Friday, March 23, 2007

A scandal meets daylight

Last Sunday night we had our annual parish meeting. Attending the meeting was Fr. Matthew Tate who is also one of our diocesan representatives to the Metropolitan Council (MC). He was there primarily to help us with some advice on how to deal with various financial difficulties we have had in our ongoing building project, a subject that he has some familiarity with. After the routine business of the meeting was over and the meeting was adjourned Fr. Matthew volunteered to stay and discuss the current situation with the central administration and the ongoing problems dealing with the financial mess in the OCA.

I actually began writing this on the day after (Monday) our meeting. But after reflection I decided to refrain from posting anything for two reasons. First it is Lent and some subjects don’t need to be raised during this time of the year. And secondly the Holy Synod was preparing to meet to address the resolutions passed by the Metropolitan Council. Thus any comments made might be jumping the gun. Mindful of the season and of more developments being likely in the near future I decided to wait and see what would transpire. The Holy Synod has now completed its meeting and issued one of the most astonishing statements I have ever read on the OCA website. But it would perhaps be best to begin with our discussion from last Sunday night and what we gleaned from it.

This was an extremely refreshing meeting and I left quite encouraged. Not because there was a lot of good news (although there was good news). But primarily because there was a frank (to the point of blunt) admission of just how bad things had gotten over the preceding years. Archbishop Job of the Mid West has been on record with a question for some time. That question is simply “Are the allegations true?” We can now state that the answer for the most part, is yes.

Most of the allegations made by Deacon Eric Wheeler have been substantiated by the investigations and reports conducted by an outside law firm and a special commission that delivered a report to the Metropolitan Council last week. Most of this will not be news to those who frequent a certain website. However for the benefit of those who don’t I will give just a brief overview absent gratuitous details.

  • Prior to 2006 there had not been an OCA budget verified by a certified audit in something close to fifteen years.
  • Financial records from this period are poor, incomplete, in some cases missing, and at least in a few cases appear to have been falsified.
  • High ranking members of the OCA’s central administration repeatedly failed in their moral responsibilities to the Church and also arguably their fiduciary (legal) responsibilities as officers of a not for profit organization.
  • With two exceptions this appears to have been more a case of widespread incompetence and dereliction of duty as opposed to deliberate malfeasance.
  • However there is very strong evidence that former OCA Chancellor Fr. Robert Kondratick and to an unknown degree former Metropolitan +Theodosius plundered the OCA’s coffers for their own use. There is evidence indicating…
    1. Mixing of restricted funds.
    2. Massive abuse of discretionary funds
    3. Deliberate destruction of financial records
    4. Deliberate falsification of records
    5. Widespread misappropriation of funds including restricted funds
    6. Large scale embezzlement of church funds for personal use
  • Fr. Robert Kondratick is known to be a person of interest in at least two criminal investigations connected with his tenure as OCA Chancellor, one being done by the FBI and one from the New York State Attorney General’s Office. Also it appears likely that at some point the Internal Revenue Service will become involved.
  • The exact amount of money missing is not known and due to the inaccurate and incomplete nature of records may never be known with certainty. However the figure is certainly in the millions of dollars.
  • Although there is evidence that former Met. +Theodosius was involved in this it is not clear to what extent. Due to his poor and declining health it is doubtful that much will be done regarding his activities in the scandal.

At the meeting of the MC many things were done to advance the reorganization of the central administration including the appointment of highly competent individuals of unimpeachable reputation to the main offices of the church. A complete reform of the bookkeeping system also progressed. However there was a serious clash over the way to proceed in addressing the scandal. After hearing the report from the special investigation committee some, including Met. +Herman, suggested that the time had come to dissolve the commission and suppress its report for the good of the church. The theory being that the OCA has had enough scandal and being open about the details would do more harm than good. This appears to have been also the advice (not surprisingly) of the lawyers hired to conduct the investigation who are for obvious reasons concerned with the OCA’s legal interests. This was vigorously resisted by a significant number on the MC. The tide turned decisively after an impassioned address by Archbishop +Job of Chicago who expressed dismay at the very idea of suppressing the truth and dropped what may have been a none too thinly veiled threat to resign and possibly even leave the OCA if the reports were suppressed.

This was the turning point and the MC overwhelmingly rejected the proposal to end the investigations and drop the matter. Instead it reauthorized the special commission to continue its work and sent a list of recommendations to the Holy Synod. Most prominent among them was a recommendation that Fr Kondratick be suspended pending his being summoned to appear before a church court to answer formal charges. This is where things were left until this morning when I discovered that the Holy Synod had issued the statement referenced at the beginning of this essay.

Today the Holy Synod issued a statement in effect admitting to what has been widely reported regarding the scandal. It also announced that Fr. Kondratick had been returned to the jurisdiction of Met. +Herman by his bishop. Although one can never be certain, this is likely a preliminary step to his suspension. The statement of the Holy Synod, although lacking in some of the details I have related, and even more that have been posted elsewhere, is nonetheless a frank admission of the scope of the scandal and the failure of the OCA’s central administration. This open and honest admission along with its mea culpa gives me renewed hope for the future.

For sometime I have been mildly optimistic that the OCA would do the right thing in its handling of this. In fairness that has not always been clear. The road has been bumpy but I now feel that the worst is over and after a long night the first hints of the dawning of a new day can be seen. Expect more disturbing details to emerge. And one may assume that this will be THE TOPIC at next year’s big meeting of the OCA. It is possible that there may still be some heads that will roll beyond Fr. Bob. Our primate was the Treasurer during at least some of the years this was going on and his role has not been discussed to my knowledge. But I feel very strongly that a corner has been turned. With these admissions the Holy Synod has made the irrevocable decision to be honest and open about what happened. And that is the best prescription for healing.

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