Stepping Up and Stepping Down
The scandal of the last two years - for the scandal began not in November 2005 with the publication of Protodeacon Eric Wheeler's letter to the Metropolitan Council on the internet, but with the delivery of that letter to the Synod of Bishops in October 2005 - has never been about the past. What is done is done. Nor is the scandal chiefly about our present, sad as it is. The scandal has everything to do with the future, the future of the OCA.
Our Sad Present
For two years the position of Metropolitan Herman regarding the scandal has not changed. In public and in private he has stated that although he was Acting Treasurer and later Metropolitan when financial misdeeds occurred, he was not responsible since he "did not sign any checks". Moreover, he claims he did not know of the misdeeds, was too trusting of those he placed in positions of authority, and whatever he has done in the past two years (ignoring the scandal, silencing priests, denying allegations, marginalizing the Metropolitan Council and Synod of Bishops, etc.), he did "for the good of the Church". His plaintive cry of defense against all criticisms of wrongdoing has been: "I did nothing."
While that may be the truth, it is certainly the problem. Whether the Metropolitan was a participant in, spectator or victim of the malfeasance that surrounded him is for a Special Commission to determine. What is known, though, is that for past 8 years as Acting Treasurer, Locum Tenens of the primatial throne and later as Metropolitan, he "did nothing" to stop it, even though he was warned in 1999, in 2004 and again in 2005 at a minimum. The Metropolitan "did nothing" although it was clear the OCA was slipping deeper and deeper into debt as monies were being misused. That the Metropolitan fails to admit this lack of fiduciary responsibility, for which as Primate and Chairman of both the Synod of Bishops and Metropolitan Council he bears chief blame, is the problem - regardless of his actions. This he fails to understand (or pretends to fail) even now. One might imagine this might be a "generational thing" - but hierarchs older than +Herman have grasped the issue.
As a result of this blind spot, all the positive steps the Metropolitan has undertaken on his own, or with the assistance of the Synod and the Metropolitan Council to deal with the scandal in the past 18 months - firing Robert Kondratick, launching the Proskauer Rose investigation, reorganizing the administration in Syosset, establishing the Special Commission, the trial of Kondratick, Best Practices, etc. etc., have been tainted by a growing perception that such actions may be predicated not only on a stated desire to resolve the scandal, but an unstated necessity - self-interest.
Thus, the OCA is currently in a self-generating and rapidly accelerating downward spiral, for the more good the Metropolitan attempts, the less credible it all becomes, and the less sustainable is the whole OCA. In the past 18 months the OCA has had to take out loans for nearly 2 million to repay diverted funds, but still owes almost $250,000 to various charities. Withholding has cut 25% of the OCA's budget, and it promises to only get worse as more dioceses take up the question of withholding. Syosset itself has admitted as much in recently preparing not one, but three budgets for 2008. It no longer budgets on how much money will come in, but on how much expected money will not.
Syosset has, in fact, given up on the future. Having eliminated all episcopal and departmental stipends, all departmental spending for the rest of 2007, Syosset has now eliminated the position of a full-time Director of FOS and Development as of January 1, 2008. It is a recognition of the fact that not only is there no money - there will be no money forthcoming under present circumstances. Syosset is on life-support, and only major surgery can save the patient.
There are those who still deny the issue is credibility, suggesting rather the disease is 'democracy' in the Church or 'anticlericalism'. Hogwash. People are withholding contributions to the OCA's Appeals and Charity solicitations not because they want to "vote". Priest, parishes and Bishops are witholding contributions to the OCA not because they are 'anticlerical'. They are not giving because they have reasonable cause to doubt that their gifts will get to where they are intended, or be used in the manner they desire. And that is a crisis of credibility, nothing else.
The disease that is eating like a cancer at the OCA may have started with the misdeeds of Robert Kondratick, but it the Metropolitan's own lack of credibility in dealing with it that has caused it to metatastize throughout the body,
This is not a problem of 'spin' or 'image'. This is about being honest and upright, about doing the right thing. Credibility can only be restored with a full complete and truthful confession, honest repentance, acceptance of the consequences in the hope of forgiveness, in the knowledge that God and His Church can both be merciful. Nothing less can restore credibility, or heal. To encourage forgiveness before confession or repentance is not genuine forgiveness, but enabling. It is presuming on God's and our mercy. If we are to be Christ's disciples we must follow what Christ taught, or we, too, will lack credibility - and our long defeat will continue unabated.
Mingo Junction was not an aberation, but a warning of what is to come as credibility frays more and more. Can the OCA survive an All-American Council in Pittsburgh in 2008 dominated by calls for "no confidence", "withholding", reducing the "fair share", and the like? We are in a downward spiral in so many ways - must we continue to turn and descend for eight more months until we reach the end of the lowest spiral?
The sad fact is that the Metropolitan has no plan for our future. Syosset has no plans to stop the descent, only the ability to triage, so as to prolong the duration of descent. The Church of St. Herman, of St. Tikhon, of Metropolitan Leonty, of Frs. Florvosky, Schmemann and Meyendorff deserves more than to be reduced to waiting for its demise....
The Metropolitan needs to put this suffering, his and ours, to an end. As the Metropolitan Council and Synod of Bishops are meeting this week, he should step up by stepping down. Nothing less will be credible. Nothing less will be healing. Nothing less will bring this to an end. Nothing less should be expected from the leader of the autocephalous Orthodox Church in America.