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8.7.08 Statement to the Pittsburgh Town HaLL

Gregg Nescott's Statement

1. How has the scandal affected me?

We cannot pretend that the scandal has touched everyone in the Church. Some don't even know there have been any problems: maybe they don't have computers, or are otherwise out of touch, far from the action. Some don't care about these problems: some dismiss it as 'politics', or evil that they don't want to interfere with their prayer lives, or they say, "We are too far away from all that - it doesn't affect us in the (choose one) Diocese of the South or the Diocese of the West or Canada."

And then there are some like the priest who was quoted at a recent Town Hall, saying that he didn't really think there were any problems, but he sure was getting a lot of good sermon material out of it.

But I think there are far many more on whom the scandal has had such effects. I personally have been affected, or have friends and family and know others who have been affected in very real ways:

Friends of 30 years no longer speak to each other. Laity have unfairly attacked clergy, and, sadly, clergy have unfairly attacked laity. Priests are not speaking to their brother priests. In this diocese and others, some priests have silenced their parishes, forbidding them to discuss these serious problems. People have received threatening letters and e-mails. To the east, a priest was ordered by his bishop to be silent and not speak out publicly on these matters. A venerable parish in another diocese that decided to withhold funds until the truth is told has been ostracized and punished in its diocese, banned from submitting parish news to the diocesan publication, and not permitted to hold a parish council meeting without the Dean or Chancellor being present. In another diocese, a parish council voted to withhold assessments, only to have their young priest called before a hierarch days later and warned that if the parish didn't reverse its withholding, their priest would be transferred.

Our people long ago chose sides: I'm on Kondratick's side, or with +Herman, or pro-Synod or anti-Synod, or backing OCANews or viewing it as the devil, or aligning with the 'reorganization' team or a handful of other groups. Yet everyone seems to forget that we are all on one side, that of Christ.

The worst effect of all may be the fact that some have left the OCA over the woeful mishandling of this scandal, with some even leaving Orthodoxy. Compounding that tragedy, is it not likely that others may have taken a look at the OCA over the past years of turmoil, and decided not to come to Orthodoxy?

And why all this suffering?

Because our leaders have failed to deal honestly with these problems without delay, too often choosing threats and cover-ups and firings, and denying -- for a long, long time -- that we even had any problems.

So here we are, three years -- three years! -- later, with little resolution in sight. And still the Church and its people suffer.

2. What would you say to the AAC?

What would I say? Well, it depends. If three things happen before the AAC, there could be much to talk about. The AAC could be a time for healing, a time for discussing the vision of autocephaly, of what it really means to be an autocephalous church in North America, and how to go about bringing Christ to this continent.

Of course, that is only if three things happen before November. If they do happen, we could start to talk in November about how we have squandered the gift we were given in 1970, and how we need to learn how to act as theÊ autocephalous church here. We must reclaim that vision. Yet we can see the vultures circling, as some from other jurisdictions anticipate our people and priests and parishes falling into their groups, as the OCA implodes. Just last week, a retired OCA bishop wrote and quoted a priest of the Moscow Patriarchate, speaking in a Russian radio interview, predicting the disappearance of the OCA by Fall of this year.

But it seems to me that if three things don't happen before the AAC in November, there may be little point in attending the Council.

The first thing that must happen is that a truthful and complete report be delivered by the Special
Investigating Committee (SIC) to the Metropolitan Council and the Holy Synod on September 3-5, and that it thereafter immediately be released to the whole Church, without material edits. To release it heavily edited is not acceptable. To release it on the eve of the AAC, with little time for reflection and careful reading, is not acceptable.

The second thing that must be done is particularly painful for this diocese to contemplate, since the Metropolitan is a native son. But our diocesan assembly proposed and passed a resolution of no confidence in the leadership of +Herman last year. The Metropolitan Council, made up of clergy and lay leaders from all the dioceses of the OCA, last April met in confidential session with +Herman for two hours. Although no one may discuss what was said in that closed session, when we returned to the open meeting, a motion asking the Metropolitan to retire was proposed and discussed. After some talk, one wise priest suggested that the motion be tabled until the next meeting, to give His Beatitude time to think over much that had been said. The retirement motion was indeed tabled. If it had gone to a vote then, it would have passed.

Trust has been shattered. Metropolitan Herman can no longer lead this church. The people will no longer follow him. If the OCA ever hopes to move past this scandal, it must be with a new primate.

The third thing that must happen before the AAC is that the Holy Synod needs to have an "Aqua Velva" moment. For those old enough to remember, one of the classic television ads of 25+ years ago showed a man vigorously slapping after- shave lotion onto his face while exclaiming: "Thanks! I needed that!"

After nearly three years of pleas, and courageous words, and investigations, and petitions, and letters from 70 senior clergy, there is still no solid evidence that our bishops "get it", that they understand what their actions and inaction have done to the OCA. The latest sign of not be attuned with what is going on in the Church happened at the Holy Synod's May meeting. We are only now told that after +Job left the meeting, the Synod supported a vote of confidence in +Herman, and commended him for his perseverance.

At this time? Under these circumstances? Or, as at least several speakers noted at the Cleveland Town Hall meeting last month, "What could they have been thinking?"

The OCA website carried a statement read by a layman at the Diocese of the South's Town Hall earlier this summer. Quoting scripture about hirelings and sheep and wolves and shepherds, the man plaintively asked when will our bishops simply stand up and be shepherds, be men? (Read that statement here)

I will lastly note that Randy Pausch died last week. He was 47, and left a wife and three little kids. He was a brilliant computer professor who taught about five miles from here, at Carnegie Mellon University. He is now known worldwide, having appeared on all the network news and interview shows before his death because of his last lecture, which was recorded in 2007. In that talk, he spoke for more than an hour to students and their parents and friends simply about what he had learned was important in life. That lecture went out onto YouTube, and has now been viewed almost 10 million times.

Before Randy Pausch died, he put that lecture into a small book, this book, entitled, appropriately enough, The Last Lecture. I want to read two sentences to you from that book:

"If I could only give three words of advice, they would be 'Tell the truth.' If I got three more words, I'd add: 'All the time.'"

You see, Randy Pausch "got it". At some point, we can only pray that our leaders will finally "get it", too.


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