7.31.08 Statement to the Pittsburgh Town Hall
How has the scandal affected me?
by Fr. John Reeves
A history of corruption over most of the past 20 years has been documented. The wrongful use of time, treasure and talent within the OCA at the highest levels of governance has been exposed. It might have been appropriate at one time to attempt to explain some of these matters as occasioned by a lack of administrative sophistication or the absence of professional management; in other words, actions of well meaning but at times under qualified or even incompetent individuals. The scandal has confirmed, however, that in spite of less-malignant appearances, prevarication and theft were the main order of business for many years, at the highest levels of administration.
You ask, how has the scandal affected me?
Any number of adjectives might describe the emotions that I have felt. Among them are sadness and nausea, frustration and anger, outrage and disgust. Yet, for me the cause of my greatest outrage and disgust is not the theft or “misapplication” of several millions of dollars as reprehensible as that is. The real scandal is how the OCA has responded to the allegations in the first place. The culture of stonewalling and dissimulation, of intimidation and fear, of patronage and largesse, the same culture by which the corruption of the past two decades was protected, has continued in good measure unabated. This is what has affected me the most. It has filled me not only with revulsion and lingering distrust of anyone involved in administration over the past two decades. Thus, what revolts me most is not what has transpired over the past twenty years but what has happened during the past three.
After the refusal of the former chancellor to accede to a request from Archbishop Job to provide financial reports in 2005, there began an orchestrated attempt to intimidate him and to smear his reputation. It included the calls from “brother” bishops that he step down. This became more strident as he pressed the issue about the allegations of Deacon Eric Wheeler: Were they true or were they false?
Questions of no merit should not have warranted such an obfuscade. Questions of no merit should have been very easily disproved. Questions of no merit should not have triggered pressure from the inside against Archbishop Job.
Instead, we were told by late that year that there was no issue. It did not exist. The issue, like certain bank accounts, was declared off the books, closed to inquiry; in short, denial. By early 2006, though no specifics were given, we were told that mistakes had been made, namely “error, lack of good judgment and sin”. No further course of remediation was offered. Things continued as usual. No central players were removed.
Then, in a matter of weeks the OCA chancellor seemed precipitously dismissed. His only offense stated at the time was a “threat” purportedly made against the Metropolitan and by the logic of central administration against the whole OCA. This time there was no mention of error, lack of good judgment, much less sin. Attorneys were hired and our long ecclesiastical nightmare began slowly to unfold.
A full year later in 2007, after a high-priced, selective investigation, a preliminary report had been produced but immediately squelched. The Special Commission, which had been charged to write the report and recommend further action to conclude the investigation, had been stymied and interfered with virtually from its inception. Ultimately, two-thirds of the commission would resign over the refusal of administration to allow the investigation to go forward as demanded more than once the Metropolitan Council.
Now some three years after Archbishop Job’s initial request, we still await an official report detailing what happened, why it happened, who was involved, what was known, by whom and when was it known. The allegations, are they true or are they false? We still do not have a definitive answer.
Simultaneously, administration at the highest level has continued to promulgate the refrain, the myth that this was caused by “mismanagement” and that with new management, a reorganized administration would put things to right so that this would never happen again.
1. If this scandal was occasioned mainly by mismanagement, why have we spent $400,000 in attorneys’ fees building what some have termed a “firewall around the Metropolitan”? This expenditure alone seems to be evidence of considerable mismanagement since the dismissal of the former chancellor, not to mention obstruction and dishonesty. This is not something that can be blamed on the former chancellor. This falls squarely on the shoulders of current administration.
2. If reorganization is the answer to our problems, why has it not brought about a change in institutional behavior?
As a case in point, following the hiring and dismissal of the original nominee for the position of new OCA Secretary, an internal ethics probe was launched into the attendant circumstances.
What did it find? In short, it concluded that the old thinking has remained: Do what you want to do until you are caught, then deny it as long as you can, then pay your pay out of it.
The same culture of denial, of cover up, still exists. The only difference is that now there is an ethics committee on the Metropolitan Council though its presence was not enough to prevent this later series of events, however, only to reach a determination after the fact.
Indeed, only recently the mantra has been reiterated that this was a case basically of mismanagement and, after all, merely about money.
I take strong issue with this position and with this logic.
First, absent a definitive and final report, how can one be so sure that this only was merely about money and occasioned by mismanagement? Or, is this the predetermined, the foreordained interpretation of the yet to be issued Special Report?
Mismanagement implies incompetence, not necessarily willful misdeeds. Certainly one would be hard pressed to draw the conclusion that mismanagement alone should warrant deposition from the priesthood. By deposing one from the priesthood the Holy Synod has, whether knowingly or unknowingly, said that this was not merely about mismanagement and money. This is certainly a matter of record. Does the Holy Synod not realize what it has done?
Second, to minimize a situation is to rationalize it which is to deny it! Any psychologist can identify this behavior. A dismissive attitude about a series of events over almost twenty years that have crippled us, wounded us, demoralized us is less than patronizing. It is downright insulting!
Does this mean that violations of some commandments are less heinous than violations of others?
Does the assumption that this is mostly about money relieve us of moral responsibility?
Does it mean that we need to find a body in the library to become alarmed?
Do we need photographs of debauches to warrant greater concern or opprobrium?
Here we get to the heart of the OCA culture that has dominated the thinking of administration both past and present. There has been no concept of sin, no sense of right and wrong.
I am reminded of Dostoyevsky's observation that if there is no God, then everything is permitted. Is that ultimately the elephant in the room? Do we have a culture of practical atheism at the highest levels?
Shame on those who think this way! Shame on those who dissimulate in this fashion! Shame on those who have the appearance of godliness but deny the power thereof!
This is the same culture of sin and deception that has controlled the OCA for nigh on twenty years. It is underhanded. It is depraved. It is warped. It is twisted. It calls evil “good” –or at the most “mismanagement”. Until it is expunged from our midst we shall have accomplished nothing.
Archbishop Job’s question remains unanswered. If the charges are true, this is not merely about money: this is theft, and if theft, it is both a sin and a crime. Souls are at stake, the souls of those who are guilty as well as the souls of those who have covered the sin, and our souls as well.
Stop whistling past this graveyard. We must change the basic culture that has allowed such egregious and nefarious behavior to take place and which has attempted to silence any and all efforts to address this issue. Can anyone seriously believe that this has only been about money, considering the time, energy and effort which has transpired in systemic resistance to reporting out the truth, to answering the allegations:
Are they true or are they false?
Outcome of AAC:
Let me warn the Preconciliar Commission pointedly, unless you are willing to use the AAC to expose this scandal to the light of the Gospel, do not bother. You will frustrate yourselves and you will more than anger the delegates. Do not bother to have another AAC. You will only have shown yourselves to be but “useful idiots”—to borrow Lenin’s phrase—another act in the OCA’s triennial dog and pony show.
1. The first outcome from this AAC must be dissemination of the full report of the Special Committee to the Church at large.
2. The AAC must unequivocally re-affirm the proper role of clergy and laity in the governance of the OCA.
It has only been by means of clergy and laity united that the scandal has seen the light of day. Any attempt to rein in or eliminate either the AAC or the Metropolitan Council must be viewed as continuation by this insidious culture to keep the “old boys’ network” in place.
Those who continue to speak against the roles and responsibilities of clergy and laity in the governance of the Church are evidence of this residue. Such marginalize both the people and the truth in the work of the Church. With respect, we must disagree and we must resist. To do otherwise is to abdicate the responsibility that both God and the civil law devolve on the clergy and laity together.
3. The AAC must elect at-large delegates willing to pursue their fiduciary responsibilities without concern for repercussion.
Currently, five of the six at-large delegates are now resident within the expanded Diocese of Washington-New York. Wider geographic and diocesan distribution is desirable.
The AAC must provide a forum for scrutiny of candidates, their records heretofore if they are standing for re-election, and their understandings of the role and responsibility of the Metropolitan Council.
At a future AAC, proposed revisions of the Statute need to assure that no diocese can end up with such lop-sided representation.
4. The AAC must address the rightful role of a central administration, its canonical limitations and its necessary prerogatives.
Our form of governance must be dictated by its function. After almost forty years of painful attempts in self-government the OCA must face the facts that competing visions of the role of the central administration, evidencing a clear lack of consensus, militate against its proper working.
5. The AAC must drastically reduce the assessment on local parishes. The so-called “Fair Share” scheme of the previous and now discredited administration must be officially abolished.
Fully 80% of funds collected in the Archdiocese of Western Pennsylvania go to central administration, while our own diocese cloys and continues to decline. Our Archdiocese does not exist to support a central administration but to do the work on Christ here, locally, in this diocese, which is where the Church is.
Stop strangling us!
6. Finally, this AAC must be responsible for beginning development of a different mindset in the OCA as to the proper oversight and prudent exercise of fiduciary responsibility by its bishops, its clergy and its people.
Those who have failed in their duties heretofore and who refuse to retire, resign, or even admit their failures, must be seen as decrepit remnants of the old culture and as obstacles to the renewal of the Church.
While maintaining respect for their offices, their opinions and their “advice” must be discounted accordingly as we chart our course forward, for the good of the Church. They have failed us heretofore. We should not be so naïve to believe that they would not fail us again.
In summation: Tell the truth! And be willing to deal with the demands of truth, wherever the truth leads.