Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Let the healing begin...

I have deliberately refrained from commenting (with one notable exception) on what Fr. Huneycutt once referred to as the elephant in the living room mostly because there has been very little real news. I am of course talking about L'affaire OCA, i.e. the financial scandal in the Orthodox Church in America. (In the interest of full disclosure, yes I am under the OCA.) In my last and only real comment on the situation I stated that I was cautiously optimistic about the outcome of the whole matter. It appeared at the time that the church was taking affirmative steps to come to grips with the problems and to address them in a constructive manner. There has of course been a lot of babble (and no small amount of malicious gossip) on this subject all over the Orthodox corner of the internet.

Today I can report that I remain cautiously optimistic. This is based on the first real news in a number of months. The OCA posted a statement regarding an extraordinary joint meeting of the Metropolitan Council and the Holy Synod. There preliminary reports were finally read to all concerned with the gist being posted in the above link.

So for those who don't like to follow links all over what does the report say in a nutshell? Essentially that yes, there are some serious problems. Money is missing. Money has been misused. Money was improperly transferred and records from the period in question are at best incomplete, in many cases missing and at least in some cases appear to have been falsified. And of course I am talking about the church's money. The report also indicated that most of these issues are apparently linked to a single person. The matter has been referred to the Holy Synod for possible disciplinary action against the alleged offender. That person was not identified however.

Yes I do have some strong suspicions on who this person may be but I am not going to speculate on that here. Frankly I think it would be inappropriate to do so absent hard evidence. I will however permit myself the following observation. If the alleged offender were not a hierarch there would be no need to refer the matter to the Holy Synod for disciplinary action since all other persons, both lay and clergy, are subject to the authority of a specific bishop. And any Orthodox bishop can impose any discipline he deems appropriate on those under his authority. My guess is that now that the OCA has come right out and posted in plain language what amounts to an itemized list of ethical lapses, this will be dealt with expeditiously. There will not be any desire to drag this out.

So where does this leave the church? In my opinion the church is left healthier (if somewhat poorer). We have been confronted by a serious scandal and the church seems to have taken what I regard at this point as the decisive decision to be totally honest and upfront in dealing with it. This was not the smoothest process and there were times when it was not clear that the church was going to deal with this in an open manner. But whatever bumps there may have been on the road, it seems to have worked thus far. I felt good when the church decided to bring in outside auditors and a highly reputable law firm to jointly conduct a totally independent investigation of the serious allegations that had been flying all over the place. The decision to post the blunt and ugly findings of this investigation on its website is the strongest evidence yet that the OCA's leadership has resolved to clean house and make sure this does not happen again. While I am hardly elated, I feel strongly that this is the best news to come out of the church's central administration in a long time.

Where do we go from here? For the most part it seems the OCA has got the basic lessons down. There needs to be much stricter accountability for money on the part of those who have their fingers on it. Comprehensive rules need to be put in place with independent verification of adherence to these rules by an outside source. Any person or persons directly involved in this scandal need to be removed from any position of trust or responsibility in the church. The Holy Synod can weigh any additional sanctions deemed appropriate with regards the principal offender.

The final step of course is going to be the hardest. And that is that we need to let go of it. We as a church need to step out of the scandal oriented mindset that to some extent we have been in for a while. We need to stop looking for new scandals, and to stop gossiping about hierarchs. We need to obey the commandment to forgive those who have sinned against us and our trust. And we need to get back to the really important business at hand which is working out our salvation "in trembling and fear" as St. Paul tells us.


Fatherstephenfreeman said...

I am so at peace about all of this. I have no doubt that things that must be done will be done, and that some will be hurt and some vindicated - but that the Kingdom of God will move on. It's not a worry. My work here at my parish move on without a hiccup. Thanks be to God. And may He have mercy on those who need mercy.

Ad Orientem said...


Donald said...

Thanks for this insightful piece. I haven't had the strongest deisre, nor for that matter the stomach to follow this whole thing too closely. I have to agree with Fr.Stephen that such matters are likely to come and go, but I cling to Jesus' own promise to us, that he would build His Church, and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. I am thankful that he is ultimately in charge, and like the prophet Hosea with his filing harlot-bride Gomer, is patient and forgiving and will restore the Church's honor.