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8.24.09


In Responding To Questions, NY/NJ Search Committee Calls Itself Into Question


• Offers New Rules For Floor Nominations Requiring “Real Time” Verification
• Defends Brum Candidacy With Campaign Testimonial from Bishop Benjamin 
• Committee Member  Admits Never Having Read SIC Letter Concerning Brum
• New Evidence Emerges Detailing Fr. Brum’s Role in '99 Wheeler Dismissal


Less than a week after offering its “Final Report”, the  Diocese of New York/New Jersey Episcopal Search Committee offered a second clarification of the election process to be followed at the Special Assembly on August 31st, establishing new rules that require “real time” verification of episcopal candidates nominated from the floor. In a late night posting on August 22nd, the Committee also gave a spirited, if controversial, defense of the candidacy of Fr. David Brum which has raised more questions than it answered, as one member later admitted to never having read - or heard - about a key piece of documentation regarding Fr. Brum candidacy. Finally, in response to the Committee’s actions,  new evidence has emerged revealing Fr. Brum’s intimate participation in the events and circumstances surrounding the dismissal of OCA whistle-blower, Deacon Eric Wheeler - a role that Fr. Brum has failed to disclose in his Statement or biography. This combination of new evidence, overlooked evidence, campaigning on behalf of one candidate by the Committee, and constant “clarification” of rules in order to meet an artificial deadline of August 31st, has led to calls that the Assembly be postponed. 


The August 22nd Memo


Writing to the clergy and laity of the Diocese, the Search Committee “clarified” the process of nominations of candidates from the floor, requiring that any nominee from the floor “...shall be added to the list of candidates subject to a vote of the Assembly subject to a valid affirmation on the part of the nominee to accept nomination. Therefore, it is essential that clergy and lay delegates who may plan on making a nomination from the floor ensure they have proper contact information (i.e. phone/cell number) of the proposed nominee so their consent may be verified immediately. This consent must be available in real-time, at the moment of nomination. Unless such consent is received, a name will not be added to the list of nominees subject to the vote.”


It was not the discouraging of floor nominations or the new rules attached to it, but the defense of Fr. David Brum in the new Memo, that has raised most eyebrows though. The Committee wrote:  “We also are compelled to communicate to the clergy and lay delegates to the Extraordinary Assembly regarding Father David Brum’s association with the past administration of the Orthodox Church in America. Three such inquires were presented to us from within our diocese. It is noted that there have also been whirlwinds of Internet “chatter” of suspicious origins, dubious character, and vacuous value on this subject, so we want to make it clear that we have no intention of having our words twisted or construed in any such way as to be seen as a reaction/reply to these havens of gossip and conjecture. We do, however, feel it is important to state the following to you, and for the record.”


The Committee continued:


“The Search Committee contacted the Chairman of the Special Investigative Committee (SIC) of the Orthodox Church in America that investigated the previous administration of the OCA: His Grace, +Benjamin, Bishop of the Diocese of the West. Two direct questions were posed, for the record, to His Grace in light of his capacity as Chairman of the SIC:


“Was Father David Brum found guilty of anything by the Special Investigative Committee?”


His Grace’s answer: “No.”


“Was Father David Brum found to be a part of the ‘inner circle’ that misappropriated funds in the OCA?”


His Grace’s answer: “No.
” (Emphasis in original)


In addition, Bishop +Benjamin offered many positive statements regarding the excellent pastoral and administrative work of Father David Brum since his parish assignment in the Diocese of the West. We offer our extreme gratitude to His Grace for his openness, cooperation, and assistance in this matter.” 
(You can read the Committee’s full Memo here.)


Campaigning?


This extraordinary defense of  Fr. Brum, plus the addition of Bishop Benjamin’s “positive” testimonial regarding his “excellent pastoral and administrative work” was immediately questioned across the internet as having violated the Committee’s own pleas that there be no “campaigning” and strictures against anyone else being seen to be doing what they, in fact, just did.


Writing to the Orthodox Forum, Ms. Nina Tkachuk Dimas (whose brother, Fr. John Tkachuk, was a member of the Special Investigative Committee) pointed out that the first question to Bishop Benjamin “was invalid.” “It was not within the competence of the Special Investigative Committee,“ Ms. Dimas explains, “ to find and/or declare anyone guilty or not guilty of anything. It was the responsibility of the SIC to investigate.” Dimas continued:  “In responding to the 2nd question, which has more than one part, +Benjamin stated by his negative answer that Brum was not a member of the inner circle of the Kondratick administration, thereby contradicting the report of the committee (SIC) which he himself chaired.” (Read page 24 of the SIC Report here.)


Dimas concludes:  “In the 3rd point, by publishing +Benjamin’s more than positive assessment of Fr. Brum’s functioning in the DOW, the Search Committee has violated the regulation forbidding campaigning.”


More Questions


The Committee took pains to state  - in prose worthy of Spiro Agnew - that it was not writing in response to the “whirlwinds of Internet “chatter” of suspicious origins, dubious character, and vacuous value on this subject.” Rather than be seen to be answering the “nattering nabobs of negativity”, the Committee stated it was responding to inquiries from local clergy such as the following August 19th “Open Letter to Frs. Lickwar and Kedala”, (two members of the Diocesan Search Committee) by Fr. John Shimchick of New Jersey.  In his personal response to Fr. Shimchick, Fr. Kedala makes a startling admission. 


Fr. Shimchick writes:


“Dear Frs. Joseph and Samuel,


Since we will apparently not have the opportunity to raise the following issues during our upcoming Extraordinary Diocesan Assembly, I would appreciate if you would clarify why the “strong disagreement with [the] proposal to nominate Fr David Brum to the episcopacy”, as expressed on another occasion by the majority of the members of the OCA’s Special Investigative Committee to His Beatitude Metropolitan JONAH, was overlooked by the members of our own Diocesan {Episcopal) Search Committee?*  Also, while you as a Committee have chosen not to follow their inability to recommend Fr Brum, why should we as clergy and lay members of the Assembly not accept their concerns and act appropriately?


Thank you for your consideration and response to these questions.

In Christ,
Archpriest John Shimchick”


He then appends his Open Letter:


“At a recent meeting of the NJ Deanery I asked how could the process of choosing a new bishop for our Diocese be perceived as more “conciliar,” and there was really no response. Now, I would ask that in the least, questions directed to both of you by a Diocesan priest should receive an answer - to this point I have heard from neither of you.  Many of us within the Diocese of NY & NJ have been frustrated by the intense necessity pushing the process in choosing a new diocesan hierarch, no doubt the most important decision required of us in nearly 30 years. We have expressed this frustration in meetings of the NJ Deanery and even His Beatitude Metropolitan JONAH, at one of these meetings, seemed willing to respect our concerns for delaying this action until the fall. Yet, this process has been driven almost insanely in a most uncomfortable and inconvenient manner (given the late summer date for the Assembly).


Morever, the inability to ask even the most basic questions to any of the candidates is particularly frustrating. Some on the Internet have offered some ideas, directed to each of the candidates. Besides the particular questions I submitted to you regarding Fr Brum, I would be interested in knowing how each of the candidates, all priests, would perceive their role of serving as a hierarch - particularly within our Diocese.

Only Fr. David Mahaffey, as part of his biographical statement, offered some “Thoughts on Episcopacy,” and they, no doubt formed by his experiences within Eastern PA, express the position mostly in terms of obedience, doing “nothing without the knowledge, consent or blessing” of the hierarch.


We hear about the need to follow the Canons, and we had a canonical scholar as our hierarch. Yet I wonder if the models we need and want to hear more about are to be found elsewhere Fr. John Nehrebecki likes to say that during a parish meeting one should bring out the “real” church bylaws - the Gospel book. If it’s within the Gospels and the person of Jesus Christ that we would find our model of life and leadership, then what would we want our potential leaders to say about these things What I have not heard from any of the candidates, and maybe they have just not been given the proper opportunity to speak about it, is that leadership is not rooted in blind obedience (we have had enough of that) but in love and mutual accountability- of which we have had little experience.


Jesus says about leadership: “For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves” (Luke 22:27) And again, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:7). Would our hierarch come as one who simply needs to be served and obeyed, or does he come to serve and do so with love as did our Master? How are we to know at this point?


It’s been said that you can’t change your enemies or anyone else until you “love them and let them know you love them.” For 30 years we have been yearning for a hierarch who would want to know and love us, and in ways that would be recognizable, in ways that we would know. I suggest, and I will be among the first and most obedient, that such a leader will not only be loved, supported, and honored - he will be obeyed. But love needs to come first.


Dear Frs Joseph and Samuel - I do not wish to be disagreeable to either of you. But I am frustrated and confused about this desire to rush the selection process. I am frustrated in an unwillingness to be open in discussion, to allow and respond to questions. I think that the process in choosing our new hierarch has indeed lacked a truly “conciliar” dynamic (I would even suggest that we shelve the word until we are really willing to explore what it might and should mean for us).


Though the process may be flawed, I would hope that the opportunity to ask our candidates questions of significance, that will bear on the life of our Diocese for perhaps many years to come, may still be found. Again, I look forward to your response.


In Christ,
Archpriest John Shimchick
"


Fr. Kedala’s Admission


In an August 22nd  reply to Fr. Shimchick’s letter, copied to the clergy of the Diocese, Fr. Kedala defends the Search Committee’s decisions by stating that  “Our most credible Diocesan Council approved wholeheartedly these three names of which included Father David Brum to be nominated for our diocesan Bishop without dissension.(sic)” He then makes a most amazing admission:  "I have not personally read this letter that you are speaking of. This letter seems to have been written by four former members of this committee.” 


Never read the letter of Special Investigative Commission members regarding Fr. Brum?  Who else on the Committee did not read that pivotal letter? According to Fr. Lickwar, in his reply to Fr. Shimchick, “ The committee worked diligently for hundreds of hours in meetings, teleconferences and research to identify and propose five top candidates for nomination.  All five top candidates were thoroughly researched; their biographies obtained and a criminal background check and in depth interviews conducted.“  And after hundreds of hours in meetings and thorough research,  no one thought the letter of the SIC was relevant information to bring before the Search Committee  - or to share with Fr. Kedala?


 Fr. Kedala’s admission calls into question the entire Search Committee process. What else did they overlook or ignore about candidates?


Sins of Commission, Omission, or Both?


In addition to not dealing with the Letter of the SIC members regarding Fr. Brum, the Committee missed at least one other aspect of Fr. Brum’s career. But this was not their fault. It was Father Brum's. In his personal Statement to the Committee Fr. Brum writes: 


“In August, 1998, I was transferred to the omophorion of His Eminence Archbishop PETER, and the Diocese of New York and New Jersey, where I was assigned as
Rector of Saint Gregory Palamas Mission, Flemington, New Jersey. During my time at Saint Gregory’s, I gained a new appreciation for the hard work and special challenges faced by  mission priests. Being new to the Diocese and to New Jersey, it was during this time that I also came to better appreciate the supportive role of clergy brotherhoods.

In 2000, I was appointed as Secretary to Metropolitan THEODOSIUS. I must admit that when I  was first approached about this appointment, it came as a surprise to me.”

Fr. Brum omits one key fact that might have mitigated his surprise at his appointment, and been of interest to the Search Committee.  That is, from 1998 - 2000, in addition to being a parish priest in New Jersey, he was also working in Syosset on a regular basis offering legal, canonical, and public relations advice to both Robert Kondratick and Metropolitan Theodosius. This was noted by former OCA Secretary Paul Hunchak in a 2006 interview with OCANews.org where Hunchak stated:

“In June 1999 John Kozey (OCA Audit Committee Chairman) blew the whistle. As an aside, I recall that Fr. Kondratick spent hours that summer shredding documents from his private filing cabinet that held, among others things, the only records of bequests given to the OCA. It was a rather late Spring cleaning. 


The All American Council in Pittsburgh in August 1999 was so hard for me, because I knew the game was afoot. The team of Richard Rock and William Turbey (a co-worker dubbed them the “ecclesiastical tailors”) were running around in the background, writing letters, arranging the cover-up, and a newly-hired Church employee (Fr. David Brum, now Secretary to the Metropolitan) was also writing, trying to change the Statute behind the scenes. Meanwhile, the Council was happily going on as if nothing was happening, because no one knew what was really going on...”

Neither in his Statement,  nor in his CV listing his work assignments, does Fr. Brum mention being at Syosset in 1998-2000. 

In addition to trying to “change the Statute” of the OCA, what else was “this newly-hired Church employee, Fr. Brum” doing and writing? OCANews.org has obtained eleven pages of  memos and documents written by Brum during this unmentioned period of Syosset employment.  They indicate Brum was not just an “enabler” of Kondratick and +Theodosius as the SIC warned in May 2009,  but that Brum played a key role in the firing of Deacon Eric Wheeler in August 1999 and in the subsequent cover-up of the true nature of those events. Hunchak, the Secretary of the OCA may not have known what was going on in this period - but Brum, already a member of Kondratick’s "Inner Circle” 
 clearly did.

Among these eleven pages of  newly discovered memos are ones from Brum directing +Theodosius on how to handle Wheeler’s termination. In a memo entitled “Comments on the letter placing Protodeacon Eric Wheeler on a six-month leave of absence” Brum advised the Metropolitan: “Do not have even a second thought about your rights in doing this”, “have him undergo a psychological evaluation” “it is imperative that Father Bob be forbidden (yes, forbidden!) (emphasis in the original) from making any statement, public or private, about this, other than acknowledging that Wheeler is on a leave of absence.”


That Brum was knowledgable of the where’s and why-for’s of Wheeler’s termination is made chillingly clear in his advice to the Metropolitan about where to place the terminated and suspended Protodeacon: 


“It would be clearly wisest to attach him somewhere other than St. Sergius Chapel, preferably a church in which he will have a limited “consituency” and where there is a priest whom you trust “to keep an eye on him”.

Topics in other memo’s include “The reasons for (Wheeler’s) termination are...”, and an explanation of “Why was the review of the chancery operations done?”.  (The “Chancery Review” was the public reason given for terminating Wheeler, so as to cloak the real reason. Among the five phoney reasons Brum suggests, the final stands out even now:  “To align all Chancery functions and structures with current and future expectations of the Church on the Chancery as we move into the new millenium.” ) The memos include a “Suggested Agenda Format for the Administrative Committee Meeting” that followed Wheeler’s termination, which detailed,among other things, the “ Strategy for informing and responding to Metropolitan Council Meeting questions...”  Included as well are two drafts of Wheeler’s termination letter from +Theodosius, both with the date left open (“September ---, 1999) and an essay entitled “Concerning the obedience owed to the diocesan hierarch by members of the clergy in matters of church discipline, including assignments” in which Brum may clearly be seen to be bucking up a timid Theodosius to do Kondratick’s bidding in removing the troublesome Treasurer.   


Clearly, despite his protestations of five years of ignorance, Fr. Brum knew something about Kondratick and +Theodosius’s shenanigans during the seven years he worked there. For as these memos indicated, during the crisis years of 1998-2000 his job at Syosset was to help remove the whistle-blower, and explain those actions away to the Synod, the Administrative Council, the Metropolitan Council and OCA Audit Committee.


Fr. Brum may state that  “when I was first approached about this appointment, it came as a surprise to me” - but his meteoric rise from new Othodox priest to Secretary to the Metropolitan in less than 2 years is hardly a surprise in the light of his intimate involvement in the tragic events of 1999-2000 when the OCA scandal was breaking for the first time.  The memos make clear Fr. Brum had been a key, close and trusted member of the “Inner Circle”  to Kondratick for almost 18 months prior to his official appointment as Secretary to the Metropolitan.  


He just forgot to mention any of it...


The Vote


In the end, Fr. Kedala can only justify the Committee’s actions by saying: “Father David Brum had fulfilled all the requirements of the statutes and the other prerequisites of the diocesan Episcopal Search Committee.” He concludes his note to Fr. Shimchick by stating:
“The only answer I have for those who have apprehension about electing Father David as our Diocesan Bishop is to vote for someone else at the Extraordinary Diocesan Assembly.”


But is that good enough?  The Diocese has been praying for the past month  “That the Lord our God will bestow upon us the gifts of discernment and wisdom; that with faith, hope, and love we may be guided in nominating and electing a true and faithful shepherd to be the Bishop of our Diocese, fulfilling His will unto the good estate of Christ’s Holy Church.”


Fr. Shimchik remarked “... this process has been driven almost insanely in a most uncomfortable and inconvenient manner.”  As a result many have asked the Metropolitan that the vote be postponed.   Given the diocese’s 30 years of neglect, the haste now, the lack of proper vetting - evidenced by the Committee’s failure to find key evidence, and the admission of a Committee member himself that evidence they had was ignored - the lack of real conciliarity by not allowing any questioning -  at what point does one just say “Stop!”?

Would it not be “wise”  and “discerning” to regroup, and restart this process in a more open, conciliar, transparent and thorough  manner? Certainly this way has not worked.


Isn’t doing it right more important than doing it fast?


- Mark Stokoe
_____________________
*The May 2009 SIC Letter To Metropolitan Jonah


“Your Beatitude,


Most Blessed Master, Bless.


As members of the former Special Investigating Committee, we write to express our strong disagreement with your proposal to nominate Fr. David Brum to the episcopacy.
During our investigation, it became clear to us that Fr. Brum, while a part of the administration of the Chancery, was a key member of Robert Kondratick’s “inner circle.” In this position, he, along with Fr. Joseph Fester, was a confidant of, advisor to and enabler of the former Chancellor in his scheme to misappropriate, hide and cover up the theft of funds from the Church. Fr. Brum himself was one of those who cashed checks, made the proceeds available to Kondratick and failed to enquire as to the purpose or use of those funds.


He was in a unique position, as Secretary to former Metropolitan Theodosius, to know of the financial and moral lapses committed by that hierarch.
We believe the Church would better be served by those who in no way are associated with this most sorrowful period in its history.


Asking your Archpastoral Blessings,


Priest John Tkachuk

Priest Philip Reese

Dr. Faith Skordinski

Dr. Dmitri Solodow”


(Editor's note: The sole member of the Committee not to sign the letter was the Chairman, Bishop Benjamin of San Francisco.)

 
 

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