by Lawrence Smith
For a short while earlier this year I was heartened by what appeared to be progress toward getting the OCA back on track and taking steps to recover from our ongoing financial scandal. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that financial and administrative reforms notwithstanding, our hierarchs, and most notably our Metropolitan, are still unwilling to commit to dealing openly, transparently and truthfully with the laity. To my thinking, this is completely unacceptable.
Whatever past sins Metropolitan Herman might have committed with respect to the financial scandal that has come to light during his tenure at first appeared to be mostly sins of omission. For those he has apologized and I have long since forgiven him. However, his recent refusal to release the report of the Special Commission and his interference with the membership of it are additional sin "this time of commission" that he has neither recognized nor acknowledged. Whatever the supposed justifications for his actions, they damn him as either attempting to hide his own guilt in the matter, or else as being completely derelict in regard to his responsibility to serve both the laity and the cause of Truth. In either case, he has raised serious doubts of his worthiness to continue to serve the Orthodox Church in America as its Primate. Whatever his true motives, personal agenda, or personal guilt, he has sullied his own reputation with the same tar besmirching our former Chancellor.
What the Metropolitan and those hierarchs who support him in his ill-chosen posture fail to see is that they have adopted the identical rationale toward not disclosing the details of our financial scandal as was adopted - with disastrous consequences - by the U.S. Roman Catholic hierarchy in covering up the sexual abuse of its children by certain members of its clergy. Apparently our hierarchy has learned nothing about openness and honesty from the unfortunate experience of their Roman Catholic brethren. Unfortunately, the results are identical in both cases -still greater damage to the health of the Church that they are supposedly protecting, and more importantly, damage to the religious faith of many of the faithful - and that is truly unforgivable.
I have recently experienced disgust and revulsion at seeing the laity treated as immature children by our hierarchs under the pretext that we just can't handle the truth, and that "it" will somehow hurt us if it were to be revealed. This attitude has been further manifested in the inappropriately despotic rule of certain parish clergy attempting to stifle discussion and disclosure of the truth by silencing laymen with threats of expulsion from parishes, etc. for daring to openly discuss the crisis. Both hierarchs and such clergy seem to be either unaware of, or at least bent on ignoring, the fact that our Church is comprised of both laity and clergy, and that at least in matters of church administration, there is supposed to be a "two-way street".
It is way past time that the laity asserted itself, made its presence felt and made it clear to the hierarchy that the members of the Holy Synod serve not only God but the members of the laity as well, andÊthat any authority they have as hierarchs is with the consent of those over whom some of them seem to think they have absolute rule. We need to make them aware that there are limits to that consent, and that with authority come both accountability and responsibility.
It has become abundantly clear that until we are rid of our current Metropolitan, the truth of the current scandal will never be fully known and that this sorry state of affairs will continue to drag on interminably, doing the Orthodox Church in America further and irreparable harm. This unfortunate fact must be impressed upon the Holy Synod, as they seem to be oblivious to it.
These messages need to be sent to Syosset by the only means at our disposal sure to get the attention of our hierarchs - bywithholding payment of all funds to the national church until we have the truth, accountability and new leadership. As any member of the medical profession can tell you, the surest way to defeat a cancer is to cut off its blood supply.
For parishes that are able to come to a consensus to act as a body in this regard, parish per-capita assessments due to the national church can be escrowed indefinitely in lieu of payment. Some parishes have already discussed this as a possible course of action.
For members of parishes that cannot reach consensus or are unwilling to take such an overt step, there is much that their members can do individually: many of us have been withholding donations to the national church in silence by merely ignoring solicitations from the OCA and tossing them into the nearest recycling bin when received. Suffering in silence will avail us nothing. The correct response to such solicitations is for each of us to make a loud noise and to 'rub the noses' of the hierarchs in it by returning each such solicitation to Syosset without a donation but with a note attached to the effect tha:
1) we have lost all faith in the current leadership of the national Church,
2) that the OCA needs to make a fresh start under new leadership, and
3) that in order to drive that point home, we will not make any further monetary contributions to OCA causes until the report of the Special Commission is released to the Church membership at-large and Metropolitan Herman resigns, retires or is deposed.
I can assure you from personal experience that such comments submitted in this manner do have an impact and will be conveyed by one means or another from the Treasurer of the OCA to the Metropolitan and his brother bishops.
With Truth being held a prisoner behind the walls of the Chancery, the only appropriate action now, as in ages past, is to lay siege to the fortress and starve its inhabitants into submission. If every parish and member of the OCA were to take similar action to withhold funding, we would have both the truth about past financial misdeeds and new leadership within a reasonably short period of time. The OCA is now burdened with a loan of 1.7 million dollars that must at least be serviced, if not immediately repaid. The ability to service this debt must of necessity be a priority for the national church. An interruption in the flow of monies needed for debt service together with an unambiguous statement of the reasons might bring the Metropolitan to understand that it is necessary for the spiritual and financial health of the Church to both stop obstructing the truth and to resign or retire. In the event of his failure to take these necessary actions, the Holy Synod would almost certainly have to act to replace him in order to ensure the ability of the Church to continue to perform its good works and to maintain its financial health, such as it is.
It is time for each of us to ensure that the voice of the laity is heard loudly and clearly in Syosset: "Let us have the truth, the leadership we deserve, and the ability to get on about the business of being the Church with new leadership and new-found purpose!"
Lawrence D. (Larry) Smith
(The attached statement was read at a recent Parish Meeting at Christ the Savior, Harrisburg, PA held for the express purpose of discussing the scandal and our response to it.)