A Personal Account:
The Metropolitan Council
Gets Down To Business
To understand what took place at the recent business sessions of the Metropolitan Council, held February19-20, as opposed to an outline of the decisions that can be published at this time, it is necessary to reflect for a moment on what the purpose of a Metropolitan Council, a Diocesan Council or even a Parish Council is. There are certainly statutes and by-laws which define duties, and as theoretical statements, they are more or less adequate. After 30 years of practical experience of serving on all three, however, I would say the theoretical statements fail to capture a rarely-spoken, but often fundamental assumption held by many Orthodox Christians about the purposes of such bodies. As it was put to me years ago in its most blunt form: "Your job is not to discuss or decide - your only job is to make possible what (His Beatitude, Vladyka, Father) wants."
Much depends on how one reacts to the above statement. If one agrees, the recent Metropolitan Council was not a great success.
If one believes conciliar structures have different roles to play than simply to enable personalities or offices, one would have to be pleased with the amount of honest, open, often profound, discussion that took place; the real, civil and respectful debate that ensued, and the real and often difficult, decisions that were taken. Since almost half of the members (12 of 29, including myself) were "newbies", I took this as a real sign of hope for the future.
The business portions of the Council meeting began on Thursday morning, February 19th, following the Divine Liturgy. As OCA.org described it: " ...Upon the recommendation of Metropolitan Jonah, the Council decided that each of its committees will include as non-voting liaisons one representative from the Lesser Synod and one from the Chancery administration." True, but more significantly, the Council did not passively agree with the Metropolitan's recommendations about who should serve on what Committees. Rather, the Council agreed that existing Committees and chairmanships would continue, and that all members should, as in the past, choose to serve on that Committee(s) that best reflected their own understanding of their talents and interests. Not surprisingly, Finance/Investments and Strategic Planning became the largest; while Charities and Legal, as they required special qualifications, were changed to "Special Committees" requiring fewer actual Council members as participants. Chairs will be elected by the committee members - a process which is still ongoing. A full list of all the Committees and their Chairpersons, members, consultants, etc., as well as the reports from each Committee, will no doubt be published as part of the Minutes of the Council, which should be forthcoming.
Suffice it to say that the Council, now bearing the burden of legal actions stemming from poor decisions by the prior administration, has agreed to many changes in how some matters will now be handled. This included a review of the OCA's investments in these troubled times, the adoption of an official "Crisis Management" plan so that when a crisis erupts it can be dealt with in a timely, professional, and appropriate manner, and other proactive measures any responsible "Board of Trustees" would undertake. Like requiring officers and employees dealing with money to be bonded, now and forevermore...
The Council also exercised a new responsibility stemming from a decision of the recent All-American Council. As OCA.org reported: "Previously, the OCA Statute directed that appointments to this (Audit) Committee be made by the All-American Council. However, at the 15th All-American Council in November 2008, a Statue amendment was passed that authorized the Metropolitan Council to make appointments to this committee.The Metropolitan Council is now engaged in a search for members of the OCAÕs Audit Committee." Council members had spent the last two months gathering the names of more than 20 qualified Orthodox CPAs who might be willing to serve in the three official positions required by the amended Statute. (Auditors used to be elected at All-American Councils, without reference to education or qualifications to audit anything...) The composition of the Audit Committee will be announced at the Council's next meeting in September.
Finally, the Chancery asked that the Council discuss reconstituting the Administrative Committee, which was disbanded three years ago at the time Robert Kondratick was dismissed as Chancellor. (Read about the former Admin Committee here.)
After the new Metropolitan and Chancellor were reminded of the events of the recent past - and one current lawsuit stemming from the last Administrative Committee's questionable actions - the suggestion was dismissed.
The Meaning of "Pastoral"
As OCA.org continued: "Council members also heard reports from its committees on their ongoing work and from three members of the OCA chancery administrative team: Chancellor, Archpriest Alexander Garklavs; Secretary, Archpriest Eric G. Tosi; and the Director of Ministries and Communications, Archpriest Andrew Jarmus. The report of the Treasurer, Priest Michael Tassos, followed in a subsequent session."
Of the reports, the report of Fr. Garklavs occasioned the most discussion. Once again, to quote OCA.org:
"One issue arising from the reports was the question of Church policies and procedures on sexual harassment, which are slated for revision in the near future. It was noted that the line of delineation between pastoral and legal aspects of such issues must be clearer. The definition of what is meant by "pastoral" needs to be clarified, as well, since this term can cover various aspects of such an issue. Likewise, it must always be known that there are legal ramifications in such matters and which cannot be neglected or denied."
Here is it helpful to cite specific names and actual concerns. Fr. Michael Matsko (Diocese of the Midwest), who is a trained, certified specialist in such matters of sexual misconduct, raised real concerns that current OCA practices as regards sexual misconduct are neither adequate nor being followed, as evidenced by the recent Sidebottom case. Several other members complained that the current investigator, Fr. Alexei Karlgut, apparently had neither the academic nor professional training required by our own current policy, let alone those required by forthcoming "revisions" required by the Sidebottom settlement. Fr. Garklavs stated that Fr. Karlgut is no longer being used by the Church to investigate such incidents, nor will he be in the future.
It was then that Fr. Matsko pointed out that it was the Roman Catholic Church which attempted to defend its practices in court during the recent sexual abuse scandals by seeking deference to its "pastoral judgement". The courts would have none of it, and to date, the Roman Catholic Church has spent $1.6 billion in settlement costs for hundreds of cases. Nor are these cases at an end. To define something as "a pastoral issue" is not sufficient, many Council members pointed out, when the upshot is a lawsuit - as was most recently almost the case with Paul Sidebottom. The Council therefore, on a motion from Fr. David Garretson (recently elected by the All-American Council) adopted a resolution that the Legal Committee of the Metropolitan Council and General Counsel of the OCA be informed whenever any Council member, officer or liaison became aware of a potential "pastoral" problem that could have "legal" implications. In short, it is no longer possible for the Church to dilly-dally on matters of potential misconduct, in accordance with the Church's usual "Byzantine standard-time" operating procedures, or a misguided attempt to cover things up "for the good of the Church". The Church simply cannot afford the liability, as recent costly events in the Greek Archdiocese have shown.
It is to be hoped that the full reports of all the officers and their various initiatives (such as website revisions, etc.) will be posted on OCA.org in the immediate future.
From 7 PM until midnight of the first day, the Council "reviewed ongoing legal matters facing the Church" in Executive Session. What can be disclosed of those sessions is the following:
• The OCA's trial counsel Jon Ward, general counsel Thaddeus Wojcik, and Legal Committee chair Gregg Nescott updated the Council in detail on the suits against the OCA filed by Bette Kondratick and Robert Kondratick, and the counterclaims filed by the OCA in response. These matters are now in pretrial discovery. All legal options and costs were discussed. The Metropolitan Council agreed, without dissent, that the defense of these suits should continue.
• OCA General Counsel Thaddeus Wojcik spoke to the Council on their individual responsibilies as fiduciaries under NY law.
• The lawsuit filed by Ms. Kristine Koumentakos in Maryland against the OCA, the Diocese of Washington & New York, and others, is being defended by counsel retained for the OCA in Maryland. A motion to dismiss the case has been filed by the OCA, and the OCA is awaiting the decision of the court, which is expected soon.
• Counsel in New York has been retained by the OCA to defend the lawsuit recently filed by the former Bishop of Alaska, +Nikolai, in which he is seeking millions of dollars in damages. The merits of that case were discussed. The OCA's response to that lawsuit is expected to be filed shortly.
(In related news, OCANews.org has learned that +Nikolai has now left the Serbian monastery outside Melbourne, Australia where he has been living, bound for Montenegro, where he is expected to serve Liturgy this coming weekend. He is widely rumoured to be seeking official reception into the Church of Serbia.)
• The Chancery is taking the lead in studying changes in and implementation of church policies based on the agreement in the Paul Sidebottom case. (You can read details of that settlement here.)
• A recommendation of the SIC that restitution be sought against Metropolitan Theodosius was discussed, with a complete report to be made at the next Council meeting.
• Per recommendation of the SIC report, the SIC report and its findings have been formally reported to the Nassau County (NY) District Attorney's Office.
Following that long evening session, I, like many of the Council members, was unable to sleep for quite some time. Thus, it was a weary and rather quiet group that reassembled at 8:30 AM the following morning "...also in executive session, (to hear) an informational update on the review of the affairs at St. Tikhon's Seminary and Monastery that is being spearheaded by His Grace, Bishop Tikhon of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania." As has been previously reported, it is still not clear whether the Metropolitan Council has 'jurisdiction' over any of the matters at St. Tikhon's, as the 105 year old property is titled in a myriad of names. All of this is of public record.
Nevertheless, the Bishop shared the results of his review for more than 90 minutes, in a spirit of openness and accountability, and because, as has been previously reported, part of the work was done by Fr. Michael Tassos, OCA Treasurer, and Fr. Dennis Swencki, OCA Controller. (Perhaps there are some compelling reasons for a central administration, after all....?)
+Tikhon presented a detailed report on the situation in South Canaan and the attempt to unravel the finances of the monastery and its properties, including the bookstore and other entities. Supplemental reports were offered by Fr. Sergius (Acting Superior of the monastery), and Frs. Tassos and Swencki, based on their examination of certain records and documents. The investigation continues.
It is my opinion that Bishop Tikhon should share the results of this preliminary review with the community of St. Tikhon's (monastery and seminary), as those who most fully participate in the life of those institutions, and are most affected by it, immediately. Notification to the Diocese should follow as soon as possible, lest rumour and doubt be fed at the cost of transparency and and accountability. Indeed, would it not be best to share the results with the whole OCA right upfront, for does not St. Tikhon's hold a special meaning for the whole OCA? The Church has paid a horrible price these past three years in not addressing reasonable questions for fear of embarrassing people and offices. Have we learned nothing?
Existing from Executive Session, it then fell on the Council to begin discussing the finances of the OCA, as this discussion had been moved on the agenda from before legal affairs, till they were concluded. It was a frank, often difficult discussion. Fr. Matthew Tate, Chairman of the Finance/Investment Committee, took the Bishops and several officers to task for breaking the budget previously adopted by the MC by some $250,000. The Council made it very clear that when budget categories had reached their limit, no further funds would be allowed. In short, if the travel budget would be expended by June, no one could travel again until January unless someone else pays for it. Several members of the Council were also "called on the carpet" for having failed to fully disclose potential financial obligations their decisions on the Re-organization Task Force may cost the Church. In the end, the cooperation of the Bishops, officers and Council produced a 2009 budget for the Church that is both realistic, prudent, and balanced - no small task given the uncertain times, both economic and legal.
The Metropolitan and the administration were very keen that fund-raising be restarted, suggesting the revival of the dormant Fellowship of Orthodox Stewards (FOS). Others were skeptical as to the overall success of any efforts at this time in the Church's healing, given headlines past, present and future. In a sign of goodwill however, Council members themselves committed to 'strive' to contribute to FOS in the coming year.
It is with extreme regret that the Council heard that Fr. Michael Tassos, OCA Treasurer, would be returning to California where he would continue his work on a part-time basis.
The Strategic Plan
Finally, the Council turned to the Strategic Planning process, discussion of which was postponed by the Bishops at the recent All-American Council. The Council heard Deacons Peter Danilchick (elected at the recent All-American Council), and John Zarras (Diocese of New England) together with Dr. Dmitri Solodow (Diocese of the West) make the same presentation they recently gave to the Synod at the end of December. All three have experience in Strategic Planning. As OCA.org described it: "During the strategic planning presentation, it was noted that the key to a successful process is that it be based on principles of active leadership and oversight from the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council working in harmony; on an inclusive process that allows broad participation of all 'stake holders;' on a decision making process based on consensus; and on the need for patience as the plan develops and is embraced by the Church at large."
Amen. Amen. Amen.
But will it be so? OCA.org concludes: "The next step in the formation of a strategic plan procedure will be further deliberations by the members of the Holy Synod, who will present the final outline of the planning process." The Synod meets this week in Colorado to discuss these matters.
The meeting ended with one matter of New Business.
The question of the Alaska Church lands, and who owned them, who received monies from them, and who should in the future was raised. It was wonderful to have both representatives from Alaska present (Fr. Michael Oleksa and Matushka Cheryl Andrew) to speak so well to the topic, and explain how the lands were a patrimony of the entire OCA, and should remain so, while the monies from them should be used primarily for the Diocese of Alaska. The matter will be more fully discussed at the next meeting.
According to OCA.org the "official minutes and other information from the Spring 2009 meeting of the Metropolitan Council will be posted as they become available." As the Council, as well as the Synod, have begun to embrace technology, the advent of password-protected bulletin boards for each to facilitate ongoing communication, work and review of materials, should produce such things as Minutes in a much more timely fashion than in the past.
Then again, not a few of the members remain confirmed Luddites...
- Mark Stokoe
(For another account of the Metropolitan Council meeting, read Fr. Ted Bobosh's blog entry on February 24th at http://frted.wordpress.com)