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12. 19.07

The Metropolitan's Message Part Two

Struggling Harder

Those trapped in quicksand looks about for means of rescue- a vine, a branch, anything that could be used to stop the inevitable descent into darkness. One has to wonder, therefore, what kind of man, being sucked deeper and deeper in the quickening sands of a scandal, does not seize the lifeline of Truth, but instead, turns to his trapped fellow-travellers and says: “Struggle harder”?

This is not just an error in judgement, it is fatal advice.

One would expect a “Pastoral Letter” to provide the OCA with a way out of the quicksand - not the spectacle of man struggling harder and harder, and encouraging others to do the same.

The Metropolitan’s Message continues:

“As Primate of the Church, I was advised to retain the law firm of Proskauer Rose LLP. They began an internal investigation of the allegations relating to the finances of the Church. We also contacted the accounting firm of Lambrides, Lamos, Moulthrop, LLP to conduct an independent audit of all Church financial accounts for the years 2004 and 2005.”

Struggling Hard to Do Nothing

The Metropolitan’s narrative of his decisions concerning the scandal is cogent, so much so, one might actually overlook the lacunae in the story. Let us fill in the missing dates and events:

•The Metropolitan retained Proskauer Rose in the first week of March 2006. Shortly thereafter, on March 16th, he fired Robert Kondratick for:

a) threatening the Metropolitan, which the Metropolitan took as an attack on the Church itself,
b) theft,
c) alienation of Church funds for personal use,
d) a perceived habit of overspending,
e) an overbearing management style,
f) because “others suggested it”,
g there was “no alternative”, or
h) all of the above.

The correct answer, according to the Metropolitan’s own words, is h) all of the above. The reasons change with the seasons.

• Having removed Kondratick as Chancellor, the Metropolitan took no further action. From March - July, 2006 the former Chancellor remained in the Chancellor’s residence and served weekly at the Metropolitan’s chapel in Syosset.

• Proskauer Rose completed its initial investigation in July, 2006. At this point the Metropolitan knew what would eventually be contained in the Preliminary Report of the Special Commission because Proskauer Rose was reporting directly, and only, to him. Nevertheless, from July - September 2006 the former Chancellor continued in the Chancellor’s residence and served weekly at the Metropolitan’s chapel.

• In September, 2006 Kondratick filed a lawsuit against the OCA seeking repayment of $250,000 promissory note, monies he felt were owed him for improvements made to the Chancellor’s residence - plus generous interest. The day after he withdrew his lawsuit, in October, 2006, he was assigned a parish in Venice, Florida. It was not really quid pro quo. It only appears to be so. (Read that story)

• For the next seven months (October 2006 - April 2007) Kondratick served in Venice, Florida, as the Metropolitan stubbornly withstood demands to release the results of the Proskauer Rose investigation - results he himself had promised in March 2006 to release to the whole Church “at an appropriate time”.

For 13 months the Metropolitan did not fail to act. It only appears so. In reality, he was struggling hard - to do nothing.

Omissions

The Metropolitan continues his story:

“In December, 2006, during the joint meeting of the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council, I appointed a Special Committee, headed by Archbishop Job, to look into these financial issues. The Committee’s findings are in the Summary Report.”

A Special Commission, the Metropolitan fails to point out, he opposed creating. He subsequently admitted that he finally appointed the Commission not as a means of discovering the truth, but rather as a sop to promote

“unity” with Archbishop Job. And he omits to mention that he will still not allow the OCA to read the actual Preliminary Report the Special Commission created. We may only read a “Summary Report of the Preliminary Report of the first Special Investigative Committee and the Proceedings of the Spiritual Court for Robert Kondratick”. The title is as awkward as the circumstances of its creation - and its release.

He goes on:

“The Special Committee presented its preliminary report to the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council in March, 2007. After hearing and discussing their report the Metropolitan Council and Holy Synod of Bishops made several recommendations on how to proceed. “

The Metropolitan omits that the Special Commission actually made 10 recommendations to the Metropolitan Council, of which 8 were adopted and presented to the Synod. The Synod then adopted all eight. The Metropolitan apparently did not. He writes:

"The first recommendation was the “immediate suspension of Father Kondratick.”

And the other seven recommendations? Ah yes, they included the release of the Special Commission’s Preliminary Report, an unfettered investigation by the “original” Special Commission, and other items which, according to the Metropolitan, are not really part of this story. They only appear to be so.

Moving on, the Metropolitan writes:

“In April, 2007 I temporarily suspended Robert Kondratick from priestly duties and selected a Spiritual Court to consider the allegations against him. Details about the Spiritual Court are in the Summary Report. After due deliberation, the Spiritual Court proceeded with the trial, which included over 18 hours of live testimony over two days (June 11, 2007 and July 6, 2007). On July 19, 2007 the Spiritual Court issued their judgment and recommended that Robert Kondratick be permanently deposed from the priesthood. On July 31, 2007 the Holy Synod of Bishops accepted that recommendation and confirmed the final deposition in conformance with the Statute of the Orthodox Church in America. On August 26, 2007 Robert Kondratick petitioned the Holy Synod to appeal its decision. At the Holy Synod meeting of October 16, 2007, Robert Kondratick presented the Holy Synod with a thick packet of documents containing his appeal. The Holy Synod was diligent and gave the appeal considerable and careful attention. Today, December 13, 2007, at its special meeting the Holy Synod came to the conclusion that there was nothing in the appeal which warrants the reversal of the decision to depose Robert Kondratick.”

While factually accurate, the above fails to answer any of the dominant questions from this time period. Given that the Special Commission’s Preliminary Report of March 2007 contained nothing more than what Proskauer Rose allowed the Commission to see, that is, no new evidence was generated from what was available in, say, July 2006, how does the Metropolitan explain his year of inaction regarding l’affaire Kondratick? What explains his failure to call a spiritual court on his own, rather than wait for the Council and Synod to finally demand one? Why did he hinder the Special Commission at every step of their investigation before the call for Kondratick’s deposition, and then suspend it for five months following? Why did he repeatedly attempt to hinder the Metropolitan Council’s efforts to clarify the scandal, to the point of suspending Gregg Nescott from the Council, and dismissing him from the Commission? Why has he acted only when forced to by the press, the Metropolitan Council, or withholding? This part of the story the Metropolitan carefully omits...

The Metropolitan continues:

“This decision on the appeal of the former Chancellor does not yet bring everything to an end.”

The Metropolitan has got that part right. The more the Metropolitan tries to explain, the more questions he causes to be raised. When one does not tell the truth, the lies, distortions and omissions must multiply to cover the sleight of hand being undertaken. In his struggling, he is sinking deeper and deeper into the quicksand of the scandal. He continues:

“Several members of the original Special Investigation Committee regrettably resigned. I have asked Bishop Benjamin to chair and oversee the formation of a new, independent Special Committee. They have begun their work, which is proceeding unimpeded and unconstrained. We await a report on their findings early in 2008.”

Once again it is not only what the Metropolitan says, but what he omits from his story that causes questions to arise. Why did several members of the original Special Commission resign? The Metropolitan doesn’t want to go there. (Read for yourself what two Commissioners had to say about the Metropolitan’s interference with their investigation here, and here.) Why does he establish yet another Committee, calling this one “unimpeded”, but then giving it a rapid timetable for completion?

New Charges, Same Old Scandal

Because of the Metropolitan’s interference and restrictions that prevented the Special Commission from doing its work - not to mention the five months he suspended it altogether - one would have to be particularly naive to expect the “new”, “independent” Special Investigative Committee to achieve much, or even anything, despite the Metropolitan’s assertion that it is proceeding “unimpeded or unconstrained”. Even if that were the case, it is hardly likely the Special Investigative Committee could properly complete an investigation and reports its findings in early 2008. The (original) Special Commission expected to complete its investigation nine months after their January 2007 organizational meeting in Parma, Ohio. The smaller Special Investigative Committee expects to do the same in three?

This seems even more unlikely given developments in recent days. In postings on both OCANews.org and the Orthodox Forum, the monk James Silver, who often speaks for Robert Kondratick, writes:

“Please note that I have written nothing so vague as ‘to accuse the Metropolitan of sexual indiscretions’. Let me make myself clear: I’m accusing him and several others of our bishops, priests and deacons -- sometimes in connection with these very bishops -- of specifically homosexual activity, a shameful and scandalous pattern of transgressions and cover-ups. Some of our financial troubles are directly attributable to this sinful conspiracy.”

Silver then makes it clear that he wants to be interviewed by the new Special Committee: “I look forward to being interviewed by the ‘Special Investigative Committee’ and I will provide as much background information as I can to appropriate officers of the OCA and to the government.”

The Special Investigative Committee, therefore, has a crucial decision to make. They can really investigate and then grab the lifeline of truth - or they can struggle harder against it, dragging us down deeper and deeper. They can tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth to the entire Church; or they can attempt, like the Metropolitan, to serve us canned goods beyond their expiration date. The choice is theirs. Should they succumb to the latter temptation, they should not be surprised if they prove to be but the second investigating committee; for they will surely not be the last.

Back to the Message

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan’s “Message” drags us down deeper in the mire. If he is loathe to speak about what he has been doing these past months, he is more than happy to tell what others have been doing:

“Important recommendations that have been proposed have been implemented and others are continuing to be pursued. At its July, 2007 special session, the Holy Synod of Bishops rescinded the July 30, 1999 resolution that stated that discretionary accounts cannot be subject to external audit. The Holy Synod has had several joint meetings with the Metropolitan Council during which a good deal of discussion has been devoted to resolution of the crisis. Major revisions have occurred in the entire financial sector of the Orthodox Church in America. Our new Treasurer, Priest Michael Tassos, who is also a Certified Public Accountant, has begun to overhaul our former system and bring it into conformance with professionally accepted accounting standards. Audits and financial statements which before were only partially complete will soon be available for the entire membership of the Church to review.”

And again, things have changed:

“At present the Central Church Administration has gone through significant restructuring. Three key administrative positions have been filled. The OCA Chancery is presently staffed by only a handful of full time employees, all of whom are conscientious and hard-working. The Metropolitan Council has also taken a greater role in its fiduciary responsibilities. The upcoming All American Council, to be held in Pittsburgh next November 10 - 13, will bring us together to reflect on and reassess our vision as the Orthodox Church in America.“

If our leaders cannot speak or act with integrity, cannot tell the truth to themselves, to each other, or to us; if we cannot hear or be told the Truth for fear that “it will destroy us” rather than free us, as our Lord promised, any vision we reflect on, or any reassessment we undertake, is meaningless. The OCA will make a fundamental decision in Pittsburgh: to choose the Truth or not. We can embrace the painful truth, and remain a hospital for those seeking spiritual health. Or, we can continue to deny the same, abjuring the medicine of truth, and diminish into no more than a hospice for those waiting the demise of an ever-fading dream of autocephaly.

Even the Metropolitan seems to understand where he has placed us, if not his responsibility for doing so. He writes:

“This crisis has had profound tragic consequences in the life of our Church. Clergy and faithful have expressed outrage, with passionate demands and calls for retribution. People who were long-time friends find themselves at odds with each other. Frustration has led individuals, parishes and dioceses to actions, withholdings and boycotts that were never dreamed of. All sections of the Central Church Administration are seen as lacking integrity and competence. The members of the Holy Synod have been subjected to condemnation. In particular, my own role as Primate of the Church came to be criticized and questioned. A good deal of this frustration was due to the perception that there was deliberate stonewalling by myself and the Central Church Administration. Actually legal counsel advised against the revelation of pertinent material and this made it impossible to answer questions in a timely manner.“

Once again, excuses, excuses, excuses. It wasn’t me: it was “outraged clergy”, it was “individuals”, it was “parishes who boycotted”, it was “dioceses who withheld”. It was, finally, “the lawyers.” Please. Such desperate, special pleading is beneath contempt. The simple fact is that if people think the Central Church Administration lacks integrity, it is because of “Messages” like this that continue to obscure, excuse and justify the Metropolitan’s errors in judgement, if not actual participation in the scandal, by continually and consistently blaming others.

Noah Uncovered

The Metropolitan continues:

“It may take some time for us to regain the trust of some people but at this time I would like to offer some personal reflections.

Most of my adult life has been spent in active service to the Orthodox Church in America. I thank God daily that I have been permitted to serve in the Church, as priest, hieromonk and bishop for over forty years. During that time there has never been a moment when I did not have only the most sincere desire to honor and defend the Church. In the Biblical spirit of Noah’s sons I was taught that the right thing is to not expose the shame of elders, by which I understand my brother bishops and the other clergy. As a priest and later as bishop, I endeavored to preserve the stability and unity of the Church to the best of my abilities, even when doing so may have upset some individuals.”

Reponse to this argument has been swift. One upset individual was Fr. Ted Bobosh, who objected to the Metropolitan’s exegesis of the Noah story. The author of the recently published “Questioning God: A Look at Genesis 1-3” ( Light and Life), Fr. Bobosh wrote to OCANews.org:

“... I certainly appreciate the Metropolitan’s publicly acknowledging his errors in judgment and deeds by which he finally admits even if vaguely how he personally contributed both to the scandal and to how the scandal has been mishandled. I do however question his idea of how a church leader should deal with the scandal caused by church leadership - cover it up. If that is how he responds scandal in the church as the Metropolitan, imagine a priest sexually abusing a parish child. Would the Metropolitan decide not to expose the shame of the elder? Is that what we need or expect from a bishop of the Church in this day and age? His statement turns “cover up” euphemistically into “not exposing the shame of the elder.” While that might be the ideal within the confines of a small monastic community, it cannot be the principle governing the situation when public trust has been abused by national church leaders who shamelessly violated the stewardship entrusted to them by God and by the Church. I would also say read the Genesis 11 story of Noah again. Noah’s sons, Shem and Japheth, certainly do cover their father’s nakedness, but in the story Noah is the VICTIM of Ham’s sin. Shem and Ham aren’t so much covering the sin of their father (his drunkenness), but rather the victimhood of their father due to the sin of their brother. When Noah awakens he realizes what Ham has done to him - Ham sinned against Noah in some way and not mere voyeurism. It is not Noah’s getting drunk that is the focus of the story, but what Ham sinfully does to his unconscious father! Noah’s sons are not trying to cover or hide the sin of their brother, but they are ashamed FOR their dad and want to cover the shame their victimized father has suffered by Ham. It would be a misunderstanding of the Noah story to say Shem and Japheth tried not to expose the shame of their brother. By covering their father they were in fact acknowledging the shame of their brother’s action. They were ashamed by what their brother had done and they tried to aid the victim, not cover up the shameful deed of the perpetrator of the crime.”

The Apology

The Metropolitan continues:

“I have, on occasion, as a Christian and an Orthodox cleric, made errors in judgment. At times I trusted those that I should not have trusted. There were times I did not act when I should have acted, or when I did not speak when I should have spoken, and I have said things that I should not have said. To the measure that my sins and faults have caused harm to our Church, to my fellow hierarchs, to members of the Church Administration, to the clergy and faithful of the Orthodox Church in America, I ask God’s mercy and your forgiveness.”

Such expressions of regret are welcome, and must be accepted in the spirit they are offered. Of course, they have been offered before, as in April 2006. Then, the Metropolitan wrote:

“I wish to state unequivocally that I take full responsibility for what may have happened during my service as Primate of the Church. The Holy Apostle commands me as first hierarch of the Church “that you should set in order the things that are wanting” (Titus 1:5). If I have failed in any way to do that, I ask for your forgiveness and God’s guidance to enable me to undertake whatever corrective measures may still be necessary.”

That was written one month after the Metropolitan dismissed Kondratick as his Chancellor. He then went on, among other things, to withhold Proskauer Rose’s findings; oppose the Special Commission; restrict its investigation; withhold its Preliminary Report; force the resignation of a majority of the members of the Commission by crippling their work - and then appoint a new a new Special Investigative Committee charged with bringing all this to a quick end; attempt to bully the Metropolitan Council by dismissing Gregg Nescott from the Commission and suspending him from the Council. As we have seen in this very Message, the Metropolitan then blames the whole scandal on a “perceived habit of overspending” and “an overbearing management style”.

Unlike the April 2006 expression of regret, though, this one is not even fresh. We do well to remember the current one is canned, that it was penned months ago, and so, covers nothing that has happened in the last months. The above contrition came during the destruction of the Special Commission, the failure to release its Preliminary Report, the public condemnation of the Assembly of the Diocese of Western Pennsylvania as doing “ the devil’s work” because it voted “no confidence” in his leadership, etc., etc., etc. As that is the case, can we take this latest expression of regret any more seriously than the first - which he followed by actions that led to another 20 months of turmoil?

The Metropolitan’s Message reveals that despite his apologies, he will continue to seek to cover-up the scandal based on his misunderstanding of the Noah story. Any expression of regret offered does not seem to not change either his perspective, attitudes or actions. It hasn’t in the last 18 months.

What Guides Us? Who Guides Us?

The Metropolitan shares a bit more of his perspective when he writes:

“When God blessed us with the reality of the Orthodox Church in America, we boldly embraced the challenge of discerning what it means to be both genuine Orthodox Christians and members of a modern, democratic society. It seemed then that with prayer and good will we would find a way to integrate Orthodox Church Tradition into the prevailing North American culture. That process of integration is still far from complete. There is much to be done as we grapple with fundamental principles of Church order in the context of our times. We see now that the course we must follow is truly the “narrow way which is hard,” but it is the way that “leads to life” (Mt. 14.23).”

If the Metropolitan thinks this is all a “Kulturkampf”, a culture war, about what it means to be Orthodox in a modern, democratic society, he is woefully mistaken. The issue in the OCA is not democracy, or power: it is about Truth. No one questioning the Metropolitan questions Orthodox Tradition or the fundamental principles of Church order. No one is attempting to insert “North American” culture, whatever that is, into the Church. The real problem for the Metropolitan is that those who question him are not doing so in the name of culture, but are doing it precisely in the name of Orthodox Tradition, which is a Tradition of Truth. Democracy, power, cultural principles: these words are just so much sand in the eyes to distract us from the real question: what guides the OCA? The truth - or fear?

At present, we are guided by Metropolitan Herman and fear. Fear of “destroying the Church”, fear of “uncovering our father’s nakedness” (understood as the bishop’s and clergy’s misdeeds), fear of “legal issues” ....The list of Metropolitan Herman’s fears is long.

But Christ tells us: “Be not afraid.” Let us listen to Him, and tell the truth, rather than yet another set of lawyers with conflicting advice for a potential unindicted co-conspirator. The lawyers can only assuage our fears, and then only for a time. The Truth, Christ promises us, will set us free. Only Truth saves; only integrity heals; only honesty carries conviction. Unless the Metropolitan turns, and manifests his real repentance by stepping down so that the Truth might be told in an honest and integral way, “discerning what it means to be a genuine Orthodox Christian in a modern democratic society” is a meaningless phrase uttered by a man trapped in quicksand, unable to free himself and content to watch his companions disappear with him.

Finally, the Metropolitan concludes:

The unfortunate events which we have recounted here constitute a very tragic chapter in the history of our Church. Yet we learn from mistakes and we have learned much from the experience of the past several years.”

Apparently not, as the previous analysis demonstrates. The danger is that we do not have “several years” to get this right. We have to the next Council in Pittsburgh, where, coincidentally, the cover-up of all this began at a Council in 1999. If we agree to cover it up all again in 2007, we shall have squandered our patrimony once again and proved ourselves unworthy of the gifts given us.

Conciliarity, Hierarchy & Truth

The OCA is a hierarchical and conciliar Church. If the Chief Hierarch can neither be trusted nor believed, the long term consequences are deadly. It is not possible to ignore, to disinvite, to isolate or to turn away from our Primate, our Bishops and “go about our business”, as some would suggest, as if their lack of integrity and veracity, personal and corporate, did not matter. It does. Attempting to “revitalize” our Church “from the bottom up” is a formula for disaster. A whole section of Christianity tried that once - it is called Protestantism. Ours is a conciliar and hierarchical church, a church predicated on those at the top rightly dividing the word of Truth. If they cannot, this manifestation of the Tradition known as the Orthodox Church in America has little future as an Orthodox Church, let alone as an American or Canadian one. Likewise, the papal pretensions of locally infallible hierarchs who would require deference in all matters, allowing the laity to simply pray, pay and obey, is not a way forward either.

No, the way forward is the way back - to start again with the Truth. Simply put, nothing else will work. Anything else is just struggling harder and harder in a vain attempt to escape from the quicksand of scandal.

- Mark Stokoe

 

 
 

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