The Next 90 Days
Although it is the Nativity season, the joint meeting of the Synod of Bishops and the Metropolitan Council did not give birth to a 'new' OCA. It will be some 90 days from now, in the season of the Annunciation, during the individual March meetings of the Synod and Council, that we can hope the delivery will occur with the presentation of the Investigative Commission's final report, and the selection of the top officers of a new Administration - including a new Chancellor, Treasurer, Secretary, and Ministries/Communication Director. Syosset is sure to claim that "everything is going to be fine now"; but such an announcement, to continue the imagery, would be totally premature.
For many, the conception itself is a miracle; others doubt it will come to term. This child of reform has enemies. Still others wonder whether it will look more like its mother (Necessity) or its father (Woe). Whatever comes, comments from many present agreed that the meeting was an intense experience.
Scenes From The Meeting
Take some thirty five people from across North America in charge of an organization and place them in a room for three days of reports on a decade of failure after administrative failure and you have a the makings of a disaster. But this was not the case. The laity were not intimidated by the hierarchs as was widely feared; everyone asked questions, everyone got some kind of answer. The Metropolitan seemed resigned to change, the vast majority of the Council members working together as the engine of it.
No Question Who The "One Individual" Was
What drove the change was the stark reality of the report of Attorney Sarah Gold from Proskauer Rose LLP. She did not present a written report, fearing potential legal consequences should some of what was told in confidence become public. Her report, like the OCA press release announcing it, was blunt, direct and bears no alternative readings. (Read that press release here) (And this press release, OCANews.org was told, was slightly 'watered-down' from the original proposed by the six-member drafting committee.) Although the OCA did not name names, the evidence collected by Proskauer Rose's investigation showed that the former Chancellor, Fr. Robert Kondratick, was the prime player in the shuffling, mishandling, misappropriating and pillaging of Church funds over the past 15 years. Given the destruction of records and evidence, the central role of others, such as former Metropolitan Theodosius, could not be fully established. Only Fr. Kondratick could do that; and he still denies any wrongdoing.
What is clear, however, is that Fr. Kondratick was enabled by the silence of OCA Treasurers (including Metropolitan Herman and Fr. Oselinsky), the Comptroller (Fr. Stepen Strikis) and the Internal Auditors elected by the All-American Council (Fr. Paul Suda, Fr. David Mahaffey, Mr. David Donlick and earlier, Mr. Frank Tkacz). All of these officers failed to publicly protest, or privately stop the malfeasance that was hard to miss. (Steven Lamos, of Lambrides Lamos and Malthroup, distributed, at one point in the meeting, a 5-6 page handout, single-spaced, detailing the hundreds of huge checks cashed and turned over to Fr. Kondratick, with little documentation, if any, over the last few years.)
These years of silent complicity eventually provoked a no-confidence motion against the elected Audit Committee by some members of the Council. (In addition to the above, the evidence presented showed that they had not even met since 2004, and then only to formalize a letter approving the 2002 financial compilation report - not to perform the required audit.) Minutes before, a voice from the Council had asked, "How can we trust these people to do this job?" But Bishop Seraphim of Canada, ever averse to controversy, reacted in horror, saying:"Well, in Canada, when you vote no confidence, that means the parties should resign!" The Metropolitan spoke against the motion as well; stating that to single out the auditors was wrong because "We were all at fault - including the Metropolitan Council itself." In the end the motion failed - but not before it was decided that the new Metropolitan Council Finance Committee would talk with the elected auditors soon to hear their side of the story.
A second motion was withdrawn. Fr. Vladimir Berzonsky, clergy delegate from the Diocese of the Midwest, proposed a resolution thanking former OCA Treasurer, Protodeacon Eric Wheeler, former OCA Secretary Paul Hunchak, Archbishop Job and former OCA Chief Auditor John Kozey for speaking out. His goal, in offering such a motion was to begin healing in the Church by acknowledging the whistleblowers. Bishop Nikolai of Alaska took immediate offense. "Why didn't you include Stokoe too?", he asked. The Bishop of Alaska then announced that "...if Wheeler had been in my diocese, he would have been suspended a long time ago." +Nikolai's passionate outburst caught many in the Council off-guard. As the other bishops hemmed and hawed - pointing out that Wheeler, too, had turned a blind eye for years - Fr. Berzonsky, unwilling to sacrifice the unity of spirit that had dominated the meeting until that point, withdrew the motion before a formal vote could be taken.
The general mood and spirit of conciliarity was broken only one other time, towards the end of the meeting in what was described by all present as a very ugly moment. As OCANews.org reported, the OCA cannot get a certified audit for 2006 until the balance sheet resolves who owns the assets of the Church lands in Alaska; that is, either the OCA, the Diocese or both. Once again Bishop Nikolai exploded, stating that as diocesan Bishop he controls all church lands in Alaska, and blaming Fr. Paul Kucynda, Acting Treasurer of the OCA, for telling Lambrides, Lamos and Moulthrop, the OCA's outside accountants, about the issue, such that they raised in it their reports.
Fr. Kucynda stated that was not true.
Bishop Nikolai told Fr. Kucynda not to challenge him in public.
Fr. Kucynda said it was not true.
+Nikolai warned Fr. Kucynda to be silent, or face a spiritual court.
Fr. Kucynda then said: "Do what you have to do. It is not true."
+Nikolai responded: " O.K. You've just bought yourself a spiritual court."
Of course there will be no spiritual court.The Bishop of Alaska has no authority to take Fr. Paul Kucynda to a spiritual court since he is not a priest in his diocese.
( Indeed it was the Bishop of Alaska who had taken pains earlier in the meeting to point out that no action could be taken by the Synod of Bishops against Fr. Kondratick since only his diocesan bishop, Archbishop Dmitri of the South, could do so. And since Archbishop Dmitri was not present at the meeting, the Synod could only advise - but not take action.) By his own prior admission, the threat was empty. The exchange was revealing, however.
The joint meeting has resulted in many comments to this site; some laudatory, most, however, slightly skeptical. That is not unexpected given the sorry history of silence, cover-up and deception that has brought the OCA to this point. But one comment in particular, by frequent contributor to this site, Fr. Ted Bobosh, stood out, at least two members of the Metropolitan Council, one of whom asked that I make it more known. It is, in their opinion, the best summary of what occurred and what their effort means. Fr. Bobosh wrote:
"Although it is possible to criticize many things which the Metropolitan Council did or didn't do in its recent historic meeting, I also think we should sit back and get a glimpse of the big picture and understand how much was really accomplished. The problems which were strangling the OCA were not solely the activities of one man. The OCA had serious priority problems, personnel problems and policy problems. The MC did not offer some quick fix, but has offered some long term solutions to these many problems plaguing the OCA.
Over the past year the OCA has been gripping with many different serious issues and struggling with not only how to solve problems but also with what the exact nature and extent of the problems are. What this historic meeting has left us with is nothing short of miraculous. They didn't limit themselves to blaming one man. They have adopted many needed changes in policy, priority, personnel, budget, direction.
For those who say the OCA is too weak or too young or too incapable of being an autocephalous Church, I would say look at the problems we have just dealt with - and the solutions we have offered. We have faced our demons and our failures and our sins and have taken them on directly in battle. We have not done what many older Orthodox churches get accused of: denying problems exist, sweeping them under the rug, paying off the culprits so the scandal will be forgotten, ignoring the problem, fatalistically accepting corruption as a way of life, trumpeting hierarchicalism or clericalism as the cover for corruption.
The OCA's MC has done what our American politicians cannot or will not do - deal with huge budget overspending. They have put in place a total reorganization of priorities and organizational structure. Those who were simply looking at this scandal as the corrupt actions of one man, were failing to grasp the depth and breadth and length of our problems. The MC has given the OCA a second chance to now live up to its autocephaly. They did it without relying on the emperor or government to solve the problem. They did it by making all the members to be the Body of Christ. This scandal was OUR problem, and the MC has made it possible for all of us - all the members of the Body of Christ - to be part of the solution.
What needs to be done is not simply and only in the hands of the bishops. It is not only in the hands of Syosset or the MC itself. The solution offered is for all of us to step forward and actively be the Church, the Body of Christ, for all of us to take an active interest in the future of Orthodoxy in America."
Not to disparage Fr. Bobosh's optimism, but important questions remain from the meeting. What about Best Practices - so lauded, and so absent? What about the questionable Kondratick promissory note? When will the final, full Reorganization Plan be published? What is the scope, authority, timeline, etc. of the Investigative Committee? When will the next All-American Council actually take place in 2008? Will there be canonical sanctions against those who defrauded the Church? These and many, many others wait to be answered in the coming days. The current Administration gained some credibility with its timely and accurate posting of press releases from the joint meeting. Let us hope they can do the same with the questions remaining from the historic meeting just concluded.
The next 90 days are crucial.
- Mark Stokoe