10.15.07 More From The Diocese of Western Pennsylvania
Report of Your Metropolitan Council Representatives:
Last fall, this Assembly elected us to three-year terms as your Metropolitan Council (MC) delegates. It has been a year of tremendous suffering during this time of great crisis facing the OCA. While there have been some positive developments, little has been done to restore trust between the central church administration ('Syosset') and the people of the Church as the scandal nears the two-year mark.
The MC Meetings
Although the MC generally meets twice a year, the past twelve months have seen meetings in December 2006 [part of which was a joint meeting with the Holy Synod], and March and June 2007, with a fourth meeting scheduled for next week in New York — all because of the turmoil that has shaken the OCA.
Changes in the MC
One positive development is obvious at MC meetings. Over the past 15-20 years, the MC had become an impotent body, rarely asking questions or seeking answers, and habitually rubber-stamping whatever was presented to them by Syosset. (This should come as no surprise to those of you who attended Diocesan Assemblies between 2002-2004, when Gregg reported this same impotence to you.) The membership and mood of MC has changed over the past year. More members are actively involved, asking hard questions. Some gifted members have been elected from other dioceses. There is a new spirit, and an acknowledgment of the fiduciary responsibilities of the MC. Still, there are some members who rarely speak or contribute. But the MC today is not what it was five years ago.
There have been some positives to report on the national scene.
A new (and expensive) computer system was installed, replacing the system installed about 7 years ago.
A new Chancellor, Fr. Alexander Garklavs, Secretary, Paul Bodnar, and Director of Communications/ Ministries, Fr. Andrew Jarmus were hired and began working at Syosset within the past 90 days.
Due to huge drops in income, a full and part-time Syosset staff that had grown to nearly 30 has been cut to fewer than 20.
The first outside audit since 1999, for 2006, was released this summer. Although it is not the unqualified audit that the OCA always received through the late 1990s, it is the first audit of any kind, after years of inferior (non-audit) compilation reports.
The MC vacated the membership of the Administrative Committee that effectively controlled the pursestrings of the OCA for so many years. New MC committees for Finance, Investment, Audit, and Charity were established. Fr. Reeves was named Chair of Charity.
Three MC members were elected to a new Ethics Committee in June. Gregg Nescott is one of the members.
The MC in June adopted Best Practices, after a year of debate. Among the Best Practices are Ethics, Conflict of Interest, and Whistleblower Protection policies that apply to every employee of the central church, all committees, the MC, and the Holy Synod. Although it may seem ironic that a church would have to adopt Best Practices, events of the past years demanded it.
Of course, such policies are only as good as the people working under them.
The MC dismissed the previous general counsel for the OCA and is searching for a new attorney.
The 2008 All American Council (AAC) is expected to be held at the Pittsburgh Hilton, now under renovation, in July, August, or November 2008.
A spiritual court determined after a trial that former Chancellor Robert Kondratick should be deposed, and the Holy Synod agreed, defrocking him this summer. He has appealed and his appeal will be heard by the Holy Synod next week.
Our late Archbishop Kyrill reinstated Gregg Nescott to the MC in May after suspending him in March, following an allegation that an article Gregg wrote dealing with ÒThe Truth, Conflicts of Interest, and For the Good of the ChurchÓ revealed confidential information from the Special Commission on which Gregg was serving. After reviewing the evidence with three senior priests of the Diocese that demonstrated that all 30 statements made by Gregg had previously been publicly disclosed, Archbishop Kyrill reinstated Gregg to the MC, saying that the suspension should never have occurred.
Thanks to the efforts of the Chair of the new MC Charity Committee, $90,000 of the 9/11 Appeal Funds that had been diverted were paid out to New York State Interfaith Services, to aid 9/11 victims.
In December 2006, Metropolitan Herman appointed a Special Commission to investigate the financial wrongdoing in the OCA, following findings by the MC and Holy Synod that huge sums of OCA monies had been diverted to personal use, including improper credit card purchases. The Special Commission was chaired by Archbishop Job, with members Bishop Benjamin, V. Rev. Vladimir Berzonsky, V. Rev. John Reeves, Gregg Nescott, and Dr. Faith Skordinski. A very preliminary report of the Commission was presented to the MC and Holy Synod in March.
Unfortunately, there have been tremendous setbacks in the past year.
As a supplemental report to be presented by Fr. Reeves will detail, the Special Commission collapsed three weeks ago, with the resignations of four of the six members: Archbishop Job, Fr. Berzonsky, Fr. Reeves, and Gregg Nescott. Among the reasons given for the resignations were that the Commission’s investigation had been interfered with and thwarted by the Metropolitan and officers of the OCA, and that the Interim Report still has not been released to the whole OCA, seven months after its disclosure to the MC and Holy Synod.
The financial situation of the OCA is grim. In 2006, only 78% of anticipated income was collected. Nearly $500,000 has been billed by the law firm hired by the Metropolitan to investigate the scandal, and not all of it has yet been paid. Monthly payments on a $1.7 million loan taken last year to pay bills and repay some of the special appeals that were diverted or disappeared, remain a tremendous drain on limited OCA funds. The Fellowship of Stewards (FOS) that only a few years ago was expected to bring in as much as $300,000 a year collected only $25,000 by the beginning of June 2007. The annual Missions Appeal brought in only $65,000 in 2006, and, budgeted for $115,000 for 2007, received only $35,000 through June 2007. It seems clear that the people are not responding to financial appeals from the OCA while the scandal remains unresolved.
Because of the failure by the Metropolitan to permit the Special Commission to continue its work without interference from anyone outside the Commission, the Diocese of the Midwest began withholding its Fair Share payments to the OCA in August. This action deprives the national church of approximately $55,000 per month, or about 1/4 of all Fair Share income. It has been reported that the Diocese of New England may consider a similar step at its Assembly in two weeks.
A significant asset, the residence of the former Chancellor in Syosset, owned by the OCA, had to be sold, netting $540,000 which was applied to the $1.7 million loan.
Critical programs of the Church in Missions, Youth, Evangelization, and Education have ground to a halt, with little or no money available to them.
Significant missing funds have still not been accounted for. For instance, over $280,000 was collected in a special 9/11 Appeal. An OCA committee met in the months after 9/11 and recommended allocating the funds to several beneficiaries, including NYC firehouses that lost firemen. Only $25,000 was disbursed, to Pentagon survivors, until the recent $90,000 payment to NYSIS, mentioned earlier. But the balance, more than $165,000 has not been accounted for, or distributed.
These extraordinarily difficult and perilous times for the OCA require everyone to offer prayers that the truth about what went so terribly wrong will be revealed to the whole Church, so that repentance and healing may begin.
Some continue to argue that with the deposition of the former Chancellor, the hiring of new personnel, the installation of new computers, and the adoption of Best Practices, the crisis is over and all is well.
Your Metropolitan Council representatives beg to differ.
We will continue to represent you to the best of our abilities, working for the day when the truth will be told and the OCA may truly begin to heal.
V. Rev. John Reeves