Reflections On The Scandal
Fr. Alexander Kuchta, Palatine IL
This week, our Holy Synod of Bishops conducts its spring session. The news release on the OCA web site told us: "the hierarchs will consider a number of issues facing the Church and hear reports on the Church's numerous departments, boards and commissions." Two of the reports that I am the most interested in hearing about are those of the auditors who have been tasked with examining financial records from the years 2004 and 2005 (together with the special appeals contributed to by our membership for the past ten years or so.) The other report concerns the investigation by the legal firm Prauskauer Rose LLP. They have been directed to examine the allegations made by Protodeacon Eric Wheeler of malfeasance at top levels of our Church administration.
Against this background, another release on our OCA web site revealed that the Metropolitan Council voted to accept a loan proposal from Honesdale National Bank of Honesdale, PA for $1.7 million dollars to consolidate, "internal and external debts of the Church". What are the internal debts that have been incurred?
Mark Stokoe, wrote in OCANews.org:
"The monies will be used, in part to repay the following sums taken from temporarily restricted accounts (Charity, Mission and Special Appeals) since 2001. These include, but are not limited to:
$36,640 taken from the Beslan Children’s Fund
$10,000 taken from the Alaska Medical Fund
$3,000 taken from the Alaska Parishes Fund
$87,560 taken from the Mission Appeal
$41,750 taken from the Charity Appeal
$16,600 taken from the Annual Christmas Stocking Appeal
$90,590 taken from the 9/11 Fund
$3,300 taken from the IOCC Fund
$13,920 taken from Florida Hurricane Relief Fund
$25,000 from the Russian Orphan's Fund"
We've been told about money missing from restricted funds, but it is still shocking to see the figures in print!
Because the auditors' and Proskauer Rose reports haven't been released, we can't be sure what happened to this money. However, the fact remains that funds were diverted from their intended use for missionary work, aid for orphans, aid to victims of terrorism or disasters, and others in need. Preliminary reports on the 9/11 collection are extremely disturbing: first because they show that all funds were not promptly disbursed. In addition, they also seem to show that while $25,000 of the $285,000 collected was properly distributed and $90,590 is listed as "taken", $170,000 still remains unaccounted for!
In his March 19th letter addressed to Metropolitan HERMAN and the Metropolitan Council, Fr. Thomas Hopko asked these questions: "Why are things the way they now are? Why do our bishops, clergy, and lay people think and act as they do? What has happened? How did it happen? Why has it happened? And what should we do about it?" I would add one more question to Fr. Hopko's list: "Who can answer these questions?"
Three months ago, clergy from our Midwest Diocese and 70 senior clergy from across the country addressed two separate letters to the Holy Synod of Bishops asking for an investigation and the formation of a commission. The commission would be comprised of at least three bishops, together with an appropriate number of clergy and laity to investigate the allegations of Protodeacon Wheeler. Such a commission might answer some of the questions that Fr. Hopko posed. A commission should also document and memorialize these events, so that their repetition would be less likely.
We can be thankful for the stand that Archbishop JOB of the Midwest has taken on this issue. As this matter has unfolded, he has acted in a brave, uncompromising, and prophetic manner. Our Metropolitan HERMAN's initiative to broaden audits and to launch a legal investigation was also extremely important and commendable.
However these efforts alone are incomplete. A Church commission can take information generated by auditors and lawyers, adding its own findings, putting them in a proper ecclesial context. Bishops, clergy, and laity can and must work together to explain the sad events that have taken place in the Church. Being blessed with talented and pious lawyers, CPAs, and financial experts, we are equal to the task. The synergistic efforts of such an independent group could only help to restore credibility to our Church administration and the trust of our church's members.
For the good of the Church, we must employ candor, repent of past sins, and work towards the renewal of a respected Orthodox Church in America.