Fr. Paul that, if nominated for the presidency, Fr. Paul should not accept my nomination.
“Archbishop Kyrill further acknowledged that, although at least one bishop has joined clergy and laity from throughout the country in speaking out publicly on the need for a complete investigation by the Holy Synod of the alleged misconduct, and a website supporting such
an investigation - OCANews.org - has recently been established, I was viewed as a leader of this “movement”, and therefore unsuited for the presidency.
“I advised Archbishop Kyrill that although I strongly disagreed with his decision, I understood that it is his right to approve all elected council members. I told the Archbishop and Fr. Paul that I had no desire to cause harm in the Cathedral parish that I loved, and I would
not otherwise challenge the decision to deny me the presidency that I had looked forward to accepting.
“I will therefore not be a candidate for the presidency of St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. I will seek election as a member of the parish council, which Archbishop Kyrill indicated he will approve.”
(Note: My public “leadership” role in this “movement” for accountability and an investigation consisted of a total of approximately six or seven posts I had made here on the Orthodox Forum over the past three months.)
When I finished, the parish secretary, visibly shaken, asked whether it wouldn’t be appropriate to send a note to Archbishop Kyrill, expressing the parish’s “unhappiness” with his action. Fr. Suda, presiding, told the meeting it would not be appropriate, foreclosing any such action.
Fr. Suda then read the statement of the Lesser Synod on January 20 that he claimed closed this matter, regardless of what Archbishop Job has since advised his diocese; attacked those who continue to ask for proper audits and an investigation into the allegations; told the meeting that this matter could be discussed only today, but never again at a parish council meeting; stated that further steps would be taken against those asking for an investigation if they didn’t tonedown their remarks; and said that, if it were up to him, he “would retire Archbishop Job”, who has had the temerity to ask for a proper investigation.
It seems to me that what continues to be missing from this dialogue (?) is Christ. Intimidations, threats, and silencings are demeaning to the Church and to its leaders, when those being threatened are merely asking, “Are these allegations true, or not?”
Oh, by the way, I was unanimously elected to parish council. I wonder how long I’ll be permitted to serve?
- Gregg Nescott, Pittsburgh”
A Declining Commitment?
In a reflection posted on the OCA clergy list and reposted on OCANews.org with permission, Fr. Ted Bobosh wrote: “Since the Lesser Synod has agreed that the OCA is now following “Best Practices” we can look in those documents for guidelines as to how to do an investigation in case of serious allegations and how the “whistle blowers” are to be treated and how their allegations are to be investigated. This will be our test case to see whether or not the OCA is serious about following “Best Practices.”
This past week the the Metropolitan Council received a multipage letter containing the following statement from OCA Treasurer, Fr. Paul Kucynda: “The Primary Policies and Procedures listed above is an inital attempt to apply some of the generally accepted standards used by other not for profit entitites. As determined by the Metropolitan Council “Best Practices for Financial Accountability” will serve as our standard for reviewing our present Primary Polices and Procedures in the future, and in adjusting and expanding them as appropriate to our activity.” (This letter will be posted in its entirety on 2.3.06)
Examine the words closely: From “employing” at the beginning of the month to “initiating the process of adopting” in the middle, to applying “some of the generally accepted standards” that can be adjusted “ as appropriate to our activity” at the end of the month, Syosset’s trumpeted commitment to “Best Practices” appears to be fading in the first month of its existence. Worse, in the ongoing campaign of intimidation and retaliation, with three silencings in four weeks, the OCA is clearly failing its first test.
The Culture of Fear
In his November 28th letter to Metropolitan Herman, Archbishop Job of Chicago references the culture of fear that is pervading the OCA. His Eminence writes:
Dear Vladyka HERMAN, I do not want to be a constant source of irritation to You. I ask Your forgiveness if I have offended You by means of this communication, but I perceive a great deal of fear in our Church. In his first epistle, Saint John the Theologian tells us: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” (I John 4:18)
(Read Archbishop Job's Letter here)
The Archbishop’s concern is no more eloquently affirmed than by a recent comment posted to OCANews.org on Feburary 1st, 2006 , by a student at one of our seminaries: “As a seminarian, I am under more direct control of OCA authorities than other laymen and, therefore, wish to remain anonymous to avoid any retaliation.”
What comes as a rude shock to laymen like Greg Nescott, seems to be an acknowledged accepted cultural context in our dioceses and seminaries.
Having been named, can this culture of fear be stopped?
Friday in Part 2:
An analysis of the new Metropolitan Council letter reveals it is predicated on a deceptive half truth...