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6.25.07The Metropolitan's Address Pt. 1
Denial of Responsibility

In the recent wash of news concerning the scandal - Archbishop Job's call for a day of prayer and fasting, the trial of Fr. Kondratick, the Metropolitan Council's decisions - the Metropolitan's opening address to the Council received little attention. That is a mistake. The address is the Metropolitan's (and his legal counselors') clearest exposition of our situation to date, and careful reading reveals much of his ( and their) attitudes and perspectives regarding the scandal.

After the usual opening, the Metropolitan states:

"I would like to begin by reflecting on a number of events that took place in the recent past.

When we gathered for the fall meeting of our Metropolitan Council in 2005, I recommended that an accounting firm be engaged to conduct an independent audit of our OCA financial records for years 2004 and 2005. The accounting firm of Lambrides, Lamos, and Moulthrop LLP was selected and engaged to do this work beginning in January 2006."

Sadly, that is not true. As the OCA website itself reported in September 2005: "Emphasizing that all financial matters are his responsibility, Metropolitan Herman informed council members that he plans to order independent audits by an outside CPA firm licensed within the State of New York. He further reported that the results of the independent audits will be made available to the Church at large." . The Metropolitan did not "recommend" an accounting firm be engaged - he "informed." Moreover, he did so "emphasizing that all financial matters are his responsibility" - not the Council's responsibility as outlined in the Statute. In September 2006 the Metropolitan wanted it known very clearly that he was in charge.

The Metropolitan continues:

"At the same meeting, it was recommended that a Best Practices document be developed containing essential guiding principles for the management and in particular, the orderly management of financial matters of our central Church administration. I trustingly accepted the recommendation, though I must admit that at the time, Best Practices was only a concept for me."

This is not true either. The OCA website reported it this way in September 2005: "Also, beginning January 1, 2006, the Chancery of The Orthodox Church in America will employ "Best Practices" for non-profit organizations." The word then was "will" - not "recommends". Notice how now the Metropolitan responsibility is continually softened: "it was recommended", "I trustingly accepted", "it was only a concept for me"....

And he continues:

"Within a few months, a Best Practices Task Force was established."

The fact is the Best Practices Task Force did not appear, full blown, like wise Athena from the head of Zeus. It was the Metropolitan alone who created the Task Force, and he alone who decided who, what, when and how the Task Force would be established. This time he does not soften or diminish his role, though - he omits it entirely.

And he continues:

"Its work resulted in a draft document, circulated to all of you to give you ample opportunity for your review and deliberation at a subsequent meeting. Systematically, each section of the document was presented and approved subject to review by legal experts who are specialists in such matters. This was accomplished. At our March 13-14, 2007 meeting, the matter was tabled. I urge you to act on this important matter at this special session. Without such a document, we are daring to function without necessary safeguards in place to properly move forward according to the management vision for the present and future as proposed by the Reorganization Task Force. I urge you to resolve any issues related to the document at this meeting without delay."

This, too, is not true: and the emails exist (many already on this site) refuting this particular attempt to rewrite history. It was Council members, not Syosset appointees, that insisted on each section being reviewed and it was Council members, not Syosset's appointees, who insisted on legal review. And as for the mission being "accomplished", well, it remains an open question as to whether the Synod of Bishops will, or will not, agree to abide by Best Practices. Without their participation in the process, Best Practices is gutted before it even begins.

Once again, though, we see the attempt to soften the Metropolitan's role and responsibility in his address. We now "move forward", no longer on the basis of the Metropolitan's decisions or leadership, but "according to the management vision for the present and future as proposed by the Reorganization Task Force". What is not admitted, yet again, is that the "Reorganization Task Force", like the "Best Practices Task Force" was chosen, appointed, and tasked by the Metropolitan alone. Once again, his role is not admitted.

He continues:

"Public statements have been made even by members of the Church who are fully aware of the efforts of you and others like you who are part of the solution and are addressing our ills suggesting that we are functioning with a 'business as usual' attitude. This is absolutely false!"

A classic technique of the former administration was to divide and conquer: to reward supporters and to savage anyone who disagreed; to dismiss critics by attributing personal motives to their challenges, to confuse questioners by diversion, misinformation and half-truths, to deny responsibility. We've all seen it over and over again. And here it is again. The Metropolitan attempts to sweet-talk the Council by distinguishing between "you and others like you" and those "members of the Church" who are not. Classic divide and conquer. The former "are part of the solution and addressing our ills", (rewarding supporters) the others, well, the savaging he saves for later in the speech. Sadly, as far as the Metropolitan's perspective is revealed through his words, it is totally "business as usual" in Syosset. That he cannot see this only speaks to the depth of the problem and his desire to escape responsibility for it.

He continues:

"A plan of action, as directed by the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council, began to evolve early in 2006."

This is not true either. It's hard to know even where to start, given the diversions, misinformation and half truths in that one sentence.

• By "a plan of action, as directed by the Holy Synod and Metropolitan Council, began to evolve...." does he mean the decisions of the Lesser Synod, published on January 20, 2006 which stated : "At the Lesser Synod meeting today, His Beatitude, Metropolitan HERMAN, and the Members of the Lesser Synod, have reaffirmed the decisions made by the Holy Synod of Bishops, at the time these concerns were first raised, in 1999, and 2000"? The decisions of 1999 and 2000 that forbid investigating the Metropolitan's secret discretionary accounts, decisions that have never been revoked to this day? (Read that story here)

• Or by "a plan of action, as directed by the Holy Synod and Metropolitan Council, began to evolve.... " does he mean the decisions of the Synod of Bishops, published on March 1, 2006, that said the OCA would:

"1. Implement Best Practices for Non-Profit Financial Accountability.
2. Review the Disposition of all Monies Collected Through All OCA Appeals from 2001.
3. Conduct Independent Financial Audits from 2004"?

How was this a plan of the Synod? Did not the Metropolitan himself just say earlier that he announced all three of these programs already in September 2005?

• Or by "a plan of action, as directed by the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council began to evolve...." did he mean the termination of Fr. Kondratick and the hiring of Proskauer Rose LLP to investigate financial misdeeds, announced on March 16th, 2006? Of course, that couldn't be the Synod's plan, since as we now know, no one on the Synod knew of that plan. (Read that story here)

For that matter, nowhere in these plans, 1, 2, or 3, does the Metropolitan Council even appear. How could it? The Metropolitan Council did not meet from September 2005 until May 2006.

The fact is there was no 'plan of action'. There were at least three, often contradictory ones. And whatever was being done was not being "directed by the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council", but by the Metropolitan himself. The most either could do was concede decisions already taken by the Metropolitan and his lawyers. But once again, the Metropolitan seeks to avoid these facts by retroactively assigning responsibility to the Synod of Bishops and Council. As the documents show, they had little to do with what 'evolved'.

The Metropolitan continues:

"One of its findings is that independent audits were not conducted from 1998 through 2005.
During those years, the annual financial reports were prepared by the chancery staff and presented to the accounting firm of Konsen and Hostelley LLP for compilation. It has been ascertained that these were not conducted in a timely way. For example, the 2002 audit, which is controversial in a number of ways, is dated February 2004. It was ascertained that during that same period, the members of the Audit Committee, elected triennially at All-American Councils, were invited very infrequently to the chancery to examine the financial reports and other related documents for those years."

The fact is that it was Protodeacon Eric Wheeler who first told us about the lack of audits; not the Metropolitan. Metropolitan Herman never told this to anybody - in fact, he told us just the opposite. Consider this quote from the OCA website concerning the Metropolitan Council meeting of November 1999:

"His Eminence, Archbishop Herman, Acting Treasurer, reported on the status of the financial audit, noting that some questions had arisen with regard to the Metropolitan's Discretionary Fund."

Those questions were totally dismissed by then-Archbishop Herman in November 1999, and then again at the Spring 2000 meeting. The Rock emails suggest that the Metropolitan not only knew of the cover-up that was underway at the time, he assisted in it. (Read that story here) Once again, his responsibility for audits not being conducted is passed over; and his responsibility for covering-up that fact, ignored.

But it gets worse. Consider the following piece of classic dissembling: "For example, the 2002 audit, which is controversial in a number of ways, is dated February 2004." Controversial in a number of ways? As Wayne Tatusko pointed out on this website, that number is precisely 1,000,000. That is the amount of money that disappeared from the OCA's coffers in 2002 without explanation to this day. (Read that story here)

Or this piece of dissembling: "It was ascertained that during that same period, the members of the Audit Committee, elected triennially at All-American Councils, were invited very infrequently to the chancery to examine the financial reports and other related documents for those years." In this instance "very infrequently" means once or twice in seven years. What is omitted from this version of events is the simple question: And who was the Metropolitan from 2002-2006 that should have invited them but didn't? Metropolitan Herman. Omit, ignore, pass-over.

He continues:

"2. In March 2006, as Primate of the Church, and therefore, on behalf of the entire Orthodox Church in America (and not myself as some have alleged), I engaged the law firm of Proskauer Rose LLP to investigate the allegations of financial mismanagement of Church funds. The investigation by Proskauer Rose into these and other allegations of financial mismanagement of Orthodox Church in America funds has been completed."

Would that this were true! But the evidence, past and present, suggests, it is not. The Metropolitan did, as Primate of the Church engage Proskauer Rose LLP. His actual quote at the time, was: "After much prayer and pastoral concern for the well-being of the Church, as the Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, and according to our Statute, Article IV, Section 2-i, I retained the law firm of Proskauer Rose LLP to undertake an internal investigation of allegations relating to the finances of the Church." The Metropolitan claims Proskauer Rose works for the Church, not him personally. But at the time they were engaged he made no such distinction. Consider his explanation of why they were hired in response to Fr. Kondratick's attorney's threatening letter to the Metropolitan in early March 2006: "I do interpret his attack on me as Primate as an attack on the whole Church." Clearly in March 2006, the two were not distinguished.

Are they now? The Metropolitan wants us to believe Proskauer Rose is working on behalf of the Church alone, and not his own personal interests - in addition to those of the Church. Yet all the evidence suggests differently. Proskauer Rose reports only to him; and subsequently only to those he allows them to report to, and then, only orally. We now know Proskauer Rose continued to advise the OCA, and bill the OCA for advice, for months beyond the close of its investigation in July 2006. We now know Proskauer Rose did not fully share the evidence it collected with the Special Investigative Commission. There are credible reports Proskauer Rose would not even share all the evidence collected with the Accuser and her counsel at the recent trial of Fr. Kondratick. Who are they advising then, if not the Synod and Metropolitan Council? Who are they withholding evidence for? Not the Synod, or the Metropolitan Council, or the Special Commission. That only leaves one person - the Metropolitan. The Metropolitan claims now to distinguish between himself and the Church. His own words in the past, and the evidence of the present, suggests otherwise.

The Metropolitan could easily resolve any doubts on this issue. He could release the full report of Proskauer Rose. Unfortunately, he will not even release the redacted version shown to the Metropolitan Council and Synod. All the copies, minus the one which was stolen, remain locked in Syosset. Once again, he refuses to admit his responsibility, but rather, omits, ignores and passes-over the facts of it.

It is sad that the Metropolitan of a Church which preaches confession and repentence as the path to salvation steadfastly refuses to admit his responsibility in the scandal, even in the face of the evidence. Until he does, it is hard to see how the scandal will ever be resolved, no matter the verdict in the Kondratick trial. Until he does, it hard to see how one can trust anything he says. The long defeat continues.

-Mark Stokoe

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Later this week:

Part Two of the Metropolitan's Address

 

 
 

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