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6.08.07

Part Three in the Series: Initiating Change
The Primate, The Council and the Future

Earlier writers in this series have suggested parishes and dioceses assume leadership for change by withholding funds from Syosset, and discussed how the Metropolitan Council might assume leadership through a civil lawsuit. But what about the Metropolitan and the Bishops? Can they not be a locus of change?

Consider the most recent Archpastoral statement of the Synod of Bishops published March 22, 2007. With the novelty of such phrases as "it became apparent to us that we were wrong," coupled with the excitement generated by news of preparations for Fr. Kondratick's suspension, what the Metropolitan and the Bishops actually wrote was largely overlooked. And since the Thursday Archpastoral Statement was followed by Black Friday - the dismissal of Gregg Nescott, the news of the withholding of the Special Commission's Report, etc. - few have bothered to examine the Archpastoral Statement in detail. To do so is not encouraging.

Rewriting History

The statement begins:

"It must be confessed that during early 2006, there were many of us who believed that the allegations were exaggerated, motivated by the personal animosity of the accusers, or that there were simple explanations to these 'misunderstandings'."

As a matter of historical fact, the overwhelming majority of  "the allegations" were first raised in the fall of 1999, and they were all raised by October 2005 - not early 2006. Metropolitan Herman clearly knew the bulk of the allegations in 1999, having been told them by Protodeacon Wheeler personally. Even a somnambulant and passive Metropolitan Council openly discussed the major allegations on two occasions in late 1999 and early 2000. (Read that story here)

Rewriting history to begin the story seven years after the fact is significant, especially if one considers that during those years:

a) an investigation into some $5 million in missing ADM foundations monies granted to the OCA was prohibited in 1999 by the decision of the Synod; a decision reaffirmed in 2000 when Metropolitan Herman was Acting OCA Treasurer, and then reaffirmed again in early 2006 after he was Primate;

b) an additional million dollars went missing in 2002 - the very year Metropolitan Herman became Primate (Read that story here)

c) and an additional $1+ million in charitable and designated gifts were diverted to personal and administrative uses between 2002-2006 during the first four years of that Primacy (not to mention an unknown amount in bequests, since all the records have gone missing....)

On the other hand, with such a history, is it any wonder the Metropolitan attempts to rewrite it?

The Archpastoral Statement continues:

"In March of 2006, it became apparent to us that we were wrong in these beliefs, and that there was substance to at least some of the claims."

Untrue. At the Synod meeting at the beginning of March 2006, Archbishop Job was savaged by Bishops Tikhon (Fitzgerald) and Nikolai of Alaska for simply asking the question "Are the allegations true or false?" If it truly "had become apparent to us that we were wrong in these beliefs", why did the other Bishops, including the Metropolitan, then sit in silence? The "us" was, in fact, Metropolitan Herman alone. Sometime after the Synod meeting, Metropolitan Herman suddenly decided to act on what he already knew as a former Treasurer of the OCA, and on what he already had physical evidence of in the form of the secret Moscow Tape, for over a year. What changed the Metropolitan's mind seven years into the scandal? The only difference between late January 2006 when the Metropolitan was still publicly insisting the affair was "closed" and early March 2006 when he terminated Fr. Kondratick, was bad publicity in the national press publicity that was beginning to focus on the Metropolitan as well as Fr. Kondratick. (Read that story here)

The Statement continues:

"In addition, we realized that we were not equipped to investigate these matters without professional assistance. We solicited recommendations of law firms that had impeccable reputations and expertise to assist us in the investigation, and Proskauer Rose was selected to look into the allegations on our behalf."

Untrue. As Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald) and Bishop Nikolai complained mightily, it was not the Synod which sought professional assistance, nor the Synod who selected Proskauer Rose. It was the Metropolitan alone who did so. As the OCA website itself reported in March 2006: "His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman announced that as the Primate of the Church, he has retained the law firm of Proskauer Rose LLP to undertake an internal investigation of allegations relating to the finances of the Church."

The Archpastoral Statement continues:

"As their role was simple in concept, though difficult in execution; the firm was to review the allegations, to determine which ones were supported by credible evidence, and to advise us on possible courses of action. Assisting Proskauer in this assignment was our auditing firm Lambrides, Lamos, Moulthrop LLP."

Untrue. Proskauer Rose never advised "us" on possible courses of action. They never advised the Synod, nor the Metropolitan Council, nor the dioceses, nor the parishes, nor any member of the OCA but Metropolitan Herman himself. It was to him alone Proskauer Rose took direction in their investigation, to him alone they reported during their investigation, to him alone they presented their conclusions. The OCA just paid the bill. It took three months of determined effort by the Synod and Metropolitan Council to even get a report after the investigation was completed - and then the report was given only to select members of the Synod and Council, chosen by Metropolitan Herman himself, and then only orally. The Archpastoral Statement itself confirms this:

"In October of 2006, a representative group of the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council met with Sarah Gold (the partner at Proskauer conducting the investigation), to receive the presentation of her preliminary findings. The body of evidence that was presented was detailed and quite frankly, shocking. The confirmed instances of the abuse of Church trust were determined to be centered on one person, the former Chancellor of the Church."

Halfway into the statement and we have only been given evasions, half-truths and untruths. Consider the following evasion of the last quoted sentence of the Statement: "The confirmed instances of the abuse of Church trust were determined to be centered on one person, the former Chancellor of the Church." This is true, but not surprising, though, since Proskauer Rose only investigated one person: Fr. Kondratick. Only eight people associated with Syosset were even interviewed by Proskauer Rose. The further questions - who else took trips, who else benefited from the multiple credit card charges for personal items, who else attended the parties in the luxury suites, who else received cash payments from the appeal monies, who else had knowledge of these things, etc., have never been allowed. The Metropolitan specifically did not allow the Special Commission to ask those questions. They need to be asked if we to go beyond the half-truth of Fr. Kondratick's misdeeds to the whole truth of malfeasance by all who ignored the misdeeds, of all those who looked away, of all those who profited by turning not the other cheek, but their eyes, from the truth.

One could continue a line by line analysis of the Statement but the rest has simply been overtaken by events. The appointment of the Special Commission was detailed - but it, of course, has now been indefinitely suspended. The agreement to rescind the transfer of Fr. Kondratick was repudiated by Archbishop Dmitri even before Syosset posted the very Archpastoral Statement which announced it.

It's Official: There Was No Investigation

To its credit, the Archpastoral Statement does confirm one fact, if one has eyes to see it. The Bishops stated: "On March 13, 2007, the Metropolitan Council heard the result of the considerable amount of work done by the Committee in compiling the outcome of the investigative work done by the respective firms, and received their detailed written report."

The Metropolitan and Synod themselves have finally confirmed the Special Commission never investigated anything. It only "compiled" the outcome established by Proskauer Rose's investigation. This does not mean their work was in vain - or incorrect. It only confirms that no real investigation into the scandal was ever allowed to take place. The Scandal will not disappear with the conviction of Fr. Kondratick (should that come to pass), the Metropolitan's constant assertions to the contrary. Until there is a full, free, independent and open investigation, the questions will continue.

What Does The Statement Tell Us?

Placing the facts side by side with the Archpastoral Statement one is confronted with a Statement that clearly evades the truth and misrepresents the truth where it cannot evade it. It seeks to turn the self-serving actions of one man (the Metropolitan) into the story of many (The Synod). The Metropolitan is seeking to hide behind his fellow Bishops, such that "I" becomes "We". That the Metropolitan has no respect for his people has been clear for 18 months; that he has none for his clergy has been evident since he never bothered to answer the letter of the seventy senior clergy a year ago. It is now apparent that he does not respect his fellow Bishops by seeking to ensnare them in his web of lies. That the Metropolitan thought no one would notice such a transparent trick is truly disheartening.

The Sorrowful Epistle

It is obvious that any hope that the Metropolitan can lead us out of this morass is misplaced. Given the guidance of Metropolitan Herman, the Synod itself seems unable even to tell the truth about the scandal, let alone reach agreement on how to deal with it beyond the usual pious platitudes. This sad absence of leadership is painfully articulated in a recent letter of Archbishop Job of Chicago to his clergy. In the letter, titled "A Sorrowful Epistle" the Archbishop writes:

"God knows, and all of you know, that this crisis has taken its toll on all of us, affecting some more than others. There have been ups and downs, glimmers of hope followed by utter devastation. To read the chronology of the crisis is, in the words of one commentator, like reading 'a bad novel'. We have witnessed transfers, rescissions of transfers, rescissions of rescissions, suspensions, reversal of suspensions, disregard for decisions of the Synod and Metropolitan Council, and now Byzantine intrigue and controversy concerning due process in an ecclesiastical Court (as though this were the first Church court convened in the 37 -year history of the Orthodox Church in America!)"

The Archbishop goes on:

"In the short time since Pascha, serious and tragic mistakes have been made, the suspension of the Special Commission being, in my judgment, one of the worst. My friends, we have a crisis of leadership. I had stated that I stood in support of the Metropolitan in this crisis. I should have clarified this and should have stated that I support the positive decisions that he has made - and there certainly have been some. But there have been far more poor decisions, made unilaterally, without consultation and communication, which, as we see have had devastating results. At the Diocesan Council meeting I described myself as being "at the end of my rope." Now I find myself in a worse state of mind. I ponder on such things as "Desperate situations require desperate measures." I am persuaded that I am not alone, because I have heard that there are those who were against the Palatine Resolution who have now changed their positions. "Fathers and Brothers, souls are at stake! We cannot forget that."

(Read the entire letter here)

The Need For Change

"Souls are at stake!" The new half-adminstration in Syosset (there being a Chancellor and Communications Director, but no Secretary or Treasurer) is perhaps capable of preparing a truncated All-American Council, a meeting it appears that will include no observers, no oral presentations, and be limited to two or three days duration. But at the end of the day, we look to the Captain and his Mess (literally) in vain. With a Metropolitan bent on preventing resolution, and a sad absence of synodal leadership, it is time for the Metropolitan Council to step forward. They are the only authorative body capable of leading the OCA out of this morass, together with the help of those Bishops and clergy and laity willing to assist. A failure of the Metropolitan Council to assert bold leadership at this time will condemn the OCA to yet another twelve months of floundering, to be followed by a Hobbesian All-American Council; nasty, brutish and short.

Here are three ways the Metropolitan Council could move us forward:

1) Vote to re-constitute, re-commission and re-fund the Special Commission. With members chosen by the Council, not the Primate, revive the Special Commission to truly investigate and report fully to the whole church on the whole scandal - not just those aspects the Metropolitan wants to "center" on. Formally direct the new Treasurer of the OCA to pay for all Commission expenses, as determined by the Commission itself, so that the Commission cannot be financially starved into irrelevancy. Direct Prosakuer Rose LLP to comply with all requests of the Special Commission for materials, and refuse all further payments if they do not agree to do so immediately. After all, the OCA is the client, right? Isn't that what Syosset has been telling us for the past 18 months?

2) If the Metropolitan obstructs such moves, initiate a formal vote of "no confidence" in the Metropolitan and his administration. The Metropolitan's actions of the past 18 months show that he is more intent on absolving himself of responsibility for the scandal than resolving the crisis. "No confidence" should make it clear that +Herman is expected step aside so that an election for a new Metropolitan can take place at the forthcoming All-American Council. He will refuse, no doubt, but he can do so only in the knowledge that the Church he ostensibly leads no longer follows him. And the world will know it.

3) The time for 'symbolic' statements has passed, though. Souls are at stake. If the Metropolitan will not retire honorably, the Metropolitan Council should cut off his funds. Cut off funding for his office and entourage; cut off funding for his trips, his perks and his pet projects. At the final instance, be ready to refuse to fund the central adminstration as a whole in its 2008 budget. It is better for the Metropolitan Council to do so - to vote not to fund the central administration than force the parishes and Dioceses of the OCA to do so piecemeal. Archbishop Job has made it rather clear that on June 26th the Midwest is ready to take the lead in this if the Metropolitan Council will not. After all, it was Metropolitan Herman who first suggested this course of action -withholding assessments - when he advised frustrated clergy and laity in the old Diocese of New York and New Jersey to do so in order to facilitate the retirement of Archbishop Peter when their funds went missing.

The Long Defeat

Of course, the above is unlikely to happen. Decisive leadership, except in the interest of self-preservation or self-aggrandizement, is in short supply in the OCA. Many of our lay people, comfortable in their pews, wait for their priests to act; priests, comfortable in their individual congregations, wait for the Bishops to act. The Bishops, secure in their dioceses, wait for the Metropolitan to act. And the Metropolitan just waits, hoping on the basis of past experience that given enough time those laity who are concerned will tire, those priests concerned will be distracted, and the scandal will fade away. And he is right - it will indeed go away, slowly, as the OCA itself continues to wither. The withering of the OCA is not about declining numbers and resources, although we have had both in the past ten years. Rather, it is about the withering of the soul of the OCA, of its dream, of its vision and purpose, and of its future. The former inevitably follows the latter.

If there is to be any future for the OCA all of us - the laity, the priests and the bishops of the OCA - must stop waiting passively, hoping this will be fixed by someone else. It is we who must stand to correct our course, to renew the vision that once inspired the OCA, and fix what is broken - because the only thing that is going away is "us". ROCOR is now poised to lay claim to our Russian heritage, while the Antiochians are seizing our future in America. Without existence in the truth though, the OCA as an institution has little to offer either ROCOR or Antioch, Russia or America, the past or the future.

We must not continue to deny, evade and ignore the truth: Metropolitan Herman has not resolved the scandal, but only deepened it. He cannot restore the OCA. He cannot offer a vision he does not have, and what he offered in these past 18 months is nothing more than a desperate attempt to evade personal responsibility for his own errors and misdeeds. The only thing Metropolitan Herman can do is continue to preside over the OCA's further demise as it enters an early insitutional senescence.

As the "continuation" of the All-American Council - of the entire Church, bishops, clergy, monastics and laity assembled - the Metropolitan Council must not let this continue. They must help us turn and choose life, not the walking death of our current existence in half-truths, lies, evasions and ever more unanswered questions.

- Mark Stokoe


 
 

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