Amid Growing Debate, Committee Releases Three Podcasts With Candidates In Eleventh Hour Concession To “Conciliarity”
• Prepared Answers Read by Three Candidates Now Available
• John Kozey Asks For Postponement
• Fr. Karlgut Dismisses SIC Critics, Questioning their
Competency, Integrity: SIC Replies
• Metropolitan Willing to Postpone If Assembly So
For the third time in the ten days the Search Committee of the Diocese of New York/New Jersey has issued a memo affecting the episcopal selection process in that Diocese Since issuing their “Final Report” and “completing their work” on August 17th, the Committee has offered one “clarification” and dribbled more bits of information about the candidates to an increasingly restive, unhappy and vocal Diocese. On August 19th the Committee “updated” the biography of Fr. David Brum, one of the candidates; on August 22nd it “clarified” the electoral proceedings and offered a campaign testimonial by Bishop Benjamin for Fr. Brum; and on August 26th the Committee made available three interviews with the proposed nominees for review in preparation for the upcoming Extraordinary Diocesan Assembly on August 31st.
The Committee Speaks Again
In their latest missive to the Diocese, the Committee, composed of Archpriest Joseph Lickwar (Diocesan Chancellor), Archpriest Alexey Karlgut (Dean, New York State Deanery), Archpriest Samuel Kedala (Dean, New Jersey Deanery) and Archpriest Wiaczeslaw Krawczuk (Dean, New York City Deanery)(who has been vacationing in Poland since before the beginning of August) posted on the diocesan website, reads:
“Today we are forwarding to you, via email, audio interviews conducted with the nominees for
the high office of Diocesan Bishop whom we will present for your consideration and election at the upcoming Extraordinary Diocesan Assembly. It is our hope and prayer that these interviews an opportunity to hear the nominees speak to us ? will be helpful in meeting your desire to know the thoughts of each nominee regarding topics and issues that have been raised and
communicated to us from clergy and laity within our diocese. We strongly urge and expect all clergy receiving the audio interviews to share them with their lay delegates and all interested parishioners. The interviews are also available on the diocesan webpage: http://nynjoca.org
We look forward to this historic gathering of delegates representing our parishes, and those attending as observers. Our work as your search committee, by the grace of God, is coming to a conclusion. Now, the work of the people of God in our Diocese regarding this matter is to be accomplished. With faith, hope, and love, let each of us make ready for the task ahead. It is time
for us to manifest, whatever the outcome of discussion, debate, and vote, that conciliarity is morethan a slogan or theory among us ? that it is truly our desire and our maturing reality.
On Monday, August 31st we will begin with the celebration of the Divine Liturgy at 9:00 a.m. followed by brunch and the convening of the Assembly.
This Sunday, please offer prayers and supplications during the Divine Liturgy in your parishes for the safe and peaceful travel of all who will sojourn to the Assembly, those nominated for election, and for the grace of the Holy Spirit to be upon those who shall be given the most solemn responsibility of discerning and fulfilling the will of God in all we shall accomplish together on this truly extraordinary occasion.”
(You can hear the podcasts here.)
This latest memo’s exhortation expecting “all clergy receiving the audio interviews to share them with their lay delegates and all interested parishioners” has not gone unremarked - especially since the Committee dismissed such notions as unnecessary only a week ago.
Questions are being raised by clergy and laity across the Diocese that this process has been flawed, rushed, marred by campaigning on behalf of the Committee, and lacking in conciliarity of any kind since the Committee insisted the whole matter of selecting a new ruling Bishop after 30 years of episcopal neglect be completed in less than 2 months from start to finish. Others have suggested that some of the procedures of the recent episcopal search in the Diocese of Western Pennsylvania (read that here) should be utilized in NY/NJ, including allowing more time for open forums to meet and talk with candidates, and a larger, broader search committee that includes both clergy and laity, so that a more widely shared consensus might develop. A recent reflection in OCANews.org by Protodeacon Eric Wheeler likened the process to a “shotgun wedding when the bride is not even pregnant”. (Read his editorial here.)
This bride, however, is in trouble. As one former member of the late Archbishop Peter’s circle, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described it:
“The Diocese of New York/New Jersey has had a long history of ineffective episcopal ministry and leadership. The former reigning hierarch (Archbishop Peter L’Hullier) before his death, while intellectually beyond comparison, was pastorally distant and aloof. As a result of this, the relationships between the bishop and his priests and between the bishop and his flock were oftentimes confrontational and tenuous. The perception by both clergy and people was that the bishop could not care less about them and was more concerned about politicking and “being seen” in the right circles and with the right people than being among his clergy and flock. From personal experience, I witnessed many instances when visits by the bishop were viewed as occasions of burden rather than joy, of tension rather than celebration.
For many years, the Diocese of New York and New Jersey was run by its Chancellor, who often ran interference between the bishop and many of the diocesan clergy and the faithful. He made decisions on almost every matter of importance because the bishop could not be bothered - or did not want to take a stand on an uncomfortable matter. This way of ‘doing business’ created a wide gap between the Chancery and the parishes and between the bishop and his clergy and flock. A general feeling of resentment could be felt and was oftentimes voiced throughout the Diocese. Needless to say, there was a great deal of mistrust, which continues to exist today, as well as a general atmosphere of disconnection between the Diocesan hierarch and the Diocesan Church. To be sure, the bishop was seen as merely a figurehead and not a shepherd or pastor.
Upon the death of the former Archbishop, the Diocese of New York/New Jersey was merged into the Archdiocese of Washington by the previous Metropolitan (Herman Swaiko). This event could not have been more ill-timed, more ill-conceived, or more regretful as it did nothing to build up the Church of New York and New Jersey. The decision to eliminate the Diocese of New York and New Jersey did nothing except further distance the reigning hierarch from his people and widen the gap between the episcopal office and the practical need of the Church to have an active bishop in service to the his Diocese.”
Kozey Seeks Postponement
Critics of the current process are not rejecting all the candidates nominated per se, but the process itself - including the obvious haste and partisanship for Fr. Brum by the Committee, and the lack of opportunity to communicate with the nominees as reasons for concern.
Recognizing the concerns and the failure of the current process to address these issues - no matter who was elected - Metropolitan Council member for the Diocese, John Kozey, whose efforts as Chair of the OCA internal Audit Committee to uncover the OCA Scandal resulted in his dismissal in 1999, wrote to the Assembly lay delegates Friday :
“First, I must say that I attended the last diocesan council concerned about the process of selecting potential candidates as our new bishop. I was prepared, at that time, to request a postponement of the election if it seemed that the process was flawed in a major way or somehow compromised. It seemed then, while not perfect, the process was reasonable, though not perfect, given the parameters in which everyone was asked to participate.
We now owe our diocesan faithful the time to digest this information about our candidates, and perhaps for new candidates to emerge.
Only late last night, with 4 days before the election, we Council Members have received additional information and may have been in conversations with diocesan members who are gravely concerned about the speed of the process of electing our new bishop. I for one have not heard one favorable response from anyone, and the response that I have heard is that this is happening too quickly.? The bishop elected will have the stigma of being elected in, as Deacon Eric Wheeler mentioned, a shotgun wedding style.
We see our clergy as conflicted in that a few with whom I have spoken do not want to rock the boat with the Chancellor or our locum tenens bishop by speaking out about this.
I feel that in order to represent what I believe is the feeling of our members in the diocese of NY and NJ, that we must move to postpone this process. Should this not happen before the assembly, then we must consider a motion to postpone the election at the assembly. Should that not happen, then we should be prepared to share with those who are there and eligible to vote to do so in a manner that would result in no candidate being elected.
Please feel free to share any thoughts, either way, on this matter.? I am trying to figure out the best way to go about this postponement without having to go the route of recommending that members of the Assembly cast invalid ballots.
Mr. Kozey will be serving as Lay Co-Chair of the Assembly, along with Fr. David Vernak, who will serve as Clergy Co-Chair.
Fr. Karlgut Dismisses
Meanwhile, the private and public tensions between the Search Committee and the Special Investigative Committee (SIC) members continued.
In response to complaint by one of the SIC members that the Search Committee referenced Bishop Benjamin, but not the Committee, Fr. Karlgut responded by calling into question the impartiality and qualifications of the Committee. Karlgut capped his rejection of the Committee’s concerns by stating that “In addition, all four former members sending the letter, are not members of the Diocese of New York and New Jersey and as such have no say in the process of nomination of Diocesan Hierarch. Clergy and Lay Delegates of New York and New Jersey Diocese are certainly intelligent enough to consider all factors in nominating their bishop.”
Karlgut did not address the obvious disparity between his consideration of the negative opinions of the SIC Committee members concerning Fr. Brum’s candidacy as lacking in value - since they are not members of the Diocese, and his valuing, and publishing, the positive testimonials of Bishop Benjamin - who is also not a member of the Diocese.
The SIC Responds
The SIC responded officially, asking the Search Committee to make known their response, even as the Committee made Bishop Benjamin’s opinion known. They wrote:
"WE ASK THAT ALL COMMUNICATIONS BELOW BE SENT TO THE CLERGY AND LAITY OF THE NY/NJ DIOCESE PRIOR TO THE AUGUST 31st MEETING…
TO: NY/NJ Diocese Search Committee (SC), Clergy, and Laity
FROM: Members of the Special Investigating Committee (SIC)
SUBJECT: SIC Report and Findings
Thank you, Father Karlgut, for your reply on behalf of the SC to us members of the former SIC. The SC seems to be taking great pains to tell the four of us, as concerned individuals, that we have no standing in the matter of the selection of a bishop for the NY/NJ Diocese. However, we must point out that it was the SC who opened the door allowing us, even inviting us, to voice opinions.
Specifically, it was the SC that deliberately sought out one member of the SIC to provide extemporaneous comments about the collective work of the SIC when it asked Bishop Benjamin (+BB) to comment. Admittedly, the four of us are not members of the NY/NJ Diocese. However, neither is +BB. To refresh the SC’s collective memory, the SIC operated on a majority-rules basis for all decision making with +BB, as the SIC Chair, voting only in the event of a tie. Asking him alone to comment on the SIC work product without affording all former SIC members the same opportunity is disingenuous, at best. Doing so and claiming that the rest of us have no standing to comment is far worse. We eagerly await any clarification that the SC might wish to offer.
In his reply to the SIC’s communication of August 25th, Father Karlgut wrote: ““They were regarded by others”, “as such one would expect them to be aware of at least some”, and other such statements do not instill confidence in conclusion that Fr. David Brum was guilty of any improprieties.”
It is imperative that Father Karlgut and everyone concerned understand this often repeated yet frequently ignored concept – the SIC was neither charged with nor empowered to find ANYONE guilty of anything. “Guilty” is a term used in the criminal law context, and thus outside the purview of the SIC charge.
In the August 27th communication to former SIC members, Father Karlgut accurately pointed out that no disciplinary action was recommended for Father Brum, and he accurately pointed out that the SIC report did not go into detail about Father Brum’s level of misconduct. The lack of detail and the absence of recommendations are connected – while the level of proof to establish specific sustained allegations of misconduct against Father Brum was not present, there was ABSOLUTELY no doubt that he served as one of the enablers in an environment that was rife with misconduct on the part of others and took no action to report it or stop it. Followup action taken in those circumstances falls short of disciplinary action and falls into the purview of sound supervision and management practices, which could include retraining, closer supervision, or reassignment, among other possibilities. In other words, while it is up to “the Boss” of an organization to deal with these issues, it is illogical to consider promotion as the next action. We eagerly await any explanation that the NY/NJ SC might wish to offer that might persuade us to believe otherwise.
Father Karlgut wrote: “It is also to be noted that recent posting on OCANews by Mr. Mark Stokoe in regards of ‘new evidence’ that was ‘recently discovered’, undoubtedly originating with Deacon Wheeler, whom SIC, as well as SIC I and PR Investigation interviewed, but somehow was not able to discover said ‘evidence’, further raises questions as to accuracy and impartiality of opinion of four former members of the committee, that was not and is not endorsed by the Chairman of the Committee, nor its two most qualified members/consultants - an attorney, and a trained police officer/investigator.”
It appears that serious allegations are being made, and we invite the NY/NJ SC to clarify its statement as soon as possible. The SC seems to be alleging that there is a lack of accuracy and impartiality on the part of four former SIC members. Are those allegations based upon information revealed by Protodeacon Wheeler long AFTER his interviews with the SIC? If so, does the SC really believe the SIC is responsible for after-the-fact statements? Please be reminded that the SIC was a Church committee without subpoena power and with no leverage to use on witnesses. What we were told, we were told. What may have been withheld, forgotten, or remembered after the SIC report was submitted certainly was not within our control. We eagerly await the SC’s clarification as to who, exactly, “further raises questions as to accuracy and impartiality of opinion of four former members of the committee,” and what, exactly, those questions might be.
The views expressed in the SC’s August 27th e-mail to the SIC concerning the perceived need for endorsement of statements are biased at worst and perplexing at best. Unless, of course, the SC can explain the thought process that creates a difference between +BB being solicited to provide unilateral opinions not endorsed by the four of us, and unanimous opinions by the four of us not endorsed by +BB. Again, +BB had a vote only in the case of a tie while the SIC was operational. We eagerly await the SC’s clarification.
As to the consultants not offering their endorsements, it should be clearly understood that they are professionals who gave considerable time, waiving professional fees in the interests of serving the OCA. They were not, as described, “qualified members/consultants…” They were not members of the SIC at all, had no vote, and served to advise the SIC, not supervise it, or approve its work product. When the report was submitted, they signed it, as consultants. They had no obligations to endorse individual opinions, then or now.
To summarize, the SIC did a good investigation albeit limited, and the SIC report stands solidly on its own. We as former SIC members encourage the NY/NJ Diocese to look at the documents referenced by Mark Stokoe, assess what role Father Brum played, and make an informed determination. The important fact is this: Is Father Brum denying the documents? If not, how does he explain them? We do not think an attack on the former SIC or its work serves any purpose in trying to justify Father Brum’s qualifications or lack thereof as bishop material.
Dr. Faith Skordinski
Dr. Dmitri Solodow
Archpriest Philip Reese
Archpriest John Tkachuk"
Protodeacon Eric Wheeler, his integrity called into question, weighed in with a letter to Fr. Karlgut and the SIC as well:
"Dear Father Alexey,
It is unfortunate that you wish to get into a pissing match with Dr. Solodow in an effort to discredit the opinions of four former members of the SIC just because they expressed their strong disagreement with the proposal to nominate Father David Brum to the episcopacy. You seem more intent in defending the selection process, than reading what was actually written by the former members of the SIC.
For the record, I did express to the SIC the fact that Father Brum was intimately involved in preparing the letter dealing with my termination– it’s probably one of the reasons why the SIC stated that he was a key member of RSK’s “inner circle”. And again, for the record, the documents prepared by Father Brum which I provided Mark Stokoe, and delivered by hand on Monday night to Metropolitan JONAH, shed no new light on the detailed report produced by the SIC. The intent of the release was only meant to counter the neglected fact in Father Brums’ resume (and address the chatter on the internet) that he was a key member of the Kondratick administration during the years 1999-2000.
The memos and documents do show, and do reinforce exactly what was written by the former members of the SIC in their letter to the Metropolitan – that “the Church would be better served by those who in no way are associated with this most sorrowful period in its history” – a comment in which I am in full agreement.
Father Karlgut, based upon your recent correspondence, it appears that the selection committee interpreted the fact that just because the SIC Report did not recommend any action against Father Brum, it gave him a green light to the episcopacy. And, your constant justification of the selection process, instead of listening and addressing the issues raised, may be part of the reason why the process is clearly falling apart.
The Metropolitan Waits
According to sources close to Syosset, Metropolitan Jonah, Locum Tenens, has indicated that he would agree to a postponement of the election - if it is the will of the Extraordinary Assembly. He is reported to prefer that the decision to take a step back and re-examine the process, or to proceed, as the Committee desires, be made after clergy and laity speak together on Monday in Clifton. The decision would then be made by the clergy and delegates representing the Diocese as a whole, in conciliar fashion, rather than by just the Committee or himself.
The Committee’s comment that “It is time for us to manifest, whatever the outcome of discussion, debate, and vote, that conciliarity is more than a slogan or theory among us that it is truly our desire and our maturing reality” may actually come true on Monday. Ironically, that conciliar decision may be not to proceed posthaste, but pause briefly, review and reopen the Committee’s own work allowing all to participate, and then moving forward behind a candidate that has been vetted, discussed, interviewed, and met - rather than the current closed process, resulting in many nominations from the floor, thus throwing the decision to the Synod, and not the Diocese.
The Extraordinary Assembly meets Monday, August 31st. The agenda has just been released and may be found here.
- Mark Stokoe