Conflict, Questions, Apologies Dominate Reports From Troy Meeting
• Contentious Parish Council Meeting Dealt With Questioned
• Fr. Antypas Apologizes For Checks From Dead Treasurer
• Agreement Reached Concerning Disputed St. George Towers
Administration, But Not About Parish Audit
The regularly scheduled Council meeting of the St. George parish in Troy MI, held Wednesday evening, August 26th was anything but.
This meeting was opened to the public so as to address troubling questions raised by the new Church Treasurer, George Samra. Samra’s review of the parish financials (as well as those of the church-owned senior housing center, the St. George Towers) led him to raise questions to the Parish Council earlier this year. Failing to find traction with the Council, Samra called for an official and independent audit in an email to the entire parish some ten days ago. (Read that story here.) The request was met with a firestorm of outrage by two well-known Archdiocesan figures, parish priest, Fr. Joseph Antypas, as well as Walid Khalife, a Parish Council member and member of the Archdiocesan Board of Trustees* which has oversight of the St. George Towers.
The story of last Wednesday’s meeting, however, begins as it ends - in conflict and questions.
On Tuesday, August 25th, there appears to have been a meeting of the Parish Council to which neither Samra nor parish council member Dave Thomas were invited. It, too, was claimed to a be a “regular” meeting that was re-scheduled for Tuesday - which would then make the Wednesday meeting “irregular”. On the other hand, since the Tuesday meeting had not been announced, but the Wednesday meeting was, perhaps it was the Tuesday meeting that was “irregular”? The bottom line is that it appears the parish by-laws regarding meetings may not have been followed, one way or the other.
At that unannounced Tuesday meeting a resolution described as “impugning the character and reputation” of Samra and Thomas was circulated for all invited members to sign. At least one Parish Council member refused to do so - and resigned from the Council the following morning. That resolution has not been made public.
The following evening, Wednesday, August 26th, the open Council meeting with about 100 people in attendance, was run by Fr. Joseph Antypas, rather than Parish Council President Neil Norgrove. It began with a sermon by Fr. Antypas about forgiveness and betrayal. Speaking of the controversial and questioned refinancing of the Church-owned St. George Towers, Council Member Walid Khalife explained that the Church had taken out a mortgage in 1979 for $6.5 million to finance the building; had refinanced when the balance was $5.6 million. In 2006 the parish refinanced again for $5.8 million, and the balance remaining was approximately $5.3 million. Unfortunately the amortization, as explained, raised more questions than were answered - but the beginnings of a resolution of this crisis were agreed to. As the Parish Council is listed as part of the official board of the St. George Towers, the Parish Council will now participate on a quarterly basis at the monthly administrative meetings held at the Towers. It was agreed that the regular HUD reports would be made available as part of those monthly meetings, and those parishioners who want to attend and listen would be welcome to do so.
Unfortunately, by all accounts the meeting went downhill from this point.
One of the major questions raised by Samra dealt with some 36 questionable checks - all ostensibly signed by a 92 year old parish Treasurer, even though she had passed away some two years earlier. Fr. Antypas, who was reported to be the second name on the signed checks, tried to explain that he was “honoring” Ms. Illhamie Hackem (the deceased Treasurer) by signing the checks even though he knew she was deceased. Her children protested loudly against his claims. Eventually Fr. Antypas apologized for his actions - but when protests continued Fr. Joseph asked “ What do you people want -- a pound of flesh?”
Apparently angered at the continuing uproar of the crowd, Fr. Joseph then pointed out that George Samra and David Thomas, the Treasurer and Board member who had first raised the financial discrepancies, were both excommunicated, and that they would have to come back to him for confession and repentance “before being allowed back into the Church.”
According to multiple reports of the meeting Mr. Khalife had to be restrained by board members at several points during the meeting as he attempted to take the microphone away from others wishing to speak; he shouted obscenities, pounded on the table - and cursed Treasurer George Samra.
In an email to scores of people the morning after, Walid Khalife offered his version of events:
“Good Morning everyone,
I am writing that letter today after that outstanding meeting we had yesterday at St. George. Last week some people thought they had uncovered some juicy scandal, but last night the traitors from our parishioners discovered the facts about the Towers and the checks.”
Speaking of Samra and Thomas, Khalife continues:
“It is shameful and disgusting when these traitors plot to accuse people of doing wrong in our church. These traitors, along with their supporters, took notes and ideas from Mark (Bishop Mark of Toledo), and it is so clear now how bad things arise when these people stick to that Mark , and prefer him to be their Bishop-- they should move to Toledo and live in his headquarters, and leave our Parish council so we can flourish here amongst our honest people.”
Khalife does not deny he was vocal at the meeting. Later in the email he writes:
“As I said yesterday, and I was surely loud enough, when you don’t like someone and that person is acting like a devil, and hates people that are immigrants from the old country, it is sure enough that I will never have respect for that person and I will never allow him to come to my house, as I consider my second house to be St. George of Troy. It is a free country to say whatever I want about another person, and I must say it to whomever is involved in the situation, which is why I was so disturbed by these traitors and their plot against some people in our Church, accusing people of stealing and doing illegal things, mainly regarding the refinancing issues.
These people should some forward and apologize in front of all the board members and the priest for their behavior and misunderstanding of these facts and their accusations that went along with it. When people talk behind others backs without being fully informed and create a ruckus, I cannot have respect for these people, nor will I ever have respect for them.”
Speaking of Bishop Mark, who was on vacation that week and not present for the Special Meeting, Khalife writes:
“I disrespected him (+Mark) yesterday and I said enough about him illustrating how bad he is. Mark is the one who brought up the issue of auditing in the convention, and these traitors took the idea from him. The result of the vote at the convention of this auditing issue was cast aside and voted against, so the people should have respected this decision. This is exactly the truth, and this is my personal opinion and nobody can change my mind about Mark, he is an instigator who relishes in creating problems and drama for attention, also in an attempt to gain parishioners who are weak and willing to follow his crooked path.”
Khalife does not mention any of the details of the meeting, nor the agreement about St. George, nor Fr. Antypas’ admission concerning the checks, nor the failure to resolve the audit question. Rather he concludes his email with a stirring admonition and an affirmation of support for Metropolitan Philip:
“Finally, I want to say something about our parishioners, go support St. George. If you have any issues, please bring it up to the Parish Council face to face, don’t discuss them via e-mail. Let these devils realize themselves and apologize for causing all these problems in our parish. As a great person said whom I admire and love, and may God grant Met. Phillip many many years, “If you have to stab me, don’t stab me in the back, stab me in the heart.” This is advice that these traitors should have listened to. As one Church we can all be proud of, together we can resolve any problems or hardships that we might face, as long as we stick together, remain honest and supportive, and face our issues head first. Our parish will rise to the top and no one will be able to weaken our foundation. Thank you all for your time, and I look forward to our successful future together in our Church.
George Samra Responds
Samra also offered an account:
“I want to thank all those who have offered their support and prayers during this very difficult time, and I ask that your prayers continue.
The pastor of St. George in Troy, MI, Fr. Antypas, has determined quite publicly and before an audience of about 100 people, that I am not fit to serve as Treasurer, or to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion. I have been banned from approaching the Eucharist, until I go to him for Confession and penance.
My conscience is clear. I have not sinned.
It would be wrong to confess and seek absolution, for something I have not done, in order to receive the body and blood of Christ. That, would be a sin.
I have simply been asking questions that I believe need to be answered regarding church finances, record keeping and policy.
I reported properly and responsibly when I uncovered checks that had been signed by Fr. Antypas, and co-signed by a treasurer who died more than two years ago. I have been threatened with physical violence not once, but twice - and both have been witnessed by more than one person, the second threat, by a room full of parishioners.
This is all really quite simple.
The church bylaws have not been followed as it relates to proper financial reporting of a senior high-rise the church owns, along with monthly reports of parish and social hall finances. Receiving a report is not always a clear indication of activity.
The bylaws also stipulate that the treasurer have access to all funds. This too, was not done, despite my repeated requests.
Bylaws also stipulate that no family members is to serve on the Parish Council at the same time, as another family member. This has been violated. (Editor’s note: Both Walid Khalife and his brother, Fadi Khalife. are currently Council members.)
At the Archdiocesan level, men or women who have been involved in criminal activity, are not to serve on the Archdiocesan Board. It would seem prudent and reasonable that this same standard be implemented at the local level. Why would St. George do anything differently? And yet, we have.
Last Wednesday’s Parish Council meeting was a lesson in filibustering. Anyone who agreed with Fr. Antypas was allowed to speak, often at length, while those who disagreed or presented a real challenge, were not. Answers to questions were obfuscated. And while we were told that we could pose questions, those who were allowed to approach the microphone were selectively chosen.
Why is all this time and energy being expended? Why all the threats and aggravation? Why this circling of the wagons for piecemeal fixes? All to avoid an audit? Responsive leadership takes the reins and steers a clear course with a full heart, and full disclosure. Especially when past policies are called into question - a ongoing pattern of poorly implemented policies and decisions that have brought us to this current mess.
I will continue to attend St. George and sing in the choir, despite being prevented from receiving the Holy Sacrament of Communion.
I have begun this week to put my Sunday offering in an escrow account until an outside independent financial audit is conducted on the parish, the Social Hall and the St. George Towers, or until our questions regarding Church finances are satisfied. I have notified Fr. Antypas, His Grace Bishop Mark and His Eminence Metropolitan Philip, of this as well.
I may be kept from the Eucharistic Table, but the body of Christ is very much alive in the world, animated and most present to me in your ongoing support and prayers.
May God grant you all many, many years.
Given the unanswered questions that prompted the call for an audit the concerns in Troy do not seem as if they will quickly fade away. Rather, the troubles in one of the Archdiocese’s largest and most prominent parishes, concerning two of its most prominent figures, would only seem to add to the demands for accountability and transparency in the Archdiocese as a whole...
* It is not clear whether Walid Khalife is still a member of the Archdiocesan Board of Trustees. A resolution, adopted by the Archdiocesan Convention at its recent meeting in Palm Springs at the end of July, stated that no one who has been convicted of, or settled criminal charges brought by the government, should be allowed to serve as a Trustee. This would make Khalife, as well as at least one other Trustee, no longer eligible to serve.
The next meeting of the Archdiocese’s Board of Trustees is in October, 2009.