EPA Diocese Assembly
To Metropolitan Council:
Audit All Stavropegial Institutions
The Assembly of the diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania, gathered in Bethlehem, PA, Friday evening November 17th and Saturday, November 18th, saw one major resolution concerning the OCA scandal pass, but saw another resolution advocating releasing all reports on the scandal go down to defeat after interventions by both Bishop Tikhon and OCA Chancellor Fr. Alexander Garklavs. In the place of disclosure a generic resolution of support for Bishop Tikhon and for "the manner in which he is addressing the financial scandal of the OCA on our behalf" was passed.
The First Session
The Assembly began with a celebration of Vespers, after with Bishop Tikhon offered an opening address.
The Bishop confessed that the OCA "is suffering". He expressed his "sadness that the OCA troubles have gone one for two years" and is "frustrated by lawyers, their posturing and prescriptions". The Bishop stated "things have been accomplished", but that they way to go forward is to "clean one room at a time". "One should not try to clean someone else's room", the Bishop stated, so it is the task of the Diocese to focus on putting itself in order first. Regarding the scandal
the Bishop did say: "We must wait for the second investigation to conclude their findings. Their conclusion must be done quickly and a report issued to the faithful."
Following the Bishop's address, Fr. Alexander Garklavs, Chancellor of the OCA offered remarks and answered questions. The new Chancellor expressed his appreciation for being invited, since he had been "uninvited to some other places". Speaking of the distrust that has spread throughout the OCA, Fr. Garklavs drew an analogy from Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Solzhenitsyn wrote that after the fall Communism, all in Russia were responsible for it and should repent. So, too, Garklavs said, the OCA. Fr. Alexander concluded: "All of this chaos, all of these changes, has made it essential that what we do now is in the open. Only about 10 full-time people are still there (working) in Syosset, and nothing untoward is now going on."
Several speakers offered support for Fr. Alexander's comments - others challenged what he asserted about openness and transparency. In response Fr. Alexander replied that given the sacramental nature of the Church and its tradition of confession it is was "...just not in the nature of the church to discuss every sordid detail in public."
It was then that Fr. James Weremedic (Berwick) asked Fr. Garklavs the question everybody was waiting for: "Was the Midwest right or wrong to withhold? Is it something we should be considering at our meeting?"
Fr. Garklavs stated forcefully that it was wrong. "Nothing that would warrant such action is presently going on." he said. He then asked the rhetorical question: "Has the Midwest Diocese accomplished something by withholding?" His answer? "Perhaps." Nevertheless, he continued, "It (withholding) goes against scripture, tradition, and every type of honest endeavor to get things done." In short, withholding is "just plain unchurchly." (That being said, Garklavs continued 'off the record' by saying that withholding might have made sense five years ago, but now, as a way to change things, it will not have any beneficial results.) As nobody in Syosset is doing anything to warrant withholding now; it is appropriate to let the money flow....
These comments caused a reaction. One delegate rose to state: "I'm not calling you disingenuous-- you talk about two years, but I see 15 years. People are put aside, put down, disregarded when they ask questions." In an area rich with immigrant history, the delegate spoke about steelworkers and miners -- how their lives were oppressed, and they were not listened to, nor accepted when they raised questions in society. They looked to the priest to speak for them a generation or two ago. Now the priests do not allow questioning...
Withholding To Continue
Fr. Garklavs agreed. "Even 10 years ago," he stated,
the ability to speak as we do now was impossible." He then revealed he had recently spoken with Archbishop Job about withholding. There were three benchmarks set by the Midwest, of which two have been met. The third has to do with the Report of the Special Commission being released. Garklavs admitted "A summary was released - accidentally and momentarily ... but not officially released as the Midwest called for." So, he announced, much to his disappointment, that "They are sticking to their benchmarks for now." Then he made a surprise announcement: "A report should be made public Dec. 13."( That is, the day after the decision on the appeal of Fr. Kondratick is scheduled to be given.) Fr. Garklavs later stated that the Summary Report "accidently and momentarily" published was "not fully accurate" - a comment that left many in the room confused. On the one hand he seemed to be suggesting the "accidental" publication of the Summary Report was sufficient to end withholding - but on the other, that the Report should not be fully believed...
After a few more questions, the Assembly adjourned for the evening.
The Assembly resumed Saturday morning, following Divine Liturgy with a lengthy talk by the Bishop.
Reports were then offered (Read them here) Two items from the reports of Metropolitan Council members Fr. John Onofry and Mr. Peter Bohlender, stand out. First, the Metropolitan Council members from EPA claimed in their report that :
"Designated Charities: With the acquisition of the $1.7M Loan, all designated Charities Donations were distributed. This includes the distribution of $90,000 in 9/11 Funds to the New York Disaster Interfaith Service [NYDIS], Bibles for Russia, Hurricane Disaster Relief, etc."
That is not true. The 'Bibles for Russia' funds have not been paid, nor were they included in the $1.7 million Honesdale loan. The monies diverted from the 'Bibles for Russia' campaign are scheduled to be paid in 2008 - - and then not from the loan, but from General Funds. Moreover, the $90,000 in 9/11 funds paid out does not account for the additional $170,000 in 9/11 funds raised, but still in question. Syosset has resisted distributing the remaining $170,000 since, while it cannot be shown they were disbursed (there being no records) it cannot legally be shown they were not paid out either. The issue is 'under consideration' by Syosset.
Secondly, the Diocesan Council Report claims the two Metropolitan Council delegates from Eastern Pennsylvania reported to them on May 8th that:
"Archbishop JOB's report for the Investigative Committee followed next. A long discussion ensued
about whether to release the contents of the report to the Church or not and the Council voted to keep the
confidentiality of the report."
That too is simply untrue. The Council voted to release the report, as did the Synod of Bishops. (Read that story here). It was the Metropolitan that prevented the release of the Report. The report given by the delegates to their diocesean council was reflective of the Metropolitan's wishes - not the decisions of the Council.
If the two delegates got a pass on their misleading reporting to the Council and the Assembly, those present asked interesting questions of Fr. Onofry:
Q: What is status of the Honesdale loan?
A: The payment is $14,300 per month, of which $6,802 is to principal, and $7,417.27 is interest.
Q: Does the Metropolitan Council anticipate any legal action to be taken against those found guilty of stealing from the church?
A:No information is available at this time.
Q: Is there any move to audit the stavropegial institutions as moved and adopted by the Diocesan Council on August 16th? (Ed. note: The published Diocesan Council report states that at the August 16th meeting "A motion was made to inform the Metropolitan Council that our Diocesan Council insists that the Metropolitan Council's financial reports and audit reviews include all stavropegial institutions. The motion was carried.")
A: No, we forgot to bring it up.
Other reports prompted equally interesting questions, and revealing answers from the Diocesan Chancellor and the Bishop:
Q: Is there a plan to reclaim our Diocesan Center?
( Editor's note: The Metropolitan currently resides in the Diocesan Center in South Canaan, not in his diocesen residence, or in Syosset.)
A: There is no lease with the diocese of WA-NY regarding the diocesan center. We are breaking even so far on the rental income, but with the price of heating way up this winter and with the telephone bills we are paying, we may not break even. It may cost us to have the Archbishop of WA-NY staying there.
At which point Bishop Tikhon interjected: "There's a lot in this situation that need to be clarified, and it takes time..." The matter was dropped.
The following resolution was introduced by Fr. Dan Kovalak with the preface that such a resolution was
"necessary to promote openness and honesty in the debate.." He proposed:
"Whereas in discussions concerning diocesan property, Bishop Tikhon reported that the Diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania owns the house currently rented by the Diocese of Washington and New York and occupied by Metropolitan Herman, the land upon which it is situatedÊ is owned by St. Tikhon's monastery, and whereas it is further recorded there is no purchase invoice, no donation receipt, and no deed for the record that legally establishes this arrangement, and whereas the auditing committee is required by statute to audit the accounts of the treasury funds of all church - related institutions on a quarterly basis and report to the Metropolitan Council, and whereas the Diocesan CouncilÊ on August 16, 2007 unanimously moved to 'insist that the Metropolitan Council's financial reports and audit reviews include stavropegial institutions' and whereas minutes of the Metropolitan Council meetings indicate no such reports were offered nor any consideration given to this motion, therefore be it resolved that the diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania:
1) Vigorously supports the motion unanimously approved by Diocesan Council which deals with the auditing of the stavropegial institutions, and
2) directs our Metropolitan Council representative to insist ,that motion be placed on the agenda at next meeting, and
3) further directs our Metropolitan Council representative to immediately communicate this action in writing to the OCA administration, the Metropolitan Council, and internal church auditors, and to provide copies of this communication and updated status reports on this motion to subsequent diocesan council meetings for further consideration and determination of appropriate action."
The motion passed by voice vote though, with none opposed. It was a significant motion, in that among those institutions that would be audited if this proposal is adopted by the Metropolitan Council would be St. Tikhon's monastery, and all its related entities. This would surely not be welcomed by the Metropolitan, who has resisted all attempts to do so in the past.
A Second Resolution
Interestingly, it was not this resolution about the OCA that sparked the most lengthy debate of the Assembly, but a second resolution by Fr. Kovalak concerning re-evaluating OCA participation in the National Council of Churches in Christ. After a lengthy debate, pro and con, a voice vote was taken, followed by a show of hands. Twenty-seven were in favor, nine opposed, and four delegates abstained.
The Final Resolution
It was Fr. Kovalak's third resolution of the day that caused the most tension, though. The resolution asked for full disclosure of all reports concerning the OCA scandal. It caused the otherwise placid Bishop Tikhon to rise up, question Fr. Kovalak, and seek to compel him to withdraw the proposed resolution.
As a preamble, Fr. Dan stated: "I realize this is not deemed necessary, but for the sake of those we serve, I think it is necessary for us to say something. So I offer that in this regard."
+Tikhon: "Don't you think I already said this?"
Fr. Kovalak: "Yes, but you already said the other things I made resolutions about today as well. Do want me to withdraw my resolution, Vladyka?"
+Tikhon: "Yes, I would. I agree with it, but it is not necessary. I'll take it as a recommendation. Well, that is, if you want."
The two stared at each other in silence.
A smiling Fr. Kovalak then said: "I do not wish to withdraw my resolution. You did offer me a choice."
+Tikhon: "Would you re-read your resolution again, please?"
The resolution reads:
"Whereas for the past two years , the OCA has been scandalized by ongoing revelations of financial improprieties in the central church administration, and whereas the exorbitant costs of adopting corrective measures are financially paralyzing the church's mission and ministry, and in addition (inaudible) by which we support the church. It has not effectively resolved the scandal, and whereas the Lord God asks "Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which is not satisfying?", be it therefore resolved that the Diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania:
1) add its united voice to demand financial accountability of the OCA, specifically in the timely public disclosure of financial statements, audits, and the preliminary and any subsequent investigative reports, to effectively address the current scandal, and establish confidence for the future, and
2) directs our diocese's representative to the Metropolitan Council to report this resolution for the record at the next scheduled meeting."
Mr. Peter Bohlender, Metropolitan Council member who was serving as Lay Chair of the Assembly, then stated: "To me it seems like the job has already been done." "It is,' he continued, "sort of like closing the door after the cow is already back in the barn."
Fr. Kovalak answered: "Other dioceses have passed resolutions and had them read into the record. I don't know whether their bishops would agree, but they got (them) into the record. By doing the same we're just supporting our bishop..."
This understanding of the resolution was supported by the delegate from St. Stephen's Cathedral in Philadelphia: "This is something people have asked me to try to get answers to, and maybe (this resolution) would comfort them."
At this point Fr. Garklavs spoke again, suggesting that the Bishop's words during his opening address were a better summary. He recommended the Diocese "would have more impact if the resolution is withdrawn."
By a show of hands, it was defeated, 10-17.
Fr. Kovalak subsequently offered a fourth motion, quoted at the beginning of the article: "This Diocesan Assembly resolves, vigorously and in unity, to support our diocesan hierarch, His Grace, Bishop Tikhon, in the manner in which he is addressing the financial scandal of the OCA on our behalf."
The new motion said nothing about full disclosure though. And it remains to be seen what impact keeping silent will have.
- Mark Stokoe