SYNOD, COUNCIL END FALL SESSIONS WITH MAJOR DECISIONS
• New Treasurer Hired, Finances Stable
• Pension Plan Modified
• Lawsuits Proceeding To Trial
• St. Tikhon’s Investigation Continues
The Fall sessions of the Synod of the OCA, as well as the Metropolitan Council of the OCA, concluded on Friday, September 25 in Syosset. Meeting jointly and separately, the two bodies continued to make major decisions in their attempts to diagnose, treat and heal an Church attempting to emerge from the devastating effects of a financial and administrative scandal, the full details of which are still to be uncovered.
Monday, September 21
Three important meetings preceded the opening of the Fall Sessions. On Monday, September 21, members of the Church’s Strategic Planning Committee met with Fr. Thomas Hopko, Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky, Dr. Paul Meyendoff and former OCA Chancellor Fr. Daniel Hubiak to discuss the Strategic Plan from the perspective of the historical development of the OCA. According to several participants, the presentations were enlightening, inspiring and thought-provoking. Several references to these talks were made in subsequent discussions of the Strategic Planning process. The Metropolitan Council’s Finance Committee also met to suggest revisions of the 2009 budget in view of current finances, and to finalize its presentation of the 2010 budget to the Council. The OCA’s Board of Theological Education, which oversees the three OCA seminaries also met, after a summer of unexpected turmoil.
Tuesday, September 22
The Synod and the Council meetings officially began on Tuesday morning, following celebration of the Divine Liturgy. The opening meeting saw members of both bodies share views of “conciliarity”, especially as it found expression in the Strategic Planning process. Following a frank discussion, the two bodies reconvened separately. The Synod proceeeded to elect Fr. Michael Dahulich as Bishop of New York and the Diocese of New York and New Jersey, while the Council continued discussions of the Strategic Planning process. The Council agreed that the next step in the process would be to allow the Church-at-large an opportunity to offer input into the Strategic Plan through meetings organized on the diocesan level, facilitated by members of the committee.
The Following Days
One of the salient features of this series of meetings of the Metropolitan Council was the repeated need tomove into Executive Session, so that legal or personnel issues could be freely discussed. This constant going in and out of Executive Session will undoubtedly make the forthcoming Minutes frustrating - and often confusing - reading. The agenda was also frequently changed, given that many discussions went much longer than expected. In general, the Council and Synod felt that it was more important at this stage in the OCA’s healing to air issues, than to keep to a fixed schedule. This meant that the Council invariably met late into the evening, so as to accomplish its assigned tasks. (For a day by day, sequential account of the meetings, you can read the daily releases on OCA.org here.)
The OCA hired a new Treasurer. Ms. Melanie Ringa’s nomination received the endorsement of Fr. Michael Tassos, the former Treasurer, and the search committee, as well as support from all familiar with her work as the current Assistant Chancellor for Finances at St. Vladimir’s Seminary. The OCA and SVS will now both have a part-time Treasurer, a change Ms. Ringa agrees is possible given the available software and the respective budgets of the institutions. The hiring of Ms. Ringa and other changes in the OCA Finance Office will finally enable the OCA to use the Blackbaud’s Financial Edge and Raisers Edge accounting and development accounting software it purchased some years ago. (You can read more about Ms. Ringa here.)
The Council also passed a resolution thanking Fr. Michael for his work in restoring accountability and transparency to OCA finances. The work is not fully complete - but there is no gainsaying the improvement or the will to make them ever more transparent.
In related financial matters the OCA passed a revised 2009 budget, and voted to continue that same budget for the first months of 2010? until a revised 2010 budget is adopted at the next meeting in February 2010. The single largest line item remains legal fees, largely the result of two lawsuits being pursued by the former Chancellor, Robert Kondratick and his wife against the OCA as well as others. After discussion the Council declined to include monies to assist moving the Metropolitan to Washington, DC at this time. Both the revised 2009 and proposed 2010 budgets envision small surpluses.
The Council also passed a major reform of the OCA’s Pension Plan so the plan remains financially sound. Although no accrued benefits to participants have been reduced, the new structure addresses several functional imbalances in the plan that took no account of how long a member participated, or at what age he joined, etc. This encouraged “gaming” of the system with unfortunate outcomes for the plan as a whole. (You can read more about the plan here.)
As legal affairs were conducted in Executive Session no information may be released about those discussions or decisions, beyond what is publicly available. The public records reveal that the Kondratick lawsuit (regarding the promissory note) and the OCA’s countersuit, now consolidated in one action, will proceed to a mandatory, but non-binding mediation in court in Nassau County, NY. If mediation fails, the matter will proceed to trial, on a date to be determined.
A report was made by Bishop Nikon, Chairman of the STIC ( St. Tikhon's Investigative Committee) to the Council regarding the ongoing investigation into the finances of St. Tikhon’s monastery and bookstore. (Read that story here.) A full report to the Church will be given when the investigation is concluded.
A brief report was made by OCA Secretary Fr. Eric Tosi regarding the SIC’s recommendation for an audit of the books of the former Diocese of New York and New Jersey between 2001-2005. Fr. Tosi reported that an audit was not possible, as there are no diocesan financial records for those years. They simply do not exist. The Council, accepting Fr. Tosi’s report, moved on to other business.
And now, the rest of the Story
But that is not the whole story. OCANews.org has learned that records indicate the Diocese of New York-New Jersey had some $60,000 in the bank, and was current in its assessments to the OCA in 2000. The Diocesan residence, however, needed serious repairs, including new windows, roof and electrical updating. By Spring 2001 the repairs were done, but the Diocesan treasury was nearly empty. Meanwhile, some Diocesan parishes refused to pay assessments based on the new census figures, either to the Diocese or to Syosset, while others openly fudged their numbers to both. The Diocese was barely paying its bills.
It was then, in April 2001, the Diocesan Treasurer resigned in protest because of ongoing concerns that Diocesan monies were being used to pay for personal expenses for Archbishop Peter. The sum was small when the Treasurer resigned - a mere $300 - but the figure quickly mushroomed to upwards of $10,000 and more.
In August 2001, Archbishop Peter fell seriously ill. A month later he was transferred to a rehab facility. The administration of the Diocese, for all practical purposes, ceased to function from this point.
Unfortunately, it went from chaos to darkness...
In September 2001 Robert Kondratick, then-Chancellor of the OCA, stepped in to help the ailing +Peter. Kondratick directed that all the Diocesan financial records be transferred from Bronxville, NY to Syosset. The former Treasurer admits giving them to Kondratick - for “safe-keeping” - in mid-2002.
It is at this point that the records disappeared.
In 2004 +Herman, now Metropolitan, suceeded in placing the aged, ailing +Peter on a permanent “leave of absence”. (+Peter promptly left “permanently” for the Caribbean.) +Herman became the official “locum tenens” and Kondratick the de facto Chancellor of NY/NJ. That autumn, Kondratick announced to a stunned Diocesan Assembly that the Diocese owed Syosset $105,000 because no assessments had been paid in 2003. The parishes swore they paid; but + Herman demanded the money yet again, telling upset clergy and laity to stop asking questions, for “ they will never know where the money went.”
According to the former Treasurer, some went to the late Archbishop +Peter. The rest? The trail ends in Syosset, then under control of the former regime.
By 2005 the Diocese had grown so restive at its extra-ordinary administration - or lack of same - that +Herman agreed to a new Treasurer being appointed. And from that point, diocesan records begin again....
Policies and Procedures
In other business, members of the Holy Synod and Metropolitan Council heard reports from Metropolitan Council committees, including the new Internal Audit (Governance) Committee. This new Committee is charged with making sure the policies and procedures of the OCA, including Best Practices, are indeed being followed. In the event of suspected violations, of which three were noted, these violations are referred to the Ethics Committee for adjudication and possible disciplinary action. The Council approved the beginning of the work of a Crisis Management Committee so that when, not if, a crisis emerges, the Church can act in a professional and pastoral manner. The Council reviewed a draft handbook for Council members that outlines the structures and work of the Metropolitan Council. This will especially help new members get up to speed - a necessity for a body whose members are always rotating.
In this regard, the Council said goodbye to Fr. John Onofrey from Eastern PA, who completed his sixth year on the Council; and welcomed six new members, including Fr. Ray Velencia and Ms. Rosalee Luster, who joined the Council from the newly-reconstituted Diocese of Washington. (There are now five women on the Council - four members and one officer. The problem of lack of women on the Council is further compounded by the fact that the three deacons on the Council hold “lay”, not clergy seats.)
Also joining the Council for this meeting were two new delegates from the South - Ray Lanier (GA)and Fr. Gleb McFatter (TX) (FL), replacing Fr. Phillip Reese and Gary Popovich, and after a long absence, two new delegates from the Bulgarian Diocese, Fr. Andrew Moulton (IL) and Protodeacon Michael Myers (IN).
The Council also took a major step forward in formally naming the OCA Auditing Committee, as per the resolution of the last All-American Council. Deacon Martin D. Watt, CPA; Michael S. Strelka, CPA, CVA; Karen L. Simons-Durkish, CPA; and Vera Bozko-Summer (as an alternate) have all begun their work.
OCA.org reported that “The Holy Synod and Metropolitan Council engaged in a long, candid discussion about the OCA’s sexual misconduct policies, which are currently under review. It was stressed that a pastoral approach to the issue of sexual misconduct is a multidisciplinary approach, involving spiritual issues, clinical issues and other areas of concern.” For those who are not able to read “Church-speak”, those “other areas of concerns” include, the police and the courts. In this same manner, “long and candid” often means “unhappy and difficult”, for “currently under review” means the old policy is no longer adequate. That is not the opinion of OCANews, that is part of the agreement the OCA reached with Paul Sidebottom (Read about that here.) Finally, the OCA news release stated: “A major challenge with these policies is that of consistent implementation in all cases and at all levels of Church life. These policies and procedures must be embraced by the whole Church in order to be effective”. Translated from “Church-speak”, “to be embraced by the whole Church” means change can start at the top, or bottom. Which do you think has the most difficulty embracing change? The top or bottom?
A personal note.... One often looks, in describing administrative meetings, for a moment or event which sums up what was done, or the changes that have occurred. In the final session of the joint meeting, Fr. Andrew Jarmus, the Director of Ministries and Communications who takes Minutes for meetings, was unable to be present as he was required at the Assembly of the Albanian Archdiocese.* The lay member from the Diocese of the Midwest was appointed to do so in his place. The irony of that moment, that is, the Chancellor of the OCA asking the editor of OCANEWS.org to take the Minutes of a joint session of the Synod of the OCA and its Metropolitan Council, was not lost on anyone in that room.
Things do change.
- Mark Stokoe
* This explains why the helpful daily updates on OCA.org did not include the final session on Friday.