Top Orthodox Church official dismissed in controversy over finances
By Ann Rodgers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Confronted by allegations of financial misconduct, the head of the Orthodox Church in America has dismissed a priest from a top administrative post and hired a major law firm to investigate.
A prominent critic of the church's financial practices praised the moves, while an attorney for the Rev. Robert Kondratick, the ousted chancellor, said his client is a scapegoat.
Mark Stokoe, whose Orthodox Christians for Accountability Web site has detailed the accusations, was encouraged that Metropolitan Herman retained a law firm known for investigating corporate misdeeds.
"If this is going to be open and above board and disclose things so that everyone knows what happened and we can move forward, that would be excellent," said Mr. Stokoe of Dayton, Ohio, a former member of the church's Metropolitan Council.
Harry Kutner, an attorney from Mineola, N.Y., said Father Kondratick did nothing wrong and questioned the authority of Metropolitan Herman to fire him without authorization from the Metropolitan Council.
"Initially, these rumors and accusations were begun by a small group of individuals who are personally vindictive against Father Kondratick because of measures he took on behalf of the church. And later it was compounded by the refusal of Metropolitan Herman to speak forcefully on behalf of ... Father Kondratick, and by his order to Father Kondratick not to refute or answer the allegations," Mr. Kutner said.
The Orthodox Church in America is a daughter of the Russian Orthodox Church. It has 400,000 members.
Several church insiders, including a former treasurer and a former head of the church's audit committee, have claimed that Father Kondratick and former Metropolitan Theodosius diverted millions of dollars in grants, bequests and designated charitable contributions into unaudited discretionary accounts that were used for everything from paying down deficits in the church operating budget to blackmail.
After six years of failed attempts to bring the issues before the church's Metropolitan Council of laity, clergy and bishops, critics set up a Web site at www.ocanews.org. They said there had been no full, independent, certified audit of the church's books since 1996.
Last week, following a surprise meeting of the church's administrative committee, Metropolitan Herman announced that he had retained the New York law firm Proskauer Rose "to undertake an internal investigation of allegations relating to the finances of the church." He further authorized an accounting firm that had begun auditing church records from 2004-2005 to go at least as far back as 2001.
"Metropolitan Herman also announced that he will authorize any additional engagements with the accounting firm as requested by the attorneys conducting the internal investigation," the church said,. The same release announced that Father Kondratick had been dismissed.
Father Kondratick's attorney released part of the letter of dismissal, which implied that he had obstructed the audits.
"Your conduct, including your refusal to follow my directive to devote yourself fully to assisting our accountants, has caused us to lose confidence in you, has created a serious lack of trust in the church community and has left you unable to fulfill your responsibilities to the church," the metropolitan wrote.
Mr. Kutner said his client had cooperated fully with the auditors.
"Father Kondratick was meeting with [the auditor] on a daily basis.... He gave him all the records," he said.
"Since Father Kondratick did not have the final say on church financial matters, the only conclusion I could reach is that he is being made a scapegoat for possible claims of the failure of leadership and a paralysis of indecision at the top of the church."
Mr. Kutner named Metropolitan Herman and the acting treasurer, the Rev. Paul Kucynda, as those he suspected were "trying to defuse the situation and stop the audit by blaming Father Kondratick."
Mr. Kutner also said that all of the accusations made by former insiders "have been proven to be false."
Father Kucynda, the acting spokesman for the church, said he couldn't respond. "I have been asked not to elaborate on official statements while the audits and investigation are going forward," he said.
Mr. Stokoe, of Orthodox Christians for Accountability, said that none of the financial allegations have been resolved. The infighting is brutal because the major parties on all sides were close friends for decades.
"This is a soap opera. The personal ties between these people are deep and ingrained," he said.