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4.20.07 BREAKING NEWS

Fr. Kondratick Suspended

Metropolitan Herman formally suspended Fr. Robert Kondratick today. The announcement ended a month of suspense following the unanimous March 16th recommendation of the Metropolitan Council to suspend the former OCA Chancellor for financial misconduct, and the subsequent endorsement of that recommendation by the Synod of Bishops a week later. The OCA announcement, posted at 5 PM on Friday, April 20, reads :

“SYOSSET, NY [OCA Communications] -- Protopresbyter Robert S. Kondratick, former chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America, was temporarily suspended from all functions of the Holy Priesthood on Friday, April 20, 2007.

A Church Court has been appointed according to the Statute of the Orthodox Church in America, Article XI (Church Courts and Canonical Procedures), to hear the charges made against him.

May the All Merciful Savior bless and comfort His Church in this most difficult time.”

The Long, Strange Road to Suspension

Thirteen months ago, in March 2006, Fr. Kondratick was dismissed as Chancellor of the OCA, a position he had held unchallenged for 18 years. The official reason for the dismissal was an attack on the Metropolitan in the form of an "accusatory" and "intimidating" letter. (Read the Metropolitan’s explanation here). The letter, written by Fr. Kondratick’s attorney, Mr. Harry Kutner Jr., states:

“The most recent developments indicate that you have decided to make Fr. Kondratick a scapegoat. You are assured that that will not be permitted to occur without an immediate lawsuit seeking many millions in damages for loss of employment, defamation, and breach of contract, and emotional distress, filed simultaneously with a widely-disseminated press release commenting upon your failures of leadership and own involvement in the issues.” (Read the entire letter here)

The “recent developments” Kutner refers to, presumably, is the Metropolitan’s engagement two days earlier of Proskauer Rose LLP to investigate allegations of financial misconduct at Syosset.

In the usual course of events, a priest threatening his ruling Bishop would be immediately suspended. This was not the case with Fr. Kondratick, who not only remained a priest, but continued to serve at the Metropolitan’s own chapel and remained in the Chancellor’s residence. For his part, Fr. Kondratick did not carry through on any of his “threats”; there was no lawsuit, there was no press release about Metropolitan Herman’s own “involvement in the issues”. This modus vivendi was to remain in place until September 2006.

The Investigation Is Complete

According to informed sources, Proskauer Rose had completed its investigation in mid-July 2006, except for administrative details. That investigation found, as was later reported, among other problems, that Fr. Kondratick had:

• Circumvented processes in place for administrative and financial controls since at least 1998,
• Made numerous unsubstantiated large cash withdrawals,
• Abused Church funds through personal credit cards
• Exhibited a pattern of personal use of Church money for a number of years,
• Failed to submit timely financial reports and in some cases, false reports, were submitted,
• Used large amounts of Church funds to improperly pay for personal items. (Read the full list here)

Once again, in the usual course of events, a priest discovered to have engaged in such misconduct would be immediately suspended. This was not the case with Fr. Kondratick. After hearing the results of the Proskauer Rose investigation the Metropolitan did not suspend Fr. Kondratick, but went on a campaign to claim continuing ignorance.  In a September 14, 2006 interview with Protodeacon Peter Danilchik the Metropolitan stated:

“The questions about the truth revolve around the financial allegations. Until we have a report on what has happened over the years, we can’t say anything. The person being accused in these allegations is denying it to me. Unless I have a document resulting from a proper investigation, what can I say publicly?.....No one including me would like to believe that he has done the wrong thing. But the investigation will reveal the truth concerning the allegations. I am not protecting anyone. .... My point here is that we cannot act on allegations without proof. We need to wait for the outcome of the Proskauer Rose investigation.” (Read the whole interview here)

(Of course, 8 months later Proskauer Rose has still not created a “document”, nor despite repeated requests of the Metropolitan Council, will it.)

The Transfer

No, the Metropolitan did not suspend Fr. Kondratick once he had heard the evidence. He suppressed it, and transferred Fr. Kondratick to another diocese - just as Fr. Kondratick himself had been requesting since March 2006. On September 19th Fr. Kondratick was officially transferred to the omophor of Archbishop Dmitri.

There was only one catch: the transfer did not include a parish assignment. The Kondraticks were not amused.

On September 27, 2006 the Kondraticks (Fr. Robert and his wife Elizabeth as co-plaintiff) swore out a lawsuit against the OCA for $250,000 on the basis of the infamous “promissory note”. (Read that story here) In the words of Bette Kondratick in the lawsuit: “This suit is very distasteful to my husband and me, but our church official’s repeated repeated breaches of their word have unfortunately left us with no alternative.”

The lawsuit quickly went nowhere, because the Kondraticks quickly went somewhere. On October 13th, exactly two weeks after it was filed, the OCA received notice that the lawsuit was discontinued. And, quel surprise, on October 15th, Fr. Kondratick was officially appointed as the rector of Holy Spirit Church in Venice, Florida. The Kondraticks finally moved out of the Chancellor's residence for a new parish assignment - almost eight months to the day after he was dismissed from Syosset, and three months after Proskauer Rose completed its investigation.

There Fr. Kondratick was to serve, unmolested for the next eight months, as the scandal in the OCA he engendered swirled around him.  And conveniently, it was in the one state (Florida) that does not allow the guilty party's primary residence to be taken away when a civil law suit seeks damages....

So how did it come to today’s announcement?

The Campaign For Silence

The Metropolitan’s September 2006 initiative to quell the scandal failed. This was due, at least in part to the Metropolitan Council unexpectedly finding its “voice” and the outrage engendered by the Kondratick’s lawsuit itself.

On September 28th, the Metropolitan Council refused to accept the Metropolitan’s assertions regarding the Proskauer Rose investigation. As reported by OCANews.org on October 1:

“Contrary to the wishes of the current administration, the Council began on Thursday by insisting that attorneys from Proskauer Rose LLP appear before the Council the following day to discuss their investigation. Both the Metropolitan and Fr. Kucynda argued against the idea, the former claiming that the lawyers would not tell the Council anything more than what he has already said publicly, that some matters are confidential, and the investigation is still ongoing. Fr. Kucynda insisted the exercise would simply cost too much. The Council rejected both arguments and voted 10-6-1 to request the Proskauer Rose LLP lawyers appear the following day.

Fr. Kucynda later reported to the Council that he had contacted the law firm, who said they could not come on such short notice: ‘They had other clients with whom they are dealing with as well’. A frustrated Council then voted - unanimously - that the Proskauer Rose LLP lawyers appear at the November 10th meeting, and no excuses would be allowed. They also instructed the attorneys to bring a summary of their work to date, as well as a copy of their billings.”

The question of billings was crucial to proving that the investigation had indeed ended - the Metropolitan’s statements to the contrary. The Council’s new-found reluctance to go along with Syosset as it had in the past seemed to spread to the OCA as whole, when word of the Kondratick’s lawsuit was made known. In the two weeks the Kondratick lawsuit was on the table:

• The Diocese of the Midwest voted the Palatine Resolution - expressing no confidence in the Metropolitan and his administration, and authorizing Archbishop Job to withhold diocesan assessments unless certain conditions were met. (That resolution is still in effect.)

• Two outspoken reformers were elected to the Metropolitan Council from the Dicoese of Western Pennsylvania - Gregg Nescott and Fr. John Reeves - promising an even more aggressive Metropolitan Council.

In fact, Kondratick was tranferred to the south the same day Reeves and Nescott were elected. The Metropolitan now had an excuse to continue to do nothing about  Fr. Kondratick if questioned by the renewed Council. He could honestly state Fr. Kondratick was no longer under his jurisdiction, and hence no longer under his control...

In a move too little commented on at the time, but very revealing, on October 19th, four days after Fr. Kondratick was assigned to a parish, Protodeacon Peter Danilchik resigned as the spokesman for Syosset. The Protodeacon, who had tried so hard to begin real reform and transparency, lamented in his resignation letter: “My hands are tied by the lawyers...” Lawyers (meaning Proskauer Rose) had taken over the decision-making in the OCA.

Their touch is light, but if one looks carefully, evident throughout subsequent events.  For example:

Almost immediately the Metropolitan Council meeting scheduled for November, to which Proskauer Rose had been ordered to report, was cancelled. In its place a joint meeting of the Synod and Council was planned, a meeting that would take place when things had calmed a bit, and wherein, it was hoped, the presence of the Bishops would restrain the Council’s increasing demands.

Alas for Syosset, the Council would not remain silent.

Although forced finally to appear, Prosakuer Rose flatly refused to produce a written document as requested by its clients, giving an oral report instead. Nevetheless, according to the joint meeting: “The participants of the joint session were stunned by the magnitude of today’s revelations." A devasting communique listing abuse after abuse was issued.“However,” it stated, “these abuses of Church trust were determined to be centered on and around one individual and were not found to be widespread among the employees of the Church.” That “determination” was made by Proskauer Rose alone, since no one else had access to any of the evidence.

The joint meeting then agreed to recommend a Special Investigation Commission be established, in the words of one of its architects, Gregg Nescott, to determine the following five questions:

"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?"

And once again, the lawyers intervened.

The Special Commission would be appointed not by the Council, but by His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman. According to the Metropolitan it would not to answer Nescott’s questions, “ but “complete the investigation by Proskauer Rose”. The difference is signficant. Proskauer Rose had effectively silenced all the most vocal voices of reform by placing them on a Commission the Metropolitan controlled in both its scope and mandate. The Metropolitan even appointed the legal counsel for the Commission. And then they swore them all to secrecy....

The Commission

The Commission met in December 2006, in January 2007 and again in February 2007. Attempts by the Commission to communicate its work to the Church were prohibited. (Read that story here.) Nevertheless, a report was subsequently produced – almost entirely by the legal counsel appointed by the Metropolitan, based solely on the evidence Proskauer Rose provided. And while it clearly implicated Fr. Kondratick, it was the Metropolitan’s hope that it would be presented to a Metropolitan Council threatened into silence, and thus, would never see the light of day.

The plan almost worked. On March 13th OCAnews.org reported:

“ According to witnesses, Tuesday afternoon’s report of the Special Commission began with Archbishop Job, chairman of the Commission, presenting a 9-10 page written report, with 3 pages of endnotes and more than 200 pages of exhibits. Members of the Council sat silently as the report outlined in devastating and incontrovertible detail, listing dates and amounts, how Church funds were misused and misappropriated. The Commission report concluded with a number of recommendations; most importantly, that the Commission be empowered by the Council to continue its investigation, that the report be sent on to the Synod and later be made public to the Church, and that the Synod suspend former Chancellor Fr. Robert Kondratick from all priestly duties, pending a church trial.

No sooner had the Commission finished than the first voices were raised against it; not against the integrity or facts of the report, but that the Church had had enough of scandal; that the report should be kept secret; that the Commission should now end its work “ for the good of the Church” ; it was time to “move on” given the reorganization and new appointments; and that no actions should be taken against anyone. The Metropolitan concurred. Commission members and those who supported them were stunned. The meeting ended with no decisions taken, but the clear impression was given that the Metropolitan’s position would be affirmed the next morning. And so, unlike the other two reports earlier in the day, nothing appeared on the OCA website regarding the Special Commission or its work....”

Then a miracle happened.

Following impassioned appeals by Commission members Archbishop Job, Fr. Vladimir Berzonsky, Gregg Nescott,  Dr. Faith Skordinski and Fr. John Reeves, the Council voted to reject the lead of Metropolitan Herman and overwhelmingly support the work of the Special Commission. It was a stunning reversal of fortune for the Metropolitan, who only the evening before seemed to have convinced Council members to disband the Commission, suppress its report and end any further investigation into the financial scandal plaguing the administration. In the end, the Council voted unanimously to release the report, continue the work of the Commission under a wider mandate, and recommend to the Synod of Bishops to suspend Fr. Kondratick.

Fr. Kondratick Back In The Line of Fire

And so on March 20, 2007 the question of Fr. Kondratick reappeared before the Bishops, despite the best efforts of Proskauer Rose and the Metropolitan to avoid it. In fact, Fr. Kondratick himself was given an unprecedented opportunity to appear before the Bishops, having asked to speak to them in a last ditch effort to avoid suspension.

He failed. After three days the Bishops were forced to agree that the weight of evidence was so overwhelming, Fr. Kondratick had to be suspended and face a church court. (Read their statement here.)

But if Kondratick was at last, and reluctantly, to be called to account by the Bishops, those who helped accomplish it would be made to pay as well.  Nescott, who had publicly challenged Syosset's lawyers at the Council, was arbitrarily removed from the Commission he had served so well by order of the Metropolitan; and then suspended from the Council itself. The Report of the Special Commission remains under lock and key in Syosset. (Except of course, the one copy that was stolen, that informed sources say made its way to Venice Florida....) The  Special Commission itself was cast into limbo, where it remains to this day.

The lawyers may have failed in quelling the Council, but they have insured it will not happen again, at least not in this way.

Diversion in Dallas

Amazingly, even now, Fr. Kondratick was not yet defeated. Archbishop Dmitri was unwilling to suspend Fr. Kondratick on his own; and it was agreed among the Bishops that Metropolitan Herman must be the one to do so. This required that Fr. Kondratick’s transfer from the omphor of the Metropolitan to Archbishop Dmitri of September 19, 2006 be annulled. A letter was composed to this effect, and signed by the Metropolitan and +Dmitri on the final day of the Synod meeting. But no sooner had the elderly Archbishop returned to Dallas, than he faxed a letter to Syosset renouncing his signature. (Read his explanation here.)

In short, there would be no suspension, until the Metropolitan could convince +Dmitri to agree once again to the annulment of the earlier transfer. For the moment, it seemed as if Fr. Kondratick had eluded suspension yet again.

But +Dmitri’s resistance did not long endure. Following a deadline of 3 PM Thursday, April 19th to agree to the transfer, and a meeting with his Deans where he admitted he had not written the earlier letter renouncing his signature, the Archbishop of the South announced he would agree to the annullment once again. There was no further escape for Fr. Kondratick.

The “Temporary” Suspension”

The suspension letter was subsequently sent out by Syosset that very afternoon on Thursday, April 19th. The following afternoon, April 20th, it was posted on the OCA website.


The posting in itself speaks volumes about Syosset these days. In the past five years, not one of the suspensions undertaken during the Kondratick administration was listed as “temporary”. “Temporary” is the current crop of lawyers talking, a phrase taken directly from the Statute. And if one thinks Fr. Kondratick lacks friends in high places, even after reading the above, consider the last line of his suspension notice:

“May the All Merciful Savior bless and comfort His Church in this most difficult time.”

Not one of the 22 priests suspended in the last five years had that line appended to their notice.


- Mark Stokoe

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On Monday: The Trial of Fr. Kondratick

 

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