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News From Around the OCA

• Syosset, New York

At its meeting today the Synod Bishops elected Fr. Michael Dahulich as the Bishop of New York. Consecration of the new bishop will take place in the New Year. You can read the OCA’s press release, including biographical information about the Bishop-elect here.

Both the Synod and Metropolitan Council are meeting Tuesday, September 22- Friday, September 25 in Syosset in joint and individual sessions.  Among the items under discussions is the idea of “conciliarity”, its canonical foundations, historical and contemporary expressions; current legal issues facing the Church; OCA finances and the approval of a 2010 budget; and the strategic planning process mandated by delegates to the OCA’s 15th All-American Council in November 2008.

• New York, New York

The Diocesan Assembly of New York, previously scheduled for October, has been postponed at the request of the locum tenens, Metropolitan Jonah. Emails from the Deans went out last night announcing the decision, so as to allow the bishop-elect (now Fr. Dahulich) to participate in the budgetary process.

• Washington, DC.

Key documents in the Koumentakos case (read about that story here) were posted on the internet on Friday, September 18th,  just a day after it was reported that Fr. Raymond Velencia, one of the majors figures in the case, was elected to the OCA’s Metropolitan Council as the clergy representative from the Diocese of Washington. The documents include the OCA’s motion for Summary Judgement, and three  affidavits from the key players in the lawsuit: Metropolitan Herman (in his capacity as Diocesan Bishop), Fr. Joseph Lickwar, Chancellor of the then Diocese of Washington- New York (and current Chancellor of the Diocese of New York-New Jersey) and Fr. Constantine White, then Dean of the Washington Deanery (newly-appointed as Chancellor of the Diocese of Washington).

The motion for summary judgement by the OCA’s attorney, John McAuliffe, states that as the OCA, as a matter of law, “did not employ Fr. Velencia, nor have authority to hire, fire, retain, supervise or control Father Velencia’s daily work activities”,  the OCA should be released from the Koumentakos lawsuit.  The motion argues on the well-known basis of  In Jones v. Wolf (1979) decision of the US Supreme Court that “the First Amendment to the Constitution prohibits civil courts from resolving disputes on the basis of religious doctrine and practice.” Arguing that the “First Amendment further requires that civil courts defer to the resolution  of issues of religious doctrine or polity by the highest court of a hierarchical church organization”. The lawyer argues that to the extent Koumentakos seeks to impose some type of religious or moral duty on the OCA to investigate these matters at issue,  the Plaintiffs have wrongfully sought to “impose some type of religious or moral duty on the OCA”. 

The judge agreed on the basis of this religious exception, and released the OCA from this case. 

What has raised eyebrows, however, are some of the assertions in the motion.  “As set forth above,” McAuliffe writes, “ (the) OCA is a New York corporation created by New York statute. It does not operate in the State of Maryland. Various dioceses around the country choose to adhere to the moral and canonical doctrine adopted and propounded by the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America. However, each diocese is a separate legal entity. (The) OCA has no more authority to regulate the diocese than it has to regulate Microsoft.”

The legal point may be accurate, but where is the moral integrity behind such a statement? One can claim, perhaps accurately, that these are just the words of a non-Orthodox lawyer, not an ecclesiological statement, but public words matter.  Is the OCA really only a collection of autocephalous dioceses? By allowing such statements the OCA may win a battle, but we risk losing the war. 

Equally disturbing are the affidavits of Metropolitan Herman, Frs. Lickwar and White. If the OCA could accurately claim from a legal standpoint it did not have responsibility over the pastoral actions of Fr. Velencia , that such matters were the responsibility of the Diocese,  one wonders how, in good conscience,  Metropolitan Herman, the Diocesan Bishop, Fr. Lickwar, the Chancellor, or Fr. White, the Dean, could then make the same claim?  Nevertheless, Daniel Shea, the lawyer for the Deanery and Diocese writes in his motions for summary judgement “ .... here as demonstrated by the supporting affidavits of record, these defendants have never expressly or impliedly consented to a relationship whereby either had a right to control the actions of Fr. Velencia ... in so far as defendant Velencia’s conduct in maintaining confidence as a counselor or confessor.”  What? Are there not 1,500 years of canons relating to the relationship of priest to bishop, to pastoral responsibilities, and to the relationship of penitent to pastor? Once again, where is the moral integrity? 

The Diocese and the Deanery have all been released from the case, on precisely the same grounds as the OCA. The courts will not adjudicate matters of Church discipline. At present only Fr. Velencia  and St. Matthew’s House remain in litigation with Ms. Koumentakos. The real question is will the Church even adjudicate these matters of Church discipline - or is, as the affidavits would seem to suggest, no one is really responsible for anything. 

All the documents of the Koumentakos case referred above may be found here.

-Mark Stokoe



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