Reflections On The Scandal
Penetrating the Syosset Fog
By Mark Warns, Poulsbo, Washington
We are members of the same Church, and something is happening right now in our Church that we should all be examining closely. The Orthodox Church in America, via our Holy Synod and Metropolitan Council, is in the process of borrowing a lot of money in a hurry. The stated purpose for the loan is to consolidate all of our Church’s indebtedness in a single loan, and the total amount of the loan is $1,700,000.00. At 8% interest for 20 years, it works out to $14,219.48 per month or $170,633.76 per year. I will let others address the massive size of this debt and whether a small Church like ours, especially given the recently reduced credibility of our central Church, can afford to make payments of that size.
I will confine my comments to the amount that is ostensibly going to replenish the charitable funds converted to other uses by our management –meaning our Metropolitan, our Bishops, our Metropolitan Council, and our Church administrators - over the past five years. This is amount is $522,300.00, which is 30.72% of the total loan and translates into $4,368.73 per month, or $53,424.71 per year. If you haven’t been following the current investigation closely, or if you don’t have any background in criminal law, this loan might seem innocent, or even beneficial. But, if you look at it closely, you will see that it is part of the same pattern as the rest of our current situation.
Please allow me a few preliminary words. Once I got past the initial shock of our Church being involved in any part of our current problems, I have changed the way I look at it. I don’t look at it the way an investigator or a prosecutor might look at it, although in my past I have served as both. I am not concerned with whether a particular event can be proved to be a crime. I am concerned with whether the potential crime shows our Church to be morally healthy or in moral decay at its highest level.
Here’s my approach: Although our situation may not yet involve a criminal investigation, it definitely involves the investigation of a series of events that could reasonably be called crimes. I divide these potential crimes into two groups. In one group I place the specific, high-impact crimes allegedly committed by a limited number of people. In this same group I place all violations of tax codes. In the other group I place the general crimes committed repeatedly, or even continuously, by broader management groups.
I don’t condone the first type of crimes, but I don’t see them as necessarily showing the moral health of our Church’s management. If a few people conspire to commit one big larceny while holding a position of responsibility within our Church, it is deplorable, but it doesn’t necessarily indicate a general problem within our management. Let’s remember that Our Lord’s problem with one twelfth of His Apostles didn’t tarnish the remaining eleven.
I put tax code violations in the same category with these specific, high-impact crimes because, even though tax crimes may have a moral dimension, tax crimes usually arise in parallel with an underlying event or offense, and they don’t usually involve an additional moral breach.
I focus my attention on the second group, the general crimes committed by larger groups over a longer time, especially if they are committed as a usual method of doing business. It is those offenses that, in my opinion, show the state of moral health of management.
Thus, in the present investigation I am most troubled by spending money for an operational purpose that had been donated for a charitable purpose. Sadly, this has been the usual method of doing business for our managers for a long time and a lot of money has been converted.
In looking at specific situations I hope to find the beginnings of renewed moral health. So, I first look for three potentially positive factors in the behavior of those responsible: resistance, renunciation, and remorse. Did any of the persons making the decisions, other than the whistleblowers, publicly and decisively resist it while it was being considered, did any of them renounce it while it was happening, or did any of them show remorse over their participation in it before it became known to all?
As an example, at any time between when these transfers were first proposed and five years later when they became public knowledge did any members of our Holy Synod, our Metropolitan Council, or our Church administration make any statement decrying the process or its results? Did any of them make a public statement like this, “I don’t think it would be right to go on this trip knowing that we are spending money on it that was intended for the missions, the seminaries, the needy, or the widows and orphans of the terrorized.” Do you recall seeing anything like that? I don’t.
Next, I look for a number of negative factors that would indicate moral decay in our organization. Were the whistleblowers treated poorly? Did management avoid early disclosure and assessment by the whole Church? What percentage of those responsible actually took responsibility and to what extent? Has there been any attempt by management to soft-soap the events? Is management attempting in any manner to massage the facts to reduce its culpability, or is it making any attempt to cover its tracks?
Sadly, we’ve seen all of those and very little of the contrary. In fact, the only respite from the decay indicators was the Metropolitan’s letter two months ago, but it wasn’t followed by a healthy change in management. It just served as the basis for a new ego-blast from a few of the Bishops. In fact, if you check the websites of the OCA and the dioceses, the trend is for management to still blame the whistleblowers rather than themselves.
The latest decay indicator was contained in the statement issued by the members of the Metropolitan Council on June 14, 2006, at the close of their most recent meeting. In part, it read:
“1. The operating budget of the Orthodox Church in America has been in a deficit status for several years.
“2. As a result, money has been borrowed from earmarked funds to cover operating expenses.”
Borrowed, indeed. Think about it. Doesn’t that seem childish?
You can imagine hearing the same words in your home. Let’s say you go shopping with your children, and you buy a dozen fancy cookies for a party. Before the party you surprise one of your children in the kitchen. The package is open, half of the cookies are missing, and your kid is covered with the evidence. You say, “Where are the rest of the cookies?” And your child says, “I borrowed them.”
Now, you’re an adult, and you don’t need Sherlock Holmes to tell you what happened. You’ve caught your child in the act, he’s told a lie to cover his tracks, and in so doing he’s compounded the theft with a falsehood. But, before you escort Junior to the penalty box, let’s go through this logically.
Had Junior actually borrowed the cookies from you or your spouse, you wouldn’t have a reason to object to his behavior, would you? So, why wasn’t this a loan? It wasn’t a loan because there was no agreement to lend. But isn’t it a defense under the common law if the converter of property has the intent to borrow the property briefly rather than convert it for an unreasonable amount of time, even if it is without the consent of the owner? Surprisingly, yes, but that doesn’t help Junior, because he didn’t convert the cookies with the present knowledge that he could replace the converted cookies with substantially similar cookies within a reasonable time - meaning without your assistance, before the party began, and without a loan from a bank.
Now, we’re back to the bank loan I mentioned at the beginning of this essay. We donated the original money to answer the specific charitable needs that existed then. Our Church management converted it to other purposes without our knowledge or consent. Now management is borrowing money at commercial bank rates to replenish the money converted. So, we have not only been the victims of the initial conversion, our management is giving us the opportunity of paying the value of the assets they converted back with interest over the next twenty years. If you do the math, you will see that we will actually pay back more than twice again the amount they converted in the first place. We will have paid three times to make the contributions once.
As I said above, the problems we were trying to solve with our donations are in the past. Whatever opportunity we had to better the situations of those we were trying to help, as their situations existed then, is over. The only beneficiaries of this money-replacement process seem to be the same people who agreed to the initial conversion. They at least get to use the replacement to try to make a legal defense to their potential crime.
Looking at the bigger picture, why are our Metropolitan, our Bishops, and the members of our Metropolitan Council involved in making this loan decision? Wouldn’t honorable men and women, the sort of people we thought we had in those positions, admit their conflict of interest and recuse themselves from this decision?
For that matter, why are these people still in positions where they can make decisions for our Church at all? Looking at the mess they’ve made of all this, wouldn’t honorable people resign?