09.20.06 First in Three Part Series
The Metropolitan’s Interview:
In his replies to questions which had been submitted to Protodeacon Peter Danilchick (read the interview here) Metropolitan Herman began by asking the following rhetorical question: “Unless I have a document resulting from a proper investigation, what can I say publicly?” He then answers his own question, citing five reasons for his continuing silence on the scandal that has rocked the OCA. These are:
• “The person being accused in these allegations is denying it to me.”
• “My point here is that we cannot act on allegations without proof.”
• “...going public rather than speaking personally is not consistent with the way that Christians do this,
according to the Gospel... Speak personally first, then to the church publicly.”
• “We are doing all that we can to bring about the exposure of the problems of the past in a reasonable and proper way."
• “I am not trying to stonewall or hide anything. My hands are regretfully tied due to the investigation and the inability to reveal the results right now.”
Each of the above statements is not fully accurate; indeed, most are simply untrue. That they are untrue is evidenced by one document, a document that the Metropolitan and all the Bishops of the OCA have had in their possession since October of 2005. The Metropolitan himself has known of its contents since 1999 – for he was a participant in the events it describes.
The Summer of 1999
In June, 1999 Protodeacon Eric Wheeler would not sign off on financial documents that had to be presented to the upcoming All American Council to be held in Pittsburgh that coming July. Having discovered that some $5 million in unrecorded donations to the OCA had been diverted into secret discretionary accounts controlled by then-Metropolitan Theodosius and then-Chancellor Father Robert Kondratick, Wheeler had privately demanded that the diversions stop and more adequate financial controls in general be instituted. Together with the OCA’s legal counsel, Jonathan Russin, and the head of the OCA’s Audit Committee, John Kozey, Wheeler and Kondratick agreed to a quiet solution, “for the good of the Church” in a meeting on July 8, 1999, that included a review of the secret accounts by a CPA chosen to be chosen by Russin. (Read that agreement here)
Thus, the Council was held with no public acknowledgement of the problem, nor any signs that financial and accounting problems existed. That is, until at the Metropolitan Council meeting which traditionally concludes the All American Council events. This meeting reviews the Council’s decisions and is where the Metropolitan customarily reappoints his leadership team: his Chancellor, Treasurer, Secretary, and other officers of the Church. This time the Metropolitan reappointed only Fr. Kondratick; and left the rest of the staff, including Wheeler, in place, but unconfirmed.
An even more ominous sign of trouble came the following month when the deadline for the private review, agreed to in the July 8th meeting, came and went without action being taken.
Thus it came to pass that on September 21, 1999 a meeting was held in South Canaan, Pennsylvania between Fr. Kondratick, Protodeacon Wheeler and then-Archbishop Herman in an attempt to resolve the issue. Here is the Memorandum, written by Protodeacon Wheeler three days later, describing that meeting:
To: File Copy
From: Eric A. Wheeler
Date: September 24, 1999
RE: Meeting with Archbishop HERMAN
On Tuesday, September 21, 1999 Fr. Robert S. Kondratick and I met with Archbishop HERMAN at his residence in South Canaan, Pennsylvania. During the meeting, I explained to Archbishop HERMAN the financial improprieties I observed over the past 11 years as an employee of the chancery of the Orthodox Church in America. This focused on the expenditures of church funds for personal use by chancery employees, the lack of documentation for petty cash distributions and American Express charges.
I also explained that I was aware of the fact that bequests intended for the general fund of the Orthodox Church in America were deposited into accounts which not audited by our certified public accountants.
I briefly explained the existence of the Archer Daniels Midland Grant; and the manner in which funds have be accounted for (or not accounted for) and distributed from this account since 1995.
I explained that given my knowledge of the existence of checking accounts outside the audited accounts of the Orthodox Church in America that had received funds from the Archer Daniels Midland Foundation, I was not able to sign off on the required forms that would certify to our certified public accounts that we have made all financial records and related data available to them. Hence, our last audited financial report for the Orthodox Church in America was for the year ending December 31, 1996.
I stated that I had written a memo to the Metropolitan and Fr. Kondratick about mis-representing (sic) funds involving the Archer Daniels Midland grant in our main checking account on October 9, 1997.
I stated that I approached both the Metropolitan and Father Kondratick about the matter of the financial reports and the existence of outside accounts in December 1998. Father Kondratick and the Metropolitan both stated that things would be taken care of.
I further explained some of the moral issues concerning the life of the Metropolitan that I was made aware of in my employment, and of which Father Kondratick informed me.
In front of Archbishop HERMAN, Father Kondratick responded affirmatively when I pointedly asked him if he had expended church funds for his personal use.
On the way home in the car, Father Kondratick kept repeating that he did not want to go to jail, and that I had to help him get out of this mess.
On Thursday, September 23, I informed Jonathan Russin of this conversation (with Kondratick) and asked him if I should memo him on it. He stated no.”
What Happened Next
The day after the meeting in South Caanan, Wednesday, September 22, Metropolitan Theodosius and Father Kondratick received a letter from the Chair of the OCA Audit Committee, John Kozey, insisting that the agreed-upon summary review of the secret accounts proceed as planned.
On September 24th, Wheeler wrote the above memo.
On September 29th the Lesser Synod met in Syosset. Following the Synod, Wheeler was summoned to a mid-morning meeting with Metropolitan Theodosius by then-Archbishop Herman. According to Wheeler, +Herman ushered him in the door with the advice: “Take it like a man.” +Theodosius, with +Herman at his side, then informed Wheeler the position of Treasurer was being “reorganized”, and that given its reduced duties, Wheeler’s services were no longer needed.
That same day the OCA website announced that:
“The duties and responsibilities of the Office of the Treasurer have been modified. His Eminence, Archbishop HERMAN of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania has been appointed, and has accepted the position of Acting Treasurer of the Church.”
+Herman was to hold that position for the next nine fateful months, until the chancery was “reorganized” yet again, and a new Treasurer, once again assigned almost all the duties of the position Wheeler had held, could be installed.
On October 18th the Metropolitan unilaterally removed John Kozey as Chair of the Audit Committee, after Kozey asked to address the upcoming meeting of the Metropolitan Council for the purpose of explaining his concerns about the secret accounts to the Council. Kozey's request was denied, and Archpriest Paul Suda was subsequently appointed in his place, as chairman.
The following Spring Kozey was removed from the Committee entirely. The Audit Committee then reported that the OCA’s financials were all in order for both 1997 and 1998. And Acting Treasurer, then-Archbishop Herman reported to the Metropolitan Council all was well.
He, of course, knew it was not true.
The Metropolitan’s 2006 Interview
Wheeler’s September 1999 memorandum clearly refutes Metropolitan Herman’s assertions regarding his commitment to openly communicate the truth to the Church.
• The Metropolitan claims that he cannot release any information without “proof” that can only come from Proskauer Rose, since Fr. Kondratick denies Wheeler’s allegations. According to the Wheeler memorandum, Kondratick admitted the allegations personally to Herman more than 7 years ago. How much more “proof” is required?
• The Metropolitan claims that “...going public rather than speaking personally is not consistent with the way that Christians do this, according to the Gospel.” But that is exactly what Wheeler did; he spoke privately first in June 1999, in July 1999, then again in September 1999; and again in a letter to all the Bishops in October 2005. It would seem seven years of private admonition should satisfy even more the most rigorous of scriptural interpreters. And yet, for Metropolitan Herman it is not enough?
• Thus the Metropolitan’s protestations that “We are doing all that we can to bring about the exposure of the problems of the past in a reasonable and proper way” ring hollow. For the past seven years the Metropolitan has done his best not to communicate the truth to the Church. Consider, for example, this report from the Orthodox New Service regarding the scandal from May 10th, 2000:
“When asked whether any information about the review (of the Metropolitan’s secret accounts) under (Theodosius' lawyer Michael) Kennedy other than that stated in his letter of January 14th, 2000 was provided to the OCA’s auditors, +Herman refused to answer. He said that answering the question would “ just cause more articles” and that he “didn’t know what good it does to the building up of the Christ’s Church”
When asked who paid for the review conducted under the auspices of Kennedy on behalf of Metropolitan Theodosius, +Herman said: I don’t know who paid for it,. but it's all been take care of, and the matter has been closed. As far at the Orthodox Church in America is concerned, the matter is closed."
That was then. In the past year, Metropolitan Herman closed the matter again in November 2005; again in January 2006; and yet again in February 2006. Now the Metropolitan is asserting that things have changed, and communication is the goal. But have things really changed?
• In March 2006, the Metropolitan called for silence not because of Proskauer Rose’s investigation, but for “the good of the Church”.
• In April 2006, the Metropolitan, The Orthodox Church newspaper and the OCA website all called for silence, not because of the Proskauer Rose investigation, but this time for the “sake of Pascha".
• In May 2006, Fr. Kucynda demanded silence from MC members, not for Proskauer Rose investigation, but because it involved the details of the loan for $1.7 million.
• In June 2006, the Metropolitan reviled critics of the Church, and OCANews specifically, for not being silent in his address to the Metropolitan Council. He called on the Church to “refocus its energies.”
•In September 2006 the Metropolitan states; “We need to use our energy, especially priests, for the good of the church.”
The rhetoric has not changed in seven years, nor in the last seven months, nor in the last seven weeks. The Metropolitan’s excuses ring hollow because they are confounded by the facts.
If the Metropolitan wishes to signal a change in the communication with the Church he could start by telling the truth to Protodeacon Peter Danilchick. Would that not be a better use of “energy” than continuing misrepresentation?
The Proskauer Rose report may indeed contain some facts that it would be imprudent to release to the public. But there is much the Metropolitan could tell us. The status quo is clearly not “for the good of the Church”. Telling the truth would be. There is much that could be released about the auditors’ findings without endangering anybody or anything. After all, facts are facts. If the Metropolitan truly wishes to communicate with the Church he could begin there.
It is tragic and humiliating that the Metropolitan’s constant dissembling must be laid bare for all to see. But twenty years of silence, of accepting lies, of collaborating and cooperating with lies “for the good of the Church”, of being private but never public, of being abused and allowing abuse, so the abusers may continue their abuse, has led the OCA nowhere except into a $1.7+ million debt, public shame and an increasing loss of trust.