IN AFTERMATH OF +HERMAN, DECISIONS DEFERRED
• ELECTION UNLIKELY AT PITTSBURGH AAC
• +SERAPHIM TO ADMINISTER OCA FOR FORESEEABLE
• SYNOD, MC ISSUE JOINT APOLOGY ON SCANDAL
• MAJOR PLAYERS IN SCANDAL TO RECEIVE “LETTERS OF REPRIMAND”, BANNED FROM FURTHER SERVICE
• KONDRATICK'S SUE OCA FOR $25 MILLION
In the light of Metropolitan Herman’s sudden retirement, the decision as to whether to hold an election for a new Metropolitan at the 15th AAC has been deferred, leaving the final schedule for the Council still undecided 60 days before the gathering.
The Bishops will conduct a telephone conference late next week to discuss their decision as to whether an election will be held in November, postponed for a year - or for possibly three years to allow the 16th AAC to decide the issue in 2011.
Whatever the Synod’s decision regarding an election, the joint meeting of the OCA’s Synod of Bishops and Metropolitan Council was indeed historic. The three-day meeting, which ended Friday, September 5th in the early afternoon:
-heard, published and then adopted the long-awaited Report and recommendations of the Special Investigative Committee,
-received and then denied a request for a six-month medical leave of absence for Metropolitan Herman, subsequently accepting his “voluntary” retirement,
-gave the elderly senior hierarch of the OCA, Archbishop Dmitri, the honor of Locum tenens but assigned responsibility for administering the Church to Archbishop Seraphim of Canada,
- apologized to the OCA for their failings during the scandal and promised to take actions to ensure the situation will never happened again,
-elected a new vicar Bishop for the Diocese of the South, who was subsequently named Chancellor of the Diocese,
- discussed at length the several and costly lawsuits the OCA is currently battling,
- discussed options for a pared-down 2009 budget, which could lower “Fair Share” assessments by
15-20% or more.
The conclusion of the Executive Summary of the SIC Report stated, underlined and in bold, that “The responsible individuals must be held accountable”.
In the decisions at this meeting, both individually and jointly, the Synod and Council began that process.
Two retired and three currently-serving Bishops were named in the Report. Former Metropolitan Theodosius, who was identified as having participated in the diversion of funds, personally profiting from them and assisting in the cover-up, was forbidden by the Synod to serve liturgy anywhere but in his home parish. The Synod reportedly discussed ordering the former Metropolitan to a monastery, but declined this option given his health and that he is currently cared for by his niece. The Council, however, authorized the OCA’s legal counsel to investigate options towards garnishing the former Metropolitan’s pension and deferred compensation plan, in addition to pending legal action against the former Chancellor Robert Kondratick, in an effort to recover some of the $4.75 million they diverted. The vote was 24-1. Actual garnishment, though, is seen as unlikely. As such, the announced penalty for the 75- year old former Metropolitan, who has been told by his doctor not to drive anymore, amounts to little more than a minor restriction.
(In was also discussed that Kondratick is believed to still be participating in the OCA Pension Plan, and is thus, still an employee of the OCA in his role as “parish outreach coordinator” in the Venice, Florida parish. Kondratick, who had been Chancellor of the OCA from 1989-2006, was deposed from the priesthood in 2007, but still wears a cassock, is still referred to as “Fr. Bob” by parishioners and until June, was still listed as “the Very Reverend Robert Kondratick” on the church bulletin board. A startled Archbishop Dmitri replied that he was not aware that Kondratick was still an employee, but that he would make sure Kondratick is terminated.)
Metropolitan Herman, who was named in the Report, not for having personally diverted funds or profited by them, but for having allowed those so doing to continue, and for actively orchestrating and participating in the subsequent cover-up, was forced to retire following the denial of his request for a medical leave.
The former Metropolitan refused to attend the joint meeting, leaving Syosset on Tuesday, September 4th, and returned to his home in South Canaan assuming his request for a six month Leave would be granted.
However, having just heard the SIC Report, an angry Council unanimously requested Wednesday, September 3rd, that the Synod deny the leave, and as the SIC Report recommended, they retire or remove the Metropolitan, given that he had already reportedly refused to resign, despite requests by several Bishops and his own administrative officers prior to the meeting.
And so on Thursday, September 4th, after the Synod met privately that morning, Archbishop Seraphim announced that the Synod had “.....received a letter from His Beatitude, Metropolitan HERMAN. In this letter, His Beatitude asks for Retirement, effective immediately, ‘in the best interests of The Orthodox Church in America, and taking into consideration the current condition of my health.’ (Read that announcement in full here).
No further disciplinary actions have been announced concerning the former Metropolitan, who retains all his ranks and privileges, and whom the Synod, inexplicably, “thanked for his primatial service” given that during his entire term as Metropolitan he was engaged in the coverup.
St. Vladimir’s Seminary, quickly announcing the change (for the head of the OCA serves as President of the Seminary) was more nuanced. In their press release issued Saturday, September 6th, the Seminary stated:
“ While acknowledging the difficult circumstances of the just-announced retirement of His Beatitude Metropolitan Herman, the Seminary notes with appreciation his service to St. Vladimir’s Seminary and his ministry of leading us in prayer over the last six years. ..”
Three other Bishops were named by the SIC Report as well. Archbishop Nathaniel, Archbishop Seraphim and Bishop Nikon, like Metropolitan Herman, were all revealed to have been informed of Kondratick’s attempted embezzlement of the Beslan funds the day after the attempt, and yet took no action for 3 years. Indeed as late as 2006 and 2007, for example, all participated in signed statements of the full or Lesser Synod that sought to put an end to discussion of the scandal. (Read two examples here and here) The SIC Report actually contains, in Appendix F, a 2004 letter from Archbishop Seraphim fully admitting the disclosure, and then denying it was his responsibility to do anything about it.
Archbishop Nathaniel declined to attend the joint Synod-Council meeting, citing prior engagements.
Five days before the SIC Report was released, Archbishop Seraphim and Bishop Nikon took the lead in orchestrating an ill-received and widely ridiculed Archpastoral letter from the Synod that attempted to mitigate their responsibility. (You can read that letter here).
In the end no actions were announced against the three.
Three former Administration officials, besides the deposed Chancellor, Robert Kondratick, were named in the SIC Report as having failed in their duties, in some cases for more than a decade: former Treasurers Frs. Paul Kucynda and Dimitri Oselinsky, as well as former Comptroller, Fr. Stephen Strikis.
The report revealed that Fr. Kucynda purposely let Fr. Kondratick remove boxes of documents from the Chancery the day he was terminated. The loss of documents meant much of the financial scandal could never be fully reconstructed, nor the losses ever fully known; and resulted in tens of thousands of dollars in additional legal and accounting bills in an effort to establish both. The SIC recommended all three be disciplined, a view which the Council had endorsed unanimously.
At the Friday session the Synod announced that the Chancellor would be instructed to write "letters of reprimand" to be placed in their clergy files. No further actions were announced. This lead to an open and candid discussion about whether such “punishment” were appropriate or sufficient given the misdeeds committed.
Bishop Benjamin stated that the Council should “not expect punishment.” Our concern , the Bishop pointed out, is salvation - of these individuals, of the Church. It is difficult to depose a Bishop, the Bishop stated, as you need 12, and "we would need to rent some." “Their lives --- +Theodosius, +Herman, the priests, Kondratick -- will never be the same.” They will bear this humiliation forever. This is proportionate punishment against them for incredible failures at every level of the Church, he stated.
Bishop Tikhon stated that the actions that were taken were taken for repentance and healing. It is a struggle to have to repent publicly. We trust that all, he said, that the named and unnamed, will repent publicly. The restoration of trust needs to continue.....
Bishop Nikon added: “They lost their jobs; we don’t want them to lose their souls.”
Earlier, the Council itself had adopted a resolution regarding the three officers. It read:
“Whereas the SIC appointed by the Holy Synod and the MC of the OCA, upon consideration of evidence and testimony given in the course of their investigation did determine that Frs. Paul Kucynda, Dimitri Oselinsky and Stavros Strikis failed to exercise due fiduciary responsibility in the exercise of their service as officers and/or employees of the Central Administration of the OCA;
And whereas Frs. Paul Kucynda, Dimitri Oselinsky and Stavros Strikis have been reprimanded by the Holy Synod of the OCA for these failures;
And whereas the MC has the fiduciary responsibility to exercise due care in its oversight of the administration of the OCA by determining the qualifications of its officers, directors, employees and appointees;
Be it therefore resolved that Frs. Paul Kucynda, Dimitri Oselinsky, and Stavros Strikis are hereby deemed permanently ineligible for election or appointment to any future position of trust or office in the administration or administrative bodies under the purview of the Central Administration of the OCA;
And be it further resolved that we respectfully recommend similar actions be taken by their respective hierarchs and diocesan councils apart from their current parish or monastic assignments at the diocesan level.”
The resolution passed unanimously.
Everyone Else Gets A Complete Pass, Except Dr. Woog
No further “discipline” was taken against any others mentioned in the SIC as have assisted the cover-up or failed in their responsibilities, including the Audit committee, the former Administrative Committee, former Syosset staffers and administration officials among others. There was one exception: Dr. Alice Woog.
Dr. Woog, a former member of the Administrative Committee, refused to testify before the Special Investigative Committee despite the Council’s pledge to assist the investigation in every way. The Council adopted the following resolution:
“Whereas the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council of the Orthodox Church in America established the Special Investigative committee to investigate allegations of gross financial mismanagement over the past two decades;
And whereas members of the Metropolitan Council are bound to exercise due fiduciary care in the execution of their duties;
And whereas Dr. Alice Woog was a member of the Metropolitan Council for the past 13 years and a member of the Administrative committee;
And whereas Dr. Woog declined to be interviewed by the Special Investigative Committee;
Therefore, be it resolved that Dr. Alice Woog is hereby removed from her membership on the Metropolitan Council immediately, pursuant to New York State law.”
The rationale was that anyone refusing to appear and cooperate in a corporate or government agency internal investigation would be fired. In this case Dr. Woog held important historical information about the Council on which she had served 13 years, and the Administrative Committee for many of those. She was, therefore, bound to provide it.
The resolution passed unanimously.
On Friday the Synod of Bishops and Metropolitan Council unanimously adopted the following joint statement in a effort to begin bringing the financial scandal to a close:
“The Holy Synod and Metropolitan Council, acknowledging the report of the Special Investigating Committee and the facts made clear therein, humbly apologize to the Church and all those who were harmed by these events.
We recognize our failure to act upon information provided to us, and to demand accountability and openness from each other and from those in our employ.
We commit ourselves to building a culture within the Church which fosters communication, transparency and personal responsibility.
We also wish to offer our profound apology to Mr. John Kozey, former Chair of the OCA Audit Committee. We commend his tireless attempts to bring the facts of this matter to light. For his efforts, he was rebuffed, marginalized and mistreated. We are deeply sorry for this mistreatment.
We know that trust must be re-built, and pray you will be encouraged by our actions from now as we move decisively to correct the mistakes of the past and ensure they do not take place again.”
The inclusion of the personal and public apology to former Audit Committee Chairman John Kozey was one of the many recommendations of the Special Investigative Committee adopted by the two bodies on Wednesday and Friday. Both bodies thought thanks and an apology were also due Protodeacon Eric Wheeler, among others, for their pivotal roles in exposing the scandal. It was discussed that a longer, more thoughtful statement, that included such names, might be prepared for the 15th AAC.
The Synod also announced that given the age of Archbishop Dmitri, the official Locum tenens, Archbishop Seraphim would assume the day to day responsibilities of administering the OCA. The Archbishop of Dallas also announced that he had already appointed his newly elected Vicar, Jonah (Paffhausen), the Bishop-elect of Ft. Worth, as Chancellor of the Diocese.
Both the Synod and the Council acknowledged the OCA is involved in significant legal actions. The Kondratick’s suit to enforce the disputed “promissory note” (some $400,000 with interest) is ongoing in the Nassau County Supreme Court. According to court records, a judge recently denied their motion for Summary Judgment. Robert Kondratick then assigned his interest in the Note to Bette, so she is proceeding alone as sole claimant to the note. The matter is heading toward discovery and depositions eventually, with motions filed.
The OCA’s counterclaim suit against Kondratick and his family, authorized by the Council and approved by the Synod in May 2008 is continuing. Notice was filed in May, and Kondratick is expected to be served. Thereafter a complaint would normally be filed with specifics, with answers and motions to follow.
The new General Counsel for the OCA, Thaddeus Wojcik III, then notified the Council that a new suit in Nassau County had been filed in late August against the OCA, Dr. Faith Skordinski and Fr. Andrew Jarmus, OCA Communications Director, by Robert Kondratick. Kondratick seeks $25 million on 6 claims for relief, including intentional infliction of emotional distress and defamation.
The actual budget that will presented to the 15th AAC is still in process. All indications suggest that a much lower budget will be presented, based on a Fair Share Assessment of somewhere in the range of $85-90 per person, in addition to the option of a no-increase budget, based on the current $105 assessment. The reduction is in recognition of the widespread feeling that Dioceses, not the Central Church Administration, are better suited to deal with issues of outreach and service.
A report was presented on selling the estate in Syosset, as well as other options regarding the property. Because prop values are down and the estate might be worth only $5 - $6 million and not $10 million as previously thought, it was decided to do nothing at this time. The question of the estate property, as well as the location of Central Church headquarters is to be included as part of a Strategic Plan that the Administration wishes to be done over the next three years.
Half Full or Half Empty?
Speaking of the meeting, several Council members indicated agreement with one member’s characterization that “what occurred during the historic three day meeting was a process” during which “in an entire Orthodox world based on a synodal system, the smallest autocephalous church was somehow able, with its conciliar system, to stumble through to a solution, however imperfect it may be as yet, without blood flowing.” The writer continued: “ Am I disappointed: You bet! There are loose ends everywhere”. But a general attitude of relief, regret for past mistakes, present collegiality, and strong commitment to doing better in the future clearly dominated the meeting according to all who were interviewed. As one wrote: “The Synod treated the Council like brothers and sisters and not servants. They didn’t refuse to answer any questions. They spoke about conciliarity, and what needs to be said before this is over. They acknowledged that we haven’t seen repentance from anyone, and that trust is still not restored, and it won’t be for a long time.”
Others present described the event as exhausting, exhilarating, and dramatically different from all previous meetings in a positive way. There is no doubt that much, much more will be written about these three days in September.
The 15th AAC
At the top of the list of “loose ends”, though, is the 15th AAC. Will there be an election of a new Metropolitan? Among the reasons suggested by the Synod to the Council for a delay were cautious prudence - given the current turmoil in the Church - and that postponing would perhaps allow new episcopal candidates to emerge(!) (For example, the Diocesan Council in Western Pennsylvania is to nominate candidates on September 20th for its upcoming Special Diocesan Assembly, to select a candidate for that see. The Alaskan and Bulgarian dioceses are also vacant.)
Postponing an election, however, might lead many parishes to decide to forgo expensive participation in the 14th Council, especially if there was going to be another next year. This could lead to serious potential financial losses to the Church if the Council is underbooked; and a meaningless Council if it is held with minimal participation. It is unclear to many what the purpose of 15th All-American Council is - given the current turmoil in the Church. One of the major themes to emerge from the 15 Town Halls was the need for confession and repentance as a basis for reconciliation. Has this occurred - or just begun?
According to Bishop Nikon, Chairman of the Pre-Conciliar Commission (PCC), much has yet to be decided. Saying it will be an AAC like no other, the Bishop admitted to the Council that the agenda is still in flux. The Bishop stated that this needs to 'be a Council to bring us back together,' which may 'have the feel of a retreat', speak about the vision of the OCA, while 'still completing the business of the Church that must be done'. But as of now, nothing radical is planned. The Bishop lamented: “The PCC is like all the king’s men, trying to put Humpty Dumpty together again.” (The PCC meets this coming in week in Syosset - hence decisions regarding the ACC cannot be deferred too long.)
One priest, writing to OCANews.org described his reaction to the events of the week as “I am very pleased, but not satisfied.” Another wrote, ominously, that the culture of denial and repression, while taking a blow, was still afoot: “Last night the dean of the NJ Deanery, Fr Kedala, as well as the Chancellor of the Diocese of Washington and New York, Fr. Lickwar, ordered that +Seraphim’s letter of information to clergy on the retirement of Metropolitan Herman (that tells how to commemorate +Dmitri properly) be read from the ambo tomorrow in parishes of the Diocese. The letter in question describes the voluntary retirement of +Herman as completely due to medical reasons. There is no mention of the SIC Report at all, nor of the Council’s unanimous resolution that his Leave be denied and he be removed. When a senior priest, together with others, objected that to read this alone would be misleading. they were accused of “disobedience” and given a tongue lashing . Just one real, local example of how pervasive the culture of denial, avoidance, deception and coverup remains.”
Clearly, old habits die hard.
Much depends on the Bishop’s teleconference this week, in their new spirit of openness and cooperation without the prevaricating presence of Metropolitan Herman. On their decisions hang the answer as to whether the OCA has broken its crisis like a fever, or simply entered a deeper phase of it, one of that presages a chronic and disabling illness.