AN OPEN LETTER
Dear Fr. Breton:
I take the unusual step of publicly answering your recent comment to OCANews for two reasons. I want to thank you and your wife for your loan to the OCA that allowed initial funding of the audit and Proskauer Rose investigation. Your generosity in offering it at a time of need is praiseworthy.
Secondly, I want to publicly thank you for taking the time, and having the courage, to post a thoughtful and thought-provoking comment that challenges this site. You do so without the slander and vilification that have so often accompanied earlier criticisms by others. You offer your critique in the context of a way forward. This kind of exchange is most welcome.
That being said, I ask you to accept that the strong words I am about to write are intended with the same generosity of spirit you have shown. I will agree with some of what you say; disagree with some; and seriously disagree with much. I do so publicly because I believe that reasonable people can disagree about important matters, and should do so openly when they are so persuaded; for in dealing with difficult problems this is the only way to discover common solutions, rather than suffer imposed ones.
"I have to voice here my extreme uneasiness with the report of the Metropolitan Council Meeting as told by Mark Stokoe. My uneasiness lies primarily with how, from whom, and with what bias the accounts of the meeting were acquired."
The details of the Metropolitan Council meeting came from the published agenda, from the published reports of the Metropolitan and Treasurer, and from the "Members' Statement" also published by the OCA. Additional facts were supplied by participants in that meeting, and corroborated by yet other participants. Just because some of my sources wish to remain anonymous, one should not accuse them of bias. Like your wife, they too, requested anonymity for the actions they felt "were for the good of the Church".
"Secondarily, my uneasiness lies with my gut feeling that things said and done at this meeting have been filtered, massaged, taken out of context, sensationalized, editorialized, and ascribed motives that are more the opinion of the author than the actual thing."
Not being a transcript, any report will be, by definition, 'filtered and out of context'. The question is, therefore, was it an accurate report? No one has questioned the veracity of what I reported. Nevertheless, if something was reported inaccurately, I ask you, as I have asked repeatedly on this site, that I be informed so that I may correct the error publicly, as has been done in the past.
You assert that I "sensationalize"; but I would argue that with missing millions, secret tapes, threatening letters, Alaskan land deals, etc. this is pretty sensational stuff for a small Church. Moreover, we have all been in enough meetings to know that an embattled chair's surprise ruling in a tense meeting of a central, controversial motion "out of order" does indeed partake of high drama. As for "ascribing motives that are more the opinion of the author than the actual thing" - I would suggest that is exactly what you doing with such criticisms of my reporting.
The Members' Statement
I do plead guilty to editorializing. What follows will include yet another glaring example:
At 11:19 PM on the night of June 16th a document appeared on the OCA website, with all the appearance of an official communication of the Church: Syosset dateline, OCA Department of Communications byline. It reads like an official statement. It carries the title "OCA Metropolitan Council Members Issue Statement On Finances, Ongoing Investigation". It begins "Members of the Metropolitan Council, meeting under the chairmanship of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman...." As is usual in official statements, it speaks in the plural: "We have approved... We are implementing...We are determined....We have pledged...". It concludes with an exhortation:
"We also ask of you, the faithful of the Church..."
And, as is usual in official statements, no author is cited.
There is only one problem. Appearances to the contrary, it is not an official statement of the Metropolitan Council. It was not adopted by the Council; neither discussed, nor voted upon. So who is the "We" of which it speaks?
According to several persons present it was read at the end of the meeting by Fr. Matthew Tate. Attempts to confirm authorship with Fr. Tate himself have been unsuccessful. The OCA Department of Communications had no comment, but referred all inquires to Fr. Kucynda. Fr. Kucynda has offered assurances that: "...neither Father Matusiak nor I were involved in the initial draft. At the behest of the author, others were involved afterward to improve the style of language, etc. The essence of the statement, however, does express the sentiments of those participating in the meeting."
Clearly some unidentified Council members, whose opinions coincide with Fr. Kucynda's, are allowed to express their personal conclusions and recommendations as a "final statement' from the entire Council without bothering for a vote; that final statement is then "improved", and allowed in a manner suggestive of an official document from the Council to be posted on the OCA website.
So far, the disturbing facts. Now for the editorialization:
This was a deliberate attempt to mislead and deceive. It does not argue well for the integrity of those seeking to rebuild trust.
I will not ascribe motives to anyone for this deception concerning what was decided,or not decided, by the Council. But clearly, this document is "far more the opinion of the author than (any) actual thing". Truly this "Message" was "filtered, massaged, taken out of context, and editorialized"! I would suggest, Father, that such criticisms would be better directed, in this regard, to Syosset than to this website.
"I am concerned that those mentioned in this 'report' are being painted in unfair light, as being uncaring or unconcerned by the situation the Church finds itself in."
I reported that the Metropolitan Council did not pursue certain issues: I ascribed no motives to them.
"I am worried that this type of rushed reporting will short-circuit the somewhat more deliberate process that is needed to heal the wounds that our OCA has suffered in recent times."
The meeting ended Wednesday. The OCA published documents on Thursday and Friday. The first report OCANews published was on Saturday. That is hardly "rushed". Moreover, I would suggest that if the simple reporting of facts can "short-circuit the somewhat more deliberate process that is needed", that process needs be re-examined. I am not sure such an easily-lamed process is adequate to "heal the wounds that our OCA has suffered in recent times".
"I fear that this type of reporting will promote an environment of division, depression, fear, and despondency instead of unity, hope, courage, and the will to set things right."
I disagree. Setting things right must be predicated on the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. If there is division, depression, fear and despondency it is because the OCA has been forced to exist with two decades of secrecy and deception from its leadership.
A strict adherence to the truth now may see extreme to some: but expediency will not engender unity; convenience will not create hope; and courage will not flower if repotted in fresh lies. The 'will to set things right' is already abloom in the OCA; it needs light, not the shade of legal strategies.
"In my opinion, we as a church have hit bottom. We have seen that the way we have operated in the past is no longer an acceptable modus operandi. We now have to figure out how we have to change our entrenched ways in order to do what we have to do to survive and go forward as Christ's Church."
I disagree, as does our Metropolitan. We have been warned of dark days ahead, and I take him at his word. On the other two points, Father, no one has ever said it more clearly. Thank you.
Old Ways Die Hard
However, to go forward we must recognize not only that how we operated in the past is now "no longer acceptable", but that it was never acceptable. Not then, not now, not in the future. Period.
Father, you are absolutely correct in saying that these "entrenched ways" have to change. Solving the problems of today using the methods of the past that led us in to this crisis, is no solution. Let me be specific: As you well know, some time ago allegations were made in the former Diocese of New York-New Jersey that money, a great deal of money, from the Diocesan treasury was unaccounted for. When priests and laity asked at the last Diocesan Assembly where the money had gone, the Metropolitan replied that such questions were pointless, the problem was fixed, no answers would be given, and that "for the good of the church" everyone should now "move forward". Sound familiar?
Such a "solution" did not make that former Diocese's problems disappear then, and it will not make the OCA's problems disappear now.
Ears to Hear
"We have to do so with the concurrent spectre that past wrongdoings may result in serious consequences to the wrongdoers, people who we love as brothers and/or sisters in Christ. But we need to let the process happen. We need to cut some slack to those who are trying to figure this all out, even if it means that those same people may have to step down to let this happen."
No truer words have been spoken in this whole discussion, and I applaud you for having the courage to say them. May those who need to listen, have ears to hear, and act.
"Let's be patient."
Since the allegations were made known to the Bishops in October 2005, it has taken us nine months to reach this point; enough time to give birth to a child. Fourteen months have elapsed since Archbishop Job first asked that the details of the OCA finances be shared with his Diocese prior to the All American Council - time enough for a horse to be born. And twenty months since the Metropolitan first watched "The Tape": long enough to give birth to sperm whale. By the time Proskauer Rose LLP finishes their investigation at the end of August, we will have waited three more months - enough time to give birth to an elephant. How much slack does one need? How much patience is required?
Indeed, I might even agree with you, to wait longer, wait longer, wait longer, if I could be sanguine that answers were ever to be forthcoming. Even though it was reported by several Council members that the date of August 31, 2006 was given for the completion of Proskauer Rose's report, I know answers will not be given in August 2006. I know Proskauer Rose's report, even if finished this summer, will not be released in any form until after the Synod and Metropolitan Council meetings in October and November 2006, respectively. I know that December 2006 is the earliest we can see them. I am an adult: I can wait another six months till Christmas if I know presents will be under the tree.
But in the bogus "Members' Statement" a different story is now being told: "No date has been set for the completion of the investigation..." One should not speculate, but a review of the past nine months is not encouraging that anybody outside of a small group in Syosset will ever see any report, and this latest statement is indeed troubling. Let me explain:
• In October 2005, the Bishops were given the allegations and did not launch an investigation.
Protodeacon Wheeler wrote to the Metropolitan Council.
• In November 2005, the Metropolitan declared the matter 'closed'.
Protodeacon Wheeler's statements were made public.
• In December 2005, the Metropolitan silenced those priests who began to speak out.
The first stories began to appear on the internet.
• In January 2006, the matter was declared 'closed' by the Lesser Synod, reiterating its decisions of 1999 and 2001. OCANews began publishing.
• In February 2006, Syosset remained totally silent about the allegations.
Amid new revelations by OCANews, the national press picked up the story.
• In March 2006, the Metropolitan dismissed Fr. Kondratick and finally launched an investigation. The Metropolitan called for silence yet again.
More revelations from OCA News.
• In April 2006, the Metropolitan, the Orthodox Church Newspaper, the OCA website all continued their calls for silence, this time for the "sake of Pascha".
More revelations from OCANews, which did, in fact, cease publishing for the Feast.
• In May 2006, Fr. Kucynda demanded silence from MC members.
OCA News revealed details of the loan.
• In June 2006, the Metropolitan reviled OCANews in his address to the Metropolitan Council and called on the Church to refocus its energies. A bogus statement says no date has been set to conclude the investigation.
More revelations from OCANews.
The pattern is all too clear. The sad fact is that Syosset has not done one thing in this nine month saga of scandal that they have not been embarrassed or forced into doing. And we are all to wait patiently for another six months, hoping that we may get some answers?
"Let's not be so quick to jump on a word, a sentence, a paragraph, or even a whole report as if it were the last thing that would ever be said on a subject. Let us not see an isolated inaction as a permanent inaction, a misspoken word or sentence as a damning position taken by the speaker."
"This is a very complicated situation. Let us not make it more complicated by adding our own 'spin', our own speculative 'take' on what people are saying or doing."
"The fact is that it is only speculation when people accuse others of stonewalling, protecting people, lying, hiding, etc."
"If we have to speculate, let us try to speculate positively. Let us speculate that things are being said or not said, done or not done, because that is the prudent course of action for the time being. Perhaps we can also speculate that those who are doing or saying things with which we don't agree may even have the same desire as we do to see the Church set right and going forward in a healthy manner."
I agree. It is exactly what I did in the article to which you refer. I wrote: "There may be other valid explanations, though, for Proskauer Rose not speaking with the Council at this time. It may be that Syosset had been asked by Proskauer Rose themselves to be excused so that details of the investigation were not made public before the investigation is completed. It may be Syosset had been asked by others to remain silent ... We cannot fully know Syosset's reasons at this time for not having Proskauer Rose speak, despite having published that they would do so. We cannot fully know why the Metropolitan ruled a subsequent motion to invite them out of order. Nor can we fully know why Fr. Kucynda resisted allowing other lawyers to be present to offer advice...."
If that is not giving someone the "benefit of the doubt", I do not know what is. Moreover, that is the first time in the six months of publishing on this site that I have openly speculated about anything. Others, in the comment section of OCA News speculate nightly: I do not encourage it, nor discourage it. It is, however, their right which I will not abridge just because I may disagree with them.
"Let us be responsible with our opinions, with our 'reporting', and with the conclusions we draw. Let us trust that there are those in leadership positions in our OCA who desperately wish to set right the wrongs of the past. Let us believe that the way out of this is not as straight or wide a path as many would believe, but that the correct and difficult path will be taken and our prayers and support will be needed along the OCA's entire journey back to health and wellness and fullness as the Body of Christ. Let us be vocal in our positive support for reform, not in our negative criticism borne from incomplete or incorrect information."
You raise a most interesting and important question, Father. Reasonable people can have reasonable differences as to what "for the good of the Church" might be. I agree. But let me ask you this: where are reasonable people supposed to discuss or share these reasonable opinions? In many parishes priests have forbidden parishioners from talking about the scandal: others include the latest postings from this site in their weekly bulletins. Some dioceses encourage priests and laity to meet to discuss solutions. In the Diocese of the South, the Bishop has forbidden all public discussion of the scandal by his priests.
The scandal is not discussed on the OCA website; nor in the OCA magazine. The Metropolitan continues to tell people to stop sharing their opinions: he has silenced priests, ordered MC members to repent, blamed the press, blamed the internet, and told the laity to be quiet. The Metropolitan Council's attempt to move the next AAC back to 2008 was stalled. It is still scheduled for 2010. So where, Father, where are these things to be reasonably discussed outside this website?
In fact, nowhere. Indeed, your penultimate sentences say it all: "Let us trust that there are those in leadership positions in our OCA who desperately wish to set right the wrongs of the past. Let us believe that the way out of this is not as straight or wide a path as many would believe, but that the correct and difficult path will be taken."
Correct me if I am wrong, but are you not saying that we are to trust those in leadership, those who took us into this mess, to now get us out? Our vocation as laity, you seem to suggest is: " to be vocal in our positive support for reform, not in our negative criticism. Our prayers and support are needed..."
In short: pray, pay and obey. That is hardly a vocation.
Isn't that exactly "the way we have operated in the past (that) is no longer an acceptable modus operandi?" Isn't that what we have been doing for the past twenty years that led us into this debacle? With all respect, Father, you might as well have ended your letter with those infamous concluding words from the last All American Council: "Thank you, you've been a great audience."
An Audience No More
Sadly, that is true. We have been just an audience. And shame on all of us because it is true. We, meaning the bishops, priests and laity of the OCA, have been an audience while 'those in leadership' have led us into our present impasse of debt and disorder. The notion that the 'leadership' alone can set right the wrongs of the past is, in itself, one of the wrongs of the past - and it certainly is not their exclusive "right".
The OCA is not a synodal church, not a presbyterian church, not a congregational Church. We are no longer even a "proto-presbyterian" church. We are, and must return to being a fully conciliar Church in which hierarchy does not fear participation, clergy share their expanding ministries. and laity are once again thankful for all those who shepherd them. We must return to being a conciliar Church in which clergy and laity are once again eager to hear the word of truth rightly divided by their Bishops. Divided, not hidden.
I do not know if such is still possible given our situation. But Father, in that effort to restore what has been lost, OCANews will continue to be vocal. That effort is not "democracy", that is not "reform", that is not "a denigration of hierarchy"; it is the legacy of St. Tikhon and the tradition of Orthodoxy in this country.
"God be with us!"
With all best wishes,
Editor, OCA News