INVESTIGATIVE MEMO CONTRADICTS +NIKOLAI
OCANews.org has received a copy of a March 4th memo to the Lesser Synod of Bishops concerning the crisis in Alaska. That memo, which discusses both the allegations against Bishop Nikolai and those against his Chancellor, Archimandrite Isidore, flatly contradicts many of Bishop Nikolai's recent public statements, including that the crisis in Alaska is the work of a few "dissenting priests", that Archimandrite Isidore has been "exonerated" of allegations against him, and that the investigation into the Sidebottom incident is "closed".
In a continuing effort to re-define the crisis in Alaska as a "faulty canonical process" rather than about allegations regarding his actions and those of his Chancellor, Bishop Nikolai posted several new documents on his diocesan website on Friday, March 14th. In addition to a transcript of his opening remarks given at a press conference a day earlier, (Read a transcript of the press conference here) +Nikolai revealed his March 3rd letter to Metropolitan Herman as well as a "canonical summary" consisting of a long citation by Greek Orthodox priest and canonist, Fr. Patrick Viscuso, concerning Canon 6 of the Second Ecumenical Council . (Read the documents here)
In the newly released March 3rd letter the Bishop also makes a stunning suggestion that the Synod of Bishops decided not to investigate Metropolitan Herman's role in the OCA financial scandal, despite the Metropolitan's repeated assurances that no one was "out of bounds" to the new Special Investigative Committee (SIC).
The "First Response"
The Bishop's "first response" of March 3rd begins with a criticism of the Metropolitan for corresponding by email, rather than telephoning him, concerning a matter "most serious". The Bishop then continues:
"I do not, and will not, agree to the approach you have recommended. Your preferred reaction can easily be viewed as reckless, responsive to hearsay and allegations, lacking prudent attention to facts, and without regard for a biblical response to church discipline. I am confident you do not want a similar rush-to-judgment applied to your administration, for certainly terrible allegations have been made against youÉ and we have been correct in not 'investigating' those allegations based on nothing more than public opinion and the frequency of entries on an Internet blog.
My request remains unchanged: I am seeking the counsel of my brother bishops. I want their advice and their insights. After having heard from my brothers, and after having heard how each responds to what is factual and biblical, I will decide what action will be taken in The Diocese of Alaska. Be assured of this: this action will be deliberate, expeditious, gracious, and aligned with the counsel of Saint Matthew and Saint Paul, as well as others of the Fathers who speak to such issues.
A related concern is the packet I received on August 2, 2007, which I have chosen to not post or reveal as a whole unit. The title, 'Conspiracy Against NIKOLAI,' seemed, at the time, completely out of character for those who serve His Church in America. Given the timing of the events of this weekend and the timing of events in the previous twelve months (e.g., the significant delay in exonerating Father Isidore), I find it more difficult to defend against that characterization."
The letter ends as it began, with a request for a telephone call:
"Again, with respect and an appeal for dignity, I ask that you arrange a conference call with brother hierarchs so we can work on a plan of action that is for the good of my diocese and Our Lord's Holy Church."
Four points stand out in the Bishop's letter.
First, the Bishop begins by dismissing the allegations against him as "reckless", "responsive to hearsay" and based on nothing more than "entries on an internet blog". This is not true. The allegations made against Bishop Nikolai were not based on hearsay, but first-person testimonials by numerous priests and laity. These testimonials were published by OCANews.org after they had been sent to Syosset. The internet made them known; it did not precipitate them. The Bishop's actions did.
A March 4th memo to the Lesser Synod of Bishops by the investigators into the Sidebottom allegations, Fr. Alexander Garklavs and Fr. Alexei Karlgut, makes this clear. The memo begins:
"This Memorandum is to present to the Meeting of the Lesser Synod of Bishops several important points for consideration. Our presentation is based on the following information:
Letters received at the Chancery from the clergy and laity of the Diocese of Alaska, requesting intervention from the Holy Synod,
Letters from the clergy and laity of the Diocese of Alaska stating that Bishop Nikolai should not remain as Diocesan hierarch,
Letters from clergy and laity throughout the Orthodox Church in America appealing for intervention and investigation into the affairs of the Diocese of Alaska,
Numerous telephone calls have been received at the Chancery asking that the Holy Synod intervene and investigate the Diocese of Alaska,
Investigative reports and witness statements from the Sidebottom-Isidore Investigation ...."
The Memo goes on to state:
"The voice of protest from the clergy and laity of Alaska is not from a few individuals nor an isolated criticism. Rather we are witnessing an unprecedented collective alarm from exceptionally pious and obedient priests and people who have reached a breaking point. Their cries have been joined by numerous clergy and faithful from the 'lower 48' whose concerns about the North American heartland have become acute."
Specifically, the Memo states that these letters and the investigation of the Sidebottom incident accuse the Bishop of:
"Violations of Holy Canons of the Orthodox Church,
Violations of the Policies, Standards and Procedures of the Orthodox Church in America on Sexual Misconduct,
Repeated instances of abuse and intimidation of Alaska clergy,
Repeated instances of abuse and intimidation of Alaska laity,
Fostering an atmosphere of fear and mistrust in the Diocese..."
As a result, the investigators stated that:
"His (Nikolai's) remaining as ruling Diocesan Hierarch precludes the possibility of conducting an impartial and serious investigation."
In fact, Syosset has received scores of letters regarding the Bishop's increasingly controversial actions. That Syosset finally responded to them after the trickle became a torrent (following the recent tonsuring of a sex offender, and suspension of a protodeacon) hardly evidences 'a rush to judgment'. Quite the contrary.
And requesting a Bishop, accused by so many of his own clergy and laity of such misdeeds, to take a "voluntary" leave of absence so that an "impartial and serious" investigation can be conducted is hardly "reckless" by any reasonable standard.
Is the 'Fix' in?
If the Bishop's criticisms against Syosset's actions are flawed, and in some cases simply untrue, his threatening of Metropolitan Herman in particular is quite clear. The Bishop writes in his letter of March 3rd: "I am confident you do not want a similar rush-to-judgment applied to your administration, for certainly terrible allegations have been made against you and we have been correct in not 'investigating' those allegations based on nothing more than public opinion and the frequency of entries on an Internet blog."
"We", in this context, can only mean the Synod. Is the Bishop really suggesting that the Synod has agreed not to "investigate" the Metropolitan's role in the OCA financial scandal? Given the Metropolitan's repeated public statements that no one is above investigation, this is a most serious new assertion. It must be taken seriously, however, since Nikolai's assertion is self-incriminating. Any Synodal agreement would have involved +Nikolai, a member of the Synod himself.
If Bishop Nikolai's assertion is true, the new Special Investigative Committee (SIC) has not begun their work "unimpeded and unconstrained" as the Metropolitan has promised, most recently in his December 2007 apologia, "Speaking the Truth in Love". If Bishop Nikolai is correct, there has been "speaking", but no "truth" from the Metropolitan. If there is indeed to be no real investigation of the "terrible allegations" against the MetropolitanBishop Nikolai's assertion calls into question the integrity of the whole SIC enterprise anew.
The OCA website has published three reports in the past months on how the SIC is busy at work. Bishop Nikolai's claim must raise the question: At what? Bishop Nikolai now seems to suggest that, having blamed Robert Kondratick for everything, the Synod has agreed the Metropolitan gets a pass. Are 'little people' to be blamed while those in positions of higher responsibility are to be excused? The integrity of not just the SIC itself is at stake here; but given Nikolai's assertion, the integrity of the Synod and the OCA as well has been placed at risk. In this case, the proof is in the pudding; that is, the veracity of Nikolai's claim will be confirmed or proven false by the quality of the SIC's investigation and the thoroughness of its report on all involved. That report is now scheduled to be given to the Synod and Metropolitan Council in late summer.
The Investigation into Archimandrite Isidore
The Bishop also claims in his March 4th letter that Syosset is "significantly delaying" the exoneration of Archimandrite Isidore, his Chancellor, of allegations of public drunkeness and sexual harassment made by the former Dean of Students at St. Herman's Seminary, Mr. Paul Sidebottom. The Memo to the Lesser Synod, presented under the names of the investigative team who met with Sidebottom in Wichita late last year, not only contradicts the Bishop's complaint of delay, but his assertion that the Archimandrite has been "exonerated". The Memo reads:
"The following conclusions are based on the Investigation:
The sexual misconduct allegation made by Sidebottom could not be substantiated, however Fr. Isidore's excessive and public drunkenness did occur.
Fr. Isidore's psychological break-down during the binge did occur.
Although Fr. Isidore's specific comment, "Bishop beats me," * which was alleged by Sidebottom could not be substantiated, he did state that life with Bishop Nikolai is very difficult and verbally, emotionally and psychologically abusive.
Contrary to Bishop Nikolai's public claims, neither His Beatitude, nor our Investigation concluded that the matter of Fr. Isidore was resolved..."
Clearly, the matter of Fr. Isidore is not at an end, no matter how much the Bishop states that it is.
Hubris versus Obedience
If the Bishop's March 3rd letter may have revealed more of Syosset than the Metropolitan wished, it certainly revealed more of Bishop Nikolai than he might have desired. He writes: "After having heard from my brothers, and after having heard how each responds to what is factual and biblical, I will decide what action will be taken in the Diocese of Alaska." Despite the hubris, the Bishop is once again factually incorrect. The Synod of Bishops will decide; and +Nikolai's only choice now is between obedience or disobedience. He has already indicated by his "deliberate" and "expeditious" actions of the past week, to use his own words, that he has chosen the path of disobedience.
Of this the previously disclosed March 5th letter is evidence. There the Bishop writes: "In closing I have no intention of taking such a leave of absence and permitting an examination by committee which is neither specified by canon nor permitted to my conscience as an Orthodox bishop."
He repeated the same message at his press conference days later stating: " I’d like to say this is not about my role as Bishop. It’s not about public discontent. It’s not about Father Isidore. It’s not about a Reader that I tonsure. It’s not about offending Native culture. It’s not about my leadership style.
The only issue is whether or not The Orthodox Church in America will make its most important decisions in obedience to The Holy Scriptures and Church Law or not. I took an oath to protect the integrity of the Church, to uphold the canons and I will not betray that oath for any reason that is not supported by Holy Scripture and Church law."
Once again the Bishop is in error. It is about his actions. It is not about the canons or Scripture. The decision of the Synod to place the Bishop on a mandatory leave of absence after he refused a brotherly request to take one voluntarily, is fully within the canonical and scriptural norms of the Church, the powers given to a Synod of an autocephelous Church, and the previous practice of the OCA. Such disobedience to his brothers in the Synod is hardly "gracious" - no matter how much the Bishop seeks to cherry pick the Scriptures and canons.
A Showdown Looms
It is interesting to note that as the Bishop continues to speak and publish, the vast majority of clergy in Alaska have, by conscious decision, agreed to observe a public silence until the Bishop leaves, and an investigation begins.
Reports indicate that with the exceptions of the cathedrals in Kodiak and Anchorage, Metropolitan Herman, not Bishop Nikolai, is being commemorated during services, as per the Metropolitan's instructions. It appears the Bishop's writ extends no further than his presence.
Finally, on Saturday morning, March 15th, the OCA posted its preliminary financial reports for 2007. The documents showed the OCA ending the year 2007 with a surplus of $228,152 rather than an anticipated loss of $68,050. The new financial reports bolster the OCA Chancellor's recent remarks to the Anchorage Daily News that the OCA was "not necessarily hard-up for cash", calling into question the recent public assertions by the +Nikolai camp that the Alaskan crisis is really "about money". (Read the OCA documents here)
According to informed sources, OCA Chancellor Fr. Alexander Garklavs will not wait until Bishop Nikolai leaves Alaska before traveling there, as reported in the Alaskan papers. Fr. Garklavs will be traveling to Anchorage in the next day or two.
- Mark Stokoe
* The Memo misquotes what Paul Sidebottom wrote. The actual citation reads:
" Fr. Isidore said if Fr. Innocent (Dresdow) and I thought the answer was to send him back to Anchorage, we were wrong. Sending him back to "papa" was "hell" and "his death". It was at this point in the night that Fr. Isidore admitted "Vladyka beats me." (Read the entire letter here)