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10.8.07 Syosset Strikes Back: Part One of Three

The Axe Swings Broad,

But Not Deep At Syosset

Metropolitan Herman struck back at his growing number of critics this week in an orchestrated barrage of criticism against the Diocese of the Midwest.

• On Tuesday, October 2, 2007 Syosset announced broad cuts in stipends and staff, blaming the Diocese of the Midwest twice in the same press release, for withholding its assessments.

(Read that announcement here)

• On Wednesday, October 3, 2007 Bishop Benjamin and the Diocese of the West joined in the blame-game passing a resolution stating "withholding financial support from the central administration of the Orthodox Church in America presents an impediment to the work of the Special Commission/Committee and the efforts of the Church, in general, to address the current crisis", and exhorting the Midwest Diocese to "continue with us in providing the financial means necessary to carry on the work of the Church";

• On Friday, October 5, 2007 Syosset's latest effort culminated in an announcement by Metropolitan Herman, directing Bishop Benjamin to attempt to reconstitute a "Special Investigative Committee" to replace the Special Commission which the Metropolitan himself had formally dissolved two weeks ago after months of "suspension". (Read that announcement here)

Syosset Announces Cuts

With a massive six figure unpaid legal bill owed Proskauer Rose LLP, six figures in charity and appeal monies still needing restitution, the continuing loss of the Alaskan Lands monies and a dramatic drop in contributions of any kind to Syosset, (not to mention a monthly interest payment of five figures needed for the Honesdale loan), the Diocese of the Midwest's withholding of its assessments since August 2007 has brought Syosset to a halt in a little more than a month. In a press release posted on OCA.org late Tuesday night, October 2, Syosset announced:

"On October 2, 2007, OCA Acting Treasurer, V. Rev. Fr. Paul Kucynda, issued a communique to members of the Holy Synod, Metropolitan Council and to Church departmental chairs regarding measures taken by the OCA's Finance Committee in response to the Midwest Diocese's continued withholding of monthly assessments to the Church's central administration.

The communique reads as follows.

"The Finance Committee of the Metropolitan Council met recently under the chairmanship of Archpriest Matthew Tate.

"After a review of the 2007 Budget, it was determined that due to the withholding of monthly financial support by the Diocese of the Midwest since August, it is necessary to suspend episcopal and departmental stipends, together with most departmental expenses, through the end of 2007 in an attempt to maintain a balanced budget. It was agreed that when funds become available, stipends previously approved in the 2007 budget will be restored.

"Other members of the Finance Committee are: Eleana Silk and Gary Popovich."

Three things stand out in this communique: its timing, its repetition, and its omissions.

Timing

The communique was issued October 2nd concerning a meeting that had happened the week before. Coincidentally, the release just happened to come hours after Archbishop Job called on Metropolitan Herman to step down, as the Midwest Assembly was beginning its discussions about continuing to withhold its assessments from Syosset for failing to address the scandal. As an attempt to influence the Assembly, it failed miserably. The Archdiocese voted the next morning 88-19 to continue withholding funds until the scandal is dealt with openly and honestly.

Repetition

What is more interesting is the repetition found in the press release. Rather than just publish the communique itself, it was felt necessary to introduce it. The reason for this unusual step may be that both the introduction and the communique repeat the same phrase: that this whole problem is "due to the withholding of monthly financial support by the Diocese of the Midwest".

Omissions

But is that true? Repeating it doesn't make it so. As was pointed out in the opening of this article, there are multiple reasons why the engine at Syosset is running on empty: unpaid debts, mounting legal fees, lack of donations, monies being withheld by both the Alaskan and the Midwest dioceses (as well as a growing number of individual parishes in WA-NY, and the South....)

Fr. Kucynda would make it appear as if the Midwest alone is to blame for the fact that departmental budgets were cut. He omitted the fact that departmental budgets were slashed months ago; that departments were told not to plan major events for 2007 given Syosset's financial pressures, and that beyond the stipends little, if any, monies would be available. One has only to look at the OCA's website to see that the departments (Youth, Christian Education, Pastoral Ministry) have undertaken few, if any, national events the past two years; and for those which they did, such as Christian Education, the speakers could not even be offered compensation for speaking.... This all occurred well before the Midwest began withholding.

If the Midwest was repeatedly made to appear to blameworthy in Syosset's version, it was the elected Metropolitan Council that was made to appear to be the body to be blamed for making the decisions to cut. In fact, what Syosset omits, is that while it was the Finance Committee which officially recommended cutting the episcopal stipends, it was Syosset's own unelected Reorganization Task force that helped drive the process, and participated in the decisions. That part is not mentioned. The members of the Reorganization Task Force, all appointed by Metropolitan Herman, include Robert Kornafel, chair; Deacon John Zarras, Al Wetmore, and Carol Wetmore, Marty Brown and Peter Bohlender. Only three of the six are Metropolitan Council members ( Dn. Zarras, Kornafel, Bohlender). It is the Reorg Task Force, in fact, which suggested the staff reductions, most notably Fr. Jonathan Ivanoff.
(Ironically, Fr. Ivanoff was the only person at Syosset fully trained for Syosset's much-vaunted new financial software....)

OCANews.org has learned that the Reorg Task Force recently "rejected" a candidate for OCA Treasurer who had been approved by the Metropolitan Council Committee search committee. It suggested another. It is the candidate of the Reorg Task Force that will be presented to the Metropolitan Council and Synod for approval at their October 17th meeting. The implications of all this are most disturbing. Last December the Metropolitan Council vacated the old Administrative Committee --- which had been hand picked by the Metropolitan from among the members of the Council --- for usurping the powers of the Council.  The Metropolitan now appears to have reconstituted it as "The Reorganization Task Force" to do the same thing.

Perhaps the most telling omission, though, is the content of the reductions. Fr. Kucynda made it appear as if cuts were across the board and affected everybody. That is not true. No wonder no mention was made of who actually was cut, and who was not; nor which departments were cut and which were not; or even how much money all these cuts would save on a monthly basis.

OCANews.org has reviewed documents filling in this omission.

1.) Eliminated for the duration of the crisis were fifteen episcopal stipends at $650 per month. These include 9 active OCA bishops, 5 retired Bishops, and 1 other, non-OCA bishop. These are:

Name/ Position/Mo. Stipend/Yearly Total/Status

(Storheim), SERAPHIM

Holy Synod $ 650.00 $7,800.00 (active)
(L'Huillier), PETER

Holy Synod $ 650.00 $7,800.00 (retired)
(Royster), DMITRI

Holy Synod $ 650.00 $7,800.00 (active)
(Popp), NATHANIEL

Holy Synod $ 650.00 $7,800.00 (active)
(Osacky), JOB

Holy Synod $ 650.00 $7,800.00 (active)
(Fitzgerald), TIKHON

Holy Synod $ 650.00 $7,800.00 (retired)
(Soraich), NIKOLAI

Holy Synod $ 650.00 $7,800.00 (active)
(Afonsky), GEORGE

Holy Synod $ 650.00 $7,800.00 (retired)
(Forsberg), MARK

Holy Synod $ 650.00 $7,800.00 (retired)
(Sigrist) JOSEPH PAUL

Holy Synod $ 650.00 $7,800.00 (non-OCA)
(Duvlea) IOAN

Holy Synod $ 650.00 $7,800.00 (active)
(Liolin), NIKON

Holy Synod $ 650.00 $7,800.00 (active)
(Mollard), TIKHON

Holy Synod $ 650.00 $7,800.00 (active)
(Peterson), BENJAMIN

Holy Synod $ 650.00 $7,800.00 (active)
(Lazor) Met. Theodosius

Holy Synod $1,500.00 $18,000.00 (retired)

Of course, all of the active bishops receive compensation from their dioceses in addition to these monthly stipends from Syosset, so not one of them should go hungry. (In fact, at its recent Diocesan Assembly, the Diocese of the West voted to raise Bishop Benjamin's salary by $650 to compensate him for the loss of his Syosset stipend, and it has been suggested the Diocese of New England will do the same next week for Bishop Nikon.) The only surprise on this list is that the former Metropolitan Theodosius receives the largest stipend, while the active auxiliary Bishop of Mexico, Alejo, is totally absent from the list.

2) Among the other stipends cut were those for Fr. Eric Tosi (Evangelism), all three Matushki from the Department of Christian Education (Alexandra Safchuk, Valerie Zahirsky, Christine Zebrun), David Drillock (Liturgical Music), Fr. Andrew Morbey (Pastoral Life) and Matushka Michelle Jannakos (Department Coordinator); as well as the stipends, but not the salary, for Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky (External Affairs/Communications) and Fr. John Matusiak (Communications); the salary, but not the stipend of Fr. Johnathan Ivanoff (Statistics/Late Vocations); and the salary of Deacon Joseph Matusiak (Department of Youth).

The stipends were for $300, $500 or $1,000 a month; and the salaries mentioned range from at $1,000 to almost $4,000 a month.

3) While indicating that all department stipends would be suspended, in fact, not all were. The OCA press release omitted mention of those departmental stipends which were not cut, or those that were cut and immediately restored, including stipends for Fr. Alex Rentel (Canonist) and Frank Tkacz (OCPC).

The Biggest Omission

One other notable name is missing from the above. Neither his salary, nor stipends for his staff, nor expenses for his department were cut. Metropolitan Herman does not receive a stipend as a member of the Holy Synod. Instead, he receives $99,157.50 in yearly compensation from the OCA as its First Hierarch. In addition, as Archbishop of Washington and New York, the Metropolitan he receives $51,000 a year in compensation from his diocese. And both figures do not include, of course, expenses for the "Office of the Metropolitan", a 'department' whose duties have never been fully revealed, nor its costs categorized. (It is through this 'office' that Fr. Alexey Karlgut, for example, investigates allegations of sexual misconduct.)

The Metropolitan's compensation package also includes monies for his personal support staff. His three part-time paid staffers (Martin Paluch, Peter Ilchuk and Deacon Alexei Klimitchev) receive stipends and salaries from the OCA totalling $61,500 a year. (These costs are categorized under such diverse headings as "Residence Support" in the 2007 budget.) None of these stipends or positions were cut.

Thus, while the axe swung broadly at Syosset, stopping stipends to all the Bishops, cutting off even the remaining funding for departments such as Evangelism, Youth, Christian Education, Pastoral Life - it did not cut deep, or even at at all, into the Metropolitan's office. In his rush to blame the Midwest for events it did not cause, and for cuts they were not responsible for, Fr. Kucynda seems to have omitted the fact while many of the staff and OCA departments have lost their salaries and stipends, neither the Metropolitan, nor his staff, suffered any.

-Mark Stokoe
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* The lone non-OCA Bishop, Joseph Paul (Sigrist) presumably receives a stipend out of charity. A graduate of St. Vladimir's who served years in Japan first under the OCA, and later under the Moscow Patriarchate, the now-retired Bishop who lives in the US, continues singular work among emerging Orthodox Christian ministries, such as the Hosanna community in Moscow and throughout Russia.

______________________________________________________

Monday: Part Two of Syosset Strikes Back
It's Not About the Money: The Resolution From the West Misses the Mark

Tuesday: Part Three of Syosset Strikes Back
It's Not Orange Juice: The Metropolitan Attempts to Reconstitute The Special Commission

 

 

 
 

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