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On Wednesday, January 31st, members of the Metropolitan Council received the following update from the Special Commission charged with completing the ongoing investigation. It read:

"Dear Metropolitan Council members:

Pursuant to His Beatitude's charge to the Commission established to continue the investigation, the Commission is required to periodically report back to the Metropolitan Council on developments. In the meantime, to answer the many questions being asked about whether the Commission has been meeting and proceeding with its work, the Commission has prepared a brief statement.

The statement was submitted last night to the Metropolitan for his approval before it is published on the church website, which is normal procedure. Anticipating its approval and publication there, we send it to you now as a courtesy (below).

Naturally, a more detailed report will be prepared for submission to the Metropolitan Council meeting in March.

Four days later the Statement has still not appeared on the OCA website, nor have Metropolitan Council members been given any indication when, or even if, the Statement will appear. Little in the Statement appears controversial given that it is largely a recitation of facts - names, dates and meeting times. One paragraph does, however, set forth the questions the Commission seeks to answer, and the reasons for these questions. These very same questions are contained in the as-yet unpublished Minutes of the joint meeting of the Synod of Bishops and Metropolitan Council held December 11-13 in Syosset. The withholding of the Minutes, and now of the Commission's Statement, is raising concern among Council members as to the nature of Syosset's commitment to the very investigative process the Metropolitan himself launched in March 2006.

The Statement of the Commission

The Commission's Statement reads:

"Statement of the Special Commission

On December 12, 2006, an extraordinary joint session of the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council of the Orthodox Church in America heard a report on the investigation of alleged financial improprieties from the New York City law firm Proskauer Rose LLC. Following that report, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman named six individuals --- two bishops, two archpriests, and two lay persons --- to a committee charged with completing the investigation initiated by Proskauer Rose.

On December 19, 2006, Metropolitan Herman appointed His Eminence, Job, Archbishop of Chicago, Diocese of the Midwest, to chair the Special Commission, whose task was 'to work together with the attorneys from the Proskauer Rose law firm to bring the investigation that began in March 2006 to a conclusion in the most appropriate way.'

The Special Commission began its work with a telephone conference the following week, on December 28, 2006. Among the decisions made at that meeting was the appointment of Alexandra Makosky, Esq. of Carlisle, Pennsylvania as special counsel to the Commission.

Since that time, Commission members have been in regular communication by e-mail. On January 24, 2007, all members of the Commission met in Parma, Ohio for nearly ten hours, with Attorney Makosky participating by telephone. The Commission reviewed 700 pages of documents provided a week earlier in response to a formal request to Proskauer Rose. A plan for completing the investigation with the assistance of Proskauer Rose was agreed to, with meetings with Proskauer Rose in New York City tentatively scheduled for the first week of February.

The Commission has agreed that the restoration of trust must be the primary goal of the investigation, and that at the conclusion of its work, a written report to the Church must be made. These questions are among those that need to be answered concerning the crisis that has affected the Church:

What exactly happened?
Why did it happen?
What can be done to prevent this from happening again?
Why will those responsible for permitting it to happen not be in those positions of responsibility again?

The Commission also acknowledged the need for apologies and repentance to be offered before the Orthodox Church in America can move forward.

Members of the Commission remain deeply concerned about details of their work being disclosed before the investigation and report are complete. Such premature leaks would be unfair to all parties involved, and the Commission members have pledged to keep their findings and conclusions strictly confidential until their work is done. This means that no one in the Church, other than the members of the Commission and special counsel, will be privy to the results of the ongoing investigation. The Commission is convinced that leaks and partial disclosures serve no one, and could seriously compromise the credibility of its work.

The Commission asks the members of the Church to be patient as it proceeds as expeditiously as possible, recognizing that a final report must not be unduly delayed.

An interim progress report will be made by the Commission to the next meeting of the Metropolitan Council, March 13-14, 2007, in Syosset, New York.

The Commission asks for the support and prayers of the faithful as it seeks to complete this very difficult task.

The members of the Commission include its chair, Archbishop Job; His Grace, Benjamin, Bishop of Berkeley, Administrator of the Diocese of the West; Very Reverend Vladimir Berzonsky, Parma, Ohio; Very Reverend John Reeves, State College, Pennsylvania; Gregory Nescott, Allison Park, Pennsylvania; and Dr. Faith Skordinski, Germantown, Maryland."

Work Revealed

The Statement provides the first glimpse of the Commission, its goals and style. Clearly the Commission has already reached two important conclusions: that the restoration of trust is the primary goal of the investigation and therefore, a written report to the Church must be made at the conclusion of its work. Is this what the Metropolitan objects to?

More likely, it appears to be the questions 'that need to be answered' that the Metropolitan finds objectionable. These are:

What exactly happened?
Why did it happen?
What can be done to prevent this from happening again?
Why will those responsible for permitting it to happen not be in those positions of responsibility again?

Yet none of these questions should come as a surprise to Syosset. They are taken almost word for word from page 10 of the most recent Metropolitan Council Minutes, under an Action Item that established the Commission. Those Minutes read:

"Because most of the investigation has been completed, Attorney Perry recommends that the Metropolitan Council request a summary of the remaining work from Proskauer Rose concerning the investigation and receive their advice as to the remaining steps to take to bring the investigation to a conclusion. Attorney Perry also suggested that the Church separate the needs of the investigation from the work to move forward with the life of the Church.

Attorney Gregory Nescott suggested that a five-step process be considered for moving forward at this time. The Orthodox Church in America at large needs to be told:

• What took place
• Why it went wrong
• Why it won't happen in the future and what limitation have been put in place
• And that the individuals responsible are not in those positions
• Expressions of forgiveness and repentance even if not received from those involved.

His Beatitude Metropolitan Herman appointed His Eminence, Archbishop Job, His Grace, Bishop Benjamin, Father Vladimir Berzonsky, Fr. John Reeves, Dr. Faith Skordinski, and Attorney Gregory Nescott to draft a statement to summarize the results of the presentation made by Proskauer Rose concerning the on-going investigation. Further, they are to work together with one another and with the attorneys from Proskauer Rose to bring the investigation to a conclusion in the most appropriate way."

It cannot be coincidental that the only point of confluence between the as-yet unpublished Minutes of the Metropolitan Council and the withheld Statement of the independent Special Commission are the same set of four questions that get to the heart of this scandal. The Metropolitan may have intended the Commission to do little more than to accept without further inquiry the results of the investigation as reported by Proskauer Rose to this point. But that is quite different from bringing the scandal to a conclusion. Clearly, the latter is the Commission's understanding of its charge.

By withholding the Statement of the Commission and the Minutes of the Joint Session, Syosset lends credence to the former interpretation - further dimming the fading credibility of this administration. It emphasizes the perception among some Metropolitan Council members that the Metropolitan truly does fear questioning; and does not want an investigation that seeks to discover the whole truth. In so doing, the Metropolitan prolongs the scandal for the entire OCA into the uncertain future.

The Special Commission is scheduled to meet this coming week in New York City.

- Mark Stokoe


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