10.10.07 Part Three of Syosset Strikes Back
the Special Commission
In an aside during his Address at the recent Midwest Diocesan Assembly, Archbishop Job compared working on the Special Commission to being in the PEANUTS comic strip. “The Metropolitan”, the Archbishop said, “was like Lucy. He would tee up the football and urge us to kick it. Every time the Special Commission, like Charlie Brown, would take a run - the Metropolitan, like Lucy, would pull the ball away at the last minute. We ended up on our backs, every time.” In resigning, the Archbishop stated, the Special Commission, unlike Charlie Brown, was saying “No more.”
Well, Lucy just teed up the football again.
On October 5th, 2007 Metropolitan Herman released the following letter in an attempt to reconstitute the Special Commission he himself dissolved last month - only now in a reduced form, to be known as the Investigative Committee. The letter, addressed to Bishop Benjamin of the West, reads:
“This letter will serve to confirm your appointment as the Chair of the new Investigative Committee that will be designated to continue the work of the Special Investigative Committee of which you were a valued member. I appreciate your willingness to serve in this capacity and to take on the tasks necessary to help bring closure to the remaining open issues. In addition to yourself, please contact the following persons to see if they would be willing to serve on the Committee as well:
• Archpriest Joseph Lickwar
• Archpriest Michael Dahulich
• Archpriest John H. Erickson
• Priest David Garretson
• Dr. Faith Skordinski
“Since all of the above were directly involved in the Diocesan Trial of the former chancellor, they are the only ones to have heard all of the evidence presented and are certainly in the best position to address the issues impartially and quickly. Please pass on to them my sincere desire that they serve and the thanks of the Church for taking on these additional responsibilities.
“I trust to your judgment the exact nature and procedure of the work of the Committee but at a minimum, I would expect the following to be accomplished:
1 determine what tasks need to be concluded in order to bring the investigation to a conclusion;
2 conduct all necessary interviews of persons that in your judgment may have information germane to the matters in issue;
3 make written recommendations to the Holy Synod as to what disciplinary measures should be initiated against any individual;
4 provide monthly reports to keep the Synod apprised of your progress; and
5 conclude the investigation expeditiously and provide a written report to the Holy Synod of your complete findings.
“No witnesses are off limits, including myself, and I would expect that you and the Committee would follow the evidence wherever it leads you. It is my hope that the investigation be concluded as soon as practical so that we can begin the process of healing that we so desperately need.”
"In my End is my Beginning."
- T. S. Eliot (East Coker)
As the poet suggests, it is often necessary to start at the end, for that is where things often begin. This is no more evident than in examining the Metropolitan’s new mandate, which is summed up by its concluding line:
“It is my hope that the investigation be concluded as soon as practical so that we can begin the process of healing that we so desperately need.”
The penultimate line explains how this is to be done:
“No witnesses are off limits, including myself, and I would expect that you and the Committee would follow the evidence wherever it leads you.”
Now this is truly surprising, since, if we take the Metropolitan at his word, this Investigative Committee would be allowed to question any and all witnesses - whereas the earlier Special Commission was allowed access to none. (Read that story here) The Investigative Committee, if we are to take the Metropolitan at his word, is to follow the evidence wherever it leads - whereas the Special Commission, when it tried to do exactly that, was specifically prohibited by the Metropolitan from so doing. (Read that story here)
Can it be? Having teed up the football again, is the Metropolitan really going to let the Investigative Committee kick it? The Metropolitan writes:
“I trust to your judgment the exact nature and procedure of the work of the Committee but at a minimum, I would expect the following to be accomplished: ....“
Working backward we discover the Investigative Committee is to:
“5 conclude the investigation expeditiously and provide a written report to the Holy Synod of your complete findings”
The Special Commission was charged with preparing a written report for the Metropolitan Council and Holy Synod, which the Metropolitan then promised publicly would be shared with the whole Church. (Read that story here) The Investigative Committee has a reduced charge - it is to provide a written report to the Holy Synod alone - and there is no mention of it being shared with anybody. This should come as no surprise, since the preceding line says:
“4 provide monthly reports to keep the Synod apprised of your progress;”
The Special Commission was charged to provide regular updates to the Metropolitan Council. When they tried in January 2006 to do so, they were stopped by the Metropolitan. (Read that story here) The Investigative Committee has a reduced charge: it reports only to the Synod. The Metropolitan continues:
“3 make written recommendations to the Holy Synod as to what disciplinary measures should be initiated against any individual;”
The Special Commission already did so in March 2007, with written recommendations in its preliminary Report to the Metropolitan Council that the former Chancellor Robert Kondratick be summored before a spiritual court, and that former Metropolitan Theodosius be summoned before the Synod to answer questions. Only the recommendation against Kondratick was allowed to proceed. Having stopped the Special Commission, can we reasonably expect the Metropolitan will now allow the Investigative Committee to recommend summoning former Metropolitan Theodosius again? And if the Special Commission was not allowed to recommend just the questioning of Metropolitan Theodosius (who oversaw the Church Administration for most of the years the malfeasance occurred) it seems even less likely any Investigative Committee would ever recommend discipline against him, or any other, lesser players.
Thus it is with confidence the Metropolitan could agree that the Investigative Committee can:
“2 conduct all necessary interviews of persons that in your judgment may have information germane to the matters in issue;”
As pointed out above, the Special Commission was not allowed to interview any witnesses at all; the Investigative Committee may. But consider carefully the final thirteen words of the mandate: “...that in your judgment may have information germane to the matters in issue”. Once again, the charge of the Investigative Committee is reduced: conduct only those interviews that are necessary, the information they have must be germane, and “germane “is defined as related “to the matters in issue”. And what are the “matters in issue”? The Metropolitan explains:
“1 determine what tasks need to be concluded in order to bring the investigation to a conclusion;”
The Special Commission sought to investigate allegations of misconduct, asking who, what, when, and why. (Read that story here) The reduced charge of the Investigative Committee, established by a Metropolitan who, common sense dictates, should have no contact whatsoever with this investigation because of his multiple conflicts of interest, is to
“bring the investigation to a conclusion”. No doubt.
Who would be willing to take on this ever more reduced and carefully constrained charge of the Investigative Committee? Still working backwards, the Metropolitan writes:
“Since all of the above were directly involved in the Diocesan Trial of the former chancellor, they are the only ones to have heard all of the evidence presented and are certainly in the best position to address the issues impartially and quickly. Please pass on to them my sincere desire that they serve and the thanks of the Church for taking on these additional responsibilities.”
The six members of Special Commission, with the exception of Archbishop Job and Bishop Benjamin, were all members of the Metropolitan Council. The proposed candidates for the Investigative Committee are also six in number - but only one is a member of the Metropolitan Council. The Special Commission included an Archbishop, a bishop, two priests, and two lay members - one male and one female, representing four different dioceses. The composition of candidates for the Investigative Committee is much reduced in terms of diversity (five clerics, one lay; of which four are from the same diocese - Metropolitan Herman’s). All six were chosen for one specific reason: “all of the above were directly involved in the Diocesan Trial of the former chancellor”. Dr. Skordinski was the Accuser in the trial, chosen by the Metropolitan; the four priests, all selected by the Metropolitan alone, were the judges that found him guilty. According to the Metropolitan “they are the only ones to have heard all of the evidence presented and are certainly in the best position to address the issues impartially and quickly.”
This sentence is the key to the whole fraud that will be the Investigative Committee.
First, this is the third time in three paragraphs that “speed” has been encouraged. Here “the issues are to be addressed quickly.” In the earlier paragraph it was that investigation is to “be concluded as soon as practical”, and before that “expeditiously”. Speed seemed to be of no concern to the Metropolitan when he mothballed the Special Commission shortly after the March, 2007 Metropolitan Council meeting, forbidding the members to continue their work for more than six months, and then disbanding them. At the December, 2006 joint meeting of the Synod of Bishops and Metropolitan Council, the Special Commission had been given a mandate of three months to complete its preliminary report (which it did) and the Special Commission planned to complete a final report in six months. Had the Special Commission not been blocked in its work by the Metropolitan, the investigation and a final report may very well have been completed by now.
Yet now, the Metropolitan urges “speed”? With its reduced charge, the Investigative Committee can clearly expected to be on a much tighter schedule.
But time is not necessary for the Investigative Committee, for unlike the Special Commission, the Metropolitan knows they already know what they are going to find. That is why he nominated them. The Special Commission members only knew allegations about the scandal before they began; the candidates of the Investigative Committee are being chosen for exactly the opposite reason - because “they are the only ones to have heard all of the evidence presented.”
“They are the only ones to have heard all of the evidence presented.” The Metropolitan expects speed because he expects little investigation. The candidates for the Investigative Committee, no matter how broad or reduced their charge, and reduced it certainly is, are expected to do no more than rubber stamp what has been done, not uncover what is hidden. If this were not the case why would it be important that the nominees to be only those who have already heard “all the evidence presented”? Isn’t the point of a real investigation to gather evidence, not just review what it is given? Wasn’t that the complaint of the members of the Special Commission, that they were not allowed to investigate, but only given evidence, selected, vetted and washed by Proskauer Rose, sufficient to indict and depose Robert Kondratick, but no more? And now the Metropolitan is asking the Investigative Committee to do even less....
Equally disturbing, the Metropolitan asserts that having already seen all the evidence presented, the Investigative Committee can address the issues “impartially”. These were the accusers and judges that convicted Robert Kondratick. They are hardly “impartial”. This is not to challenge the validity of their decision, only that having rendered it, they have already, by definition, expressed their opinions on certain issues, and can hardly be considered “impartial.” It is assertions like this that make one wonder how removed from simple common sense, how far removed from reality the Metropolitan and those who advise him, have become.
The Metropolitan’s nominees (for even though he clumsily attempts to distance himself from those he has named by asking Bishop Benjamin to “please contact the following persons to see if they would be willing to serve”) for the Investigative Committee are:
"• Archpriest Joseph Lickwar
• Archpriest Michael Dahulich
• Archpriest John H. Erickson
• Priest David Garretson
• Dr. Faith Skordinski”
One can only hope that given the reduced charge of the Investigative Committee, and its predetermined conclusion, none of these worthies will participate in what, to use the words of one who has tried to kick the football already only to have it pulled out from beneath him, Special Commission member Fr. John Reeves has called “a sham”. (Read that story here)
None of the nominees have spoken publicly as to whether they will agree or not agree to serve; nor is it clear they can, having already signed confidentiality clauses prohibiting them from discussing anything related to Robert Kondratick. That being said, it is clear that having refused to resign from the Special Commission, there is little hope that Dr. Faith Skordinski will recuse herself as a nominee for the Investigative Committee. It would be difficult for Fr. Lickwar, who is the Metropolitan’s own Chancellor in the Diocese of Washington-New York, to refuse him. Fr Garretson is a priest in the Metropolitan’s diocese as well; but as a former union activist, he may be made of sterner stuff. Fr. Erickson , the former Dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, is also under the Metropolitan as a cleric of the chapel at the school. Will he participate? That leaves Fr. Dahulich - the current dean of St. Tikhon’s - of which Metropolitan Herman is President.
A recent incident my give a clue to Fr. Dahulich’s stance. The national on-line petition asking Metropolitan Herman to resign (Read that petition here) recently reached over a 1,000 names from parishes across the country. To that effort were added the voices of the Midwest Diocese, some 6,200 souls, whose representatives recently asked the Primate to resign as well. One seminarian from the Midwest, a student at St. Tikhon’s, joined his Diocese, expressing his personal opinion, and signed the petition. A trustee of St. Tikhon’s, recognizing the name on the petition, called Fr. Dahulich and demanded the student be expelled. Fr. Dahulich, to his credit, refused. He did, however, require the student from the Midwest to write a formal letter of apology to the Metropolitan. “Free men”, to use the words of Archbishop Job, may express themselves in the Midwest; but the culture of fear clearly rules in the OCA.
Given the intense pressure on the nominees, it would require a miracle for the nominees to refuse. Miracles happen. But the sham, most likely, will go forward. And if not these candidates, others will be nominated, until, like Nixon running through the list of candidates for a new Attorney General after the Saturday Night Massacre, the Metropolitan finally finds someone willing to do his shameful bidding.
The letter concludes:
“This letter will serve to confirm your appointment as the Chair of the new Investigative Committee that will be designated to continue the work of the Special Investigative Committee of which you were a valued member. I appreciate your willingness to serve in this capacity and to take on the tasks necessary to help bring closure to the remaining open issues.”
And sham it is, for the letter begins where it ended - the goal of this is not an investigation, but “to bring closure to the remaining open issues.” He has eliminated any involvement and oversight of the Metropolitan Council, eliminated any hope of an independent and unimpeded investigation, and ordered whatever may ultimately be written locked up in the secrecy of the Synod of Bishops. This is the very same Synod of Bishops that just last year repeatedly declared the allegations were meritless, there was no need for an investigation, and the matters were closed.
Whether one reads the letter from top to bottom, or from bottom to top, the fraud doesn’t change. ”In my end is my beginning,” quoted Eliot; but this beginning is surely another end for the OCA.
The long defeat continues.
- Mark Stokoe
A Concluding Postcript
The Metropolitan’s letter was introduced by the following paragraph:
“In a letter dated October 5, 2007, Metropolitan Herman confirmed his decision to appoint His Grace, Bishop Benjamin as Chair of the reconstituted Special Investigative Committee. The letter also included a clear mandate for the Committee to continue to probe the details related to financial mismanagement that took place in past years within the Central Administration of the Church. Of those initially appointed to serve as the Special Investigative Committee during the Joint Meeting of the Holy Synod and Metropolitan Council held in December 2006, Bishop Benjamin and Dr. Faith Skordinski are the two remaining members.
The work of the Special Investigative Committee is an agenda item for the upcoming meeting of the Holy Synod on October 16th and for the Joint Meeting of the Holy Synod and Metropolitan Council scheduled for October 17, 2007.”
If the letter itself was not clear enough, introduction only reinforces the reduced nature of the Investigative Committee charge, and the fraud being perpetrated on the Church by the Metropolitan and his Acting Treasurer. For one can see clearly the work of the Acting Treasurer in the words that the “clear mandate for the Committee is to continue to probe the details related to financial mismanagement that took place in past years within the Central Administration of the Church.” The Special Commission was charged with investigating all the allegations; the reduced charge of the Investigative Committee is only to “probe the details related to financial mismanagement”. This has been the Metropolitan’s and Fr. Kucynda’s assertion from the beginning - that the scandal was nothing more than the 3 B’s: Bob & Bad Bookkeeping. Hence the restrictions placed on the Special Commission, and the reduced charge of the Investigative Committee to only examine “details related to financial mismanagement”. Everything else is off limits. The Investigative Committee will learn trips were taken to the islands; but will not be allowed to ask “By whom?” The Investigative Committee will learn charity monies were diverted; but will never be allowed to ask “To whom?, let alone “For what purpose?” The Investigative Committee already knows all that it needs to know, and according to the Metropolitan, so does the Orthodox Church in America. If he thinks healing will come of ignorance and cover-up, his understanding of “healing” is as distorted as his understanding of “impartiality”.
There was debate in Syosset about when to announce this latest attempt to distance the Metropolitan from the scandal. Some felt it would be best to wait until after the Synod meeting (hence the last line of the introduction about it being an agenda item of the Synod meeting) and sought to delay it until then; others felt the Diocese of the West’s celebrations provided more cover. It doesn’t really matter when it was announced - the timing is as transparent as the effort itself.
Lucy has teed up the football again. The question for the Orthodox Church in America is will we, like Charlie Brown, fall into her trap yet again?
One is not responsible for the disorder of one’s age,
one is only responsible if one chooses to participate in it. Charlie Brown remains a funny, sympathetic putz because he never learned that. He ran each time Lucy teed the football. But no one should participate in this fraud. It is not funny. It cannot bring healing, for it is not grounded in the truth. It is predicated only on a mutually agreed-upon set of lies, prevarications and reductions. Such may be the way of the world in which we live - but it cannot be the way of the Church of God, and is surely not the way to life eternal.