Wednesday, July 12. 2006
From Buttons to Missing Cookies, clergy and lay throughout the OCA are offering their perspectives. Please feel free to add your comments.
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My comment on all the recent "Reflections" is that a compilation of these outstanding and thoughtful insights on the state of the OCA should be submitted to The Orthodox Church magazine with a request for publication. Surely, they would provide a potent counterpoint to the self-serving dribble that so often emanates from that publication.
I am not, however, holding my breath!
#1 Kenneth R. Tobin on 2006-07-12 07:12
EXCELLENT REFLECTIONS !!!!
CANCEL THE LOAN IMMEDIATELY!!!!
This money will not go where it was intended to go originally anyway
#2 Anonymous on 2006-07-12 07:30
Mark, this is a great analogy.
I liked the last paragraph...I wonder if the culprits, responsible for this mess that our CHURCH is in, can figure out what you have written in this paragraph.
Couldn't it be considered honorable that some of our leaders have acknowledged that something IS wrong, they've taken certain steps to investigate what has transpired, and now, they realize that the misappropriated monies definitely need to be replenished and distributed to their rightful and intended purpose?
I have said many times in prior posts that the previous Chancellor had way too much control for too long over EVERYTHING with regard to the inner workings of the OCA.
It's easy for us to blame Metropolitan Herman, members of the Holy Synod, the Treasurer, Metropolitan Council members and the Administrative Committee members for not doing anything or protecting the Church better.
However, what we need to ask is if certain financial information was selectively, creatively and deliberately witheld from these people on a continuous basis in order to not disrupt the "inner workings" of the Church.
If indeed that is the case, then it will explain much.
Let's all have a bit more patience, myself included, wait for the posted (hopefully) results of the investigation and then put this nightmare to bed once and for all.
#4 Michael Geeza on 2006-07-12 07:54
Reading Mr. Warns' contribution, I got depressed, especially the part about paying the same bill three times. I've seen a lot of irresponsible claims on this website, but this one really takes the cake. A moment's reflection would indicate that this is a hat trick, and hat trick coming from someone who wants honesty and transparency.
Let's recreate the problem:
John Doe contributes cash to the 9-11 fund. Syosset takes the money, deposits it, and like the Red Cross and many others, has no clue what to spend it on, and they eventually raid that account and spend it on operating expenses. I think we all agree that this was out of bounds.
The scandal emerges, and the church secures a loan to pay back the 9-11 fund (and hopefully return these contributions to the original givers, since the 9-11 victim's families simply don't need any more money), we now are left with a loan with interest, the proceeds of which in essence paid for the operating expenses. Prior to that, we were loaning money at no interest from our own 9-11 fund to cover operations. Normal contributions to the church (Fair Share) pay for operating expenses in the long run. By getting an interest free loan from our own asset, Syosset actually saved money, because we haven't had to pay interest on it for the last several years. I know paradox is hard to come by on this website, but for all of us who have loaned money from, say our own 401k account to buy a new furnace, we know that such a maneuver, while unwise, and unethical for a non-profit, does not cost more money in the long run.
Before everyone starts the pileup, please note what I am Not saying:
I am not saying that the operating expenses are at an appropriate level, or that all expenses are appropriate.
I am not saying that they should have taken money from the 9-11 fund.
I am not saying that 9-11 widows are unworthy of support.
I am not saying that everything is fine back in Syosset.
* I"m not a terrorist, an OCA-flunkie, or some minion of Met. Herman.
But I am saying that claim that we're paying three times over for the same underlying expense is a crude, dishonest falsehood, served up hot for people who want to believe the worst. Maybe Mr. Warns believes this for himself, and so I don't accuse him of lying, but he is most incorrect in the way he does his accounting. Let's not hire him to be the next OCA treasurer.
And you wonder why Syosset is not listening!!
#5 The Green Lantern on 2006-07-12 13:50
The last kicker of Mr Warns reflection misses one critical issue. If people do the honorable thing and resign, who is left to clean up the mess and will they and are they capable?
The fire them all strategy doesn't solve a thing unless you hire outsiders, non-priests, and disinterested thirds at great expense.
Honor may mean fixing that which you broke, rather than running away from it. In the analogy, most parents would ask the child who ate the cookies. If the child answers I ate the cookies, the parent feels much better the child was honest. If they lie, the punishment is worse. Our Metropolitan has admitted mistakes and taken the full responsibility for them, shouldn't we feel better this has happened?
Mr Warns reflection got one point right and was right on. Metropolitan Herman is not the only one responsible for the 1.7M. It is the entire Synod and the returning MC members and a few of the accounting folk. Are we to condemn all of them? I think not. Should some of them resign? One did. She probably thought she wasn't the most capable person to help and I found her resignation to be very honorable. There are many others lacking the capabilities to help lead the church through the crisis, not sure what they are thinking today.
I understand and agree with the notion of conflict and recluse. It is unbearable to think the people that misread financial statements, failed to address the laity on shortfalls, etc., are the same persons making financial decisions, but is there really any choice at this point? The loan isn't something that anyone can walk away from. Debts are owed and must be paid.
Fear, if we are consumed by it in our lives, would have us believe this money to be in grave danger. Trust, if we lack it, would have us remove all of them by that fear. Neither of these are virtuous, but they can lead us to virtue when we exercise due care.
It seems fair and prudent that people expect additional oversight. Hopefully our Metropolitan or MC, who I support, realizes this is missing, or will read some of these posts, though I fear he refuses to be open minded just as other Synod members and the MC doesn't pack enough power to demand quarterly reporting against budget on the website.
Perhaps an oversight commission would be healthy. I remember reading about this somewhere.
In the absence of a new oversight group, I continue to ask the OCA administration for quarterly reports against budget along with the Statements of Cash Flows and Balance Sheets published on the website. If the balance sheets are uncertain, report only the Activity Statements for now.
We still don't know how the church is performing against the 2006 budget and it is July 12, so the administration hasn't really gone as far as they need to thus far.
Are there any MC members reading anything posted here?
#6 Daniel E. Fall on 2006-07-12 16:25
Our governance guidelines should have policies and procedures for dealing with conflicts of interest at every level of Church life. Conflicts of interest occur in every aspect of life of human relationship. Organizations must be able to designate honest brokers when such circumstances arise in order to reach fair and truthful solutions to problems. It is patently obvious that the Metropolitan, the Treasurer, members of the current administration, and maybe even the Metropolitan Council (given its apparent abrogation of responsibility) have conflicts of interests so deep that they are not able to be honest brokers in resolving this mess.
It appears that such policies and procedures on conflicts of interest do not exist. Therefore, in the absence of such governance guidelines, it behooves the individuals involved to take the moral high ground and, as some have already suggested, VOLUNTARILY recuse themeselves. Who would be left? I am not sure. Who would consititute a body of honest brokers? I am not sure. But what is obvious is that this needs to happen and happen soon. Those embroiled in these conflicts are living a fantasy if they think they can work us out of this breakdown in trust.
#7 Name withheld on 2006-07-12 18:41
I haven't visited the site for a while, but after catching up with the recent news, I'm even more revolted by the actions of Bishop Tikhon. I read Fr. Thomas Hopko's beautifully written, well-thought out and right-on letter.
How anybody, especially a Bishop, call that "ranting" and then make
spurious comments about Fr. Thomas, a well-respected scholar and former Dean of the Seminary, is unconscionable.
I always thought Tikhon had a screw loose - now I'm sure!
#8 Pauline Costianes on 2006-07-12 20:19
I wish I could respond to this post and the one from Fr. Ted, but for some reason I cannot open them.
Is there some secret to opening these posts that I am not privy to?
#9 Tina Rhodes on 2006-07-12 21:43
Wow. I was considering conversion to Orthodoxy.
I guess I'll hold off until the investigation reveals more.
I'm already in a Church that is corrupt and don't want to jump into another one.
#10 Anonymous on 2006-07-13 03:58
I agree with Michael. Further, it is reasonable and prudent for the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council to have an opportunity to review the final investigation report prepared by Proskauer & Rose PROVIDED THAT the full report is eventually (i.e. in timely manner) released publicly without redaction and uncensored, perhaps with a cover communique either jointly or separately by the synod and MC explaining how both entities will procede on the report's findings.
That said, several priests I have talked to are of the opinion that the final report will never be released to the OCA in general in its complete form. Their opinions are based on existing culture in Syosset.
I want to give Metropolitan Herman, who initiated the investigations and audits, the benefit of the doubt and pray that he will follow through with his stated promise to release reports fully. If the Metropolitan defaults on his promise... well, I don't even want to go there.
Terry C. Peet
#11 Terry C. Peet on 2006-07-13 08:56
Why are there no links to Orthodox News or OCL.org?
#12 George Matsouias on 2006-07-13 09:50
Mark Warns' lengthy exposition regarding the OCA crisis was most thorough and penetrating.
The first three paragraphs serve as a primer of sorts which only a lawyer, self-proclaimed prosecutor and investigator, could present.
From those three paragraphs to the last paragraph of his exposition, readers can get lost in the many tangents, that serve no useful purpose. What he presents in between, is far too verbose and serves of little use to our flock.
We should "cut to the quick" and seek what he suggests, in his last paragraph! Nothing short of a resignation by MH, will solve our dilemma.
The one interesting post is from another anonymous person. Suggesting we need honest brokers, not sure who, etc.
This goes to the points I made earlier people. A broken governance system, financial mismanagement by all in authority; all are responsible.
We can't fire everyone. The people that must leave are those that stand in the way of change for the better.
The rest of you calling for heads have not thought this through. If people resign, it should only be because they can't or won't help the church through the crisis.
Firing people is not a solution. It is only a path when the people are standing in the way.
A more sound solution would be an independent oversight committee. One without conflict of interest, like the CPA that loaned the money, for example.
#14 Daniel E. Fall on 2006-07-14 17:00
A couple of comments:
First, in my prior post, I want to clarify, the CPA contributing cash does have a minor conflict of interest.
Second, the anonymous poster "considering" joining the church should recognize that these problems may be because priests are not always financial experts. The financial problems do not reflect the general way our fine church functions, nor do they reflect Christ.
#15 Daniel E. Fall on 2006-07-14 19:57
There are three more serious problems in Mr. Warns' post that I would like to address.
First, he suggests that the MC is in a hurry to make this loan go through. But what's the alternative? In a crisis situation like this, it's important that the MC act right away to right wrongs. We don't need any investigations to replenish accounts, so they darned well should do it, and pronto. Besides, some of the creditors want their money. This restructguring is the RIGHT thing to do, and for him to cloud it like he has is irresponsible. If the MC took his advice, everyone else would be wondering when we're going to return those 9-11 funds. They can't win.
Second, he "leaves it to others" to decide whether this loan is too much. Well, when I divide the total liability by total members, I keep getting about $5 a month per tithing OCA member. Or how about this perspective: how does $170,000 in annual debt payments fit into the budget? By my count, it's about 24% of the budget. Most households operate at 28% or higher. I'm not getting outraged. Maybe there's more debt in addition to this, but he doesn't say "this debt, in addition to the others." Or another perspective: there are parish churches in modern american cities with budgets in excesss of $1.7 Million. And another: a retiring couple, planning to live 30 years after retirement, would need to have upwards of 1.7 million in assets to retire. It sounds like a lot of money, doesn't it? But it's all in the perspective, and Mr. Warns has none.
What should really shock Mr. Warns, and indeed all of us, is that $5 a month per tithing member seems like some sort of overwhelming, menacing threat to our financial stabiltiy. Give me a break. We've got Orthodox observers all over the world wondering if the OCA is going to go under financially, all because the laity might not pay the $5 a month? How did we get this point?
Third, he calls for the resignation of the whole MC, as if we want people with no familiarity of the problem to tackle it. Was he too blinded by righteous indignation to notice that his own lay representative to the MC resigned over fear of personal liability? Threats of personal liability not only enouraged the resignation of a new MC delegate (i.e. one not "tainted" by previous membership), but it cost his diocese a vote, and this in turn may have helped scotch the loan, if Mr. Stokoe is correct in his latest comments on what constitutes a proper vote. Thanks, Mr. Warns! Strong work! Granted, you didn't cause it, but "reflections" like this are definitely not helping.
And indeed, with veiled threats of malfeasance coming from the likes of him, who would want to serve on the MC?
Who is he to throw around such casual accusations of larceny and tax fraud, as if they're common knowledge to anyone clear out in Port Townsend, WA, not even allegations any more, but so obvious that he doesn't need to stoop to proving them?
And let's read between the lines and ask ourselves: isn't Mr. Warns asking people to withhold their Fair Share? Isn't that what a lot of the more activated people are proposing, with a kind of knowing wink? If I were a banker and felt that the revenue side of this operation were in danger, I would start charging a risk margin on the 8% note. Again, this is a really counter-productive strategy.
#16 The Green Lantern on 2006-07-15 02:32
I don't really disagree with you, but who is stepping up to the plate to do what you suggest? So far, no one in a position of authority, Archbishop Job excepted. Perhaps you are prepared to wait for the Second Coming?
#17 Anonymous on 2006-07-15 05:21
Anonymous, the Church has always been a mess. Read 1st Corinthians! The lapses and sins of administrators and hierarchs have nothing to do with the truth of Orthodoxy. The Church as the mystical Body of Christ cannot be corrupt, although She is composed of sinners, as She has always been. Do not let Satan use this current scandal to prevent your coming home to Orthodoxy. (If necessary, you can check out other canonical bodies besides the OCA; Antiochians are very convert-friendly. Thay do, however, have their own problems.)
#18 Scott Walker on 2006-07-15 17:52
Dear Green Lantern: Here's the point that Mr Warns got and you apparently did not. For want of asking each of us to pay an additional $12.60 per year to cover operating expenses, we now have to borrow money, and over the life of that loan we will have to pay interest amounting to approximately $1.7 million. Doesn't that seem foolish to you?
#19 Michael Strelka, CPA on 2006-07-16 09:43
As an individual, you can make financial moves related to personal operating expenses. You know what they are and can react by moving money from funds that would ordinarily be earmarked for retirement. The kicker is that at each point in the decision-making, you are the only one that makes the decision and ultimately the only one who is affected by this decision.
In contrast, parishes promoted collections for select tragedies. They gave from the heart assuming that these funds were going, at least in part, to benefit the victims. The Red Cross at least did something to provide relief to the victims. I do not condone the Red Cross business practices but show me where we gave a dollar to any of the charities listed in the loan repayment? In addition, the loan would not have been necessary if they weren't caught.
To suggest, that this was a money-saving venture is an affront to all those who donated. To suggest that the OCA will return the funds to the donors is equally ludicrous. Frankly, I haven't heard a word about what will happen once the money is replenished and judging from recent history we never will. Somehow, the idea of cutting expenses seems like an idea that was never considered especially when a cache was readily at hand. How novel it would have been to hear that a trip (or trips) to Russia was cancelled in light of fiscal responsibility. Maybe $125,000 in home repairs could have been pared.
Sometimes, those in authority have to treat their flock's finances more personally. When that avenue is taken, one can determine if borrowing funds from earmarked donations is really the ethical and moral thing to do.
#20 Kevin on 2006-07-17 08:33
Mark. no need to make my post anonymous--I want to be burned with the rest of the heretics!
#21 Kenneth R. Tobin on 2006-07-17 16:35
Great points Green Lantern. Wish you'd use your real name. I agree with everything you've said and I see no reason for you nickname.
#22 Daniel E. Fall on 2006-07-18 15:37
Yes, we're in a sorrry pass -- but how in Heaven's name does Father Alexis Vinogradov expect to help the situation by comparing Syosset with ... the Gulag?
This is totally over the top, it's completely irresponsible, and it trivializes one of the most horrific chapters in the history of modern times.
Let me ask Father Alexis: Do you actually think, Father, that any of the Gulag's millions of victims, including any number of Christ's martyrs, would find this comparison fitting and appropriate?
Yes, we're indeed in a sorry pass, such that even the clergy, upon whose sobriety of purpose so much of our common life depends, are becoming unglued.
It's time to ratchet down the rhetoric, fast.
#23 Michael Redmond on 2006-07-18 17:18
Nonsense, on every count!
Pouring gasoline on a fire hardly makes sense. Until the full story of misappropriation of funds is told not a bloody additional cent to Syosset! It is irrelevant as to what the laity or anyone can afford when this situation involves spirtual, as well as financial corruption. You and Mr. Fall really need to stop treating this a purely an accounting or financial problem.
Perhaps you should change your nom de plume (this terminology is for Bishop Tikhon's benefit) to the "Green Hornet?"
#24 Kenneth R. Tobin on 2006-07-19 06:29
So there is no misunderstanding, Fr. Alex is my priest. I can assure you that he is far from unglued and his thinking is most sober. Throughout all this mess, his counsel has never been one of encouraging outrage (blind or otherwise). Neither has his counsel been one of pointing the fingers at others. As his reflection intimates, the fault of this situation is not just some few people over there; fault from the tippy top right down here to me on the very bottom.
I'm sure I read these things with different eyes. I did not read a comparison to the Gulags. I read the use of them as a literary tool to drive home the point.
What point? Trying to identify the underlying ailment(s) that got us to this point, such that it might help in finding a way clear.
What Fr. Alex wrote is a far cry from rhetoric. It was his reflection based on his experiences. While one may disagree with him, I think it wrong to classify the relfection as inappropriate, not to mention infering he along with other priests lack sobriety or are unglued, simply because they have the courage to stand up and affirm that something is indeed wrong and moreover, that the measures being touted as the solution are a far cry from such.
Two cents worth from one of the hurt, angry children...
#25 John Czukkermann on 2006-07-19 10:51
Perhaps you missed this part of his reflection:"It would be irresponsible for me to suggest or infer that even the most extreme machinations of ecclesial institutions or leaders can be likened to the Gulag system."
#26 Kenneth R. Tobin on 2006-07-20 06:17
In reference to the following remark by Monsieur Tobin,
"Perhaps you should change your nom de plume (this terminology is for Bishop Tikhon's benefit) to the "Green Hornet?" I would like to say that this was an (rare, indeed) intelligent gibe. I don't think it would be gilding the lily (!), though, to suggest that the nom de teatre could also be, "The Jolly Green Joker." (apologies to the beans people).
The important thing to remember is this, "There are three kinds of people: those who can count and those who can't."
Commending all to Christ's love,
+Tikhon. The Bishop of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the West. The Orthodox Church in America
Where there's smoke, there's toast.
#27 Bishop Tikhon on 2006-07-20 09:20
Monsieur Tobin wrote this:
"Perhaps you missed this part of his reflection:"It would be irresponsible for me to suggest or infer that even the most extreme machinations of ecclesial institutions or leaders can be likened to the Gulag system.""
I didn't miss it, for one. I always spot the misuee of "infer" for "imply" and vice versa. I'd say he should stick to Church design, but that's even more problematical, so I won't!
Commending all to Christ's love,
+Tikhon. The Bishop of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the West. The Orthodox Church in America.
"A wok is what you throw at a cockwoach."
#28 Bishop Tikhon on 2006-07-21 14:24
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