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3.17.06 From the Wall Street Journal online Edition

Orthodox Church in America Fires
Chancellor, Brings in New Auditor

March 17, 2006 12:34 p.m.

Faced with a former employee's allegations of financial mismanagement, the Orthodox Church in America said Thursday that it had fired the church's chancellor and hired outside firms to audit church finances.

Metropolitan Herman, the leader of the Orthodox Church in America, said in a statement on the church's Web site that the church had fired Chancellor Robert S. Kondratick of Syosset, N.Y. Father Kondratick was responsible for the financial administration of the denomination, which has about 400,000 adherents and is based in Syosset, N.Y.

The church said that it had retained a law firm to investigate allegations and also hired an accounting firm to audit church finances in 2004 and 2005 and monies collected through church appeals from 2001 to 2005.

Rev. Paul Kucynda, the church's acting treasurer, confirmed the church's statement last night. He said Father Kondratick was fired over issues of "obedience" and "authorization of expenditures," but declined to elaborate. He said the church will know more after the audit.

Father Kondratick was a parish priest and in the 1980s became secretary to the Metropolitan, who heads the church. Father Kondratick couldn't be reached for comment at his home.

The church's announcement came six days after eight church members, all attorneys, sent a letter to leaders on the church's Metropolitan Council, advising them of potential legal troubles if they did not investigate allegations they termed "credible." In response, the council's administrative committee met Thursday.

Father Kondratick is at the center of allegations of missing money, diverted cash and unaudited accounts brought by former church treasurer Eric A. Wheeler, who was fired in 1999 after complaining about the church's financial practices. Last October, Wheeler drafted a memo to the Holy Synod of bishops, the church's ruling body, detailing what he claimed were long-term, repeated incidents of financial mismanagement. "The prevailing financial climate at the chancery was always one of concealment," he wrote.

Wheeler alleged misuse of millions of dollars donated by Dwayne Andreas, the former chairman of Archer Daniels Midland Co., through his personal foundation and the company's foundation in the 1990s. Mr. Wheeler also accused church officers of using money to cover personal credit card bills and shortfalls in operating accounts.

Mr. Wheeler said that money that was supposed to build a conference center in Moscow with Mr. Andreas's gift money was instead channeled elsewhere.

Mr. Wheeler said it's also unclear what happened to more than $280,000 collected in memory of those who died in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001; all but $25,000 of that money is unaccounted for, Mr. Wheeler said.

The bishops didn't act on Mr. Wheeler's memo. Mr. Wheeler said he was, at one time, contacted by agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding his allegations.

His memo to the bishops was posted in January on a Web site by a parishioners group, Orthodox Christians for Accountability.

At least one Orthodox bishop and numerous high priests demanded the ruling body investigate. As more priests and parishioners complained, the church's governing body met on March 1, but didn't authorize an investigation.

Six days ago, the eight Orthodox church members sent their letter, insisting church leaders were obligated to act on "credible" complaints. "The need for an independent investigation is patently obvious," the lawyers wrote. They pointed out that "your failure to insist upon an immediate, full and independent investigation into these allegations is a breach of your legal duties as members of the Metropolitan Council. As such, you may be found personally liable in a court of law for breaching your fiduciary duties."

Reached by telephone Thursday night, one of the eight attorneys, Nicholas Skovran, Sr., of Raleigh, N.C., said Thursday's actions are just the start of a long process. "I'm afraid of where it's going to go," he said. "The allegations are quite serious and they haven't been paying attention and now that there's a bona fide audit, who knows what they're going to find?"

The Orthodox Church in America was originally founded as a mission and later became a diocese of the Orthodox Church of Russia, uniting Orthodox Christians of various national backgrounds and traditions. The Orthodox Church in America was created in 1970.


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