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4.14.08 The Metropolitan Council

The Rest of the Story
• Metropolitan Council Discusses Church Crises

    in Closed Session
• Motion For +Herman To Resign Tabled
• Audits Requested of All Stavropegial Institutions

The Metropolitan Council met Monday, April 1st through Wednesday, April 3rd in intensive sessions that went late into the evening on both nights.  Among the “highlights” omitted  by Syosset in its reports of the meeting (read those here) was a motion requesting the Metropolitan’s resignation. After much discussion the motion was tabled until the next meeting of the Council in order to give the Metropolitan time to reflect on what had been said. 

Monday

The meeting began with the Metropolitan’s opening address (Read that here). Stating that “The scandal that has rocked the OCA has compelled us to take a serious look at ourselves and our Church life. We have raised some very serious and important questions about our structure and the allocation of our resources...” the Metropolitan continued his mantra that what is needed to "fix things" is a good reorganization. Once again, nothing was said about the lies, cover-ups, lack of leadership and responsibility, faulty ecclesiologies, moral failings or thefts that have dominated and continue to propel the crises in the OCA.  

Despite the Metropolitan’s message, the opening session of the Council was dominated by a discussion of the crisis in Alaska. A very strong “statement of support” of OCA Chancellor Fr. Alexander Garklavs for his mission to Alaska was unanimously adopted, including a commendation for his heartfelt letter to the Alaskan clergy following the “tragic” decision of the Synod to reverse Bishop Nikolai’s mandated leave of absence. Fr. Garklavs told the Council that he prepared a confidential report for the Synod. The Metropolitan called the report “ sensitive”, and would not permit Fr. Garklavs to present it, or even speak to the Synod. When asked why Fr. Garklav's report was not presented, the Metropolitan did not answer. Later, he said that he himself presented a “summary of the report” to the Synod.

Once again the Metropolitan appears to have misspoken, as several members of the Synod have contradicted that assertion. Neither the report, nor summary, was ever given.

The Oleksa Incident

As reported earlier, Fr. Michael Oleksa, who had been unanimously elected days earlier as Alaska’s temporary representative to the Council by 41 Alaskan clergy, was asked not to attend the Council meeting. In an email to OCANews.org, Fr. Michael clarifies what happened:

“Fr. Garklavs told me at the funeral service for our beloved friend, Archpriest Eugene Vansuch, that all decisions made during his tenure as “Diocesan Administrator” had been nullified with the return of Bishop Nikolai to full episcopal authority. So I understood on Thursday, March 4, that I was no longer the temporary representative of the Diocese of Alaska on the Metropolitan Council.
 
That evening and again the next day, at the Liturgy on Friday, I was invited and encouraged by several Council members to attend the meeting on Monday as an observer, at least to offer clarification or additional information if called upon by the body. I agreed and drove to Syosset, arriving about 5 PM on Monday. Fr. Alexander greeted me and informed me that His Beatitude did not want me to speak at the meeting or to address the Council. I told him I had no plans to do so. He then stated that His Beatitude did not want me to attend the meeting at all.”

Fr. Oleksa continues: “When I went to his office to receive his blessing, His Beatitude welcomed me, then sat down and said that he did not think it advisable for me to address the Council. I interjected that I had not come to deliver a speech but as an observer. Metropolitan Herman stated that even my attendance would antagonize or aggravate Bishop Nikolai who had telephoned him to express his opposition to my participation. His Beatitude concurred. I stated my willingness to comply with the wishes of the bishop and the Metropolitan, and said, in obedience, I would not attend.”

As Father Oleksa explains: “His Beatitude did not forbid me to attend, but sought to minimize conflict with Bishop Nikolai, a position I myself have adopted on hundreds of occasions.”
 
However, many Council members were “displeased that I had been asked not to attend the meeting.” Fr. Oleksa continues: “I said I thought it best not to create another issue, but I did want to receive a copy of Fr. Garklavs’ report on Alaska, which I had understood had not been read or distributed at the Thursday meeting of the Holy Synod. Before leaving Syosset, I was approached by several other Council members who encouraged me to stay, 'as the invited guest of the Metropolitan Council,' but as I had already promised His Beatitude that I would not attend, I intended to keep my word. I only asked that they request copies of Fr. Garklavs’ report, since it seemed to have been rejected or squelched. I felt after all his work and our deliberations, as an official document of the Church, it should be reviewed. I then departed Syosset.”

Garklavs report was never made available to the Council.

More On Alaska

One Metropolitan Council clergy member, who is clinically trained in handling allegations of abuse, said the OCA must send qualified teams to respond to such allegations as have been made in Alaska, to meet procedural norms. He stressed the need to respond promptly; since months had elapsed since the first allegations of misconduct had arisen in Alaska. The subsequent discussion confirmed that Fr. Alexey Karlgut, the OCA’s investigator into such allegations of abuse and misconduct, is not certified to handle such investigations.

The Metropolitan was asked if there were steps being taken to protect the clergy and people who have spoken out against Bishop Nikolai. The Metropolitan  assured the Council that such steps are being taken, and that +Nikolai had promised he will not interfere in the investigation. The Metropolitan assured the Council that Bishop Nikolai has said to him that “If the people of Alaska don’t want me, I will leave.”

The Council was informed that the convicted sex offender, Terenty Dushkin,  whom Bishop Nikolai tonsured a Reader, is now back in jail. 

Fr. Garklavs then read to the Council the statement of the St. Vladimir’s faculty, which had just been posted. (Read that statement here)

The day also saw a discussion of confidentiality concerning Council meetings. In the end, the usual limits were re-affirmed, that is, confidentiality would extend only to pending legal matters and personnel decisions. No further restrictions were placed on members keeping discussions confidential. The Council agreed that a decision to move into Executive Session for other matters would require a vote of the members in each instance,  rather than the former procedure where the Metropolitan or the former Chancellor, Robert Kondratick, would simply declare the meeting was in Executive Session. It was agreed that such sessions should now be held only in rare instances. The issue of teleconferences for the Council, and their legality, was discussed. A motion was made to recommend to the Pre-Conciliar Commission and the AAC Resolutions Committee that an amendment to the Statute be proposed, allowing teleconferencing at times to replace meetings.

In another action, a proposal by one Council member that all email should be treated as confidential communication found no support. 

Tuesday

Following the financial report (read about that here) Treasurer Father Michael Tassos announced to Council members his need to temporarily return to California for personal reasons. He will continue in his position half-time, at half salary, from California, for the foreseeable future. 

Further, the Council agreed to pay $25,000 out of  the general line item funds as the first payment of the $176,000 still owed from the 9/11 funds collected. The balance will be disbursed in installments in future budgets. The Council directed that all other remaining charity balances be distributed as soon as possible. The Council also adopted the new Guidelines for Charity Appeal Distributions proposed by the chairman of the Charities Committee, Fr. John Reeves.

In a discussion of the OCA pension plan, Archpriest Michael Westerberg, pension board group leader, reported that the plan has been submitted for an IRS determination of its compliance with current tax laws. He noted that, while mandatory, determinations are periodically done on a voluntary basis as part of IRS regulations. A letter from the IRS was sent to pension plan members informing them of this process.

Fr. Westerberg reported that the pension plan value, at $25+ million, was down (from a high of $28 million a few years ago) because of stock market fluctuations. Nevertheless, it was still at 98% of full funding. Because of the increasing cost of annual audits, the pension board has been doing one every other year as well as during the year of an All-American Council. Fr. Tassos said yearly audits are the preferred practice under  generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), and so a motion was passed  that the Pension Board seriously consider instituting full, yearly, actuarial evaluations.

Fr. Paul Suda then reported as the Chair of the Auditors elected at All American Councils. A heated disagreement broke out between Frs. Suda and Westerberg about the accuracy and fairness of the Audit report on the pension plan. Fr. Suda first claimed that there was a $7 million shortfall for a fully funded pension fund, and then a $17 million shortfall.  Fr. Westerberg responded that Fr. Suda might be correct if every participant retired next week, and that such an Audit report would unfairly cause undue concern among the plan’s members. An angry exchange was on.  The two were asked to leave and work out their disagreement, but never reported back.

It was then noted by Council members that a continuing problem was that OCA auditors elected by the All American Council (AAC) frequently had few actual qualifications to do audits, and as such, they were often “out of their league.” The Council then passed:

•  A motion to have  the new general counsel examine the relationship between the OCA and the (independent) Pension Board,

• A motion recognizing  that minimum standards should be required for nominees to the Audit Committee to be elected by the AAC . The administration was charged with proposing minimum standards for internal auditors before the next All-American Council and present them to the Nominating Committee,

• A  motion  that  internal audits need to be done on the same days by the committee members, and not split with members coming in on different days, and that auditors share their reports with  the Pension Board before Council meetings, so that differences can be resolved before presentations. 

As reported in  January 2008, an ad hoc legal committee of the Metropolitan Council was formed to address the Kondratick lawsuit with the Central Administration. The Metropolitan Council has now officially formed a standing legal committee to collaborate with the OCA’s administration and general counsel in such matters between Council sessions. Gregg Nescott was elected as the Chairman of the new committee. His election must be confirmed by the Synod. 

In the first of the closed sessions, the Council heard a brief report on the work of the Special Investigative Committee (SIC)  by Council and SIC member Dmitri Solodow. 

Fr. Mark Sherman, Chair of the new Council Ethics Committee, presented detailed ethics procedures policies, which were unanimously adopted. Also presented were the results of the ethics investigation into the hiring of former Secretary Paul Bodnar. It was recommended that both the new ethics procedures and the Bodnar report be posted on OCA.org.

The Council nominated two new employees for approval by the Synod. (Such matters are to be kept confidential pending approval of the Synod, but retired Bishop Tikhon posted the name of the proposed new legal counsel, Thaddeus Wojcik III. the day after the meeting.) A New York attorney, Wojcik is the son of an OCA priest in Minnesota, and two brothers are OCA priests in Wisconsin and Iowa, respectively.  Some days later the OCA announced the nomination of Fr. Eric Tosi  of Las Vegas, the director of the Missions department, to be the new OCA Secretary. Both must be confirmed by the Synod at its next meeting. 

In its presentation, the Reorganization committee suggested it was time to advertise for  a new Development/ FOS director. The Council dismissed the idea as meritless at this time.

Fr. Alexander Garklavs reported on preparations for the 15th All-American Council, slated to be held in Pittsburgh, PA November 10 - 13, 2008, including a meeting of the Pre Conciliar Commission to be held on Monday, April 7th, with the participation of six guests.
When the names of the guests, including Protodeacon Eric Wheeler and Mark Stokoe, editor of OCANews.org, were disclosed, protests erupted from some Council members, while others applauded the effort.
 
OCANews.org was criticized for being rude, mean and disrespectful; others defended it  for printing the truth. One speaker said it was “poison” to invite some of the guests, while others said that OCANews.org had the pulse of the people, and should be heard. Fr. Jarmus  reported that it had been agreed with Mr. Stokoe that any press release concerning the meeting would be jointly approved and published simultaneously on both OCA.org and OCANews.org; or none would be published at all.  

(Stokoe and Wheeler did participate in the meeting, along with other guests that included Frs. Michael Dahulich and Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky, Dn. John Zarras, and Dr. Paul Meyendoff. You can read the subsequent joint press release here and here.)

Father Michael Tassos then noted that the preliminary budget for All-American Council expenses totals $195,038.00, of which $160,000 has been raised in assessments. Some $30,000 has not been submitted.  

What Syosset Omitted

On Wednesday morning, the Council moved into  executive session for almost two hours to discuss the ongoing crises with the Metropolitan. The Minutes of the Council will reflect only  that the Council met to discuss with +Herman, “frankly and with love”, the crises and its “possible solutions”. Those present, without revealing anything that was said, described the session as an “unforgettable” experience.

At the very end of the Council meeting,  a motion was presented by  Dr. Dick West requesting that Metropolitan Herman retire no later than the November All-American Council, citing his continued failures in leadership. Richard Schneider (Canada), who opposed the motion,sought to amend the motion to include all the Synod. His “friendly amendment” was rejected by the maker of the original motion, given that it would confuse matters.

Controversy then erupted over the fact that a few members had left the meeting early, and therefore  the resolution was ill-timed. After much discussion, Fr. Matthew Tate moved to table the motion, explaining his action by saying that Metropolitan Herman needed time to consider his response in light of the day’s events. That motion passed handily. 

Richard Schneider then tried a parliamentary manuever to strike,  or “expunge” any reference to the retirement motion from the minutes, thus hiding the fact that it had ever been presented. After intense and occasionally heated debate, Schneider’s motion was defeated.  (Despite the Council’s vote that the motion remain part of the record, it did not make the press release reporting the results of the Council two days later....)

Nor did the Metropolitan’s actions immediately following presentation of the retirement resolution...

The Metropolitan spoke barely a word during Wednesday’s Council sessions, and sat impassively, silently, through the debate on the resignation motion. Instead, he waited until the meeting was over, stood up and disparaged the participant’s discussions.  He announced that only the Synod could take any action regarding his retirement, and said that “whatever good things Metropolitan Council had tried to do, greater harm had been done by the last motion”. 

An Official Audit Would Answer All Questions....

What the Syosset report also omitted was any discussion about the stavropegial institutions at St Tikhon’s. The Eastern Pennsylvania Diocesan Council had made a unanimous motion, which was then affirmed by the decision of its Diocesan Assembly, asking the Metropolitan Council to enforce a rule that all stavropegial institutions supply copies of their audits to the OCA Treasurer on a regular basis.

The Council agreed that  the Treasurer of the OCA should  request financials and audits, where available, from every stavropegial institution in the OCA.  Questions have long been raised about  St. Tikhon’s Monastery’s finances, as well as those of the Bookstore, the Orphanage accounts and related accounts, all of which are controlled by the Metropolitan or his appointees, and many of which have not been audited, according to some reports, since 1959. One cannot submit for review that which does not exist; but it raises the question - why do no audits exist? And if they do exist  - why have they not been submitted for review?

The Metropolitan Council is expected to meet again in July 2008, together with the Synod of Bishops, shortly after the Report of the new "Special Investigative Committee" has been completed, so that both may review the Report. 

-Mark Stokoe

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 
 

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