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SCANDAL OVER DISPUTED JUNE 17th DOCUMENT DEEPENS

The  scandal over conflicting June 17th documents that is rocking the Archdiocese deepened as comments explaining the origins of one of the documents were posted by the wife of one the Damascus delegations members.

In a series of replies to questions from readers of TheAntiochian.com website, posted between June 25 and June 27, Lynn Gabriel,  wife of Archdiocesan Economos Fr. Antony Gabriel of Montreal, Quebec, stated she was an eyewitness to some of the events regarding the disputed June 17th text.

Lynn Gabriel’s Account

Lynn Gabriel writes:

“As it happens, I used the occasion of my husband’s participation in the delegation to the recent Holy Synod meeting to take part in a mini-reunion with some old friends from Chicago days, who were also visiting Damascus.”

Gabriel then explains:

I was witness to the event(s) in question, not only because it is often and everywhere about old friends, but because, with permission, I incorporated the trip and its events into a work-piece. I am able to and will, if (and more likely, when) I am called upon to do so in a legal venue, produce other witnesses as well. I am positive that he who signed them will not say they were forged! In addition the credibility of the other witnesses is untouchable even tho my fellow orthodox Christian does not believe in mine. Every foolish accusation has a simple explanation but it is not owed to the internet or to any website. No wonder His Beatitude chooses not to deal personally with the web.”

Personal reservations and potential legal challenges aside, Gabriel stated there are no forgeries among the disputed documents. She writes:

Shortly after the second change of wording to the synod’s first decision, our small group of reunited Antiochians became convinced that there would be several decisions issued and all would be official. Honestly, there are no forgeries. Who would dare? No one I know (or would be married to) would need to do anything so silly.”

Gabriel then admits:

“I did not see H.B. (Editor: His Beatitude, that is Patriarch Ignatius IV) sign anything. I did see on two separate occasions, my husband and two other members of the H.S. (Editor: Holy Synod) emerge from his office. Fr. G. (Fr. Antony Gabriel) had the document(s) in question in his hand. I saw those documents. They are the ones that people (some, of astonishing irresponsibility i.e. Bp. Mark) are actually claiming on official letterhead to be forgeries. I do not know the bishop who is fortunate enough to have the folks in Canton, Ohio call him sayidna, but he is incautious. I do know this for sure: During a private visit with H. B., when less than 20 seconds of time was taken up by church talk, he did say that the Feb.24 decision can never be changed. As I said, he clarified it. Then, he clarified it again. Then, it was again clarified.  After that visit, while my old friends and I lingered a bit, Fr. G. left for Lebanon in a car that had been waiting for him. When he arrived at his destination, I spoke to him and he told me that he had just faxed the signed documents he had to M.P. (Editor: Metropolitan Philip) from there using the facilities of yet another old friend. Although my experience in dealing with the goings on in that part of the world tells me that things are often in flux, I do not believe H.B. will leave M.P. hanging out to dry while he supports those who make accusations against him. As to the mention of the court of public opinion: I have never cared much about what goes on in that arena. Whether or not people believe me, is important only when those people matter to me. I cannot control what others believe. I mean to convince you of anything. I saw some comments and have commented on them. Do what you will with that. Lynn”

There is no reason to doubt what Lynn Gabriel relates. In response to an inquiry from OCANews.org, Fr. Antony Gabriel confirmed that the postings did indeed come from his wife. Her postings, therefore, add much information to the story of the disputed June 17th documents, but they raise even more questions about the events she describes.

First, we now know who took the disputed document from the Patriarch’s office - Fr. Antony Gabriel.

And we now know who faxed all the documents to Englewood - Fr. Antony Gabriel. 

Lynn Gabriel’s description of the events are somewhat confusing, though. 

• Why didn’t Fr. Antony just fax the documents from the Patriarchate itself?  The authentic June 17th document was subsequently faxed from the Patriarchal office  - the Patriarchal fax machine clearly worked.  Why the need for a hurried drive to Lebanon to send the three documents? 

And Gabriel’s explanation of the events seems even more confusing: 

• Lynn Gabriel claims that all the June 17th documents are authentic; that is the disputed June 17th “Auxiliary” document, its English translation, as well as the undisputed “To Assist” Patriarchal text Metropolitan Philip now refuses to recognize. (Read that story here.) Gabriel explains that there was a decision on February 24th, which was “clarified” by the first June 17th “Auxiliary” document  and its English translation, taken by her husband to Lebanon,  and then “again clarified” by the  June 17th “To Assist” document sent by the Patriarchal Secretary. A “clarification” of a “clarification”, Gabriel claims,  should not be considered unusual for, “in that part of the world....things are often in flux”.” But Gabriel ignores the obvious question raised by her scenario: Knowing, in his wife’s own words, of  “the second change of wording to the synod’s first decision” why would Fr. Antony not just fax the final decision? Why fax all three - especially if one already knew the wording in the first two documents had already been changed to the third? 

There must be more to the story. 

The Timeline of Events Surrounding the June 17th Decision

If we are to go forward in seeking answers to these questions, we must first go back. 

In the first week of June, 2009, six bishops from the Archdiocese went to Damascus, without Metropolitan Philip,  to meet with Patriarch Ignatius IV to “clarify” their status in light of the Holy Synod’s decision of February 24, 2009.  (Read that story here.) Several among them, including Bishop Basil of Wichita, had private audiences. (Read that story here.

Upon his return to Wichita, Bishop Basil revealed some of what he and the Patriarch spoke about in a frank discussion with the clergy of his diocese held June 10, 2009, Participants in that discussion have told OCANews.org Bishop Basil related that:

• The Patriarch emphasized that “a bishop must be a ‘bishop of a place’ (“usquf al-usqufiya” in the Arabic version of the Damascus Constitution ? the Archdiocesan constitution approved by theSynod in 2004 but subsequently disregarded by Metropolitan Philip).


• The Patriarch reiterated to the bishops that no bishop has authority over another bishop and that, as a result, only a Synod had authority to move a bishop. His Grace disclosed that the Patriarch follows this canonical principle in the treatment of the bishops (other than the Patriarchal Vicar) within his own Archdiocese, respecting their exercise of authority within their bishoprics.  For example, the Patriarch does not approve or deny requests for ordination within the bishoprics of these bishops but refers such requests to the bishop of the bishopric for which the ordination is requested.  His Grace explained that the bishops within the Patriarch’s own archdiocese function in a conciliar manner with each other rather than as subject to the will and control of the Archdiocesan primate (in this case, the Patriarch).

•  Finally, the Patriarch emphasized that he could not act alone in clarifying the February 24 decision but that the members of the Holy Synod would have to address the matter together in council. 

Given this apparent repudiation of Metropolitan Philip’s positions, (who has insisted on his authority over the other bishops, including the right to transfer them at will, and to approve all ordinations,  as well as refusing to act in a conciliar fashion),  one can see why the North American bishops were all smiling, with one notable exception, in a photo released by the Patriarchate following those meetings. (See that photo here.)

The Synod Meeting In Damascus

That  long awaited Synod meeting to “ address the matter together in council”  was held Damascus during the week of June 15th. 

According to sources close to the Patriarchate, who spoke to OCANews.org on condition of anonymity, the meeting could only be described as tempestuous.  Several key facts were disclosed:

•  All of the official members of the North American delegation were permitted to attend the Holy Synod meetings as guests of the Patriarch. There were eight  members of this delegation:  Bishop Joseph of Los Angeles, Frs. Antony Gabriel, Joseph Antypas, Messers. Fawaz El Khoury, Walid Khalife, Dan Braun, William Morrison and Kory Warr. The first five speak Arabic, the last three do not. 

• The Synod meeting began with the reading of a letter by Metropolitan Philip strongly urging the Synod to eliminate the status of bishops in the Archdiocese and to treat them explicitly as “auxiliary bishops.” The meeting quickly went “downhill” as members of the Holy Synod disagreed with Metropolitan Philip’s interpretation.  Some of the Arabic-speaking members of the North American “delegation” went so far as to disparage, accuse and even threaten members of the Synod and their flocks.  Debate raged for days. 

• The discussions centered on the distinction between the Arabic terms “mu ‘aawinoon” and “yusaa ‘idoon.” The first term is an adjective that describes the status of the bishops as that of “assistants”, and the second term is a third-person plural verb that describes the role of the bishops as “assisting.” The faxed documents published by the Archdiocese used the former term and translated it as “auxiliary” - which is the way that word is translated in the English version of the Damascus Constitution. (In that Constitution, though, it is used to describe the single auxiliary bishop whose appointment the Metropolitan is entitled to seek  - and  whose role is clearly different from that of the other bishops in the Archdiocese.)

• After days of “brutal” argument over this distinction, carefully working through the wording of the intended resolution, the members of the Holy Synod arrived at a general consensus, but not unanimity.  Reports indicate that, when the resolution was finally presented for a vote, three staunch supporters of Metropolitan Philip voted against the June 17th decision as adopted. * (Read that decision in Arabic and English here.) Multiple copies of the approved document were then prepared for the signature of the Patriarch, and submitted for his final signature and seal.

Skullduggery 

In the course of these submissions, supporters of Metropolitan Philip placed before the Patriarch a modified text representing to him that it was the agreed-upon final text.   The Patriarch signed and sealed the modified text in error, but immediately recognized his error and recovered the document. 

Unfortunately, it now appears three attempts like this were made, one of which went undiscovered long enough for Metropolitan Philip’s supporters to make a copy of the documents with the fraudulently obtained signature and seal.  

The Decision(s) Reach America

On Saturday, June 20 all the bishops of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America received from Archimandrite Ibrahim Daoud, personal secretary to  Patriarch Ignatius IV  electronic copies of the official Arabic text of the Holy Synod of Antioch’s resolution rendered June 17, 2009.  Bishops Alexander, Basil, and Mark immediately informed their clergy of their receipt of this text and provided English translations of that same text. (Read Mark’s email, for example, here.)

On Monday, June 22, Metropolitan Philip directed Archdiocesan staff to post on the Archdiocesan website three documents  along with a statement that the documents were “precisely as transmitted to the Archdiocese Offices.”  It conveniently did not say from whom, and where, or under what circumstances. All three documents, termed official “Synodal Resolutions” by Metropolitan Philip - two in Arabic and one in English - bore the apparent signature and seal of His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius IV. Yet, only one of these Arabic documents conformed to the Arabic text provided by the Patriarchal Secretary to Bishops Alexander, Basil and Mark. The other two documents contained fax headers and a number of extraordinarily odd features, the most glaring of which was the insertion of the English term “Auxiliary” into an otherwise Arabic text. (Read about those documents here.)

Why did +Philip do this? 

Sources close to Englewood indicate that Metropolitan Philip had been informed that his DHL package from Damascus scheduled to arrive that day would contain an original signed copy of the fraudulent Arabic English versions of the resolution, which he could then use to claim, in the words of Lynn Gabriel, “that all the documents were official”.  But the substitution was discovered in Damascus,  and the original of the modified  document on which the Patriarch’s signature had been fraudulently obtained had been removed.... 

The Patriarchate Speaks
 
On Wednesday,  June 24, recognizing the mass confusion  among clergy and laity alike in North America resulting from Englewood’s posting of all three documents on the Archdiocesan website, two of which seemed to be conflicting resolutions in Arabic,  the Patriarch directed his staff to post the official Arabic and English versions of the Holy Synod of Antioch’s June 17, 2009 resolution on the Patriarchate’s website.   Archimandrite Ibrahim then provided this same information to all of the bishops of the Archdiocese, including Metropolitan Philip. Both versions matched the text distributed earlier, electronically. to the bishops on June 20th. 

To resolve the confusion reigning in their bishoprics, Bishops Alexander, Basil, and Mark immediately informed their clergy of the Patriarch’s direction in this matter  - while Metropolitan Philip directed Archdiocesan staff to post on the Archdiocesan website a statement that, in essence, refused to recognize as official any resolution of the Holy Synod unless the signatures of all the Metropolitans present was affixed thereto - despite earlier postings (at his direction) of documents signed only by the Patriarch and represented as official.

The Controversy Becomes a Scandal

In the end, Lynn Gabriel told the truth. As with many eyewitnesses, she just didn’t understand the full import what she was seeing.  She could  honestly express her outrage that “ there are no forgeries”, if by “forgeries” one understands  falsified seals and signatures. She really did see her husband emerge from the Patriarch's office bearing an authentic signature and an authentic seal.

But the term “forgery” encompasses  more than just the falsification of a signature on a true and correct document;  it includes the process of adapting documents with the intent to deceive.  And there has clearly been an intent to deceive the Archdiocese as to what the Synod of Antioch has decided.  In this case, Gabriel’s eyewitness testimony, confirmed by her husband, would appear to make him neck-deep in it.  

We know now Father Antony Gabriel, who speaks and understands Arabic, was present during the meeting of the Holy Synod and was one of five of the North American Antiochians who would have been able to follow the proceedings and discussions.  

We know now, at the very least, Father Antony took possession of documents, two of which he must have known at that time were inconsistent with the final decision of the Holy Synod.  At the very least Fr. Antony knew when he took the documents from the Patriarchate’s office that they should not have been signed.  What were he, and his associates on the Synod, thinking? 

At worst, he was involved in a deception to perpetrate those documents as decisions of the Synod.  That such was indeed attempted can be seen by reading postings on the website ‘The Antiochian.com” which not only claimed  “early knowledge” of the text of the forgeries,  but awaited their posting, heralded their release on the Archdiocesan website, and has subsequently consistently attempted to define the real June 17th decision in terms of the earlier, repudiated versions as if they were the authentic decisions. 

Even assuming the best, it is now clear why Fr. Antony did not use the fax machine at the Patriarchate - there might have been questions raised about a patriarchal signature (and how it was obtained) on a false decision and its English translation.  Assuming the worst, it becomes quite clear why he would be was swept away by a waiting car to Lebanon from where the “forged” documents could be safely faxed to Englewood, without questions, from the house of “an old friend”. 

Meanwhile, in Englewood

Metropolitan Philip received the faxed documents from Father Antony no later than the morning of Friday, June 19. Yet+ Philip waited until the afternoon of Monday, June 22, to post anything. Then, surprisingly, he posted not the authentic, final decision he had received from the Patriarchate, as had the other Bishops. Rather, +Philip had the headers removed from the three faxed documents from Lebanon, combined them into one pdf., and then posted the bundle as "evidence" of  Synodal support for his interpretation of the matter!

Did he really think he could get away with it?

Apparently, yes.  +Philip  believed that he was going to receive two documents by DHL that day,  one of which would have been an original version of the altered "official English translation" of the Holy Synod’s resolution, signed by the Patriarch.  He was betting he could then claim, with document in hand, that this was indeed, an official English translation; and the bishops could then be eventually forced into “auxiliary” status. When he failed to receive the altered English version that he was expecting, Metropolitan Philip  changed tack, but kept on the same course, ordering the altered, bundled version of the documents posted on the Archdiocesan website anyway, hoping he could bluff his way through as he had in the past.

But this time his gamble failed, as the Patriarchate called his bluff  by unexpectedly posting the authentic decision itself. 

So like any great backgammon player, +Philip  upped the stakes.  He now demanded Synodal signatures as the condition of recognition of the decision, buying him a least time, if not victory. +Philip can only be hoping to use the time to influence members of the Synod to reverse their votes;  or alternatively,  if they refuse to sign, he will continue to attempt to refuse to recognize the decision of June 17th, stalling a resolution past the Palm Springs Convention.  And as in backgammon, he was counting on his opponents being forced to accept the challenge - or resign the game.

The Mistake

Unfortunately for +Philip, administration of the Antiochian Archdiocese is no longer a matter of his personal decisions.  It now involves multiple players, and the currency of play is no longer brute power, but simple integrity - from which real authority flows.  In the light of the Patriarchate’s postings, +Philip’s handling of the fraudulently obtained documents has made his participation in the attempted deception apparent, and his credibility and integrity have been severely damaged.   Like a child caught lying, who chooses to lie even more to cover his tracks, Philip’s most recent gambit  failed even before it began.  Metropolitan Philip was counting that no one would notice that the Holy Synod, by its own rules, is required to sign the meeting Minutes - not its decisions. +Philip's gamble has lost again.

In short, the Patriarchate has spoken, - even if its voice is no longer recognized in Englewood.  The February 24th decision stands - and the June 17th decision stands. The Bishops in America are not +Philip's auxiliaries, no matter how much he desires it.

The trouble in Antioch which began, in +Philip's terms, as “a minor administrative issue”, grew into a ecclesiological controversy  and is now a full-fledged scandal concerning the integrity of the Archdiocese’s administration during +Philip's term. It takes no prophet to infer that its finances will soon be called into question. The real question is: how will the bishops, clergy and faithful of Antiochian America resolve this scandal as they gather in council in Palm Desert in three weeks? 

-Mark Stokoe

_____________________________

* One has to wonder how, considering the strong and determined opposition reportedly undertaken by Metropolitan Philip’s supporters to the use of the term “yusaa ‘idoon” in the final  decision, some of Metropolitan Philip’s supporters continue to assert with a straight face that the difference between “mu ‘aawinoon” and “yusaa ‘idoon” is inconsequential and that both terms mean “auxiliary bishop.” Go figure.

 

 
 

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