Monday, November 9. 2009
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Dear Fr. George,
Although I often do not agree with your perspective on the challenges facing our Church, I respect your opinion.
As I consider your most recent reflection, I am struck with the sad realization that you have lost your capacity to discern what is true from what is false. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, everywhere present and filling all things, is not present in your reflection.
Truth is not, as the lawyers would have us believe; relative. The truth is the weight of the evidence that has been presented to us.
This medium, and this website, have done more to present the evidence that can be weighed by those who are guided by the Holy Spirit, than all the spin from those in Holy Orders who are neither holy nor orderly.
Thank God that most of our bishops, priests, and deacons are up to the calling of Holy Orders. I hope that you are too.
#1 Marc Trolinger on 2009-11-09 16:13
The same analysis could be applied to our pre-Internet church media: One official message, printed in glossy magazines with a Metropolitan in every photograph, no real discussion allowed, i.e. OCA circa 1980s and 90s, or the current propaganda of the Word Magazine, most of it just as low quality as what one picks up in Pravda or Izvestia. Pretty much a "medium" in which everything is for, of, by, and about the Bishop, where form and protocols are everything. It's embarassing to even own a copy and the average laymen don't read the stuff any more than they do the material here.
Personally, I'll take the Internet version, although some of Fr. George's criticisms are valid.
Actually, what is new is not the Internet, but rather an effort by Mark Stokoe to focus on specific problems. I would argue that the reason this effort has succeed is that it is far more "refereed" and "edited" than all the Indiana List archives and such. And far less anonymous, if one considers the many Reflections that are usually signed by people we've all met at meetings and such. Fr. George and others have hobnobbed on discussion groups for 10 years. Met Phil didn't start complaining about the medium until he became the topic of conversation.
#2 Steve Knowlton on 2009-11-09 18:08
There are two overarching problems with your essay. First, you do not distinguish between the front-page and the forum. Many websites, including all newspapers I know of, have both. No one thinks the "Editor" of a newspaper or web-magazine is an editor of forum comments. It so happens that Mark wears several hats here, as one does when one has no employees.
Second, you write as though online forums have just been invented. But, of course, the problems you mention are well-known to most participants in (and all administrators of) forums on even the most trivial of subjects. Remedies exist, some of which I will mention later, and I wish you would have explored them — because, whether or not it is desirable for the internet to be involved in Church life, it is and it will continue to be.
#3 A Fellow Orthodox Christian on 2009-11-09 18:50
To address particulars:
"Democratic in the extreme" — quite right. There need to be mechanisms to temper this. A "dedicated" forum administrator, tasked with rooting out simple insults and unfounded claims, could provide a far superior environment. But it's not easy to find competent people with that much time on their hands. A reputation system or reader scoring-system — implemented carefully — would help. Perhaps someone wants to program such a thing for the site. If not, I fear we will simply have to use our judgement as we read — and accept that we are going to have our time wasted now and again. (Personally, I find I can tell pretty quickly what and whom I care to keep reading.)
"Anonymous" — This is related. I am floored by your comment that you see why it "is useful in a few situations," though not in this one, to conceal one's identity. But it is true that anonymity is provably destructive to conversation. Pseudonymity, however, has different effects. If commenters were required to maintain a single identity, real or pseudonymous, and if bad behavior caused an escalating loss of privileges, discourse here would be different.
"Participatory" — I don't see how "much of the time the actors and audience here are virtually indistinguishable," when participation in the forum is "largely anonymous" Sometimes the chief actors in events participate in the discussion the events occasion, but I see nothing wrong with that. And what is this "audience" business, anyhow? Not all of us have leading roles or even speaking parts, but no one in the Body ought to be just sitting there munching popcorn.
"Instantaneous," "Un-referred," "Reactive," and "Intrusive and inclusive" — Well, that is why God created the conscience — and gave us pastors to help us sharpen it. It is also why there exist, glory to God, moderators and reputation-systems, regarding which see above.
"Unverified and unverifiable" — Agreed. I would prefer that Mark only allow commenters to post new facts — or, rather, supposed facts — on condition that they use their real names and have a claim to the knowledge. Those who want to conceal their identities can contact him and become anonymous sources for the front-page — if they meet his criteria, which seem to be reliable.
#4 A Fellow Orthodox Christian on 2009-11-09 18:52
As a fellow Orthodox Christian I find Fr. George's reflection quite eloquent but unfortunately lacking in the depth and moral clarity that our faith and profession (I believe he is also an attorney) both require.
What he says is all true, but morally meaningless. Yes, the web and instant Internet communications can suffer from all the troubles and ills you outlined. Yes, free men will abuse their freedom and lie, defame, and insult. Yes, some will try to muddy the waters and distract from the truth. So what? That's freedom, that's democracy, that's life! The right not to be offended does not exist in the Constitution. For freedom to exist and democracy to thrive such things must and will always exist. What does that have to do with the mountain of truthful information, excellent reporting, and ethically sound reflection and insights that have helped the entire OCA by virtue of OCAnew.org existence?
Fr. George criticizes this site stating:
"It is democratic in the extreme, and fools who know little or nothing about what they are discussing or how to discuss things effectively with others get basically equal time and treatment with wise men and experts. In most spheres of value above public playground level - a university lecture hall or a sporting contest, for example - we distinguish very readily between people who know what they are doing or saying and those who don’t, and give the latter short shrift indeed."
For decades The New York Times, The Nation, CBS, NBC, and other "reputable" media organizations whitewashed the evils of communism and sang the praises of many barbaric communist regimes and their demonic dictators like Stalin, Mao, Ceausescu, Castro, and Che. These same "world-renowned" newspapers and TV stations spread communist propaganda glorifying the Marxist ideology and failed to report accurately and truthfully on the enslavement, torture, starvation, and murder of tens of millions of innocents. Many of these "trustworthy" institutions hid the truth from the American people, while many universities (which Fr. George holds in such high regard) and scores of "wise" professors with many doctorates who "knew and know what they are doing" taught and still teach millions of American students to embrace the Marxist ideology, glorify communist ideals, and despise free-market principles. Does the high standing and reputations of these media institutions and universities make the lies they spread and evil they enabled ok?
He also states:
"In short I would like to suggest that the nature of the medium, in this case the internet and blogosphere, is itself the message we get here even more than the content that people purport to communicate and consider."
To follow this line of thinking, we should then blame the printing presses, TV cameras, and newspaper vendors for the communist propaganda spread by media organizations? Or maybe it was the fault of the typewriters or the white paper and ink used to print those papers?
To say that the "medium" bears the blame (even if it's just "some" of the blame) for the abuses of individuals makes no sense. The medium, universality, and speed of communication is just a tool to be used (or abused) by men. It is a more modern and democratic tool no doubt, but it is morally and ethically neutral. You may as well blame the gun, the gun manufacturer, or the bullet for the criminal's pulling of the trigger and murder of an innocent person; or maybe you actually do blame the "evil" gun, who knows?
What is at issue in all the exchanges and multiple spiritual, moral, and financial crisis threatening the Orthodox Church is the lack of TRUTH, lack of ETHICS, and lack of CHRIST. Many of those that proclaimed to follow, preach, and practice HIS word, were actually impostors who squandered His Talents, used His Teachings to promote evil and escape accountability and liability, and scattered His sheep. "You shall know them by their fruits!" This site helped expose those who abused the Holy Orthodox Church and caused so much damage and suffering. That is holy, just, and good, despite the imperfections of the messengers.
In a previous message several months ago I posted a comment that exemplified just how much has been accomplished in the OCA alone through the vey existence of this venue and the tireless efforts of Mark Stokoe and dozens of other courageous Orthodox priests and laymen and women. I will re-post it here again since it's important to remind Fr. George and other critics of the truth.
Fr. George calls these critical accomplishments in the OCA just "some good results." I beg to differ!
Let's imagine what the OCA would be like if there was no Internet , no www.ocanews.org, and no Mark Stokoe willing to do the heavy lifting, shall we:
1. +Herman would still be Metropolitan. No audit of the OCA finances and accounts would exist and none of the financial and ethical abuses committed would have been brought to light.
2. Robert Kondratick would still be OCA Chancellor and continue to manipulate millions of dollars of the OCA's budget with little accountability and oversight. His outrageous spending sprees (22 credit cards and hundreds of thousands of dollars) would continue to squander the Church's money on himself and his cronies (see note 11 below).
3. Kondtratick's entourage and friends (Fr. Fester, etc.) would still be complicit in his self-dealing, supportive of his unethical management, and fully benefiting from his generosity (most likely financed via Kondratick's diversion of OCA funds intended for other purposes).
4. Hundreds of thousands of dollars from specific charities (9/11, Beslan, etc.) would still not be distributed to their intended beneficiaries, orphans, widows, the sick, and injured, etc...
5. +Nikolai would still be bishop of Alaska firing, abusing, and attacking anyone, including priests, deacons, teachers, seminarians, and elders who dared speak the truth, ask questions, and look for righteousness and accountability.
6. Convicted statutory rapist, Terenty Dushkin would still be a tonsured reader in Alaska.
7. +Tikhon (of the West, now retired) would not have been exposed to the whole Church as the delusional, incompetent, and vindictive hierarch he really was; a fact known mostly by those who had the unfortunate "blessing" of daring to question him on anything in the past. Now the whole world understands the darkness and dysfunction that we suffered under.
8. No audits of St. Tikhon's Monastery would have been initiated.
9. +Jonah would not be the new OCA Metropolitan.
10. Fr. Brum would most likely now be Bishop Brum.
11. The following key information from the Summary Report of the Preliminary Report of the Special Investigative Committee would not have been discovered and brought to light:
• Between 2001 through 2005, over $1,000,000.00 was withdrawn in cash from the operating checking account of the OCA and given directly to Robert Kondratick. The OCA records lack any supporting documentation to indicate how the cash was spent and for what purposes.
• $575,300 of the approximately one million dollars withdrawn in cash was taken from the special appeals funds and given to Robert Kondratick, who has been unable to provide the name of one person or parish who received any of this cash.
• Despite meeting face-to-face five or six times with the accountants from Lambrides, Robert Kondratick could not provide them with the name of one 9/11 victim or parish who received any of the $176,500 allegedly distributed.
• An audit of the check and wire disbursement from the special appeals funds, from 2001 through 2005, shows American Express charges of some $5,600.00 for a member of the Kondratick family, designated by Robert Kondratick as a charitable distribution.
• In December 2004, Robert Kondratick used for travel expenses in Russia $12,000 that was raised and intended for the Christmas Stocking Project.
• From 1999 through 2005, the OCA paid not less than $1.2 million in Kondratick family members' credit card charges, which covered no less than 22 credit cards. The majority of the credit card charges lack any documentation or original receipts to support the purchases by the OCA. To date, Robert Kondratick has failed to provide the OCA with receipts of any kind to support the expenditures of more than $1,100,000. 
• Credit card charges for which the OCA paid Robert Kondratick include personal travel to and lodging expenses for places including Aruba and Las Vegas, tanning and hair salon charges, jewelry store purchases, and his family members' ordinary monthly living expenses such as groceries, wine, newspaper and magazine subscriptions, cable bills, clothes, and shoes.
• Robert Kondratick still owes the OCA at least $137,000 in acknowledged personal credit card charges.
• From at least February 1996 through August 2002, Metropolitan Theodosius and Robert Kondratick controlled three discretionary accounts under the name of the OCA, into which at least $1,077,000 was deposited; the Metropolitan's account, a joint account whose signatories were Robert Kondratick and Metropolitan Theodosius, and an account for which Robert Kondratick was the signatory. Other than the Metropolitan's account, the very existence of the discretionary accounts was undisclosed to internal and external auditors.
• $227,943 was deposited into Robert Kondratick's discretionary account from the operating account of the OCA and was spent almost entirely between February 1996 and February 1997.
• No less than $850,000 was deposited into the two other discretionary accounts and spent on such things as Metropolitan Theodosius' and Robert Kondratick's personal lawyers, accountants, and other consultants relating to their opposition of auditing the discretionary funds in 1999 ($125,000), Robert Kondratick's personal credit cards ($50,000), and withdrawals in cash ($195,000).
We owe all of this to the relentless and tireless efforts of Mark Stokoe and many other courageous and ethical priests, deacons, and lay men and women who used their freedom and the Web for good and have contributed so much to bringing the light of truth and ethics to a corrupt and suffering institution. These are indeed the good vinedressers whom the Lord shall praise and reward.
We are thankful also for the power of the Internet and the universal access and global reach of the Web for providing this critical tool to help these servants of Christ help so many sheep and faithfully take care of the Master's vineyards.
For good or ill the internet, with all its strengths and flaws, isn't going to go away. No matter how clumsily they may express it people care, they want to be involved, and older top down models of communication, even in the religious arena, are rapidly becoming a thing of the past. If a certain kind of chaos is the price of this it should also be noted that the demise of byzantine intrigue may be worth it.
Fr John Chagnon
St. Elias Orthodox Church
I am going to break (or at least royally bend) my personal rule about not replying to the anonymous.
AFOC and I have had enough contact that although I don't know exactly who he is, I have a pretty good fix on what he is - somebody with a lot of sense and love for the church, and very possibly more of both than I have.
Gotta acknowledge his first point, sort of. I did not distinguish between the two. But the fact is, I would contend, that the two occur together and form pretty inseparable, albeit distinguishable, parts of a single perpetual motion machine.
As to point two, I don't think I write as if such forums were just invented. Instead I think AFOC is writing a bit artificially if he critiques my commentary by referring to safeguards that exist ... but are never used here.
#7 Fr. George Washburn on 2009-11-09 21:50
I am in essential agreement with virtually everything Fr. George wrote in his customary lucid manner of explanation and analysis, but my affirmation of the existence of this website (OCA.news) remains notwithstanding.
The website is comprised of four sectors: straight reporting, editorials and analyses by Mark, reflections and the blog. For the first three I would assign a grade of A+ each; for the blog, maybe a C-. The blog is the sector that I find most frustrating because:
1. There are too many anonymous and pseudonymous posters and that inevitably leads to a higher level of irresponsible posts. On various threads I have calculated the percentage of anonymous posts to be somewhere between 40 and 80 percent. Unsigned posts constitute most of the egregious comments, although I have read and agreed with some anonymous comments. People signing their names are likely to ensure more thoughtful comments, ones that have been proofed, more articulately composed and even rewritten to a higher level of tone and accuracy.
2. Too many posts fall within a category that I call “venting”, i.e. comments pretending outrage often with tones of self-righteousness.
3. Too many posts become personal using language that is unacceptable for any Christian to utter, much less put into print.
4. Some posts are frighteningly judgmental including of others outside the Orthodox Catholic Church of the East (like our confessions, leave others outside our own fray)
5. Some posts, including hijackings, are off thread and should either not be published or perhaps be published elsewhere.
I urge the OCA.news editor to persevere in his self-appointed role as Muckraker-in-chief as this website, I am convinced, has been absolutely essential and responsible for cleaning up the mess that has been uncovered in two major Orthodox jurisdictions. I also would ask our fearless editor to establish a higher standard for the blog sector (Fr. George’s reflection, I believe, is more applicable to the blog than the other components of the website) by not publishing posts that fall into the above five enumerated categories and insisting that all comments be respectful and, I would add, “signed”, if possible except for some clergy, whose names if revealed, would be tantamount to ecclesiastical suicide.
I have enormous respect for what Mark has achieved -- it has been accomplished with the highest ethical standard, penetrating analyses and many outstanding clerical and lay reflections and the Orthodox Church in North America is better off for his efforts.
#8 Terry C. Peet on 2009-11-09 22:37
I understand Fr. George's concerns, but I also can't help but wonder if he could've written a very similar editorial in the Soviet-era Pravda or Izvestia criticizing the samizdat. I also can't help wondering if Fr. George believes there is a more appropriate way for the truth to get out about what is going on in the OCA and AOCANA or if he believes that everyone should be content with what's published in the official jurisdictional propaganda, i.e., pray, pay, and obey.
Sic semper tyrannis,
#9 Nemo on 2009-11-09 23:43
I would prefer the chaos of the Internet to "The Orthodox Church" or "Again Magazine" anyday.
Fr. Washburn assumes that the internet breeds animosity, derrision, and ill. But in actuality, all it does is expose the rifts that already divide our Church. In the end, this can only be productive, as in order to address these rifts, one must be aware of them.
All of the people saying "Enough with the Internet! It is destroying the Church!" are effectively admitting that there are ideological and cultural differences, but that they would rather gloss over them with a nice, crisp, unoffensive magazine.
So we have a tension between ethnic Arabs and evangelical converts? Let's engage it head on. So we have a tension between rural St. Tikhon's (t)raditionalists and cosmpolitan Schmemannites from St. Vlad's? Let's lay it out on the table.
These rifts will exist. The medium of the internet will allow us to see them. This is always good, unless your vision of the Church is a stale coffee hour room where everyone is polite and pretends they share the same views, even though they don't. They doesn't sound like the Church I read about in the Epistles/Gospels.
#10 Nilus on 2009-11-10 05:39
From most of the above, I feel you all missed Fr. George's point. The well thought out comments from above are critique's of the content of the site. They miss his point that the medium really is the message. Fr. George is quite spot on with this. Is the Internet destined to become the ecclesiology of the 21st century? That's the question. Is this a "Fourth Estate" (maybe "fifth?") attack on the "First?" Possibly. Or is this a check and balance between the two. The medium of the Internet is being used to achieve this. Does this have merit? A year or so ago I would have said no. Today I would answer differently. When corruption is exposed it most definitely does have merit. Does it work with or does it run counter to the ecclesiology Christ gave to his Apostles? Probably not exactly what was intended, but is this bad? Proper ecclesiology should NOT be used to protect corruption rather it should be used to expose and prevent it. It is good if the proper use of the medium helps get good people motivated to put the Church back on the rails. Being mindful of this, when we post here we should remember that even in anonymity, a classless post reflects badly on the poster. Post as if Christ Himself were reading your every word. Oh, He is.
#11 Unknown on 2009-11-10 07:52
Fr. George Washburn's reflection certainly reflects the sanctimonious and elitist mentality that may be the primary cause of the current troubles plaguing the AOC.
In his eight point missive he clearly reveals the sentiments of those who believe they and they alone are entitled to the hallowed calling of exchange and debate.
I would think the Fr. George's of this world who seem supremely confident in their superior abilities would welcome the opportunities presented in this forum to educate and correct the less fortunate thinkers who languish in their senseless and stupid misconceptions.
Rather it seems he is more intrested in censoring than teaching. Why he even warns us by engaging in this "democratic to the extreme, paricipatory, un-refereed, reactive, unverified and unveriviable, largely anonymous, intrusive and inclusive" forum could lead to the demise of "Tradition, Liturgy and Doctrine"
I would suggest that in order to avoid such a calamity that we have Metropolitan Philip appoint him this site's Communication Chairman for Responsible Content.
His compensation package of course based upon the satisfaction and pleasure rating of His Eminence.
#12 Kevin Kirwan on 2009-11-10 07:54
In his recent "Reflection," Fr. George Washburn attributed to OCANews and its ilk several (to him) defining qualities: "democratic...participatory...instantaneous...un-refereed...reactive...unverified and essentially unverifiable...largely anonymous...intrusive and inclusive."
He asks the question (about Mark Stokoe), "Does he really believe the Church established on 7 Ecumenical Councils spread out over several centuries must now embrace these 8 Characteristics as the fundamental driving force of its modern manifestation?" This question seems overblown and disingenuous. How many seriously entertain such a grandiose intent as this lying at the heart of Stokoe's effort? But the issues Fr. George raises certainly deserve attention.
The reflection emphasizes the possibility of doing significant harm through use of such instruments of communications. This factor, too, must be acknowledged -- one can easily see that the "loose cannon" (not to mention "loose canon") phenomenon has the potential to inflict hurt on individuals, roil parishes or undermine authority. But one should probe more deeply the reasons for the obvious success of Mark's site (and similar initiatives by Antiochian lawyers, the Orthodox Forum and various bloggers), referencing the very characteristics Fr. George enumerates.
Is it that people want Church processes to be "democratic, " or simply responsible, responsive and ethical? And is "participatory" truly a negative, given that it is, in part, our conciliar tradition that distinguishes us from other hierarchical churches? We often say that nothing is firmly an element of the Church unless the whole Church embraces it. Are we ready to affirm that in actual contemporary practice?
"Instantaneous" communication may be a mixed blessing, but surely information could be disseminated in a more timely fashion than has been the norm within the major house organs of late. If one waited to see a critical development noted on OCA.org, one would be seriously behind the times and ill-informed to boot. "Un-refereed" discourse is hazardous, I grant you, but if the alternative is to have info-flow totally controlled and censored, then the stifled heart cries out for a way to loose the constraints.
The "unverified" nature of web-chats does mean "caveat lector" -- but even rumors, in a time of catastrophe, will be welcomed over a news black-out. "Anonymous" posts bedevil every blog and on-line forum, but often yield useful data or start a thread that, when teased out with better sourced material, leads to solid and important revelations.
Lastly, this type of information source is only "intrusive" if one allows it onto one's computer screen. The final arbiter of taste and judge of truth-value is the reader himself or herself. Fr. George is gracious enough to acknowledge the benefits of this untidy, sometimes infuriating medium. Maybe it should not be so "hot." Perhaps it is not always "cool" in every respect. But don't throw the message out with the medium.
#13 Alexander Patico on 2009-11-10 08:16
There is no way that the first six comments (those of Marc Trollinger, Father John Chagnon, Chris Banescu, Steve Knowlton and A Fellow Orthodox Christian ) may be considered ill advised, ill tempered, badly phrased or illogical. They are all serious words from serious people. And, they all indirectly testify to the essential goodness of Mark Stokoe's Internet site, Orthodox Christians for Accountability, where the majority of posters are indeed thoughtful and considerate. It is really disappointing that the folks whose postings support Father George's thesis are predominantly those who support Metropolitan Philip. This is a nearly perfect instance of irony and, if the issues were not so hurtful, it would be cause for dispassionate admiration. By this I refer to the dispassion and disconnection that has been displayed by Father George.
#14 Carl on 2009-11-10 11:48
Quoting the article: "It is democratic in the extreme, and fools who know little or nothing about what they are discussing or how to discuss things effectively with others get basically equal time and treatment with wise men and experts."
Yes, we are foolish when we continue to give money and not know what becomes of it. Yes, we may "know little or nothing" about these matters because they are deliberately obscured by those who are to care for us and be good stewards of the assets entrusted to their care.
I hope and pray that we won't get fooled again. And at the same time, we need to continue to push for a open, independent and professional audit.
#15 MWP on 2009-11-10 11:59
"So we have a tension between ethnic Arabs and evangelical converts?"
Respectfully, Nilus, and in all charity, this does not accurately describe the tension in the Antiochian Archdiocese. The tension is not, strictly speaking, ethnic.
There is a certain amount of social tension between SOME American-born Orthodox of Arab descent and SOME foreign born Orthodox of Arab descent.
This tension, unless I am mistaken, is relatively slight, in the sense that it does not involve very many people.
But it emphatically is NOT a tension between ethnic Arabs and evangelical converts.
Indeed, it is useful to remark that this tension would probably still exist if there were no evangelical converts in the Archdiocese. It simply represents the growing pains of an immigrant community. It's a phase. The Archdiocese will outgrow it.
#16 Father Patrick Reardon on 2009-11-10 13:47
. . .neither Patriarchs nor Councils could then have introduced novelties amongst us, because the protector of religion is the very body of the Church, even the people themselves,
--from the Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs
For us Antiochians, this site only became useful because someone tried to introduce the novelty of quasi-papal ecclesiology. The people themselves protecting religion is a bit more raucous a matter than when the Emperor protected religion.
#17 Subdeacon David [Yetter] on 2009-11-10 16:44
The grunting sound you hear is Fr. George attempting to put the internet genie back in the bottle. That we should just shut up and be content with Izvestia type non-coverage in the Word Magazine of important issues as the underlying assumption is demeaning at the very least and truly insulting. To be told by hierarchs that we should just sit down, shut up, and deem this all a blessing from God is bad enough. To have Fr. George acting like their aspiring little puppet, mouthing the same line, is ludicrous. He might consider the notion that if Metropolitan Philip were forthcoming, we wouldn't require any apologias like his. That one of the newest Trustees resigned rather than get tagged with fiduciary liability for Metropolitan Philip's "hide the ball" games is extremely telling. The rest of the Trustees ought to be asking themselves "Why am I still here, acting as a front man for someone who is hiding something?"
#18 yet another George on 2009-11-10 16:56
Thank you for your kind words.
I absolutely acknowledge, and regret, that these methods are not in use here. Just because of that, I wish you (and other critics of the site) would focus on how discussion here might be improved: how to address, or at least begin to address, the special problems and temptations of internet communication.
I must apologize for misreading a crucial part of your reflection: "I do not believe that we simply have to bow to this manifestation of the internet." For reasons unknown, I didn't register the words "this manifestation of"! I would have phrased my complaint differently if I had.
#19 A Fellow Orthodox Christian on 2009-11-10 20:02
A matter I forgot to address: anonymous clergy. We all know why dissenting priests stay anonymous — unless they are not dependent on the Church for a livelihood. Not every clergyman in the AOCA is on loan from Bp. Job.
Now, we should all know that an anonymous person can claim to be anything online. But it still seems to me a real problem that anyone can write in, pretending to be a priest. I can think of several ways this fact could be abused. The only solution I can think of is that no unnamed poster would be allowed to identify himself as a clergyman without having been confidentially verified as such by Mark. If a priest is not willing to have Mark know his real name, he would still be welcome to post his thoughts — but without identifying himself as a clergyman.
#20 A Fellow Orthodox Christian on 2009-11-10 20:17
I almost feel as if being an “American” is an indictment. You say, we're "democratic to the extreme," “and boy don’t today’s Americans love the instantaneous. . .” and “to a generation of Americans raised on sit-com dialogue, this may seem perfectly normal . . .” This isn't about the medium. It's about Americans! We're used to speaking our minds and resisting tyranny is built into our DNA. The Greek Church doesn't apologize for being Greek and the Russian Church doesn't apologize for being Russian. Why should we apologize for being American?
#21 gail Sheppard on 2009-11-11 01:52
What a revealing diatribe. We of the unwashed masses have now been enlightened from "on high". If this reflection is typical of the hierarchy's attitude toward the laity (and we have no reason to doubt it) we now have evidence of the official party line concerning the rationale of our "betters".
It seems there will never be an end to the imperial council killing the messenger whenever the message is unflattering and at odds with their own propaganda. The patronizing elitist attitude expressed in Fr.George's reflection is despicable.
We citizens have come to expect this attitude of our politicians in government; do we now have to be subjected to it in the Church as well?
LORD have mercy on us all.
#22 Fr. Blues on 2009-11-11 04:51
Perhaps the demise of "Tradition, Liturgy and Doctrine" is rather the complete abrogation of the conciliar system by the attempted subjugation of the Canonically enthroned diocesan bishops we witnessed earlier this year.
Or perhaps the demise of Liturgy is the practice of translating feast days to their nearest Sunday or the innovation of major feast day vesperal liturgies. Or in the founding of over 250 churches only establishing one monastery with one nun this year.
Or just maybe Doctrinal demise is the allowance of twice married deacons and priests and the communion of Maronite or Melchite Catholics and calling it "ecomomia".
The reality is this article is just another facet of the cult of personality attacking the messenger and ignoring the message.
Perhaps a more direct question would help.
Fr George, do you support an independent, external professional, financial audit of all the assets of the Antiochian Archdiocese?
A simple YES or NO would do
#23 Delegate #1 on 2009-11-11 07:02
As I see it, the discussion in the forums and at coffee hours across the nation is critical to the future of Christ's Church.
What is at stake is nothing less than the Church itself.
If this were about Church, I would agree with Father. This is not about Church - it is about worldly earthly power, wealth, and control.
Almost four years ago, in January of 2006, on this very forum, I said that I believed the people were willing and able to forgive the misdeeds of the hierarchy, if only that hierarchy would admit and repent of their sins. I still believe that is true, to a degree, although the lack of any admission of wrongdoing in the face of the evidence presented here is / has eroded most of that opportunity.
If the Bishops fulfill the scriptural guidance and delegate their administrative duties to deacons and laity, they can focus on the preaching of the word and prayer and discipleship. The deacons and laity would then be transparent and accountable - everyone would see if the Jewish widows were receiving special treatment and the Greek widows ignored.
That is the essence of this entire fiasco - it is the exact same as the conflict documented in the book of Acts. People have noted that others are being ignored in the distributions, and (as in Acts) raised the issues to the Apostles. Rather than take the advice of the Apostles and say "why should we burden ourselves with waiting tables", our hierarchs told us "Don't worry about it, it is under control, we are in charge."
No, Father, this site is absolutely essential. While the "medium" of the internet is new, the "medium" of correspondence is very, very ancient. The form of communication has limitations - just as the writing of letters.
In the final analysis, when Bishops act as Bishops should, they will receive our undying love and adulation, offered freely. Bishops Mark, Basil and Archbishop Job have been the recipients of the same, because we know that they love us, and that they are not secretive and hiding away control, power, and money.
And, as we draw ever closer to administrative and ecclesiastical unity in the west, it is absolutely imperative that we demonstrably see that each and every bishop, be they American, Greek, Russian, Serbian, Romanian, Ukrainian, Palestinian, or none of the above, loves us and loves the Church.
I beg the Bishops of all jurisdictions to renounce control over the distributions, and with your episcopal blessings, set aside people to administer the Church. Those people need to be accountable and transparent to all in the Church - bishops, presbyters, and laity alike.
We will still have intrigue, for as long as we are on the earth we are sinful. With appropriate action of the Synods, and openness and transparency of administration, forums like this will not be necessary.
Thank God for this forum, and for Mark for suffering through this, but I hope in a few months or years this site will no longer be necessary.
In Christ who saves,
Martin D. Watt, CPA
#24 Dn. Marty Watt on 2009-11-11 09:21
Quite simply, I reject and denounce the the vision of the Orthodox Church, and its governance, contained in Fr. Washburn's reflection. The mindset it reveals in antithetical to truth and accountability.
Lack of accountability is bad enough, but finding "truth" primarily in a corrupt and dissolute authority is the ultimate betrayal of our Christian Faith, and, of course, of our Lord himself. We are all made members of the Body of Christ through baptism, and while we all have different vocations and roles to play in working out ours, and the world's salvation, the notion that any hierarchy obviates our own personal contributions and efforts, however imperfect they may be, is repugnant and false..
OCA News has played an essential role in exposing long festering corruption and wrongdoing at the highest levels of the Church. This is the primary reason it is so despised by the many who have no interest in truth or accountability, but believe that they alone have the authority to speak for the Church.
May the good Lord deliver us from such godless notions.
#25 Kenneth R. Tobin on 2009-11-11 10:47
It has been a while since I read my McLuhan, but unless I am mistaken I do not think he intended to argue what appears to be promoted in the reflection. It might be the case that McLuhan is summarized with "the medium is the message," but that summary it appears has taken on a life of its own.
Nevertheless, even if this is an accurate restating of McLuhan, it does not appear to me to be true. True, perhaps in a general way, as all proverbs are true in a general way. But not necessarily true in the particulars.
Relatedly, Jacques Ellul in his "The Humiliation of the Word" seems to excoriate the use of the visual to convey the sense of the written. One is hard pressed not to come away from such a work thinking the visual media dumbs down the written content. With the correlary, visuals are for the less intelligent among us.
Orthodox iconography may give us a hint along another line of thought.
These general comments aside, I do not find Fr George's characteristics noted of the internet (or perhaps more accurately the blogosphere) to be so particularly true of the internet as characteristics of the medium per se. One might just as well offer such characteristics of a parish council meeting (though here I must confess I offer this in the abstract and theoretical, never once in my life having sat in on a parish council meeting).
It seems to me a more careful analysis of the internet/blogosphere would yield a more favorable set of characteristics: the blending of (McLuhanesque) hot and cold media for both "hot" immediate visual participation in the communication as well as "cold" reflective verbal reflection in such communication. More could be said here, I'm sure.
Other of the weaknesses mentioned seem to me to be more about the vices and virtues of persons, and the exercise of various pastoral askeses to shape the soul, than about the internet or blogosphere per se. That the personal expressions of vices via the internet are a "hot" temptation to the expression of similar vices of those participating in the media may well be true. But it seem more germane to eliminate the vices and increase the virtues than to eliminate the medium.
Lord have mercy.
Some just don't get it. Whenever the Church found itself in a new cultural situation it adapted (catacomb church of persecution, Eastern Roman Empire glory days, then the Ottoman takeover which caused many of the problems we are seeing today in the United States.)
Now the Church finds itself in the land of freedom where its lay people will expect accountability of funds and transparency of its leadership's motives. The dinosaurs are still kicking and screaming that we need to pay up and obey our "betters" without question but those days are rapidly coming to a close. Change has begun and the Orthodox Church will adapt. All the internet did was speed up the process of insuring closed door Byzantine, mafioso maneuvering will come to a close.
#27 delegate #3 on 2009-11-11 13:42
Dear Fr. George,
Upon futher consideration, I must apologize for my the last comment in my last post. I have no right to question your capacity to serve in Holy Orders.
The fact that you care enough about our Church to share your perspective, says alot about where your heart is.
I guess what concerns me most, is that we are missing the opportunity to share the Faith the we love with so many seekers, because we cannot put our own house in order.
If a bishop, priest, or deacon must be laitized to preserve the credibility of the Church, I believe that this is a reasonable sacrifice to make. As a member of the laity, I would rather have a brother in the faith who is no longer able to serve in Holy Orders, to remain as my brother in the Faith, than to continue to serve in Holy Orders in a way that hurts the Church.
Please continue to serve your parish in Orinda, and be the best parish priest that you can be. Please continue to speak out, and share your perspective with your brothers and sisters in the Faith.
#28 Marc Trolinger on 2009-11-11 16:51
I will be the first to admit that, being in the OCA, I am not well-versed in the Archdiocese's culture and issues.
However, if the reporting on this website is to be believed, then the tension between many Arabs (whether American or foreign born) and many of those not sharing an Arabic mindset, seem far more 'slight' than you would suggest.
However, like the STS/SVS comment, I was making a generalization for rhetorical purposes.
#29 Nilus on 2009-11-12 15:58
I'm going to proffer an immediate and brief reply, knowing that few will read it because of the lateness -- two days! -- of it.
I think that Fr. Washburn offers keen reflections on this medium, and I share his concern. I hope that we all do.
I also think that there is a difference between reflection and conversation. I think most of us encounter this medium as mostly conversation with some opporutnity for reflection that "live" conversation does not have.
I further think that, as with most everything, this tool/temptation/opporunity requires individual discipline. The amount of time I spend or don't spend here is entirely mine to govern. That is true of the telephone, the t.v., and the backyard fence.
Also, I discipline which of you all I read. I wish your names came first to save time, but I usually jsut scan and then look at names before I spend much time with individual posts. Usually, I'm just interested for the general tenor of response, key words and phrases that pop out and invite attention (for a variety of reasons) and for certain individuals whose musings I consider worthy of my time.
For example, I would not read my own postings, but do often scan Fr. W's, then wonder why he gets so attacked by so many. I then put it aside and think little more of it.
I assume that my approach is average for folks that have work to do, lives to lead, dinner to fix and roses to smell.
#30 Rdr. John on 2009-11-12 16:50
Thanks to all who interacted with my reflection, especially a) those who tried to understand it and expressed criticisms and questions about what I actually said and b) those who seemed to react without understanding. The former help us try to see if there are holes in what I wrote or problems with the medium I was trying to look at critically (is this site a sacred cow to some?), to help us all see if there is a way forward, while the latter continue to demonstrate why the exchange of internet artillery fire isn't it.
I am writing this at the point at which 25 replies have been posted and Mr. Tobin's #21 is the last. I have no doubt that some others have accumulated and perhaps there will be a chance to interact some more. In fact Mark may have a reflection of his own, and I look forward to dialoguing.
In order, then, and skipping many:
#1 - Marc T. thinks I have lost the capacity to discern true from false. I hope not. I intended this reflection not to be about the issue of true and false, but rather about how this medium by its nature tends to be/become a message regardless of the truth or falsity of what is being said in any given message. Perhaps true and false another time.
#2- Steve K., an old friend from Indy days who is doing well, I hope. Tell Bob and his family "hi" for me please.
#3.1.1 - AFOC When somebody this careful and sincere doesn't read carefully before posting, it undesrscores my point about how the medium which breeds internet haste in posting tends to make waste. I am glad it was on something so minor and so graciously acknowledged by him. I am sure I have done worse.
#5 - Mr. Banescu didn't think I praised ocanews loudly enough, and did his best to make up for it in both volume and volume. He didn't seem to interact with what I wrote, tho.
#9 - Nilus believes that this forum only exposes fissues in the church which already exist. I disagree. I believe it tends to promote snap judgments about others, which can cause new cracks, and magnify the tectonic pressure along pre-existing fault lines. The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity according to James 3, Nilus, and it is set on fire by hell, isn't it? Don't tell me that the general internet is immune to that tendency, or that this site is either.
#9.1 - I agree with Fr. Patrick that properly considered it is not a convert v. ethnic disagreement, although it seems clear that among the most outspoken of either camp there may be some unfortunate correlation.
#11 - Mr. Kirwan and #21 - Mr. Tobin. Your Honor, I move that the defense's exhibits 11 and 21 be admitted into evidence.
#12 - Perhaps I didn't write clearly enough, but I was trying to refer to an anonymous clergyman, not Mark Stokoe, when I asked if we want the tone of our church set more by the 8 characteristics than the 7 councils. Mark should soon tell us what he thinks. I think one sets up a false dilemma when one describes a choice between blackout and rumors. We all know that there is no such thing as a blackout anymore... but there sure are rumors!!
#16 - yet another George He chooses the metaphor of not being able to put the genie back in the bottle. To the extent that comparison has something to say to us, shouldn't we rather see it as many bottles and many genies? Isn't it our choice, having seen what has come from cork removals of the distant (history) and recent (TheAntiochian exchanges)past, whether to just keep on opening them - and being surprised by, and regretting, the hyper-active genie of strife and suspicion that emerges?
#17 - Gail S., who I like and respect even if I disagree with her just now, asks: "Why should we apologize for being American?" The answer is, I believe, "Because there are some pretty characteristic American sins and mistakes that get repeated in this forum because of the nature of the medium." And the same for any other ethnicity, I think, although not the exact same ones.
# 21 - Mr. T denounces a vision of Orthodox church governance that he reads into my reflection, not a vision actually expressed there. Rather than writing a "scattergun" reflection that touched on a lot of things, I chose to try to deal with one aspect of this whole exercise that seemed to be overlooked for the most part by others posting here.
My actual view on the governance of the Church has been expressed here and on the Indiana list several times in the past. The short version is "Fr. Vasileios is right in Chapter II of the Hymn of Entry (1984, SVS Press) when he says there should be an active synergy of the bishops, clergy and laity."
He likens the ideal to the loving symphony of the Trinity, and rejects distortions such as top down Imperial ecclesiaistical autocracy - and all other distortions as well.
This medium, howeveer, is the message of the 8 characteristics, more or less. It worked as needed to bring about one kind or stage of change in the OCA.
And how very human, once approach a has worked in one context to think it will be successful in another situation that really is amenable to method b ... and will in fact get worse by applying a. I questioned this medium and its message because as I look at the strengths and weaknesses of the internet hue and cry method, and what I know of the needs and personality of Antiochian Archdiocese, I don't believe it will work well.
#31 Fr. George Washburn on 2009-11-12 19:05
Part of the reason it may seem that way, Nilus, is because many Arabic (or Arab-American) priests are anonymous. Actually, they tend to suffer more wrath from Englewood than the convert priests. Englewood sort of expects converts to disagree from time to time, but when the Arab boys step out of line, watch out. They are expected to know better.
#32 An East Coast Priest on 2009-11-12 21:08
"pseudonymous posters" Dag! You got me! And all this time I thought that by calling myself "anonymous" would be a great double blind.
My name i Arthur Nathan Onymous.
I live at 216 West Overthere Road
Someplace South, Illinois
I should have known I'd be found out eventually!
#33 formerly pseudononymous on 2009-11-13 04:38
I think that Fr. Washburn offers keen reflections on this medium, and I share his concern. I hope that we all do.
I would disagree with your assertion. His reflections were neither keen i.e convincing or persuasive and obviously given the responses not shared by hardly any who continue to press this Archdiocese for moral and fiscal accountability.
#34 Kevin Kirwan on 2009-11-13 07:52
Dear Fr George,
You and I have spoken about the unfortunate situation that occured at Ben Lomand and to which you were an intimate participant (on the side of the archdiocese). The basic issue there was that of ecclesiatical discipline, respect of and obedience to one's bishop. I wonder if that situation and your opinion of what happened, are influencing your views about how this site and how it is being used (or abused) vis-a-vis church governance and our leaders?
Is it your belief that any and all public criticism of church governance is ill advised? (I agree by the way, the internet fosters an unbridled "instantaneous reaction", that in cases is inappropriate).
But is there - in your opinion - a better and more appropriate way to air critical views or to promote or lobby for change or correction? I was thrown out of the recent convention hall in Palm Desert for handing out requests for an external audit. I thought perhaps the convention was the appropriate time and place for such dialogue, but the officials disagreed. These sort of public conventions are really engineered and do not allow for this kind of interaction (although many tried!). Where then?
Our Board Of Trustees are all carefully screened and appointed by the archdiocese and while I have no reason to question their integrity, they are in a direct way subject to our Chief Hierarch. They are not "representative" of laity or clergy, or there to be a counter balance or overseer. It is unlikely they will "buck the system".
Do you not think the archdiocese has been influenced by the pressure of public opinion in matters relating to the status of our bishops, a former Bishop, or even the need for an audit (even "internal")? Were these not important corrections, that needed to happen, and likely would not had there not been an OCANews (of which I have been privatelly critical on occasion as Mr. Stokoe can confirm)?
I am truly interested in your opinion.
Respectfully and with love,
#35 Kevin Allen on 2009-11-13 10:57
A response to Fr. George Washburn's meditation
I am writing to congratulate Fr. George Washburn for submitting a meditation that seeks to address some of the issues surrounding the use and meaning of the internet. He uses ideas derived from Marshall McLuhan's media studies to evaluate the role played by Mark Stokoe's ocanews.org website relative to the ongoing spiritual health and institutional vitality of the Orthodox churches in America.
While I agree with Fr. George's basic conclusion, namely, that Mr. Stokoe's website does NOT necessarily deliver the kind of helpful clarity that so many people might like to think that it does, that it more often than not serves as a free-for-all forum for rampaging resentments, uninformed pontificating, and the posting of some pretty uncharitable remarks, and that it does more to sow discord, stoke simmering resentments, or cultivate a general spirit of distrust among the faithful than it has done to build up the body of Christ. All of those things are true, but each one of them is ultimately related to a more fundamental issue which Fr. George does not address in any head-on fashion: On what basis can we intelligently assume that what appears on Mr. Stokoe's website is in any sense of the word objectively true?
By now many of us might be accustomed to assuming, whether consciously or not, that objectivity is a fading ideal, that any piece of information in some way reflects a particular point of view or at least a basic understanding of things. And the interesting proof of this shift in our sensibilities is the fact that our older reliance on something being either true or false is being replaced gradually by the question "Is it believable or not?" This is the real question we ask ourselves on an almost daily basis: does this conform with what I hold to be true, with what I insist upon being the case, with what I say about other people and their motivations?
But, if you are angry about what has been going on in the OCA, about the way various bishops, priests, deacons, and laity have been conducting themselves, about the fact that we do not seem to suffer from any shortage of scandal, in short, if you are upset in the face of so much seemingly un-Christian behavior and are willing to believe the worst about certain groups of people, then, as Fr. George points out, you have a ready and waiting place to vent on ocanews.org, a website whose content is, I would argue, largely predetermined and of an identifiable partisan nature. In other words, it offers many of those 'concerned' members of the Orthodox Church a venue where they can read information in accord with what they have already concluded and only wish to see corroborated.
Mr. Stokoe is not a total liar nor is he an impious trouble-maker. But yet, while he trumpets the need for honesty, transparency, and acccountability at all levels in church life, I find that he is curiously not always consistent about when such standards should apply to himself and in particular to some of his editorial judgments. I simply wish to tell him that he should not presume to have it both ways. On the one hand, he cannot insist that any and all members of the church be unconditionally dedicated to openness and truth-telling while he at the same time serves as an uncritical conduit for what can be the selective information he does receive.
A case in point is the lawsuit filed by Ms. Kristine Koumentakos against Fr. Ray Velencia of the Orthodox Church of St. Matthew in Columbia, Maryland. In this suit she alleges, among other things, that he broke the seal of confession and terminated her employment at the St. Matthew House residential project for disabled adults because she was pregnant. This case has generated much attention on Mr. Stokoe's website not least because he has given it his personal attention, presenting summaries of developments and even offering relevant 'documentation', but his spoon-fed presentations of this matter raise serious questions about motive, personal integrity, and, dare I say it, the kind of real objectivity that, for the sake of the Church, must be distinguished from its many false internet incarnations.
I would like to know exactly from where does Mr. Stokoe receive his information pertaining to the Koumentakos lawsuit? On whom does he rely to keep him informed either about its content or its developments? If we are to take him and his website seriously, doesn't he at least owe us some reasonable disclosures about how he came to know what he knows and who, it is reasonable to conclude, is gladly supplying him with what I consider to be egregiously one-sided accounts? How could he ever claim to be just a humble, well-intentioned, and unbiased disseminator of news and information when (a) he makes no discernible effort to elucidate more than just the conveniently anticlerical outlines of any story, and (b) he makes virtually zero effort to contact, interview, and evaluate the parties involved in any simmering controversy?
And more to the point, did Mr. Stokoe ever lift a finger to contact Fr. Ray Velencia personally in order to learn from him what he might know and be able to offer by way of clarification about any of the facts relevant to the lawsuit filed against him? Has Mr. Stokoe ever engaged in a single instance of fact-checking or bouncing one contention against another? Does he in any way challenge a single assertion that comes across his desk? And, if these matters are as serious as even he surely thinks they are, don't we have a legitimate right to challenge Mr. Stokoe about any corresponding degree of honesty and non-partisan concern on his part?
And no doubt by way of his defense many will point to the fact that Mr. Stokoe allowed Fr. George's critical meditation to appear on his website, but such an argument is the cheapest kind of short-term polemic because, even though posting the meditation might invite similar comment and perhaps even more trenchant criticism to appear, there is no compelling reason to suppose that it will do anything to make Mr. Stokoe repent of his current habit of reporting 'news' that, if it is anything else, is just what the good doctor has ordered. And, if anyone in the wake of Fr. George's observations is still scratching his head over what the most abiding message of the medium constituted by Mr. Stokoe's website might be, I would argue that the ultimate message is nothing other than Mark Stokoe himself.
But for some, the most uncomfortable truth of all might well turn out to be that the ocanews.org website, though it might have played at one time a noteworthy enough role in bringing certain scandals to a head, has now simply become a rallying point for those who are still nursing anticlerical grievances, for those who labor with an incurable sense of injustice, for those who are seeking to exact some measure of revenge for their own unjustifiable behaviors, or, most despicably, for those who have come to imagine that it is their prerogative to seize what only properly belongs to the Holy Spirit.
Fr. Duane M. Johnson
(Editor's note: Fr. Duane Johson is the second priest at St. Matthew’s parish in Columbia MD, where Fr. Velencia is the senior pastor.
I will not respond to Fr. Johnson’s criticisms. He is as free to use this “ free for all forum for rampaging resentements, uninformed pontificating and the posting of some pretty uncharitable remarks... sowing discord, stoke simmering resentments or cultivate a general spirit of distrust among the faithful..” ( to use his words) as much as anybody else.
But I will answer his questions.
Fr. Johnson asks: “On what basis may we intelligently assume that what appears on Mr. Stokoe’s website is in any sense objectively true?”. The answer may be summed up in one word: evidence. Every story I write is based on, and cites, evidence in the form of written documents wherever possible. Not one of the documents I have posted has ever been questioned - not in four years. Unfortunately, it has been a tradition in the OCA to ignore evidence one disagrees with, or its unfavorable - but for those who can maintain some objectivity, I would suggest written evidence is something intelligent people can rely on. Documents are not “partisan” in nature - I didn’t create them. I only report on them. I cannot report on things that do not exist - and no one has ever accused me of fabricating anything. Thus Fr. Johnson’s charge of things being “predetermined” is ludicrous.
Fr. Johnson asks where I receive my information from. In this matter, I will answer him as I have answered Metropolitan Herman, Metropolitan Philip, Bishop Nikolai, and so many others - the source does not matter as much as the truth of what is reported. If I have reported something incorrectly, correct me. If you think I have offered a false analysis, offer your own reflection to contradict me on the basis of the evidence. Or better, offer some new evidence. So no, Fr. Johnson, I don’t owe you an explanation of where I get my information - just as in any other media, this reporter’s sources are, and should, remain confidential. And if you have more court documents to offer in the Koumentakos case than I have published, offer them. Or if you have court decisions other than the two employment decisions against Fr. Velencia, and the dismissal of 20 of 22 of Mr. Koumentakos’ charges, offer those. One cannot be more equitable than that. But something tells me that when the last two charges are settled, I will not be hearing from you about the settlement and its terms. Would that you will prove me wrong!
Finally, Fr. Johnson asks how I could be an”unbiased disseminator of news and information when (a) he makes no discernible effort to elucidate more than just the conveniently anticlerical outlines of any story, and (b) he makes virtually zero effort to contact, interview, and evaluate the parties involved in any simmering controversy?” As regards the case in question ( The Koumentakos case) the answer is simple. In an earlier effort to “contact me”, Fr. Velencia revealed to me in a 20 page document the sexual and personal histories of both Kristi Koumentakos and her family, information obtained from her confessions and counseling sessions, with the intent, I can only imagine, that he wanted me to publish it, since it was sent to me as the editor of OCANews.org. I refused. I would suggest that does not make me “anti-clerical” in this “simmering controversy”.On the contrary, I think it shows I have a greater respect for the office of the priesthood in this instance than Fr. Velencia did. Failing to mention this shows how confused Fr. Johnson’s thinking in the matter to be. )
It seems you "missed" question #19 in your response... would you do us the honour of answering it?
"Do you support an independent, external, professional, exhaustive, financial audit of ALL the assets of the Antiochian Archdiocese?"
A simple YES or NO would do wonderfully.
#37 Delegate #1 on 2009-11-13 21:03
it undesrscores my point about how the medium which breeds internet haste in posting tends to make waste. I am glad it was on something so minor
I might have made the same error had I sneezed during a lecture and asked a question afterwords — and that, of course, a format that never allows for extended consideration prior to participation. It's not by chance that I slipped on "something so minor" rather than something that materially affected my point: fundamentally, I was being attentive. I apologize for the waste, but would you prefer silence to imperfection?
Further, if the immediate nature of this medium is to blame for my error, it was this same immediacy that enabled us to quickly dispose of it — leaving the way clear for a proper discussion.
But you did not take this opportunity, and I do not understand why.
You must know that your essay is most unlikely to move Mark to close the forums or to convince many, if any, participants to withdraw. Why not propose reform of this medium rather than — as you seem to — suggest that we would be better off abstaining from it? Is it really so wicked or destructive as to be unredeemable?
I don't think so, and I've given practical proposals to demonstrate why. Have you got any response to this?
#38 A Fellow Orthodox Christian on 2009-11-14 18:42
Dear Delegate # 1:
You may have noted that several months ago I decided and disclosed that as a rule I would not have exchanges with anonymous people in this forum. I have bent the rule to engage with my anonymous clerical colleague and with AFOC. If I keep making exceptions, the discipline I am trying to maintain will vanish altogether - and I don't want it to.
If you really want to know what I think and why, I am easy to find. I am hoping in the not too distant future to put some things in a reflection that will bear upon the question you seem to have asked.
I say "seem to have asked" because you also stress your desire for a one word answer. Is that because your fundamental desire is to know what I think? I doubt it. Is it because you want me to give an answer that will surely be convenient to use tendentiously, in one way if I answer "yes," and the opposite way if I should say "no?" Quite possibly.
Plus, I don't think this question can be properly answered so simply. But one-word answers do fit the medium so much better, don't they!
#39 Fr. George Washburn on 2009-11-15 22:20
what do 'free market principles' have to do with Fr. Washburn's editorial belittling the common man?
#40 Daniel E. Fall on 2009-11-15 22:32
Dear Father George,
I like and respect you, too, and my comment about your objection to America was meant to be tongue and cheek. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that our nationality is a factor.
Our Church is full of very good people who are caught in an untenable position. We want to trust and respect the hierarchy but have been given a host of reasons not to. This isn’t the fault of the Internet or because we suffer from a sitcom mentality. It’s because our hierarchs have underestimated our need for law and order.
There is a reason the visible center and head of the Eucharistic Assembly is the Bishop and that the Bishop is installed over a region. The Bishop embodies the local Church and the “local Church” in this instance happens to be very rule oriented. With the possible exception of Jesse James (kidding), we have little sympathy for those who operate outside of the law and we’re not a bunch of marshmallows who will take it. When push comes to shove, the law is on our side and our hierarchs are just going to have to adjust.
Yours In Christ,
#41 Gail Sheppard on 2009-11-16 16:34
re: immigrant vs convert vs hyphenated-American tensions.
Quote: "[A] Indeed, it is useful to remark that this tension would probably still exist if there were no evangelical converts in the Archdiocese. [B] It simply represents the growing pains of an immigrant community. [C] It's a phase. The Archdiocese will outgrow it."
These are some comments on this from my perspective in the USA:
[A] Yes, there's different church attitudes, behaviors, perspectives, backgrounds, goals and especially experiences twixt the immigrants and the hyphenated-Americans.
[B] The third and fourth generations of hyphenated-Americans are for the most part not self-identifying members of an "immigrant community". These people may indeed have affinities and relationships to the old country, but for the most part they are just Americans. Even second generation people have little real empathy with the immigrants unless they've spent a lot of time abroad. The immigrants don't often understand and they sometimes they resent why almost all hyphenated-Americans do not consider themselves to be in diaspora and are not more in tune with the "mother country".
[C] As far as "outgrowing it" goes, that does not appear to me to be a likely outcome. The immigrants keep coming and and in many cases they form significant percentages of the parish rolls. Many are now professionals. They may view the church, its mission, and their roles in it in a variety of ways. They want to run things. They may want to import some their own customs. The might be good friends or close relations to their former hierarchs. These are not bad things, it's just the way it is. The same kinds of attributes are present in our American-born members as well but each side perceives the other differently. It is not often an easy situation.
The establishment of an inclusive "American Orthodox Church" had its beginnings in the late 1920s and it never really caught on, it was squashed, and abandoned by most of the (immigrant) hierarchy and by those abroad. Given the realities of past and present, I personally don't see a timeframe for "outgrowing it". What we need is a framework for dealing with it and leveraging the situation toward some good possible outcomes. It's not going away any time soon.
#42 MWP on 2009-11-17 08:15
Fr. Johnson asks: “On what basis may we intelligently assume that what appears on Mr. Stokoe’s website is in any sense objectively true?”.
There are many documents from the Koumentakos lawsuit, and the earlier Maryland Human Rights Commission"s findings on Kristine Koumentakos' removal as executive director of St. Matthew House, up on Pokrov at this location:
From the Human Rights Commission:
Sex Discrimination Findings
Retaliation Discrimination Findings
And from the lawsuit:
OCA Motion for Summary Judgment
Affidavit of Metropolitan Herman Swaiko
Diocese's Motion for Summary Judgment
Affidavit of Archpriest Joseph Lickwar
Archpriest Constantine White's Motion for Summary Judgment
Affidavit of Archpriest Constantine White
Plaintiffs' Supplemental Memorandum
Fr. Duane also failed to note that even the defense attorneys (all 5 of them) in this case did not deny what Fr. Ray did in his capacity as priest or employer. They did not provide proof to refute my allegations because they couldn't. They simply did whatever they could to try to escape liability. Perhaps Fr. Duane hasn't read the court documents himself.
Finally, just as a matter of information, Fr. Duane was present the day Fr. Ray ambushed me for talking to a parish member/lay leader about his worrisome church financing ideas (when I was nearing the end of a medically complicated pregnancy) . He knows exactly what happened in that "meeting" and in what order. He chose to stay silent. He stayed silent, even turned his head away, as I became increasingly emotionally upset, even when I moved away to try to put physical distance between myself and Fr. Ray because I could not bear the venom, the angry intensity. How he can write something like the above and pontificate about integrity and truth and the building up of the body of Christ is beyond me.
But bravo anyway, Fr. Duane, for speaking up now....even if "your thinking is confused" (for completely understandable reasons at this point)....
#44 Kristine Patico Koumentakos on 2009-11-17 20:09
Shame, Father Duane, shame. A nice very long winded attempt to sound like your were making a good point but, no. We've already hashed this issue out. The readers of this site know what they get and they see the results. Truth, and then grindingly slow, change. Father Velencia's actions and retaliations and the OCA's handling of that is here . Every member of the OCA should know. They can choose to ignore it, rail against it, wish it weren’t so, be horrified by it, or even pretend it’s not true but it’s here for them to know the truth. And it will continue to be here as the courts decide what should have been handled by the priests, the bishops, the metropolitan.
In case any of you got lost in all of this; 1) Stokoe (and Pokrov) sites post actual court documents. Documents which were created after due process where both parties had the opportunity to testify and provide evidence, provide witnesses. Those documents speak for themselves. I strongly urge all of you-- especially the parish members of St. Matthew who expressed shock at the Metropolitan's removal (finally) of Fr. Ray Velencia from the Metropolitan Council-- to READ those documents. You cannot read the most damming of all--the letter Fr. Velencia sent to 39 people which violated the confessional and private counseling sessions of Ms. Koumentakos. A letter he sent in an attempt to intimidate and mortify her—you can’t read that because to publish that would be as reprehensible as Ray Velencia sending it in the first place. But you do have the word of Mark Stokoe that he received it.
Where have you been for the past four years, Fr. Duane? What attempts have you made to minister to this member of your parish? To heal the rift, settle the dispute, to reign in Fr. Velencia when he violated the confessional ( you surely agree that what he did was reprehensible. ) It seems to me, as a witness to Ray Velenica’s retaliatory firing without cause, (because as a Board Member you had access to her impeccable employee record, to the bonus she received mere weeks before being fired), as a recipient of the violations of confession letter, a party to all the lies told to the members of St. Matthews, that you have an obligation, too. Why have you never posted any evidence in defense of your boss? Well, Stokoe has already addressed that. We won’t hold our breath.
I find it ironic that you concede that this website has exposed problems and brought about necessary change. But now that your parish is receiving more and more unwanted exposure to the heinous behavior of its priest, now ocanews.org is questionable? Is there a clearer example of NIMBY (“not in my backyard”). The truth is coming out, Fr. Duane. And it will be discussed and digested and disseminated. Right here. And God willing change will be brought about once again.
#45 Aisling Gray on 2009-11-18 09:02
I am a realistic man. I understand that there are always two sides to a story. Could you take a few minutes and respond to some of the most concerning issues that I have extracted from the various reports and documents that have been posted here and on the yahoo forum site?
Father Velencia attempted to use St. Matthew House as collateral for a loan to build a permanent worship space for the Orthodox Church of St. Matthew. TRUE or FALSE
Kristine Koumentakos was the executive Director of St. Matthew House leading up to time where Father Velencia was attempting to use the house as collateral. TRUE or FALSE
The board of directors approved the schedule for Kristine’s maternity leave and return from maternity schedule. TRUE or FALSE
Prior to Father Velencia’s learning of Kristine’s concern for using St. Matthew House as collateral there is no documented concern of any kind regarding Kristine’s work. TRUE or FALSE
After Father Velencia learned of Kristine sharing her concerns with an elder his relationship with Kristine changed and he began to allege concerns about the volume and quality Kristine’s work. TRUE or FALSE
Father Velencia fired Kristine while she was out on maternity leave by mail after having made changes to her maternity leave. TRUE or FALSE
A former Saint Matthew House board member has provided a notarized statement saying that Father Velencia shared information about Kristine that was highly personal, sensitive and inappropriate for the conversation that they were conducting. TRUE or FALSE
The Howard County Office of Human Rights found probable cause against Father Velencia and Saint Matthew House on every count alleged by Kristine. TRUE or FALSE
The Office of Human Rights had to take Father Velencia and Saint Matthew House to court and force them to provide the documents requested or be found in contempt of court. TRUE or FALSE
The Office of Human Rights found probable cause that Father Ray had filed a false claim in retaliation against Kristine alleging that she had threatened him and his family. TRUE or FALSE
Throughout this entire process neither Father Velencia and the attorneys (representing Saint Matthew House, Saint Matthew Church, the diocese or the OCA) provided any evidence that refute Kristine’s claims but rather have tried to use court jurisdiction as a means to avoid the litigation and specifically answering the charges. TRUE or FALSE
Father Karlgut in his investigation spoke to none of the Koumentakos’ witnesses that had first hand knowledge of the violation of confessional and pastoral information. TRUE or FALSE
Father Velencia sent an email to the entire MC and to the Editor of OCA News that contained private and confidential information about the Koumentakos’. TRUE or FALSE
Father Velencia and Saint Matthew House continue to face charges on the employment charges while the other approximate 20 charges have been dismissed due to separation of church and state. TRUE or FALSE
At this point you have no knowledge of the outcome of any appeals made to the higher court on the dismissed charges. TRUE or FALSE
Father Velencia was removed from the MC and the Orthodox Church of Saint Matthew needs clarification of why this occurred. TRUE or FALSE
Wow that’s a lot of questions!
Thank you for taking some time to set the record straight.
#46 Jericho Aequitas on 2009-11-18 11:59
I have a few questions:
First, wondering why Mark had to be the one to note that you are the associate pastor at St. Matthew? Interesting omission, to say the least, especially given the nature of your post.
Why has it taken you four years to speak out, only after Fr. Ray was removed from the Metropolitan Council amid claims of ignorance by your parish as to the reasons for the removal and with a rumored settlement of the employment matter as reported by Mark Stokoe?
I am curious as to why, given your position at the church and the nature of your post, you didn't provide the documentation/proof of your version of events as well as your endorsement of Fr. Velencia's pastoral integrity. Perhaps you cannot provide the documentation that you blame Mark Stokoe for failing to obtain because it does not exist. Perhaps you cannot provide an endorsement of Fr. Velencia because you know what he did was reprehensible. Not sure where you find the nerve to make accusations about "making excuses for your own despicable behavior".
It is my understanding that the Paticos and Koumentakos' were respected, active parishioners at St. Matthew for many many years. Assuming as I must that the allegations ARE true, based on documentation and fact and the lack of any information from you or the defendants which would have me believe otherwise, did anyone in the parish, including you Fr Duane, question the sudden end of Mrs. Koumentakos' relationship with Fr. Ray or the family's sudden absence from the church community? Did anyone ever reach out to them to make sure they were alright? Especially given the medically difficult pregnancy of Mrs. Koumentakos and all that comes with having a newborn under such stressful circumstances?
Surely as his associate priest and secretary of the SMH board of directors, you had knowledge of what occured in this case and were in a unique position to intervene in the situation. Surely there were other parishioners who either held positions on the parish council or were lay leaders who had a responsibility, as Christ followers, to do so as well. Why was that not done by anyone?
Given the fact that those who know Fr. Ray know he can be a formidable person, to put it mildly and kindly, were you afraid? Were you and others concerned that what you witnessed happening to the Paticos and Koumentakos' could happen to you as well?
Did it ever occur to you that you could have responded or intervened at any point in the last 4 years as a group to try to interrupt Fr. Ray's abusive conduct, to take a stand for the truth and for correcting wrongs, to possibly be an agent of healing?
Oftentimes, a person who is out of control does not enjoy behaving that way. Have you ever thought that perhaps Fr. Ray needs your help? Feeling loyal to someone does not mean that you should participate, whether by acts of commission or omission, in their ugly behavior. Again, where have you been, Fr. Duane?
If I were you, I would think about and respond to these questions before I attack Mark Stokoe for doing a job that no one else in the OCA has the guts to do.
#47 nice try on 2009-11-19 11:42
I'm not sure why it is necessary for anonymous priests to identify themselves. I suppose some hold their opinions to be profoundly more substantive than that of a layperson. One thing is that priests probably will hear things on the clergy grapevine that most of us do not -- but still some of that might not be much better than common gossip. On a personal level, I tend to hold clergy to a higher standard -- the snarky, insulting remarks that are unfortunately common on the internet I would hope to find less of among the clergy and the higher the office, the less I would hope to see.
#48 Not a priest on 2009-11-20 12:26
That's one of the longest and most convoluted non-answers (or rather refusals to answer) I have seen in a while. I believe what Fr. George really said is either (a) NO, he does not really support an independent audit of the central administration or (b) he is purposely avoiding any public statements on this issue to avoid endangering his position and "status" in the AOCANA. In staying silent on this issue Fr. George has stated his position very loudly indeed. But what do I know... this is just more "volume" from the non-elites that Fr. George warned us against.
What is Metropolitan Jonah planning on doing to reach out and attempt to end the Koumentakos case? If nothing, why not?
Under MH, they sent Father Karlgut who by all accounts blundered the "investigation" and then the OCA just buried their head in the sand. Wouldn't a heart like Zachheus "8But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.""
I would be encouraged to see Metropolitan Jonah, the OCA (and dare I say Father Velencia) take a conciliatory stance and admit that in retrospect they could have handled this matter with greater skill and diplomacy.
Your insight is always helpful.
(Editor's note: I have no knowledge of anything the Metropolitan may or may not be planning in this regard. Sorry.)
#50 Jericho Aequitas on 2009-11-23 07:29
Dear Mr. Stokoe,
Thank you for your personal response to my e-mail posting. It provides a most revealing glimpse into the way you operate. I am glad that what you choose to offer to the world on your website is based on 'evidence' largely in the form of written documents because, as you assured me, documents never lie.
And yes, perhaps it would have been tedious for all of your readers if you had made it a habit of offering up full accounts of how you come to know what you know and from whom you know it, not to mention all the steps involved in the critical sifting and sharp discernment you would have to bring to bear on such information if you were actually equal to your digital image.
I would caution you, however, about invoking journalistic standards and thinking that they in any way apply to what you do if only because you are NOT a journalist. You are a blogger, and bloggers as a rule are not associated with any of the rigorous standards for truth-telling and objectivity-oriented analysis that make up a journalist's professional training and credo. But, by assuring me that (a) "documents are not "partisan" in nature", and (b) "the source does not matter as much as the truth of what is reported", I think that I now have a fair enough understanding of your general method.
And hey, how about your mentioning some kind of impending settlement in the Koumentakos case? Wow, that's news to me! But the telling 'something' to which you refer is more likely a gleeful 'someone' from whose hand you have been comfortably eating for way too long now.
It is undeniable that you have made no effort to elucidate or evaluate a single real fact in the Koumentakos case because the plaintiff has been keeping you quite well-fed even before she filed the civil suit on May 1, 2008. So what possible good is any alleged truth about this case for anyone visiting your website if what you post consistently represents one side? Now you might think that you are doing the Church a big favor by running a website precisely in this manner, but, and especially when it comes to the Koumentakos case, your service in this regard bears a closer resemblance to the modus operandi of Joseph Goebbels, who in the previous century taught us all that, if you keep telling a big lie long enough, people will come to believe it.
And a good example comes to mind. There still seems to be some confusion not least in your own mind about the "20 page (sic) document" which you claim to have received from Fr. Ray Velencia as his singular attempt to "contact" you, the same document which you now claim to have so conscientiously refused to post because it contained "the sexual and personal histories of both Kristi Koumentakos and her family". But do your readers an actual favor by letting them know the following relevant details--
In February 2007 Metropolitan HERMAN had dispatched Fr. Alexei Karlgut to investigate the allegations of pastoral conduct being made by Ms. Koumentakos. These included the now notorious allegation that Fr. Ray Velencia had broken the seal of confession by revealing "information gained from her confessions and counseling sessions". But what people need to know is that Ms. Koumentakos NEVER received confession from either Fr. Ray or myself. And as for the supposed confidentiality of said information, the plaintiff saw no problem at all in sharing that same personal information (and apparently a great deal more) with a fair number of people both within and without the parish down through the years. It does not require much reasoning to conclude that, in Ms. Koumentakos' mind, confidentiality must be an absolute standard that only applies to other people. And, in addition, I find it even more curious that she who has never had confession from an OCA priest (to the best of my knowledge) should with the most steadfast determination and seemingly selfless concern for others busily recommend to them that they avoid seeking confession from an OCA priest.
But when Fr. Alexei Karlgut concluded his investigation and compiled his report in which he concluded that there was no discernible let alone convincing evidence for the charges made by Ms. Koumentakos, the latter then directly contacted Metropolitan HERMAN in a pair of extortionate communications (a letter and one e-mail) in which she demanded that, in accordance with her own vehemently expressed wishes, the Church punish Fr. Ray Velencia directly if She wished to avoid being included in a lawsuit. The two communications are interesting documents in their own right--each one is an exquisitely crafted amalgam of emotional appeal and obsessive intensity--and, though they try very hard to conceal their blackmailing purpose, they end up doing everything except telling the Metropolitan under which bridge to leave the money.
And, as a next step, Ms. Koumentakos did not hesitate sending these messages to the Metropolitan Council, and their content became the immediate subject of intensive debate and concern, so much so that the council members demanded some ready clarification about what was going on and who Ms. Koumentakos really was. Fr. Ray Velencia had already written a 9-page summary of his relationship with Ms. Koumentakos for Metropolitan HERMAN's own enlightenment (Mark: that supposedly 20-page document which you mistakenly attribute to Fr. Ray Velencia, you must have it mixed up with the 31-page account that Ms. Koumentakos had submitted to the Metropolitan), and it was ONLY AFTER being personally directed by Fr. Alexander Garklavs and Fr. Alexei Karlgut to do so that Fr. Ray Velencia e-mailed it to all of the same council members to whom Ms. Koumentakos had forwarded her ultimatums.
And yes, it just so happened that you were cc'ed on Ms. Koumentakos' original list even though at the time you were not a member of the Metropolitan Council and no more than a scandal-sheet blogger. Fr. Ray Velencia never intended for his account to be read let alone distributed by anyone outside the boundaries of the Metropolitan Council. Therefore, do not flatter yourself by assuming (a) that if Fr. Ray Velencia wished to circulate it, he would have intended you to do the posting job for him, and (b) that by your own 'refusing' to post it, you have shown one iota more of restraint or respect for the priesthood than Fr. Ray Velencia has consistently done all along.
I wish you luck with any of your future efforts that might have something to do with truth and accountability. My only wish is that one day you will come to realize not just the extent to which Ms. Koumentakos and her family have been using you but also the degree to which you have been so uncritically accepting of their negative plan ONLY because it went so well with your own agenda.
Fr. Duane M. Johnson
Orthodox Church of St. Matthew
(Editor's note: I do not "claim" to have recieved the letter of Fr. Valencia, I received it. It is in my possession. Secondly, it boggles the mind that in one sentence you can claim:
"And yes, it just so happened that you were cc'ed on Ms. Koumentakos' original list even though at the time you were not a member of the Metropolitan Council and no more than a scandal-sheet blogger." while at the same time asserting in the next sentence, " Fr. Ray Velencia never intended for his account to be read let alone distributed by anyone outside the boundaries of the Metropolitan Council." Obviously, both statement cannot be true. Since I was not, as you point out a member of the MC and in your words " no more than a scandal sheet blogger", one must assume he did intend for his account to be read by others outside the MC. Moreover, as the original email evidence, I was not cc'd. I was included in the middle of the list of MC addressees. But then, lacking the evidence on which you make your assertions, you could not have known that. )
In response to Fr. Johnson's post ---
1. I most certainly did receive confession from Raymond Velencia multiple times over the 15 years I was one of his parishioners, beginning in the spring of 1992. The story has been all along that Velencia did not violate the confidentiality of my confession. Now its that I never received confession from him. Of course Fr. Johnson knows this to be true because Velencia told him so. Interesting.
2. "the plaintiff saw no problem at all in sharing that same personal information (and apparently a great deal more) with a fair number of people both within and without the parish down through the years." Oh really, and how would Fr. Johnson know this? Specifically. Besides Velencia (who has no reason to mislead him), who told Fr. Johnson this? And even if this were true (which it absolutely is not), is Fr. Johnson saying that if I told "many people" of MY choosing MY personal information, that made it okay for Velencia to further distribute that information to many others without my consent? Surely he is not saying that, although I fear that is the argument he is trying to make. I stand by my warning about going to an OCA priest for confession until +Jonah addressed this mess.
3. The Metropolitan Council needed information about what was going on and who I was? Well, they never heard anything from Velencia about what was going on, they only heard his desperate, disgusting version of who I was now that I had had the audacity to confront him, conveniently omitting the 15 years that followed that of which he wrote. If what he wrote to the MC was an accurate portrait of who I was, why did he appoint me to positions of responsibility in the church and elsewhere in those 15 years? Curious to say the least. The MC must have come to their own obvious conclusions, despite the letter Velencia was instructed to send (so you say), since many of them voiced their strong protest about his election to the MC in September. I seriously doubt that +Jonah would have removed him if things were as you said. Karlgut has also been removed from his position as investigator, no?
4. Not only was Mark Stokoe NOT cc'd on that infamous letter of Velencia's, but Velencia used a completely different email address than the one I used. I strongly encourage Fr. Johnson to check it out and then come back and tell us a new and improved version of what his boss' intentions were.
When all is said and done, I sadly understand, to some extent, Fr. Johnson's defense of Velencia's unconscionable actions. He has much to lose. He knows exactly what I am talking about. He saw what happened to me when, in a single moment in January 2006, I said "no more". The same can be said of several parishioners who knew the truth and who made the same choices to turn their heads away, to stand with Velencia...it came down to what they had to lose was bigger, more important to them, than the truth, than reality. I sincerely hope that they are all at peace with their choices.
#52 KPK on 2009-12-07 21:33
1) I do not believe this is written by Duane Johnson. He was a far more intelligent person when I knew him. Now he is reduced to calling Stokoe a Nazi?
2) Still waiting for you to answer the simple questions posed to you by Jericho on November 18, Fr. Duane. That's what we all really want to hear. Not you petulantly stomping your foot.
3) Ms. Koumentakos may have shared parts of her history with anyone she chose and trusted. She did NOT share information with her priest (yes, it WAS during confession--what an absurd thing to claim that she never went to confession!) so that he could turn around and indiscrminately share that confidential and privileged information with anyone HE chose (read the next bit carefully Fr. Duane) for the SOLE purpose of discrediting her and intimidating her. Ms. Koumentakos history and confessions were ABSOLUTELY IRRELEVANT to the issue before the Metropolitan (Fr. Ray Velencia's attempted illegal financing and then retaliatory firing of Ms. Koumentakos.)
4) You state the phrase "when Fr. Alexei Karlgut concluded his investigation and compiled his report..." and I will again state that I was never contacted although I sent a written statement and made myself available nor were ANY of Ms. Koumentakos's witnesses contacted by this so-called investigator. Not one. Let's just keep that fact straight.
5) I am shocked that you state it is the fault of Fr. Karlgut and Fr. Garklavs that Fr. Ray Velencia violated the confessional; that it was at their direction. If you're going to make claims like that here you'd better be willing to provide proof. How ironic that you chastize Stokoe who relies on documents but you feel free to make outlandish and slanderous comments like that one. And even if it were true, THAT's your defense? God help us.
#53 Aisling Gray on 2009-12-08 02:25
I want to make it very clear that not only did I go to Velencia for confession many many times over the years, but the information he shared in that letter was information he obtained from me during my confessions and subsequent counseling sessions. As I've said, I had never uttered a single word of most of what was in that letter to ANYONE other than Velencia and my therapist. Shame on you, Fr. Duane, for writing this desperate attempt to explain things 4 years later (or for signing your name to it).
#54 Kristine Patico Koumentakos on 2009-12-08 05:31
I wish you had taken some time to respond to my questions... Oh well. I do want to point out that what an individual decides to share about their their own behavior / history is their perogative. I have always believed that regardless of how many individuals may know about someones past a priest could not share anything that was learned in either confession or pastoral couseling. In other words, if I had embezzled from my job and shared it with a select group of individuals in the parish that would not negate the confidentiality I would expect from the priest I had shared that with during confession / pastoral counseling. Do you concur?
Finally, if you will not answer my true false questions I put forth earlier, can you answer these two simple questions?
Did the Office of Human Right rule (I think the specific terminology is probable cause) against Father Velencia in every count brought against him? (As an aside, if they did is that not enough for us to pause and say shouldn't the church behave in a manner that raises it above any secular judgment?)
What did you and Father Velencia do to directly reach out to the Koumentakos family and try to de-escalate rather than to allow everyone involved to get to this point?
Oops one last question. Could Father Velencia have made any different choices that would have never allowed this to escalate if so what were they?
Finally, for the love of God, if there is one thing we have learned is it's never to late to repent and make amends. Why not start now? Would not this allow the Koumentakos' and Father Velencia (and the rest of the church) to begin to heal?
#55 Jericho Aequitas on 2009-12-08 07:05
Wow. Just when I think my mind cannot be blown any further. Anyway, I'm not going to continue to respond to your comment, Father, because quite honestly, it reeks of desperate caged animal. But I will leave you with a couple of questions:
You say that Fr. Garklavs and Fr. Karlgut directed Fr. Velencia to send the letter containing the personal information of Mrs Koumentakos. The now infamous letter that he had already written to +Herman in response to Mrs Koumentakos' complaint, the letter which contained nothing about the complaint itself, but instead contained higly personal information obviously obtained in confession and counseling in a clear attempt to intimidate and humiliate Mrs Koumentakos.
My question is this: Why are we learning this from you now after all this time? Do The church lawyers know this or did they simply lie in their motions for summary judgment and affadavits filed in this case which indicate that Fr. Velencia answers to no one? That he is a "contractual priest" without supervision?
#56 KPK on 2009-12-08 08:14
We are the parents of Kristine Koumentakos. In his latest posting, Fr. Duane Johnson pulled out all the stops, in terms of defensiveness. Let us count the ways...
The ever-popular "Nazi defense" (if facts are not on your side, accuse your opponent of being in some respect similar to Hitler, Goebbels, Eichmann or others in the Third Reich). Fr. Duane says that Mark Stokoe's approach is an example of "the Big Lie." But there is a problem with that analogy. Under the Third Reich, news was completely controlled; there were no viable channels available to members of the White Rose group or to Franz Jagerstatter (a Catholic who was martyred when he conscientiously objected to Hitler's war effort). In this case, the "opposition" has many channels available to it: for starters, there is the long-established OCA official site (we have heard nothing whatever about this case on that site). Also, they have the same ability to create a blog or forum that Mark and others have done. They could talk to the general press (who will often run stories on church machinations if they deem them newsworthy). Finally, they have recourse to the civil courts. Regarding the latter, does it seem strange to anyone else that none of the hundreds of hours of legal services paid for by the Church in this case have been spent to defend or explain the actions of Fr. Ray or Fr. Duane? No setting the record straight, no justifications, no provision of any rebutting evidence. All has been designed merely to deny standing, question the venue for hearing of the case, or attack the suits on procedural grounds. Even Fr. Duane did not. Hmmm...
The "holier than Thou" defense -- in this case, "I can't be wrong, because you're not a real journalist." We suspect that most readers of OCANews have long ago decided what they think about Mark Stokoe and his approach, though of course there are nuances about the finer points. Has anyone been able to make anything negative really stick? Has he been found to be in the pay of a particular party? Has anyone discovered any nefarious alteration of critical documents? Has he been vicious in his accusations or unwilling to admit mistakes? In short, Mark's record speaks for itself.
The "it wasn't me, or if it was me, I didn't mean it, or if I meant it, you didn't actually see it..." defense. We put our trust in Fr. Ray and Fr. Duane for many years, despite the fact that Fr. Ray's sense of confidentiality was increasingly "porous" as time went on -- shame on us for not waking up to smell the (rancid) coffee in time. We put our trust in the "investigator" Fr. Alexey, who came across as a humble, friendly, Russian clergyman -- UNTIL Kristi and Nick declined to sign his waiver absolving the Church. We spoke to Fr. Alexey when he came to Maryland, and we each wrote to him afterwards. Of course, he never attempted to get our side of the story (FYI, we had been members of the parish council and other groups in the parish, had helped in the founding of St. Matthew House, and both had long careers in the management of non-profit organizations.) Nor did he contact any of the board members of St. Matthew House (members of the larger community, unaffiliated with the church) who had protested Fr. Ray's arrogant and dictatorial actions, or any of the parishioners who did not side with Fr. Ray.
We then put our trust in the heirarchy -- until they said that they had NO control over or responsibility for any priest in the OCA. We put our faith in the Metropolitan -- until he was pushed out over financial and other improprieties having done nothing to look into the case. We then put our (now shaky) faith in The Church itself, the whole Body of Christ, in the form of Mark and his readership. Here we found a number of people who actually agreed that breach of confidence was unbecoming to a priest, people who were concerned about a heirarchy that would not take responsibility for what happened on their watch, folks who thought that all of us should be accountable -- whether we are a lay person, a treasurer of a parish, a priest doing pastoral counseling or a bishop leading his flock.
Now, Fr. Duane alleges that Fr. Ray was bound by obedience to carry out the directions of Fr. Alexey and Fr. Alexander Garklavs. This in a church which claimed that it could not direct him to do anything and never could! The court documents show that every defendant was on the same page -- that the Church in all its parts was sealed off like watertight compartments of a submarine, none having the slightest responsibility for any of the others (This is getting dangerously close to the time-honored "my dog ate my homework" defense...). We quote from the OCA motion to dismiss: "...the Holy Synod does not possess any authority to supervise individual priests." And, from the affidavit of Metro. Herman: "In neither my official capacity in the Church nor in my personal capacity have I ever possessed any right to control or supervise Father Raymond Velencia..." And, from that of the head of the Washington Deanery: "Dean White has never expressly or impliedly consented to a relationship whereby he had a right to control the actions of Father Velencia." That sound you hear is the sound of a buck not stopping. Either Velencia operated completely on his own, as the court documents assert, or at least some parts of his actions were at the direct instigation of higher-ups. Where is the truth here?
Lastly, there is the "misdirection," or "don't look there -- look over here!" defense. All the verbiage to date has gotten loaded onto the one issue of the confidentiality of the confessional (which is huge) and who divulged what to whom when. No one seems to focus much attention on the rest of the offenses that are also deeply distressing. Kristi was suddenly and without cause or warning thrown out of her livelihood, with a second child on the way, just as we were seeing the beginnings of the worst economic crisis in modern times. Is anyone else out there afraid of losing their income? Do any of you stay awake at night thinking what you'd do if you had to come up with a big chunk of cash to pay bills?
Kristi was in the middle of a medically-precarious pregnancy when Fr. Ray lowered the boom. Are any of you parents who have had to deal with the possible loss of a child? Do you remember the pain and stress of that, or can you at least imagine it?
Kristi and Nick were long-time, active members of a parish community? Have any of you had to move away from a church you've attended for many years? Were you ever pushed out of one? How did that feel?
Perhaps most important: Kristi confided in and relied upon Fr. Ray in an extraordinary way. As a person who had experienced different kinds of abuse earlier in her life, this giving over of trust was exceedingly hard to do. Have any of you been betrayed by someone in whom you placed your trust? Did you find that easy to endure? Were you able just to forward, laughing it off, and get on with your life?
Transparency is good. Fr. Duane ought to try it himself. But compassion is better. He ought to try that, too. He and his family have themselves endured great tragedies and benefited from the comfort of a loving parish family (including the Paticos and the Koumentakoses). It is very odd that he would deny that to another Child of God.
Alexander and Elaine Patico
#57 Alexander Patico on 2009-12-08 12:11
I was startled, Fr Duane, at your declaration that the confidential information Fr Ray Velencia had regarding Kristi Koumentakos was not, after all, obtained in confession. While it's odd that she never confessed to Fr Ray or sought private pastoral counseling from her pastor for many years, let's put that assertion aside. The implication of your letter seems to be that the information Fr Ray had somehow obtained, however private it was to was to Kristi Koumentakos, was information he was free to reveal it to members of the OCA's Metropolitan Council as well as to the editor of the OCA News site, Mark Stokoe (who, thank God, had the decency not publish it). Do I understand you correctly?
Fr Duane, had you entrusted me with some quite private and painful matter concerning your past, even though I am not a priest I would feel honor bound not to divulge it to others without your permission. Do you not feel a similar obligation simply as a human being? But is that obligation not immensely greater when one has been ordained a priest? Who would come to you for counseling or confession if he or she lacked confidence in your keeping to yourself information entrusted to you in confidence?
As far as I know, Fr Ray Velencia does not deny he divulged very private information about Kristi Koumentakos and that he did so without her permission. As far as I can make out from the available information, his motive was to justify his having fired Mrs Koumentakos. Am I mistaken? If so please correct me.
I join with the expression of hope from others that Fr Ray will repent of what he has done and seek a truly Christina ending to this tragic abuse of pastoral responsibility.
in Christ's peace,
Dear Fr. Duane
Your post is in the process of being sent to Fr. Garklavs (and of course to my lawyers) to directly ask him whether what you reported in your post is true, that Garklavs instructed Velencia to send that letter containing my personal history and confessional information to all of those people over the internet.
If its true, well, then the church should be VERY concerned about how they are going to explain that after the pleadings and affadavits they filed in my case.
If you lied 9or signed your name to someone else's lie), well, I don't know what to say, other than I will be very very very for you.
#59 Kristine Patico Koumentakos on 2009-12-09 12:53
Would you invite Fr. Velencia to share his side of the story as well as any documentation that he has to refute the allegations?
Also, any chance you could ask Fr. Alexander Garklavs and Fr. Alexei Karlgut if they did indeed "personally direct" Father Ray to send such personal information to the Metropolitan Council and yourself? By the way Mark, in your view did the email, in addition to revealing very personal information about the Koumentakos', adequately explain or justify Father Velencia's conduct in his firing and subsequent actions against Mrs. Koumentakos.
(editor's note: This forum is open to anybody and anytime. He is as welcome as anybody, but I imagine his lawyers would have something to say about it. Secondly, I did ask, as have many others, and Fr. Garklavs has stated, I am informed, that he did not encourage Fr. Velencia from writing, but exactly the opposite. Fr. Karlgut has made no comment.
Finally, I cannot speculate as the reason why Fr. Velencia would make public Ms. Koumentakos' most personal and painful moments. I personally cannot fathom how revealing anything one learned in counseling or confession over years could result in any outcome that would be valid or acceptable. But this is a matter of pastoral discipline, and so far, the bishop(s) is/are painfully silent on a most serious issue.)
#60 Jericho Aequitas on 2009-12-10 13:16
Fr. Velencia has never answered and will never answer direct questions that will justify his firing Mrs Koumentakos or his sending the letter he authored containing the information she shared with him in confidence...quite simply because he cannot. The same goes for Fr. Johnson. You cannot answer a question you do not have an answer to. You can merely say that you do not know. Or you can lie. Or you can muddy the waters by blaming the victim and dodging accountability. Fr. Velencia, the attorneys who represent him and the OCA, and now Fr. Johnson are expert at the latter two. Of course theres always the option of saying you were wrong, repenting, making amends. But I suppose we shouldn't hold our breath for that one!
Mark, could you be so kind as to split off this thread into a subthread of its own or at least to make some sort of notation about Garklavs' statement refuting what Fr. Johnson alleged in a place where more readers might find it? As you said, this is a matter of pastoral discipline and a most serious issue.
#61 anonymous on 2009-12-10 14:53
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