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12. 17.07
The Metropolitan's Message: Part One
Canned Goods

Last week, Metropolitan Herman released a Message on the OCA crisis entitled "Speaking the Truth in Love".  The Message begins: "For almost two years, the Orthodox Church in America has been wrestling with extremely difficult and challenging matters."

In point of fact, it has been fully two years (26 months) since Protodeacon Eric Wheeler wrote a letter in October 2005 to the Synod of Bishops, and fully eight years since in September 1999 Protodeacon Wheeler and Audit Chairman John Kozey informed Metropolitan Herman, then Acting Treasurer of the OCA, of gross financial misdeeds. It is fully fourteen years since the July 1993 memo of the external auditors gave their first warnings of a budding scandal. The Metropolitan would have us believe the "difficult matters" are recent. That is an error of fact, a misstep at the very beginning of his Message that goes to the heart of the problem: the inability to tell the truth.

He is correct, though, in stating that the OCA has been "wrestling" with these matters for only two years. In that the Metropolitan himself has known of the gross financial misdeeds for at least eight years, during which time millions more disappeared, his own words bear witness to his errors in judgment that have resulted in this Message being necessary.

Canned, Not Fresh

The opening line of the Message confirms one other fact. The goal of the Metropolitan's Message, with its lengthy explanations and expressions of regret, was to convince the OCA that a corner has been turned. The sad fact is that it shows just the opposite: we have turned no corners, we are still circling in the cul-de-sac. This Message evidences no recent change in the Metropolitan's attitude or response to the crisis, as some have welcomed it; for, in truth, the Message was written months ago.

The Metropolitan is serving canned rhetoric, rather than fresh sentiment. This is fully evidenced by the correction sent out by Syosset twenty minutes after the initial posting of the Message on Thursday, December 13th. The Department of Communication's correction notice changed the final line in the fifth paragraph to read: "Today, December 13th, 2007....". The original posting of the Message read: "Today, October 13th, 2007..." If the latter date sounds vaguely familiar, it is because this Message was initially intended to be released together with the "Summary Report of the Preliminary Report...and Proceedings" two months ago, on October 13th, 2007. On that day, the "Summary Report of the Preliminary Report...and Proceedings" was momentarily posted. It was immediately ordered taken down.

The Metropolitan's Message, intended to accompany the "Summary", was not posted that day. It was held back and posted on December 13th - only the Department of Communications forgot to change the dates in the body of the text. Syosset then sought to remove the obvious evidence of the Message's pre-existence - but they forgot to correct the opening line as well. Between the time when it was written, the time when it was originally to be published, and December 13th when it was finally published, "almost two years" had become "fully" two years.

In short, the purpose of the Message was to convince a weary Church that things have changed at the top. But the canned Message proves just the opposite. Since the Message was written months ago it shows that the Metropolitan has not changed his opinions or goals, intent or purposes; not during the entire Kondratick appeal process, not before, during or after withholding by the Midwest began, not with the dissolution of the Special Commission and appointment of a new "Special Investigative Committee", not after a Metropolitan Council meeting, nor two Synod meetings. Nothing has changed these last five months, despite the Metropolitan's desperate desire that we begin to believe things have. Why? So that money begins to roll in again. For Syosset the scandal is about money - not its misdirection and loss, but the negative effect a 75% drop in donations, and a growing withholding movement have had on the Central Church Administration.

The Metropolitan openly admits the same:

"The central issues are related to the finances of our Church, but they have grown into a crisis that has affected all dimensions of our ecclesiastical life, including the Holy Synod, the Metropolitan Council, Dioceses, parishes, clergy and lay people. There are spiritual, canonical, moral, administrative, disciplinary and personnel aspects to this crisis. For some it has become a source of great pain, for others a cause of bitterness, still others are confused and many of our faithful people have questioned the administrative practices of our Church. Many have been angered by what appeared to be reluctance on my part and on the part of the Central Church Administration to share information about the nature of the crisis. With this Pastoral Letter I would like to begin bringing these issues to light."

Crushed Ends

Most of us have canned goods of questionable age in the back of our pantries - anyone with elderly parents knows they surely do. Our current elderly Father-in-Christ is no exception. The question is: does one take the risk and eat them, or just throw them away? In the world there are tell-tale signs of bad, out-dated canned goods: the ends are often crushed, they leak, and they are often swollen. It seems it is no different in the Church.

We are right to be cautious in examining any Message in which the sins of fourteen years have been crushed into two. But, as the Metropolitan points out, one should not judge by appearances. In the preceding paragraph the Metropolitan asserts that the OCA's "pain", "bitterness", "confusion", "questioning" and "anger" are the result of only "what appears" to be the Metropolitan's reluctance to share information. The Metropolitan, it turns out, has never been reluctant to  speak up, or to share information:

• His silencing of priests, deacons and laity who dared raise questions about the scandal in Fall 2005 was not real.

It only appeared to be so.

• His declaring the scandal over in January 2006 was not real.

It only appeared to be so.

• His asking the OCA, as a whole, to cease discussion about the scandal in April 2006 was not real.

It only appeared to be so.

• His refusing to release the findings of Proskauer Rose's investigation in Fall 2006 was not real.

It only appeared to be so.

• His refusing to allow the Special Commission to interview witnesses in January 2007 was not real.

It only appeared to be so.

• His ordering the Metropolitan Council to be silent about its own decisions in March 2007 was not real.

It only appeared to be so.

• His refusing to answer any legitimate questions about the scandal from 2005 to 2007, including those from Archbishop Job, seventy senior OCA Clergy, seven OCA attorneys, the Special Commission, etc., was not real.

It only appeared to be so.

Fully two years of refusing to answer even the most basic questions was not real; it only "appeared" to be so.

If the Metropolitan wants to stop the OCA's pain, confusion, questioning, anger and bitterness, he would do well to begin by stop telling us what we know to be real is only "appearance". It is simply insulting. No doubt a prudent person would toss out this can of goods right now. But let us take the Metropolitan at his word that the canned "Message", like his actions, only "appears" to be suspect.


The Metropolitan continues:

"Attached is a Summary Report which contains the findings of the original Special Investigative Committee and excerpts of the proceedings of the Spiritual Court for the former Chancellor, Robert S. Kondratick. Most of this Report was momentarily released last October. It was not possible to officially release this information until now because of the investigation, the ecclesiastical trial and the appeal."

It is always best to check the expiration date of canned goods. The above assertions were fresh when Proskauer Rose finished their investigation in July, 2006. Since they were based solely of the evidence the Special Commission was allowed to see, they were still marketable by the time the Special Commission finished its Preliminary Report in March, 2007. They were probably still acceptable in June, 2007 after Kondratick's trial concluded. By July, 2007, though, the above assertions were definitely past their shelf life And to attempt to sell them at Christmas 2007 is just, well, bad business. The can is leaking.

It leaks veracity and credibility. For example: since March 2007 when the Special Commission finished its Preliminary Report we have been offered eight different reasons why the OCA could not learn of their findings. Excuse #9 offered here is hardly more credible than any of the previous ones. Here is a simple test for freshness: If the reason the Report could not be released until now was really "the investigation, trial and appeal" - they are now all concluded. Why can't the Special Commission's Preliminary Report be released now? Why can only a "Summary" be released?

The bottom line is that the Metropolitan's current excuses are as lacking in veracity and credibility as all his previous ones. Everything has leaked out...


The Metropolitan continues:

"The Summary Report represents the results of a long and complicated story."

One of the biggest indicators that canned goods have gone bad is swelling. The same is true with stories. The advantage of truth is that the story is usually short, rarely varies, and is easily remembered. It has the advantage of being what factual. False stories, or lies, on the other hand, get increasingly difficult to maintain, as time goes on, as the stories must get longer and more complicated to cover the previous lies. Lies beget more lies. It is no wonder, then, given leaking veracity and credibility, the Metropolitan's story about the scandal has swollen from a single paragraph in November 2005 to the present, multiple page "Pastoral Letter".

Here is the latest version. The Metropolitan writes:

"In the summer of 2005 revelations about financial malfeasance were made by Protodeacon Eric Wheeler, a former Treasurer of the Church. These were initially conveyed to the Holy Synod. In November, 2005 he wrote to members of the Metropolitan Council, at which time the allegations were made public. Although it was alleged that Robert Kondratick was largely responsible for the financial malfeasance, he resolutely maintained his innocence, refusing pastoral suggestions and to answer questions about this matter.

I have not been able, until now, to express how difficult this was. Robert Kondratick is a talented man. He was a close friend of mine, as he was to many people. He accomplished a great deal in his service to the Orthodox Church in America. He was the Chancellor of the OCA since 1989 and his early years in that capacity were marked by dynamic expansion in the life of the Church. At that time, the collapse of the Soviet Union made possible a new relationship with our ecclesiastical mother, the Russian Orthodox Church. Robert Kondratick was much involved in developing those new relations. It is true that he was responsible to the Metropolitan, the Holy Synod and to the Metropolitan Council, but as time went on he acquired a position of unusual authority. My predecessor, Metropolitan Theodosius allowed most of the administrative work to be conducted by Robert Kondratick. Members of the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council relied on his efficiency, recognizing his energy and managerial skills. On the other hand, his overbearing management style was becoming apparent as was a perceived habit of excessive spending. Some suggested that he should be dismissed. This was a difficult decision but by the spring of 2006, it was apparent that there was no alternative. I dismissed him from his role as Chancellor on March 16, 2006."

One could, given enough time, point out all the factual errors in the preceding paragraph - such as it was October 2005, not summer 2005, that Protodeacon Wheeler wrote to the Synod, or that the "dynamic expansion in the life of the Church" he speaks about is not evidenced by sustained growth during those years - but to do so, line by line, is just too depressing. Others, in the comments section of this website have begun to do so at great length. It is more helpful here to point out the overall swelling of the story.

In November 2005, Metropolitan Herman asserted that the finances of the Church were his responsibility alone. (Read that story here) Here, +Herman vastly expands the cast of responsible characters, beginning with his predecessor, Metropolitan Theodosius, and includes the Synod, the Metropolitan Council, and "many" unidentified "people", ending with the entire "Russian Orthodox Church" as players in this drama. The reasoning is simple: the more involved, the less +Herman may seem responsible. The attempt falters on the truth.

In fact, the decision to allow Kondratick his "unusual authority" has rested solely with one man since 2002 - Metropolitan Herman. The evidence for that is incontrovertible - for it was +Herman, in clear opposition to the Administrative Committee he himself appointed - who finally fired Kondratick in March, 2006. He made a great point at the time that this was his right, his decision, and his action. (Read that story here) In fact, it was always his choice, and his choice alone, as when he reappointed Kondratick as Chancellor in 2002, and again in 2005. The rest is just swelling of a canned story - and a clear warning sign of danger. Indeed, this paragraph gives us a clear indication that this out-of-date, crushed, swollen and leaking canned story is toxic.

Toxic Waste

The "Summary Report of the Preliminary Report ...And Proceedings" quotes the Spiritual Court decision that
" ...the Accused, Protopresbyter Robert S. Kondratick, committed theft of Church funds, alienated Church funds for his personal use,... and actively concealed his actions..."

In the Metropolitan's canned version, Kondratick was:

"...a talented man. a close friend of mine, (who) accomplished a great deal in his service to the Orthodox Church in America. through his his efficiency, his energy and managerial skills." There is no mention of "theft" in the Metropolitan's version, no "alienation of Church funds for personal use", rather "a perceived habit of excessive spending" coupled with an "overbearing management style".

Perceived? Darn those 'appearances' again! Those missing millions from ADM are not really gone.

They only appear to be so.

Those missing millions diverted from the Charity, Mission and Special Appeals were not really gone. They only appeared to be so.  (And if even they were, a quick $1.7 million loan paid them all back. Right? )

Habit? Excessive spending? Management Style?

In the past, the Metropolitan's story has been the three B's - Bob & Bad Bookkeeping. It's why we had to get a new computer system. Now we learn it was really just Bob and his "overbearing Management style" alone. Those repeated statements, press releases, oral reports and written reports from Proskauer Rose, auditors Lamos Lambrides & Moulthrop, the Synod of Bishops of the OCA, the Metropolitan Council, a Special Commission, a Spiritual Court and a Court of Appeal that criminal activity had taken place - were not real.

They only appeared to be so.

The mind boggles.

Can the Metropolitan really be asserting that when the Bishops and Metropolitan Council issued a joint statement in December, 2006 based on Proskauer Rose's investigation that "The participants of the joint session were stunned by the magnitude of today's revelations...", the source of their amazement was Kondratick's "overbearing" management style?

That the Metropolitan would put forth, let alone sign his name to such obvious and patent drivel is an insult to the Body of Christ he currently pretends to lead. That his staff, old or new, would publish such drivel calls into question not only their integrity, but intelligence. Shame on everybody in Syosset who had anything to do with this. You may think us fools, gentlemen, and treat us as fools, but the only ones being fooled are you yourselves - if you think such nonsense is acceptable in the Church of Christ. Even in the diminished state to which this Metropolitan has reduced the OCA, we are not so ignorant, stupid, indolent, passive, wretched or faithless that such lies will go unnoticed. God will not be mocked, gentlemen, even when the mocker is the Primate of an autocephalous Church with his administration. Nor will the Church you mock remain silent. There are many who desire the reduction of the Central Administration to the point of non-existence. I have never been one of them. But with such statements you have handed them just cause for exactly such actions at the next All-American Council.

Tell The Truth!

Having dismissed the crimes committed against the OCA as merely a bad "habit", the Metropolitan then goes on to state: "The immensity of the financial malfeasance made uncovering it a complicated task."

What? How did we go from a "perceived habit of excessive spending" to "the immensity of financial malfeasance" in just one sentence? Is something missing?

Nothing is missing. On the contrary, we have found something important here. Could there be any clearer evidence than this sudden transition that the whole canned story, leaking, swollen and crushed, is not fit for human consumption, and should be thrown out, together with the one who wrote it? Listening to such misstatements after false statements, after lies, after equivocations, after excuses, after new lies - even out of obedience to one in "authority" - are we not in danger of becoming as diminished as the liar by continuing to listen to such perfidities? How many more lies do we have to endure? Is this how we are going to spend the next 5 years? Is this how we redeem the time given us? Listening to lies? Does no one on the Synod, at Syosset, at our Seminaries, our Monasteries, our Dioceses, our Metropolitan Council have the courage to openly say: "Stop lying! Just stop! For God's sake, yes, for God's sake, just tell the Truth!"

- Mark Stokoe


Coming Wednesday:
The Metropolitan's Message: Part Two




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