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12.07.06 EDITORIAL

 
 

MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN

In the days of the Old Israel it was handwriting on a whitewashed stone wall that foretold the doom of a kingdom. In the days of the New Israel, it is lack of writing - a stonewall that foretells a whitewash - that may spell the doom of another.

For a full year the Orthodox Church in America has been embroiled in an increasingly serious financial scandal, a scandal whose dimensions extend back a full decade, and involves, at last count, some $8 million in missing and diverted funds. Nine months ago one of the largest and most expensive law firms in the nation, Proskauer Rose LLP, was engaged by Metropolitan Herman and Acting OCA Treasurer Fr. Paul Kucynda to investigate the who, what, when, where, why and how of the allegations.

As reported earlier on this website the terms of Proskauer Rose's engagement were clear:  "Thank you," the letter of engagement begins, "for asking us to represent the Orthodox Church in America ("The Church") in connection with an internal investigation of allegations relating to the finances of the Church ("The Project"). It is "the Church", not Metropolitan Herman nor Fr. Kucynda, to whom Proskauer Rose is responsible in this legal matter. And as the Church in its governing Statute makes clear, it is the Metropolitan Council alone which "intitiates, prosecutes and defends all legal matters affecting the interest of the Church".

Proskauer Rose's investigation concluded, for all intents and purposes, this past summer. By that time, the FBI, with its greater resources (such as the power of subpoena and compelling testimony through a grand jury) had turned the investigation of allegations into a more comprehensive investigation to determine potential criminal acts. At that time the Metropolitan, Fr. Kucynda and Fr. Strikis (the OCA's comptroller), among others (including OCAnews.org), were asked not to mention the FBI investigation by the FBI agent in charge. But the FBI said nothing about disclosing Proskauer Rose's investigation.

Nevertheless, over the past six months, Metropolitan Herman and Fr. Kucynda have repeatedly excused themselves by saying that no report, conclusions or even information could be shared because "the investigation is ongoing". Until Protodeacon Wheeler finally made the FBI's investigation public this past November, Syosset's dissembling on this point could not be revealed. The continuing conflation of the two investigations by Syosset, in order to delay having to make the results of Proskauer Rose's investigation known is indefensible – and dishonorable.

We shall not know what the FBI finds until such time, if ever, criminal indictments are handed down. We must be patient and take comfort in the old adage that "The wheels of justice move slowly, but grind fine." But that has never been the case with Prosakuer Rose.

The public release of the results of their investigation could do much to stop the current bleeding, and would do much begin to repair trust in the administration of the Church. Does our suffering OCA have the luxury of patiently waiting months longer into the indefinite future to reveal the causes of our turmoil, when Proskauer Rose has completed an extremely expensive and thorough investigation?

No wonder a resurgent Metropolitan Council voted 10-6 at its meeting last September to be briefed on the investigation by a Proskauer Rose attorney in person. Fr. Kucynda later read an email from Proskauer Rose, who declined to appear before the Council, citing limited time, prior commitments, and the 'sensitive' nature of the case. How can an investigation be so 'sensitive' that the client who is paying for it cannot know of its progress and results?

As an 'interim solution' it was then moved, seconded and agreed to by vote that Proskauer Rose be required to attend the next meeting of the Council, then scheduled for November, at which time they would be required to respond, in person, to questions from the Council. It was then moved, seconded and agreed to by vote that one clergy and one lay delegate from the Council were to be involved in a meeting with Proskauer Rose,   together with Metropolitan Herman and Fr. Kucynda. And the Council voted that within 10 days of the end of the September meeting, the Council was to be provided with a full accounting of Proskauer Rose's billings. Those legal fees, according to informed sources, now total over $250,000.

Two things then happened:

• The November meeting of the Metropolitan Council was abruptly cancelled. The Metropolitan announced, rather, that a joint meeting of the Synod of Bishops and the Metropolitan Council would be held in December. This did not resolve the Proskauer Rose issue, it merely postponed it.

• One clergy and one lay delegate from the Council did meet with representatives of Proskauer Rose. The clergy delegate had been Fr. Vladimir Berzonsky of Parma, Ohio. At the last minute he was 'de-selected' by Metropolitan Herman, and replaced, for unexplained reasons, by Fr. George Hascenecz from the Metropolitan's own Diocese of Washington and New York. The lay delegate chosen by the Metropolitan was Mr. John Zoranski, the long-term delegate from Metropolitan's old Diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania. No report of their meeting with Proskauer Rose has been communicated to the Council as a whole. None.

Nor has any information been communicated to the Bishops. They too, are in the dark, as admitted by Archbishop Job, in his recent interview on this site. The Archbishop stated: " I was disappointed that Proskauer Rose didn't speak to the Fall session of the Synod....There had better be a written report for the joint meeting (in December). But, more importantly, they had better have at least one representative there to answer questions in person. I am not confident that (any) report is going to tell us all we need to know..." (Read his full interview here)

All this is necessary background to understand the importance of the joint Synod - MetropolitanCouncil meeting next week.

In his most recent address to the Metropolitan Council, Metropolitan Herman is reported to have stated that:
"I can only ask for your patience and trust as I attempt to serve as the Primate of the Church, and as such, to move the Church forward while the past is still under investigation."

The past is no longer under present investigation by Proskauer Rose; it is the FBI's turn. It is time for the past (which has been investigated to the tune of $250,000 by Proskauer Rose) to be made present, so that the OCA has a future. The Proskauer Rose report must be made available to the joint meeting of the Synod and Metropolitan Council next week. The Bishops want it, the Council has demanded it, the Church needs it.

But the handwriting on this stonewall is not good.

First, it has been reported that the Metropolitan and Fr. Kucynda may be changing the published agenda of the joint session, reducing the time allotted for Proskauer Rose's presentation and questioning from four hours to merely two. It is impossible to understand how the single most important business of these three days of sessions for the Metropolitan Council and the Holy Synod (not to mention justification for the expenditure of a quarter of a million dollars in scarce Church funds) could be reduced to just two hours. Some have suggested that two days, not two hours, might be a more appropriate amount of time to devote to properly receiving and digesting this crucial report.

Secondly, the Metropolitan and Fr. Kucynda have been busy casting sand into the wind, vainly trying to distract attention from their continuing failure to release the Proskauer Rose report. Council members, Bishops - and even retired Bishops - have been flooded this past week with more than one hundred pages of Best Practices, Reorganizations, sudden appeals for Mexico, etc., - and all with the proviso that somehow these reports are "top secret", and contain "confidential information". Diversion, misdirection, all of it. All of these reports are, in themselves, needed and laudable - if their purpose was not to distract our attention from that one truly "top secret", "confidential" report that won't be there: the report from Proskauer Rose.

There is still time, though. There is still the possibility Metropolitan Herman and Fr. Kucynda will do the right thing. There is still time for them to deliver a Proskauer Rose report to the joint meeting, and to have a representative from Proskauer Rose available to answer the Bishops and Council members questions without artificial time restrictions.

Why bother?

The consequences for failing to disclose the Proskauer Rose report now range from bad to worse to catastrophic. For twenty years we had the illusion that the Metropolitan Council was doing its job, only to discover, to our horror, that it was not. Now, when it finally moves to fulfill its statutory responsibilities, but is prevented from doing so, we may have a castrated Council and a Statute ignored by our Primate. What is the point of a Council that cannot implement its decisions? What is the point of a Synod that cannot implement its decisions? Why bother with an All-American Council in 2007, 2008 or even 2010 if its decisions will be ignored as well? In such a despotism, the bodies of the Church have been gutted. In such a situation the bodies of the Church are not even "consultative" - they are pointless.

It does not take a prophet like Daniel to know where such despotism leads. The largest contributing diocese of the OCA has already made it crystal clear that failure to adhere to the Statute - and stonewalling the report surely falls into that category - means that its assessments will be withheld and placed in escrow. Their almost-unanimous resolution states: "If  by the Spring Session of the Synod of Bishops, March, 2007, any aspects of the Statutes are being violated, the Diocese of the Midwest will begin putting its assessment in escrow. His Eminence, Archbishop Job, with the Diocesan Council, will make the determination on this matter."

Do we really need to go down that road? What do the Metropolitan and Fr. Kucynda so fear that they are willing to risk ever increasing debt and ruin for the OCA rather than reveal what is in that report? Will it somehow be less embarrassing or painful when it comes out in open court through the evidence and testimony of witnesses uncovered by the FBI? Or are they hoping the FBI will conclude the OCA is so small that it is just not worth spending time and money on, and so, the scandal will just fade away without any answers having been given, or required to be given? If that is the case, shame on them. And if we allow them get away with it, shame on us.

Here's a fresh alternative: tell the truth.

Assuming $250,000 was not wasted, and Proskauer Rose LLP has investigated the situation to the best of their well-known abilities - we can assume they have discovered much, if not all, of the truth of the allegations. Proskauer Rose has the answer to Archbishop Job's famous question: "Are the allegations True or False?" The full results of Proskauer Rose's investigation need to be shared, in writing, with those chosen by the Church - with our Bishops and our Metropolitan Council representatives - so that the questions may be put to rest once and for all.

For better or worse, let's have the truth and begin to bring this to an end.

Can the truth destroy the Church? Not a Church that worships, glorifies and follows the One Who Is Truth. The Truth may reveal the misdeeds of some individuals but it cannot permanently harm this Church. Continuing dissembling, lies, obfuscation, misdirection and silence on the other hand, surely will. A whitewash must not be allowed to happen or we risk "moving forward" into a future not worth having. Syosset's stonewall must come down on December 12th or the handwriting on the stone walls of Syosset will be clear - even if there is no handwritten report. The warning of the Book of Daniel is no less true today than it was centuries ago:

Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin

You have been measured, judged, found wanting and your kingdom shall be divided.

Only by the truth can we avoid this judgement.

Tell the truth.

 
 

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