Friday, November 20. 2009
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I would like to see a very important P.S in His Grace's letter of instruction.
P.S. Anyone who discovers financial improprieties and comes forward with such information shall not be excommunicated no matter who it may embarrass.
#1 Kevin Kirwan on 2009-11-20 16:07
How many of these scandals has MP seen over the last 43 years.
This directive should have come from him years ago!
But then again what is good for the goose is good for the gander!
There are obviously reasons why he threatened that every parish must have an audit if the Archdiocese is to be audited.
He knew that between the lay leadership and a few clergy they would not want their own records examined.
Amazing! We do not want the standards applied to us that we are willing to impose.!
#2 anonymous on 2009-11-20 16:26
Absolutely wonderful development. Aside from its intrinsic value, this action by Bishop Mark also should teach us all the virtue of patience, which was sadly lacking in many of us (including me) who criticized the Bishop for not taking action. Lord have mercy on Bishop Mark and his flock and protect them from further misdeeds.
#3 Carl on 2009-11-20 17:00
Perhaps Bishop Mark should have included the need to check police records for the parish financial positions.
#4 Yanni on 2009-11-20 18:10
If anyone knows anything, parishes with many people who talk and heavily participate in the inside work of the church know all that goes on. There are many gigantic parishes with no wrong doing, there may be, but I will bet a thousand dollars those types of parishes with people in your face nothing is going on.
#5 FYI on 2009-11-20 19:25
We have been asking Bishop Mark for a while to have our books looked at. Now he says something! Who will make sure that the Priest and Board do this the proper way? How far back will the books be looked into? Will the finding be published for all to see?
Will someone please tell me if a certain amount of money is given to the board for a certain project ( example: the ladies club votes to have money go to a orphanage and gives it to the board to send with other money to the orphanage. The board does not send it and desides ( not telling the ladies) to keep it as a money donated to the church. So now it shows up the church has this money in their operating fund instead. ) Now would you call this dishonest or mismanagement of the books? When money is voted on by the group and behind their backs it is not given as requested. Is the board doing their jobs or trying to show that people are giving more money to the church. Now the sad thing is in the General Assembly book passed out it says this money was given by the ladies to the (example orphanage) so the ladies think this is where it went. The ladies and church members are not told that this money was not given.
Bishop Mark should also state if
!) money was stolen should it be reported to the police?
2) will the person be excommunicated be who ever it is
3) If money that was donated to one thing and never given be reported to the church members
4) If more than ? board members did wrong than a new board should be voted on. These board members should be making sure at there meetings the reports are correct.
5)????? As in other rules should be in writing on how things will be done. As everyone knows people have different rules.
#6 Chris on 2009-11-20 23:22
A long time ago a good blog noted that the OCA parishes at their annual meeting ELECT 2 or 3 AUDITORS who answer only to the next Gen'l assembly ... or their local Bishop if they observe malfeance! Simple! Wake up Met. Philip. This letter should have come from YOU rather than Bp Mark.
#7 Anonymous Priest on 2009-11-21 00:40
Who is going to investigate Met.Phillip and +Antoun?
#8 Stephen Montgomery on 2009-11-21 03:20
A few observations:
1. I guarantee that there will be parishes that will ignore Bishop Mark's directive by rationalizing: "We don't have anything to worry about."
2. Englewood will not support +Mark's action because it may indict some of their favorites.
3. +Mark's action will further anger Englewood because he has aired "dirty laundry" that over the years they have covered up (like one priest a dozen or so years ago who embezzled tens of thousands of dollars from a parish treasury and fled to the old country).
4. Metropolitan Philip does not want reputable accounting within parishes because it will add further pressure on him to do likewise for the archdiocese.
#9 Disgusted Antiochian Priest on 2009-11-21 05:56
I know people are jaded by all of this but Bp. Mark and his actions are a breath of fresh air and a sign of good things to come.
Fr John Chagnon
St. Elias Orthodox Church
No, actually it shows that +Mark is merely using the all-or-nothing strategy that we all laughed at when +Phillip proposed it at the Assembly. There's an inability to deal with specific problems.
#11 Steve Knowlton on 2009-11-21 09:13
From an accounting perspective only, I'd say the Bishop is making a good attempt at asking his parishes to develop some sound accounting practices.
I would disagree, however, with the requirement to produce the statement of financial position on a monthly basis. Most likely, it wouldn't be timely nor relevant, which are two important parts of accounting.
The churches I have been involved with did a fine job of accounting and did not produce a balance sheet/position statement each month.
What are needed are good internal controls. An example of a simple internal control would be person A counts the money, person B takes the money to the bank and cannot touch the ledger, and person C reviews the deposit slip against the ledger.
If one considers the Bishop's requirements to be a starting point and to be adjusted over the next years, I'd say he's done a good job of giving parishes a starting point.
...just my thoughts (non AOCA member)...
#12 Daniel E. Fall on 2009-11-21 10:27
No, the letter should have come from Bishop +Mark. He is the Bishop of Toledo, and the parishes of that diocese are under his omophorion. Perhaps Metropolitan +Philip will be moved to issue a similar letter to the parishes under his direct jurisdiction in the Archdiocese of New York.
Financial accountability is indeed a benefit the entire Archdiocese should enjoy, but the benefit of Orthodox ecclesiology is greater: no more papal decrees from Englewood. If the Archdiocese is to have a uniform standard of fiscal transparency, the Eparchal Holy Synod should establish it, not the Metropolitan.
#13 Subdeacon David [Yetter] on 2009-11-21 11:18
Well said Father John!
#14 Abbuna Habib on 2009-11-21 11:23
Actually, bishop Mark just empowered the laity of his diocese to demand internal reveiws.
What parishioner would not want internal reveiws that cost nothing?
Any priests who ignores or fights against this directive implicates himself!
We must start somewhere.
Hopefully, as each parish gathers for their annual meetings the _laity will insist that internal controls be in place.
#15 anonymous on 2009-11-21 11:39
Only the guilty flee from the light.
Best Business Practices should be normative.
For how many years have we been hearing of church scandals and scams.
Now we want to critize a bishop for being pro-active.
Why should a diocese wait until ALL the cows are out of ALL THE BARNS before closing the doors.
When you see one cow get out, close the door before the heard gets out.
If you see your neighbors cow ge out close your barn door before yours get out as well.
Check the doors.
Put in CONTROLS to protect the assets of the Church!
#16 anonymous on 2009-11-21 11:47
If MP does not like to openly address that which brings disgrace upon the church he will not like Patriarch Kirill's comments about the seminaries not adequately training the priests.
Certainly, MP would never criticize the seminaries would he?
#17 anonymous on 2009-11-21 11:53
This is a good first step, but it will not prevent the sort of massive fraud that involves the priest or a dominant Board member, in a parish in which the majority of Board members are blindly loyal to the priest. Does any one of your parishes in particular come to mind?
In parishes in which financial misdeeds seem to have occurred, an external audit going back several years should be ordered. The auditors should not be chosen by the priest or anyone else who has been alleged to be involved in financial misconduct - for obvious reasons. Ideally, the auditing firm would have to be approved by YOU!!!
If you do not feel professionally qualified to make such decisions, select several CPAs from your diocese to comprise a committee to advise you and be involved in selecting the auditing firm. This is the best way to clean up the messes. Unfortunately, what you have proposed is insufficient.
This type of structure will be a good model for other dioceses to emulate.
#18 Disgusted Life-long Antiochian Orthodox Christian on 2009-11-21 15:53
Has Bishop Mark taken any action about the layman who has been excommunicated by a priest who was asked questions about finances? If not, the area still needs a bishop. Call him anything you like; auxiliary, diocisan, titular, whatever, as long as he can act and doesn't fear his clergy. Somehow the problem of everyone cringing when the bishop shows up has been replaced by the bishop cringing at the thought of doing something a grownup would do in the same situation. Both are pure pathology and need a cure. Start with the idea that laity, clergy and bishops are never expected to dress anyone else. Once they get basic public behavior down, build on that. That'll take a few years all by itself.
#19 ba'ab on 2009-11-21 16:24
Every parish witin a jurisdiction, i.e., Diocese should use the same bookkeeping program.
They should use the same income codes and expense codes.
Why do some people like disorganization, because it allows them to slip through without being noticed.
After 100 years in North America, the AOCANA should have a program mandated for use by every parish with established accounting pocedures.
Monthly reports could be filed electronically with the Diocesan Office.
Major corporations publish their financial statements, the Church should have the highest standards of reporting as it is a non-profit entity.
The parishioners need to support their bishop and insist his directives be followed.
It costs them nothing and assures them their donations are used for the work of the Church.
#20 anonymous on 2009-11-21 17:55
Best Business Practices Protect the INTEGRITY OF
1. The Priest
2. The Parish Council
3. Those Handling the Money
St Paul says Avoid the very appearance of evil.
If sound financial policies were in place the AOCANA would not be facing much of the upheaval it is now facing
St George in Troy MI would not be empty and facing bankruptcy if it followed sound ACCOUNTING PRINCIPLES AND ADVOCATED FOR TRANSPARENCY.
#21 anonymous on 2009-11-21 18:13
There are to many scenarios to be completely prescriptive.
Certainly when money is stolen, GET AN ATTORNEY and PRESS CHARGES seek RESTITUTION.
IF Council Members are GUILTY they should be placed under penance, removed from the council and charges filed.
Money designated for a specific purpose must be used for that purpose. Church are incorporated as non-profits and must follow the law to enjoy the benefits of their tax exempt status.
#22 anonymous on 2009-11-21 18:19
Two people should always count the money making deposit slips in triplicate.
One goes in a locked bag for the bank. One to the Treasurer. One to the Priest.
Those counting money cannot be related.
Perhaps you did not read all the documentation the Bishop provided at the appropriate web site?
Perhaps this is a beginning. I would recommend gathering a group of CPAs familiar with Church accounting and good ole boy tricks, for the express purpose of outlining sound business practices that will protect the parish from the priest, the council, the secretary and the treasurer.
This will mea finding people willing to work to keep the system clean.
Who knows how much money some parishes would have if they actually implemented SOUND CONTROLS.
#23 anonymous on 2009-11-21 18:30
A thousand thank you's, Bishop MARK, for being the first Diocesan Bishop to step up and order the audit for your Diocese. It sounds like there are too many parishes having financial scandals, and only what you have done will bring more out into the light and put a stop to all of this. God bless you, and good luck with this new development. Parishes in the Diocese of Toledo - You heard your Bishop. Please cooperate with him and do what he has directed you to do, knowing that when people steal from the church, they are very dishonest, and they must be caught to avoid this happening everywhere.
To Bishop JOSEPH, Bishop BASIL, Bishop THOMAS and Bishop ALEXANDER: please follow your brother bishop and send out the same directive in each of your Dioceses. Who knows how widespread this financial mess is, and it is up to each of you to ascertain where the trouble is and handle it according to the law, with full consequences.
Your actions will encourage all of us who are wading thru the muck, and you will show yourselves as true Diocesans who are ruling their flock with patience and with discernment.
Hey anonymous, why do you insist on writng in bold lettering? It is annoying. Do you think that your pronouncements should be written in tablet form, like the "financial commandments?"
Anyone with a brain knows this letter and story from Bishop Mark is a smokescreen. It sounds apochraphyl. I guess in that one slow scandal free week the two Marks got together to cook up some National Enquirer headlines. All the best practice, pro Marks of the world can now get frothy and in a frenzy.
(Editor's note: Alas, the story is too real, and if losing $100,000 doesn't upset you, it should.)
#26 anon on 2009-11-21 20:36
Perhaps there are many more stories to be told?
Why would a Church leader such as MP not want uniformity in the Antiochian Orthodox Church of North America?
He worries about cassocks?
He worries about beards?
He worries about sandals?
He worries about the length of a priest beard or his hair?
How many times has he sent our directives on these issues?
Where are his own directives about "Financial Practices?"
How many priests have taken money and fled to the old counrty? at least one from OH and one from WV.
Now is the time for the laity to speak!
There must be internal controls and written policies.
Ask your parish council what they are?
Ask an accountant who is not currently on the council wha they should be?
#27 anonymous on 2009-11-22 16:34
There seems to be a misuse of words regarding Bishop Mark's letter to his parishes. He uses the words financial misconduct when describing the treasurer's action. I assume he also would use the same words for the Troy church. How about calling the person or persons embezzlers, robbers or criminals? If this was done in any office across America, the police would be immediately called in, and if there was a possibility that there were Federal implications i.e. HUD, FBI and perhaps IRS would join the team.
#28 weary on 2009-11-22 17:18
Nice. It's about time. Take it one step further Bp.MARK. Mandate an EXTERNAL audit of all of your parishes. The Metropolitan should do the same. Weed out corruption. It's a joke that Bp. ANTOUN is head of the internal audit committee for the Archdiocese. ....
#29 Fred Abdallah on 2009-11-22 18:37
Perhaps you should contact Bishop Mark directly about your concerns.
He may not read this site.
He may not know which parish you are speaking about.
How can he address anything which is anonymous?
An Internal Review Committee would notice if money from the ladies organization was not properly disbursed as earmarked.
The council is elected by the general assembly and is accountable not only to the Bishop, but to the parish as well.
#30 anonymous on 2009-11-23 07:10
A perosn is less like to be criticized for doing nothing.
How sad that when Bishop Mark implemets a program to begin a process that will tae time, immediately tere is criticism.
Thank God, some of it is at constructive criticism.
Perhaps those remarks that would hone, protect the church from embezzlement and fraud should be sent to Bishop Mark and every Bishop in North America.
Procedures always are subjetc to change as people find manuevers to circumvent the system.
Just like we have updates for viruses for our computers, we need updates for new forms of finncial controls.
Perhaps more stories of what other behaviors have defrauded Orthodox churches and the corrective measures taken would b constructive to all parishes. Though painful to read.
#31 anonymous on 2009-11-23 07:22
Very true, we forget that the very appearance of evil is itself evil. We should do everything within our power to ensure there is no opportunity for one to assume evil has happened. Regular financial controls - that's all internal and external audits are, after all - prove no evil has taken place. It cuts off the possibility that an appearance of evil could happen regarding financial matters.
Kudos for Bishop Mark for instituting sane, regular accounting practices.
Bishop MARK's directive is to be welcomed heartily by anyone who loves light more than darkness. Having said that, there are two aspects of this matter on which I would value the forum's opinions:
1) Upon first inspection, the procedures accompanying the directive do not seem to make a distinction between large and small parishes. Some parishes have trouble filling the vacancies on their Parish Councils, let alone finding people to fill all of these new oversight positions. The suggestion by one forum member that all parishes use the same "accounting codes" would undoubtedly produce a system that would be either insufficiently robust for large parishes with active affiliated enterprises or unnecessarily expensive and complicated for small parishes whose expenses consist almost exclusively of Archdiocesan obligations, clergy compensation, utilities, insurance, and facilities maintenance. Keep in mind also that not every parish has an accountant or an attorney among its members. Many small-parish treasurers have little or no bookkeeping training, and I worry about running good and faithful people out of service to their parishes by subjecting them to complexity that isn't needed to control and truthfully disclose their parishes' finances. More than that, if the financial statements themselves are too complex for someone with no accounting training to understand, no one--including untrained Parish Council members--will read them, and the entire process will have been for naught. Let me affirm again, however, that I wholeheartedly endorse the content and frequency specified in the directive's reporting and disclosure requirements.
2) Although this directive was prompted by instances of embezzlement, I wonder whether the directive will have the salutary effect of diminishing another phenomenon that, while less immediately serious, can enervate a community over time: concealment of material financial information (both assets and liabilities), even when no one is stealing anything. How widespread is incomplete disclosure at the parish level? How is Bishop MARK likely to view instances of significantly deficient disclosure in which there is no evidence of malfeasance, particularly in parishes where the priest is a friend and not, as in Troy, an enemy? I do not mean to imply anything negative about Bishop MARK; I don't know him that well, and I would appreciate the perspective of those who do.
Perhaps this post, in addition to being too long, seems negative. I do not wish it to be so. I just fervently want this directive to work and be workable.
As someone who studied accounting, specified codes are not that big a deal.
How many people file taxes elctronically?
Larger parishes would simply make use of more codes as their income and expenses are much more diverse.
External Audits are not all that expensive. Perhaps, parishes with limited numbers of people could simply have a few oher persons look over the books following the outlined procedures.
If they find it too confusing, there may be a problem that calls for some better trained.
One does not have to have a huge budget to suffer loss from a theif.
There are many programs out there that help with reports.
Quicken and QuickBooks are two that comeimmediately to mind.
Even Mayberry needed a jail.
#34 anonymous on 2009-11-23 18:00
To Formerly Diogenes:
You make some good points. The answer to your concerns can be found in my comment - comment#11 - to this article. Specifically, in my comment I recommended that Bishop Mark establish a committee of CPAs from within the diocese to advise him on these issues and what I'm sure are many other related issues.
The establishment of proper financial controls and reporting procedures, as well as the structuring of professional EXTERNAL audits, require the services of people of good will who are professionally trained in these areas (CPAs). In most cases, not much will be accomplished if, as you state in your comment, the process is left to parish members who are generally not trained in these areas. Relying on them will likely generate frustration among many of them, and fail to catch most instances of fraud.
Simply having untrained people (i.e. non-CPAs) "reviewing the financials periodically", as Bishop Mark suggests, will not usually uncover fraud, even if fraud is present and apparent to the trained eye of a CPA. Having said that, I applaud Bishop Mark for at least trying to get the ball rolling, so to speak.
I bet Bishop Mark could find some CPAs in his diocese who would be willing to donate time to serve on the committee I have proposed.
I hope this answers your questions.
#35 Disgusted Life-long Antiochian Orthodox Christian on 2009-11-23 19:03
It looks like people here are trying once again to legislate morality. The problem we have is not one of internal controls, audits or reviews. The people involved are corrupt. They will always find a way to game the system (ie to play within the rules but manipulate the outcome) in their favor. Just look at Berny Madoff.
Our Church is not made for people who are intending to cheat and act in bad faith. We need to expel these people from our midst and from our Church, including many in the hierarchy. As long as they are around, the problem will persist. Putting in audits and "controls" might even be worse, since it will give the cover to hide under.
#36 Joseph on 2009-11-24 08:10
For a nice recap of the last several months vist:
#37 anonymous on 2009-11-24 15:46
Hopefully financial controls will reveal who needs to be removed from handling cash and sanctioned if they are truly interested in Orthodoxy.
Given there are the criminal element, why make it too easy for them.
Let them choose an easier target.
A paper trail will also provide documentation for prosecution and recovery of losses.
#38 anonymous on 2009-11-25 10:24
"They will always find a way to game the system (ie to play within the rules but manipulate the outcome) in their favor. Just look at Berny Madoff."
If I may, Mr. Madoff broke just about every rule and related criminal and civil law in the book with regard to managing third-party investments and the longer that investigation goes on, the more unethical and illegal activities come to light.
We can only hope for a better outcome here.
#39 MWP on 2009-11-25 17:00
Bishop MARK is to be commended for doing what should have been done at the first hint of financial mismanagement in all corners of our Archdiocese. He showed great strength in Palm Desert, during the debate about an audit, when he got up and spoke calmly and peacefully about supporting an audit to bring everything out into the light. Then there would be no surprises or secrets. He didn't act rude or disrespectful like the hecklers, both clergy and laity, who were pre-programmed to act on behalf of MP and mistreat people asking for an audit.
Now it is time for our other 4 Bishops, the younger ones, to do the same. If each of these Dioceses is fully audited, all parishes, committees, departments, chanceries and Bishops, clean up the mess, hold those responsible for trouble accountable, start doing things right and with consistency, then our troubles will begin to clear up. I know this means we may lose some clergy and laity thru either excommunication, laicizing and/or criminal charges filed, but it's the only way to bring holiness and health back to our church. Being good stewards of God's money, and let's remember, everything we have comes from GOD, means proper and appropriate financial records with all details. This money that we give to our churches and other charities is not ours. It is God's money, and we would like to trust MP to do the right thing with it, but the past and present has shown we can't trust him. Therefore we are well within our rights to demand that he do the right thing, as it is not his money either. We give in good faith that the money will be properly managed, deposited into the right bank accounts, full records kept, and none of it disappearing without a trace. There is a law in this country against stealing - taking what is not yours. If I give a donation to the church, I want it to be used specifically for church expenses here in this country. I don't want it sent overseas in cash as bribe money, given to terrorists to support their unGodly deeds, and I certainly don't want it lining someone's pocket. Otherwise, I will give God's money elsewhere, where I know it is going to the right cause. That is being a good steward. One of the 10 Commandments states: THOU SHALL NOT STEAL. It's very clear and very simple to understand. You do not take what is not yours, and you do not do unworthy acts and then lie about it to save your own rear.
I don't get why this is so hard for some people to understand, and I don't care how much money is spent to conduct these audits. It is GOD's money, and I know HE will be pleased that we are doing the right thing and being the good stewards of HIS money.
Once each of these Dioceses cleans up all the financial mess, deal with those responsible and brings order back to our financial records, then we can all look to Englewood and say, "We did our job. Now it's your turn, MP and BA, to do the same in your Dioceses and in the Archdioceses." If they still refuse, they are not good stewards of GOD's money, they are hiding even more than we are aware of, and they should be removed and laicized immediately, and that will require action from the Patriarach and the Holy Synod of Antioch. Let's see if they will be the good stewards and do the right thing.
I urge all parishioners to write to their Diocesan Bishops this week, and request full audits to be conducted on all levels. I also urge all Accountants, CPA's and accounting students to offer their services to assist in this large venture. You are the ones who know this field - it is your expertise - and we need you, not uninformed and uneducated in this field, to handle this large task. I truly believe that if we all do this, our Bishops will have no choice but to do the right thing. No one will fault you for it, for doing the right thing, and it will show MP that you are serious in bringing our church into total compliance with all the laws of this country and all the laws of GOD.
If we continue to be liars, cheaters, dishonest and unattached to GOD and HIS laws, then we can no longer call ourselves Orthodox or GOD's people. We have a choice to make, and it is a simple one. Enough of this pain and suffering in our Archdiocese. If our leaders don't care to do the right thing, we have no choice but to step up, make changes and hold them accountable. We will all have to answer on Judgement Day, and I truly believe GOD is waiting to see how strong we can be and how much we love HIM and HIS HOLY VINEYARD, enough to clean it up and get rid of the moneychangers in the temple.
My example was never intended to be a control used by churches.
I appreciate your correction, because in my message, I did not intend to declare my example as a good method, just that the procedures and methods of handling money are more important than monthly balance sheet reporting. I'm sorry if anyone read my posting and misunderstood my main thesis.
#41 Daniel E. Fall on 2009-12-03 17:27
In accounting, we have a basic premise that the cost of accounting must not exceed the benefit. Some call it the cost-benefit rule and it helps accountants decide how much time to spend posting, auditing, correcting, reporting, etc.
It would be unfair to not apply the cost benefit rule to the decision to audit the churches books annually. That is, it would be unfair and unwise to expect every church to audit its books every year because some churches would get no benefit. You are assuming the benefit is everyone's satisfaction the books are right, but that is not a valid benefit because not every member of every church is concerned about malfeasance.
It was a ploy when it was suggested. Don't be fooled.
For a church with a budget of say 150k, spending 3k of that budget each year on an audit, when good internal controls are present, is probably not the best use of resources and as an accountant, I would argue against it. However, in the absence of good controls, getting an outside CPA firm involved to improve procedures might be wise. Also, when there is internal strife over the accounting, it would be another good time to audit.
It is really sad that a ploy by a hierarch ends up twisting the beneficial use of church audits by third parties and makes it look like we are all accounting nuts. I know the person that suggested this approach is a liar.
#42 Daniel E. Fall on 2009-12-03 17:36
Only the GUILTY or a COMPLETE IDIOT would resist the directives for internal controls that protect the assets of the church, the integrity of the priest, parish council and the stablility of the parish.
Let us see who the FOOLS, the GUILTY and the IDIOTS ARE?
#43 anonymous on 2009-12-05 09:11
If these directives are undermined in any way by MP, ift is sure sign of impropriety on a larger scale.
What will it take for the good, trusting and God-loving people of the AOCANA to wake up and see that they have been hoodwinked for 43 years?
What will it take for the LCAL SYNOD to say enough is enough?
If their action is to go after the innocent rather than protect and support the innocent, then we know we need a major changes to our synod.
#44 anonymous on 2009-12-05 09:15
And now Bishop Mark has been undermined in attempting to reform the Midwest Diocese. May our Lord protect his from his enemies. It is time for +MP to go. How much more can our Bishop endure, and now much more can the decent and honest parishioners in the Midwest endure after the flagrant scandals in our midst?
#45 anon on 2009-12-06 15:26
You asked for a sign.
#46 Subdeacon David [Yetter] on 2009-12-07 19:13
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