Agenda Full for Joint Meeting
of Synod and Council
• Report of the Special Investigative Committee
• Legal, Financial & Real Estate Issues To be Discussed
• AAC Plans To Be Finalized
The proposed agenda of the joint meeting of the Synod of Bishops and Metropolitan Council to be held September 3-5, 2008 in Syosset, offers the promise of resolution - but an even greater likelihood of continuing turmoil for the beleaguered Orthodox Church in America. That is because the thorniest issue to be discussed at the meeting - the resignation or retirement of Metropolitan Herman - does not officially appear, even as it dominates unofficial discussions.
The First Day
Following a Divine Liturgy, the meeting begins with the most anticipated item on the agenda.
“Wed. Sept. 3
7:30 AM Divine Liturgy
9:00 AM Breakfast
9:30 AM Joint Meeting
Agenda - Introduction
Opening Remarks by Metropolitan Herman
Report of the Special Investigative Committee
Presentation by Bishop Benjamin
Reading of the Report
12:30 PM Lunch”
The Special Investigative Committee, which replaced the Special Commission, the majority of whose members resigned last summer in protest over the Metropolitan’s interference in its work, is composed of 4 members of the Metropolitan Council and two consultants, chosen by its Chairman Bishop Benjamin of San Francisco, who was himself appointed by Metropolitan Herman. The Commission has been at work 10 months and interviewed some 40 witnesses, including Metropolitan Herman, former Metropolitan Theodosius, former and current officers of the Church, as well as other clergy and laity. At its final meeting held a week ago in Bethesda, MD, the SIC “completed” the report, although credible sources report that the 30-odd page document, in both its findings and recommendations, is still being “tweaked” by OCA legal consultants and the Committee itself.
Whatever its conclusions, the discussion which will follow will be intense. At its last meeting the Metropolitan Council tabled a motion calling for the Metropolitan’s resignation, to give the Metropolitan time to consider what was said at that closed session, and pending the findings of the Special Investigative Committee. (Read that story here) At its meeting earlier this week the New England Diocesan Council voted unanimously to instruct its delegates to re-introduce that motion - and to call for its passing.
On the other hand, at least one Council member who spoke out forcefully at that previous meeting has himself been removed from the Metropolitan Council. Fr. Matthew Searfoorce, the clergy delegate from the Albanian Archdiocese who co-sponsored the motion asking for the Metropolitan's retirement, has been dismissed from the Council by Bishop Nikon. A new clergy delegate is expected to be elected at a meeting of the Archdiocese to be held later in September.
It is, as yet, unclear what effect, if any, the Synod’s Archpastoral Letter, issued on Friday, August 29th, will have on these discussions. (Read that letter here)
SIC Report – Continuing Discussion
Report of the General Counsel
Other legal matters
5:30 PM Dinner
7:00 PM Legal Issues ( continued)
Report of Jon Ward
Kondratick suit against OCA
OCA Suit against Kondratick
Other legal matters
Following discussion of the SIC Report the joint meeting turns to several of the legal issues facing the OCA. These include the Elizabeth Kondratick’s lawsuit against the OCA (Read that story here) as well as the Koumentakos lawsuit (Read that story here) .
Kondratick’s supporters have long claimed that the former Chancellor may sue the OCA for damages relating to his deposition. And so, in turn, the agenda records that the Metropolitan Council must decide if the OCA wishes, at no small cost, to seek restitution and compensation from the Kondraticks for the Church funds Kondratick is accused of misusing.
In addition, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission investigation regarding the alleged sexual harrassment and retaliatory discharge of Paul Sidebottom from St. Herman's Seminary by Bishop Nikolai in 2007 will be discussed. (Read that story here.)
A long day does not end with dinner, either, but time has been set aside in the evening to continue all these discussions. Metropolitan Council meetings often continue until 10 or 11 PM.
The Holy Synod meets separately from the Metropolitan Council. The agenda for the Metropolitan Council is as follows:
“Thu. Sept. 4
8:00 AM Breakfast
Pension Board Report
Reports of the Chancery Staff
Report by Fr. Michael Tassos
Report on Year 2007 Audit
By Statute, the Council is responsible for determining the budget of the OCA. The Diocese of Western Pennsylvania has already submitted a resolution to the AAC to scrap the current “ Fair Share” system, and replace it with a no more than a $50 per person assessment. That proposal, if adopted, would cut Syosset's current $2.5 million annual income by half. The measure will get serious attention by the delegates - and stands a serious chance of being adopted by the All-American Council. What kind of budget does the MC then prepare?
The agenda continues:
"12:30 PM Lunch
2:00 PM Report by “Syosset Estate” Fact-finding Committee
Reports of the Charity,Ethics, Investment and Task Force/Reorganization Committes
5:30 PM Dinner
7:00 PM Other Business"
In the light of potential judgements stemming from the multiple lawsuits, a potential decrease in assessments, as well as a general antipathy in the Church toward maintaining a large estate in an expensive corner of the world that the Metropolitan will not even live, it is no wonder that selling the real estate comes into question as a means of addressing these potential problems. The “Syosset Estate” fact-finding committee will report to the Council about the history, uses and worth of the multi-acre estate in Oyster Bay Cove, NY. (Syosset is the mailing address, but the property is actually in the township.) While property on Long Island has suffered a decrease in value, and development needs and building requirements are always changing, it is conservatively estimated that the estate, were it subdivided and sold, would net between $6-8 million.
"Fri., Sept. 5
8:00 AM Breakfast
9:30 AM Joint Session of HS & MC to discuss
the 15th All-American Council
1:00 PM Projected conclusion"
The meeting concludes on Friday, September 5th, with another joint session to discuss plans and preparations for the upcoming 15th All-American Council. Given the state of the Metropolitan’s physical health ( he will undergo a spinal fusion on September 9th in Pittsburgh), not to mention his “political” health, much remains up in the air. Will the Metropolitan even be present at the AAC? If not, who will preside in these months leading to the Council, as well as at the Council itself? In the light of the consensus of the Town Halls that the Metropolitan must retire or resign, and in the light of potentially devastating SIC findings, will an election for a new Metropolitan take place; or not? And if not, how will the AAC address the disappointment of the clergy and faithful that it will not? Bishop Nikon reported that a “Question and Answer” session with the Synod will take place - but if the SIC Report doesn’t answer the OCA’s questions about the scandal, what makes anyone think the Synod will? Will reports be given as usual, in times that are most unusual? The questions are many, and as the time narrows, answers and options have to be achieved by the 40-plus persons that will be at the joint meeting. Thus the agenda ends, not with a statement of fact but with a goal: “1:00 PM Projected conclusion”. Achieving that goal will be a sign - a sign that things went very well - or very, very poorly.
- Mark Stokoe