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Synod & Council Meet in Chicago

The Synod of Bishops of the OCA met in a delayed Spring Session May 2-3 in Chicago, followed immediately by a delayed joint meeting with the Metropolitan Council on May 4; which in turn was followed by a scheduled second day of meetings between an expanded Lesser Synod and the Metropolitan Council on May 5th. The delays were caused by the postponement of the previously scheduled meetings by Metropolitan Jonah. To accommodate his schedule all sessions were held at Christ the Saviour Church, which is adjacent to the Midwest Diocesan Center, in downtown Chicago.

The resolutions passed by each body fully express the tenor, tone and consensus achieved at each meeting. In short, the decisions that emerged tell all.

The Synod Resolves

According to the Minutes of the Spring Session, just published on, the meeting “began the process for establishing clear policies and procedures for the Holy Synod to allow for better communication and accountability within the Holy Synod.” From now on, as these Minutes themselves attest, everything gets signed by everybody so there are no misunderstandings. This included the daily private minutes of the meetings. This is in direct response to the Metropolitan’s assertion that although he agreed to a Leave of Absence in Santa Fe, as witnessed by the Minutes of the previous meeting of the Synod, he never signed anything, so he felt it was not binding. (You can read a full copy of the published Minutes from the Synod here.)

To summarize: The Synod reported on actions in several areas of concern in the Church, “...including a case of clergy interference in another diocese, an unresolved clergy misconduct case and concerns about a monastic community.” As a result, the Synod “...received the assurance of His Beatitude’s definitive action in the case of the monastic community and will prepare official documents in reference to the clergy misconduct case. The Synod also acted decisively in the case of the clergy interference case.” Translation: The Synod has long complained that a female monastic community in Washington was being created without the proper canonical permissions; and as recently as two weeks ago, the Metropolitan proposed to the Cathedral parish that they sell their old parish house to these nuns as a home for that community. Moreover, the same day as these decisions were adopted, the Dean of the Metropolitan’s cathedral, Fr. Joseph Fester, was “relieved of duties” ; a surprising decision by the Metropolitan, who, according to sources close to the Synod, had only recently proposed Fr. Fester’s name to the Synod to become Chancellor of the OCA.

The Synod adopted 4 resolutions, understood as “temporary” policy guidelines, regarding the internal life of the Synod in areas in which the Statute is ambiguous.

No More “Locum Tenens” For the Primate

First, the Synod resolved “....that the Metropolitan shall appoint a locum tenens from among the other hierarchs of the Synod, and not himself, so as not to burden the Primate with supervision of multiple dioceses.” In short, the Metropolitan can no longer serve as “locum tenens” for any diocese in the future, having served, often simultaneously, as the “Locum Tenens” for the dioceses of the South, Midwest, and the Bulgarians, in addition to his own responsibilities in Washington and as Metropolitan. This is no minor adjustment; for in +Jonah’s case, it means he will permanently lose the $3,000 a month stipend he was receiving, until recently,from Dallas.

Officers Work for the Synod, Not Just the Metropolitan

The second resolution entitled “Officers of the Church”, concerns both the Chancery and the Staff. The Synod clearly stated “The Chancery of the OCA is located at 6850 N. Hempstead Turnpike, Syosset NY 11791.” Furthermore, the Statute’s terms - “and other officials” - will encompass “...the membership of the various offices and departments of the OCA which function under the authority of the Holy Synod, the Metropolitan being the presiding officer of the Synod”. In short, the Primate can now recommend dismissing someone, but this decision must be confirmed by the Synod. Moreover, all departments , such as the Office of Sexual Misconduct, formerly under the authority of the Metropolitan, will now be understood as operating under the authority of the Synod - the Metropolitan being its presiding officer.

An Expanded Permanent Lesser Synod

The third resolution concerned the role of the Permanent Lesser Synod, which is now formally explained as “...the executive committee of the Synod.” The Lesser Synod will meet six times a year, rather than two. It will be charged with “oversight of all matters -- except those enumerated by Article II, Section 7 c of the Statuet", which defines the duties of the Metropolitan. As before it will consist of the Metropolitan and Secretary of the Synod, but will now include not just one other diocesan bishop, but two. More importantly, the Metropolitan, as chairman of the Permanent Lesser Synod will now have to “... seek and receive prior agreement of the Lesser Synod for all programs and initiatives relating to the external and internal affairs of the Church. The Lesser Synod also exercises oversight of the officers of the Church and its various departments and offices on behalf of the whole Synod.” At the meeting the Synod elected the following to the body for 2011-2012:  Metropolitan Jonah, Chair, Bishop Nikon, Bishop Tikhon, and BishopBenjiman as Secretary of the Synod (replacing Bishop Tikhon).

Chancellor’s Duties Redefined

The fourth resolution clarifies the specific role of the Chancellor. He is now understood as the “.. chief of operations of the Synodal Chancery of the OCA, and is accountable to the entire Synod of the OCA.” The previous structure of four equal officers, adopted by +Herman, in the wake of the Scandal, has now been abandoned. This is not a return to the Kondratick model, however. There are now numerous safeguards, restrictions and controls that can hold even a Chancellor as “COO” accountable. And more importantly, the will on the part of the Synod, Staff and Metropolitan Council to do so.

The SMPAC Report

The Synod heard several reports. Among the most important was the a formal presentation from the Sexual Misconduct Policy Advisory Committee (SMPAC). The SMPAC reviewed their “white paper”, more commonly known as the SMPAC Report, as well as the documentation which had been requested at Santa Fe. The Advisory Panel, which included two members of the MC

( including the Chair of the Ethics Committee), a pyschiatrist, a lawyer, and a former member of the MC who is a licensed forensic sexual misconduct investigator, “...offered their thoughts on several specific cases now under review and expressed their deep concern for the proper and unequivocal implementation of the current Policies, Standards and Procedures of the OCA on all levels of the Church and in all cases. They spoke of the critical need for the Holy Synod, the clergy and the faithful of the Church to be educated in the proper response to allegations of sexual misconduct and noted their great concern over a prevailing attitude which prefers the ignoring of these problems or hopes for their disappearance.”

In light of internet speculation and charges that the SMPAC Report was a conspiracy against Metropolitan Jonah, or had been altered in any way by the former Chancellor towards this end, “...The SMPAC assured the Holy Synod that their documents and their concerns were solely a means to document lessons learned, not to bring accusations against any individual person or organization. They expressed their fervent desire to receive the Holy Synod’s assurance, not only that proper policies are put in place, but most importantly that they be followed.”

The Synod “....thanked the members of the SMPAC for their presentation and for their dedication and commitment to the critical matter of clergy sexual abuse. They also expressed their gratitude for their professional advice and counsel in these matters and asked for their continued guidance to the Holy Synod. The Holy Synod acknowledged the errors and failures documented and pledged to both continue their review of the SMPAC report and to address any of the failures and weaknesses so that they are not repeated in the future. “

As a result of the presentation, “The Holy Synod blessed the OCA legal committee to receive a copy of the SMPAC report; and the The Holy Synod instituted a spiritual court to investigate the alleged distribution of confidential and sensitive documents to unauthorized recipients”.

The Synod interviewed unnamed episcopal candidates. There are currently two election processes underway in the OCA: in the Bulgarian Diocese and in Alaska, both of which are scheduled to hold elections before the AAC in Seattle at the end of October. The Bulgarians have announced their candidates: Archimandrite Alexander Golitsyn, a tenured professor at Marquette University; and Fr. Paul Gassios, the Dean of the Toledo Cathedral of the Bulgarian Diocese. Fr. Paul was a recent finalist in the Diocese of the Midwest process.

In Alaska, the “arranged marriage” of the Diocese with Fr. Gerasim (Eliel), the former Abbot of Platina monastery, has it appears, been called off. After two years at St. Vladimir’s Seminary Fr. Gerasim has indicated he wishes to complete his degree, which requires a third year. He wants to learn more. At the same time, it was reported to OCANews that 5 of the 7 deaneries in Alaska are considering nominating Archimandrite Juvenaly (Repass) as the next Bishop of Alaska. Fr. Juvenaly, the former librarian at St. Tikhon’s monastery, is a 1981 graduate of St. Vladimir’s, who has spent the last two years teaching at St. Herman’s Seminary in Alaska. He was previously a finalist in the episcopal selection process in the Diocese of Western Pennsylvania.

The Metropolitan Council Meeting Follows

On Wednesday May 4th, the Metropolitan Council began its meeting at 10 AM with a brief oral report by Metropolitan Jonah, There followed 5 uninterrupted hours of Reports and discussion which the OCA press release on the Council (read it in full here) described thusly:

‘• ”In his report, Bishop Melchisedek, Interim Chancellor, spoke of the work that was done during his two months, including specific issues dealing with the leave of absence of Metropolitan Jonah. He informed the Metropolitan Council that he will continue as Interim Chancellor until the 16th All-American Council. ....

• “Archpriest Eric Tosi, OCA Secretary, reported on his activities. He spoke in length about the difficult work in the chancery ....

• “In an executive session, the members of the Sexual Misconduct Policy Advisory Committee [SMPAC] discussed their work, focusing primarily on the methodology used in compiling its confidential report, which was presented at the Holy Synod session preceding the joint meeting.”

• After a long and intense discussion, the Metropolitan Council resolved to recommend strongly to the Synod the cessation of any activity of Priest Gregory Jensen in matters pertaining to sexual misconduct, and that any candidates to fill a position in the Office for Review of Sexual Misconduct Allegations must be vetted by the SMPAC. The MC also resolved to commend the SMPAC for its extraordinary work.”

The Council broke for “lunch” at 3 PM; except for the Synod, which continued meeting uninterrupted until 4:30 PM. The joint meeting resumed at 5 PM and continued until Vespers forced the gathering to stop again at 6:15 PM. It was then agreed that a large evening session would not be helpful given the events of the day - although some additional meetings of various Committees were held to determine the way forward in light of what had been heard.

Day Two

The following day the Council began at 9 AM, with a brief lunch at 1 PM, and concluded at 6 PM. Except, that is, for the Ethics Committee, the Lesser Synod and the Strategic Planning Committees, all of which continued to meet after the last general session was concluded. No one felt an additional day of full meetings necessary, so the Friday morning meetings were cancelled. What had needed to be said had been said, what needed to be reported had been reported.

L’affaire Garklavs

“Ahab did not like Micaiah because he never prophesied good concerning him, but evil; probably he liked the sycophant son of Chenaanah better; yet might Ahab have escaped.... had he but stopped his ears to flattery, and opened them to faithful counsel....” (Second Preface to Bronte’s Jane Eyre)

The Synodal resolutions regarding the Chancery and Chancellor, as well as the Council’s subsequent recommendations, follow months of turmoil caused by Metropolitan Jonah’s abrupt termination of Fr. Garklavs at the beginning of February. +Jonah denied having terminated the Chancellor, stating rather he had every right to ask for and “ ...accept his resignation.” Fr. Garklavs, as has been previously reported, disputes this characterization of events, and the former Chancellor appealed to the Synod. As he agreed to abide by the Synod’s decision, the Synod ultimately “...accepted his resignation” following their meeting in Santa Fe.

In “accepting his resignation”, however, Bishop Melchesedek, the “interim” chancellor, reported in his address to the Metropolitan Council, that he had subsequently hired subsequently Fr. Garklavs as a consultant to the Chancery staff, sans an office, with the blessing of the Synod. This action was applauded by the Council’s Human Resources Committee, after which the “....Metropolitan Council resolved to recommend that Archpriest Alexander Garklavs remain as consultant to the Interim Chancellor for his institutional knowledge and continuity of the work of the Chancery; that his compensation and benefits continue until he receives another appropriate appointment; and that his severance package of four months’ salary be deferred compensation.” The Council also passed a unanimous resolution citing Fr. Garklavs for his honorable and distinguished service to the OCA.

The Human Resources Committee was then “...mandated to organize the search for a new Chancellor by the next meeting of the Metropolitan Council in September 2011. Council members authorized funding to conduct the search.”

Day two saw several other significant actions as well:

• “The Metropolitan Council heard the report ....of the Crisis Management Committee, which presented its report in executive session. An extensive discussion on failures in the Church to adequately respond to critical issues was held.”

• “The Governance Committee presented a report in executive session on various critical issues in Church government.”

• “Out of executive session, the Internal Audit Committee, represented by Michael Strelka, presented their findings and outlined the reporting procedures leading up to the All-American Council. The Metropolitan Council thanked the Internal Audit Committee for its professional work. To date, all stavropegial institutions have been examined or have had their external audits examined, with the exception of one institution slated to be audited during the summer.”

• “Melanie Ringa presented her extensive Treasurer’s report, after which it was resolved to make some minor adjustments to the 2011 budget. Among the adjustments are funds for further OCA web site development for the Feasts and Saints section; translations into Spanish; funding for psychological evaluation of all ordination candidates; and funding to cover costs realized by the change in the Metropolitan Council meeting venue. She also presented a specific budget for the 16th All-American Council.”

• “Also in executive session, the Metropolitan Council received the report of the Ethics Committee and reviewed various ethics complaints that had been raised. The ethics committee was blessed by the Holy Synod to conduct an investigation into those ethics complaints and to present a full report.”

Other Reports

The Council heard and reviewed other reports as well; from Fr. Eric Tosi, the Secretary of the OCA (plans for AAC are proceeding well, and the new website is scheduled for a June/July rollout); the Treasurer ( the budget is in the black; operating expense are down ) as well as Committees on Communication, ( including a visual on the spiffy, new OCA website) Council Development, the Pre-Conciliar Commission, External Affairs, Charities, the Legal Committee, and a host of others that testify to the active, ongoing life of the OCA, even amid troubles at the top.

Speaking of the important Strategic Plan, Fr. John Vitko “...presented the latest revised version of the OCA Strategic Plan. The Metropolitan Council resolved to recommend that the revised Strategic Plan be posted on the OCA website for continued feedback from the Church and that it be incorporated into the agenda of the upcoming 16th All-American Council. The formation of a Post-Conciliar subcommittee of the Metropolitan Council to oversee implementation of the Strategic Plan after the Council was recommended.” This is conciliarity in action, not just among governing bodies, but in actively reaching out to every member of the Church to become more involved in defining how the OCA is to carry out the Church’s mission, witness and service in the future.

What Happened In Chicago?

The Metropolitan Council meetings were overwhelming characterized by very frank, open, respectful, honest, serious, professional, disciplined dialogue between the bishops, the Council and the staff present. The Metropolitan spoke little.

There was a real spirit of cooperation, even as natural and normal questions of governance arose, and whose responsibility for this matter or that matter was discussed and clarified. The Synod openly respected the MC’s guidelines for Ethics investigations. The Synod also agreed that in any drafting of future policy “guidelines” for the Statute, should they include anything beyond the internal life of the Synod, they will now formally include the Governance Committee of the Council for advice. The Council, on its part, made sure that the Lesser Synod could, and would, attend its next MC meeting in September as well - and that such events become the norm in the future. Having the Bishops present at the MC meeting is generally seen as a benefit, as problems can be addressed and misconceptions resolved quickly. The old regime’s tactic of “divide and conquer” is no longer in place, nor desired. Such growing conciliarity amid a real desire to be accountable, only bodes well for the future of the OCA. The Synod is working on finding its balance, and the Council continues to develop and grow in confidence and professionalism, so as to be of ever greater assistance to the Synod. The hard work and consensus achieved in Chicago proved again, the truth of these other words from the Second Preface of Jane Eyre:

“The world may ...find it convenient to make external show pass for sterling worth — to let white-washed walls vouch for clean shrines. It may hate them who dare to scrutinise and expose — to raise the gilding, and show base metal under it — to penetrate the sepulchre, and reveal charnel relics: but hate as it will, it is indebted to them.”

The internet is already full of speculation about Chicago and who was there, and what they did, and why, from people with agendas beyond that of the Church. They were not present and do not know what was said or done. The Second Preface to Jane Eyre, however, summarizes it well:

“....Men too often confound (what) ...should not be confounded : appearance should not be mistaken for truth.There is — I repeat it — a difference; and it is a good, and not a bad action to mark broadly and clearly the line of separation between them.”

That is what was done in Chicago. After two long days of questions, discussions and reports, Father Garklavs, upon leaving, received a loud, long and heartfelt standing ovation from all present. An hour later after a energetic singing of “Shine, Shine”, to conclude the meeting, the Metropolitan turned to bless the Assembly. Heads bowed. The weak “Eis Polla” that followed quickly faded into silence.

- Mark Stokoe


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