Orthodox Church in America
wracked by financial scandal
Bishops reviewing ‘a number
of issues facing the church’
by Kevin Eckstrom
Religion News Service
WASHINGTON — A former treasurer of the Orthodox Church in America is charging that millions of dollars in church funds were misspent in the 1990s, a charge that church hierarchs have been loath to discuss — until now.
On March 1, the church’s 10-member Holy Synod of Bishops will convene in “special session” in Syosset, NY, to review “a number of issues facing the church,” presumably including the financial scandal.
Deacon Eric Wheeler, who was fired in 1999, claims the church is hiding a “multitude of sin,” including a $67,000 gift from military chaplains for Bibles that were never bought, as well as payments on personal credit cards of $5,000 to $12,000 a month.
Wheeler made his allegations in an Oct. 17, 2005, letter to the church’s top leader, Metropolitan Herman. In recent weeks, the charges have been posted on a Web site, www.ocanews.org, run by parishioners seeking an investigation.
“During my years at the central church, I experienced a total abuse of power, with no concern for accounting practice nor aspiration for accountability both internal and external,” wrote Wheeler, who worked at church headquarters from 1988 to 1999. He was the church’s treasurer for three years, and served as personal secretary to former Metropolitan Theodosius, who retired in 2002.
Wheeler said millions of dollars were spent to “safeguard the church from scandal, cover embarrassing credit-card debts incurred by the Metropolitan (Theodosius), provide family members who leeched off their relatives with a steady stream of assistance, pay blackmail requests and provide the means to entertain with dinners, trips and gifts of cash.”
The Washington Post reported that more than $1 million contributed by Dwayne Andreas, the retired chairman of the Archer Daniels Midland Co., was diverted to personal accounts that the church refused to make available for audits.
In January, church leaders promised audits for 2004 and 2005, and issued a statement acknowledging “error, lack of good judgment and sin” by church employees.
Herman has tried to silence all discussion of the allegations, but growing numbers of parishioners and clergy, including Archbishop Job of Chicago, are demanding an independent investigation.
“My fundamental question posted to the Metropolitan ... ‘Are any of the allegations true, or are they false?’ remains unanswered,” Job said on Jan. 23.
The 400,000-member church traces its roots to the Russian Orthodox Church, but has been independent of Moscow since 1970.