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10.23.09

DECISIONS CONFIRMED BY ENGLEWOOD RAISE MORE QUESTIONS


• Hierarchical Manual to be out in 2010
• Constitutional Reconciliation Committee

   reports in 2011
• No Timetable for Internal Audit Committee


The Antiochian Archdiocese has officially confirmed three decisions reported earlier this week by OCANews.org while providing additional details for each. Englewood also announced that a revised, balanced budget for 2010 had been adopted, although no details or figures were released.


According to Englewood the the local Synod approved at its October 16th meeting in Houston:


“The appointment of a committee to review the current in-force Manual of Hierarchical Duties and Responsibilities and to recommend changes that will increase the effectiveness of the Manual as a tool for clearly delineating the responsibilities of the Bishops and the Metropolitan. The goal will be to present the final draft of the Manual to the Archdiocesan Synod for approval at their regular meeting in the Fall of 2010. The members of the committee are as follows:


His Grace, Bishop Joseph, Chairman
His Grace Bishop Basil
His Grace Bishop Thomas
Deacon Emile Sayegh, Chancellor
Fr. George Kevorkian
Mr. Daniel Abraham”


The Synod also blessed the following:


“The appointment of a committee to study the differences between the Archdiocesan Constitution which was approved by the General Assembly in Pittsburgh, PA on 7/16/2004 and the Archdiocesan Constitution that was approved by the Holy Synod of Antioch on 10/14/2004 and to reconcile those differences, such that a single approved version of the Archdiocesan Constitution will be in effect. The goal will be to present the reconciled Constitution for approval to the General Assembly at the 2011 Convention in Chicago. The members of the committee are as follows:


His Grace, Bishop Joseph, Chairman
Deacon Emile Sayegh, Chancellor
Fr. George Kevorkian
Mr. Daniel Abraham”


In short, both Synodal Committees are to be headed by Bishop Joseph (Al-Zehlaoui) of Los Angeles and both are to be composed of the same four people, with the addition of two bishops to the Manual Review Committee.
Of those not identified in the release, Fr George Kevorkian currently serves as “the Episcopal Assistant” to Metropolitan Philip (in addition to his duties as pastor of St. Ignatius mission in Florida, NY), while Mr. Daniel J. Abraham is the current President of the Order of St. Ignatius. The differences between the Pittsburgh and Damascus Constitutions are discussed at length here. Both Committee were also given specific deadlines: Fall 2010 for the Hierarchical Manual, and Summer 2011 for the Constitutional Reconciliation Committee.


Trustees Choose Internal, not External Audit


Englewood also confirmed the following decision was taken by the Board of Trustees:


The appointment of a committee from across the entire Archdiocese to conduct an internal audit of the finances of the Archdiocese and to produce a comprehensive report for the Board of Trustees on the findings of that audit. This action came as a result of a roll-call vote in which the Board members expressed their preference for either an internal or external audit. The roll-call vote was preceded by a significant and open discussion on the merits of both approaches. The final vote was 18 for an internal audit, 11 for an external audit, and 5 abstentions. The members of the committee are as follows:”


The announcement then listed the members of the new Internal Audit Committee as selected by Metropolitan Philip:


Bishop Antoun (Khouri). Bishop Antoun is the long-time auxiliary Bishop to the Metropolitan. The Bishop was given the title of “Hierarchical Overseer” of the Committee, although what this role might mean was not specified.


Mr. Salim Abboud. Mr. Abboud, who was appointed Chairman of the Committee, is a Vice President of InterAudi Bank, a NY financial services company with offices in New York and Miami.


Mr. Peter Dacales. Mr. Dacales has been an employee at Englewood overseeing the day-to-day financial activities of the Archdiocese as the “Assistant Comptroller” for many years.


Messrs. Dan Braun and Kory Warr. Both businessmen were members of the Archdiocesan delegation to Damascus last June. You can read their brief biographies here.


Mr. Douglas Skaff is from West Virginia.


Mr. Gregory Laham. Mr. Laham is the President of Sullivan’s Pharmacy, one of the largest independent pharmacies in the country, based in Roslindale, MA.


Mr. Tony Khoury. Mr. Khoury is a businessman from St. George’s Cathedral in Coral Gables, Florida.


and finally,


Mr. George Darany. Mr. Darany, is the Co-Chair of the Archdiocese's Convention Department, and is a member of the parish council of St. George Parish in Troy, MI.


Reactions


Reaction to the decision on the internal audit has been swift, and generally negative on the internet. Frustration was expressed that the Board choose an internal, rather than an external audit as had been recommended earlier. (Read that story here.) So while the appointment of the Internal Audit Committee was generally seen as a small step forward, questions inevitably raised by conducting an internal audit alone have been accentuated by Metropolitan’s selection of who will be on the Committee. Although the press release from Englewood touts “a committee from across the entire Archdiocese”, critics point to several potential troubling conflicts of interest, both structural and personal.

Problems


• All the Committee members are members of the Board of Trustees. While most Trustees are elected by the General Convention, one third of the Board members are appointed by the Metropolitan personally. The Audit Committee is no exception - Mr. Abboud was originally appointed to the Board by Metropolitan Philip, as were Mr. Warr and Mr. Khoury. Is it fair to place honorable men in such a potentially compromising position?


• Although five of the Committee members are successful businessmen, there are no CPA’s on the Committee to offer technical guidance. (By way of comparison, the OCAs new Internal Audit Committee is composed solely of CPAs, none of whom serve on the Metropolitan Council itself, nor are they in any way connected with Syosset. )


• This latter point is most relevant as the lone figure with specific professional expertise on the Audit Committee appears to be Mr. Dacales. Unfortunately, Peter Dacales is also the comptroller of the Archdiocese. If it is questionable to have men appointed by the Metropolitan auditing the Archdiocese’s books, it is obviously inappropriate to have someone participating in an “audit” of his own work product - let alone make him the lone professional guiding the process. It is, in fact, totally unfair to Mr. Decales to place him in such an untenable position.


In addition to these structural problems, critics have raised questions regarding the wisdom or probity of including two persons on the Committee, given their public stands on audits.


• Mr. George Darany is currently involved in very public turmoil concerning audits in his own parish. In the case of St. George of Troy, the Treasurer of that parish has demanded an audit in light of discrepancies, among which are the parish priest’s admitted signing of checks in the name of a dead parish treasurer. Mr. Darany has publicly supported his priest in refusing any audits, despite the questions raised, and supported the priest’s excommunicating the current Treasurer for raising the questions in the first place. Such actions on the parish level legitimately provoke serious questions as to his objectivity and participation in any Archdiocesan audit process.


• The appointment of Bishop Antoun as an undefined “hierarchical overseer” is equally problematic. The Bishop was a vocal and outspoken opponent of conducting any audit, internal or external, at the recent General Convention in Palm Desert. Once again, to have placed the Metropolitan’s right hand-man in Englewood for the past 30 years as the “overseer” of the Committee charged with reviewing Englewood’s books, only encourages public skepticism. Was he truly the only Bishop available to oversee this process?

Questions


Not only the composition of the Committee has come under question, but the Committee’s writ is questioned as well. Unlike the other announced decisions, the Audit Committee announcement made no reference to the scope of its work, or any specific deadline for this work. Will the audit take place this year - or next? What year (or years) will be audited? Are all or some accounts to be audited? These are serious questions, which like the structural and personal ones mentioned above, unless addressed openly, cast doubt on the whole process.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back?


In seeking to resolve turmoil in the Archdiocese, the Synod and Board of Trustees have taken small steps forward. But any audit, internal or external, overseen by an Englewood insider, guided by an Englewood insider, whose own work is the product under review, made up of members of a Board appointed by the Metropolitan, selected for the Committee by the Metropolitan, some of whom have publicly dismissed the idea of audits, with no announcement of what they are investigating or no deadline given to accomplish whatever it is they are actually reviewing, is not likely to correct a growing perception that this audit process is fatally flawed from the get-go.


- Mark Stokoe

 
 

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