Friday, October 16. 2009
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Cogent, articulate, reasoned. This reflection should be required reading for everyone who sits on a parish council or a board of directors.
#1 Terry C. Peet on 2009-10-16 06:14
It is a genuinely frightening indicator of the tone of the culture abroad in the church today that the writer feels that such sensible (and obvious) points need to be made anonymously. Why on earth is it controversial to say, "Stewards of funds are accountable to donors"?
Several Orthodox jurisdictions have sown the wind, and they will surely reap the whirlwind; they will learn that a reputation for financial probity is fairly wasy to lose, and excruciatingly difficult to regain.
As Justice Louis Brandeis famously said, "Sunlight is the best disinfectant."
#2 Robert Allen on 2009-10-16 06:22
Indeed Robert. It speaks volumes.
#2.1 Robert Fortuin on 2009-10-16 10:22
I agree. Before the events of these past months I had little idea about how afraid many Priests are of the very people who should be supporting them and being a father in the best sense of the word.
I understand. When you have a family to support and your whole life tied up in a ministry the threat of it being taken away is very powerful. People stay close to the ground, work behind the scenes as best they can, and some are just trying to hold on until time does its work. What a sad way to have to live as a Priest but I really do understand.
I guess its why I, as a bi-vocational Priest, have been trying to step out more and more on these things. By doing this I may be more open to a sacking but at the same time the potential damage to me is much less then it would be to others. My brother Priests are by and large extremely good men who are trying to make the best of a very bad situation and I hope people understand this and pray for them in these times.
As for me I've long since moved beyond the shock and denial phase of all of this and realize that we're just in for some rough times ahead. I pray that light from heaven would come and illuminate us all but right now it looks like we're in for a long, rough, haul. The worst part of this, for me, is the pure irrationality of it all. It's like being in a world where down is up and white black and the whole archdiocese has plunged down the rabbit hole.
What helps me survive is the promise Christ made that the gates of hades would not prevail against the Church and the voice of St. Paul through the ages reminding me that "All things work together for good...". Because of this I presume there is meaning and value in all that we are going through even if I don't always understand it.
I don't have to be happy about things, I'm not. The books need to be audited. Our Bishops need to be assured that they are, in fact, Bishops in the authentic sense of the word, and trust needs to be restored between those who lead and those who follow. But I do trust that God will not abandon us in these days. We, even if we are often small people, have a great Faith and the answer is to root ourselves even deeper in its graces so the storms will not tear us out and leave us to die.
Be not afraid...
Fr John Chagnon
St. Elias Orthodox Church
"Gary Geha (now fallen asleep in the Lord), formerly Archmandrite George Geha was embezzling funds (approximately $200,000) to support a woman whom he had married and was supporting in a secret life."
THIS IS A BOLD-FACED LIE!!!! Gary Geha was the one who made the Antiochian Village WORK when the archdiocese refused to give it funds to grow. As a celibate, he informed +Philip that he had found a woman he was very interested in. He was told to think this over seriously before doing anything. +Philip then began to find reason to get rid of him. Gary Geha raised funds to keep the Antiochian Village operating and there was a descrepency of $20,000 not $200,000. Gary told +Philip that he would pay the Village back over the descrepency and that he was leaving to be with the woman he found. This when +Philip decided to prosecute Gary Geha in the court of law. Not only prosecute him, but they had the prosecuting attorney "throw the book at him." Via this and and the stress of it all, this led to Gary's untimely death. And +Philip lives high-on-the-hog spending millions not being accountable to anyone!
Ieditor's note: The facts were stated in a court of law, and sentence was passed, and we all mourn Fr. George's untimely death. The author's point was show that audits are a good thing, not to bring up painful memories.)
#3 Anonymous on 2009-10-16 06:41
Your article was wondereful! What would be even more wonderful is if you could get your hands on the mailing list for the members of The Order of St. Ignatius and send each of the members a copy of the article. Ditto for the members of our so-called Archdiocese Board of Trustees.
An audit which is above reproach, and other necessary measures discussed on this website, will only happen if enough money is withheld from the Archdiocese until they occur. That, I believe, is the unfortunate truth. As long as the money keeps flow to Englewood, nothing will get done.
#4 Disgusted Life-long Antiochian Orthodox Christian on 2009-10-16 06:57
You are correct about George Geha. He was then let go and he wed the woman and then sadly passed away. Good man, but very sad that this happened, it wasn't a good thing for the church at that time.
#5 William on 2009-10-16 07:29
Exactly put as Fr George, a wonderful loving person, was punished by Metropolitan P. as he renounced his celibacy and fellow "celibates" like the Met. and Bp Antoon abhorred anyone leaving their "ranks".
Better to burn ... or marry?
#5.1 Anonymous on 2009-10-16 10:06
Geha was truly a wonderful, loving person who gave 100% to the Church. He was a promoter and organizer. The Archdiocese refused to give the Antiochian Village money for it's growth and maintenance. He therefore, raised money himself to keep the place operating and to make improvements. Anyone who knew Gary thought he should have probably gotten married before ordination, but the right girl never surfaced. He was quite above board with +Philip regarding his intentions, but was asked to reconsider and think about what he was doing. He agreed. The next thing he knew he was confronted with a law suit over $20,000. The archdiocese refused to handle it quietly and took him to court. Gary did leave his celibate vows and was married, but the law suit engineered by +Philip took it's toll on Gary. He died from the stress....created by +Philip.
#5.1.1 Anonymous on 2009-10-16 15:51
Fr. George was a good hearted priest who was put in a very difficult position by +Philip. He related to me years ago how he asked for a raise after years on the job. Instead of a raise he said the Metropolitan "gave me a hat" (elevated him to archimandrite). I'm not dismissing any of Fr. George's wrongdoing, but some of the temptations that he succumbed to (like being encouraged to be ordained celibate in anticipation of becoming a bishop) were set forth by Englewood's "ways."
May the Lord be merciful to Fr. George's soul, granting pardon and remission of his sins committed both voluntary and involuntary.
#5.1.2 Disgusted Antiochian Priest on 2009-10-16 17:47
You put “celibates” in quotes. Do you have information that Metr. Philip and Bp. Antoun are not, in fact, celibate or are you merely spreading innuendoes?
Sic semper tyrannis,
#5.1.3 Nemo on 2009-10-16 18:43
"In a lawsuit wouldn’t reasonable people reasonably conclude that Metropolitan Philip and the Archdiocese Board of Trustees should have known better? Are major amounts of Archdiocese assets at risk?"
Good point, and in the very public arena in Southern California recently, the problems with Demetri were pointed out from the floor. By refusing to even discuss the situation, +MP and the achichincle have made themselves very vulnerable to a law suit in a suit-happy age.
#6 Glad to not be Antiochian on 2009-10-16 09:48
These are all very great reflections.
Of COURSE, and AUDIT.
Nothing less than that will do.
#7 Patty Schellbach on 2009-10-16 09:50
I have been the treasurer of two Christian non-profit organizations: one for 26 years and the other for 19 years. We have had an audit each and every year--and I consider the audits to be my friend. They assure the members and donors that my financial reports reflect reality. They assure the boards that policies and procedures adequately protect organization resources from misappropriation. And, they assure me that I have properly understood and applied the ever-changing requirements of the IRS.
I remember well the first question asked in my college auditing class many years ago: "Who is the person most likely to embezzle money from the corporation?" The answer was obvious: it is the person who handles the money (in other words me). My job is to create a financial system such that I am not able to embezzle--and those outside eyes that look at my work so very closely are an integral part of that financial system.
I think the accountability and assurance these audits bring are well worth the cost: slightly more than 1% of annual income. For organizations that depend on the trust, confidence, and good will of donors, and audit is not so much an expense; it is an investment that paves the way for future donations.
#8 Jerry Munk on 2009-10-16 18:33
Two points to the article:
1. A Big Four accounting firm does not preclude conspiracy. The author should understand it used to be the Big Five until one of them conspired with Enron to overlook good audit practices. To suggest the Big Four is the only qualified audit firm is not valid and thousands of accountants would take offense. The independence of an audit firm is, however, relevant, and when an audit firm is not independent, it should not be auditing. The state boards of accountancy would not appreciate even the notion of coercion, and only one person raising a concern would result in an investigation.
2. Firms normally would not enjoy considering the audit expense as a percentage of assets since its an annual operating expense. As an annual expense, it is considered part of the annual budget and its costs are expressed against the annual budget, not total assets.
Finally, the miserably anonymous author brilliantly expresses the reasons why a religious institution ought to never scoff and be first in line for an audit. I say miserable because Metropolitans Philip and Jonah should be proud of this priest, not mad at him.
An Orthodox church should hold itself to a higher standard than any other charity. Every Bishop and Metropolitan should be nothing less than full of pride when their church completes its audit and gets an unqualified opinion the financial statements are good.
It'd be great if Metropolitan Philip understood this and even greater if the people of the AOCA understand this process will take some time to adjust to...
#9 Daniel E. Fall on 2009-10-16 19:24
I don't see how +Metropolitan Jonah got into this. He was very open in the financial arena when he was the abbot of the monastery. I sat in on meetings there with the brotherhood where they, as a group, determined the future course of the brotherhood. The monks asked tough questions of him about finances, the direction the monastery was going, along with many specific questions about various monastery activities etc. Some of the questions were tough, the monks did not let up because +Father Jonah was the abbot and he answered them as best he could. It seemed to me that all was in the open including finances, there were no hidden agendas.
I am sure that he is the same as Metropolitan as he was as abbot, open and up front.
#9.1 Yanni on 2009-10-19 08:56
The author didn't sign his name, so I didn't want to assume it was an Antiochian priest, eventhough that was pretty certain. The point wasn't about Metropolitan Jonah; it was about the fact that any Bishop ought to reward this type of rhetoric and no priest ought to feel the need to be anonymouse to speak.
Further, it does seem fair to compare Metropolitans Philip and Jonah and your points bring something important to light about their differences.
How is it that two Metropolitans can differ so vastly in their decision making?
#9.1.1 Daniel E. Fall on 2009-10-20 12:39
I'm posting this here, as I cannot find his original letter or his clarification online - were they both removed - they should not have been. Magistrate Najjar is a very wise man in a position of authority who could help us. I want him to know that I read his letter out loud, so my mind wouldn't wander as it usually does, and I broke down crying 3 times before I finished it, in the same way that I broke down crying 3 times on the way home from the convention.
....Do you know how to get a court order for the audit process so it can begin soon? We look forward to hearing from you.
I have to concur with the good Father - audits are protective, not prosecutorial. I do disagree slightly, however, in that there are other national firms (sometimes referred to as "second tier" firms) that can do the audit and do it for less money. Firms like BDO Siedman, Laventhal and Horowitz, McGladrey and Pullen, Grant Thornton - all well qualified and completely independent.
I would take issue with Daniel only on the point that the accounting firm involved in Enron was later exonerated. My colleagues in the national accounting firms are of the highest integrity and devotion to their public interest. I believe the good Father would agree his intent was to avoid local accounting firms that might be subject to impairment of their independence.
Martin D. Watt, CPA
#11 Dn. Marty Watt on 2009-10-18 16:20
Exhonerated by the Supreme Court, yes, but collapsed, yes, and voluntarily surrendered its license to practice, yes..., and modified the Big Five to the Big Four, yes...
You can call me a nit, but I'd hardly say Arthur Andersen bode well in the Enron debacle and it was the Big Five before that event...
I would think any accounting firm that did an audit for the AOCA would not want a court challenge, so I'd venture to say national and even regional firms would be fine, small local- not the best plan, leaves too many questions...
#11.1 Daniel E. Fall on 2009-10-18 20:47
I was a co-CEO of a company and we had financial audits every year because we planned to go public and a financial audit is necessary in the public disclosure process. We did not, however, use a "top four" firm; we used a "second tier" firm, as Dn Marty suggests, and we never had any problems because we did not use a top four tier firm. So I agree with Dn Marty's suggestion about the use of a good, regional, second tier firm.
We also owned a separate company that did a portion of our manufacturing - for our company and for our competitors - and we chose NOT to have that business audited. So the idea that all entities must be audited as part of a "standard procedure"-- ie all parishes in the AOCA - is not based on standard accounting principles or procedures in the private commercial sector, so far as I am aware.
Given the fact the AOCA has never even offered the public anything resembling "standard procedure" financial statements (audited or not)
-- balance sheets, income statements, etc. -- an audit would end any and all speculation once and for all. Having an audit seems to me to be a very reasonable and sensible thing to do, unless of course there is something to hide.
The calls for an "all or nothing" audit (all parishes or nothing) seem to me to be disingenuous. It seems to be saying: "If you insist we do it, we are going to force you to do it, too."
I pray to God the AOCA Board of Trustees does not come back with this idea.
#12 Kevin Allen on 2009-10-18 19:18
Although the recent announcement to conduct an audit is nice, its not independent. Without wanting to say anything about anyone appointed, I would think that we would want a completely independant body to conduct the matter rather than subject these good people to unwarranted scrutiny on their own personal lives and finances. Would we have employees of AIG, Citibank or Lehman Brothers to audit the home office?
I think the only thing to make all happy is hire an independent accounting firm. Period. No one can question that decision, but the one reached recently just leaves the barn door wide open to attacks, innuendo and messiness
#13 todd harding on 2009-10-22 03:02
I am a former Big 4 CPA and now work for a much smaller firm. I am in complete agreement with the comments above about not requiring a Big 4 audit. Although they are all excellent firms, a Big 4 audit is not a guarantee. After all, it's not difficult to find an article like this:
"Accounting giant KPMG was hit with a billion-dollar lawsuit on Wednesday over claims its "grossly negligent audits" helped trigger the collapse of a top subprime mortgage lender at the start of the U.S. housing crisis...."
It's important to consider using smaller firms because I believe Big 4 fees will be used as an excuse for not doing an audit. I spoke with one of our audit partners today about a big job we are bidding on. We are competing with a Big 4 firm, and their fees are literally double what ours are.
#14 Peter on 2009-11-04 14:24
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