BOSTON – His Eminence Metropolitan Nathanael of Chicago spoke exclusively to The National Herald regarding the troubled historic Holy Trinity parish of Chicago which is about to be taken in foreclosure by the bank due to loan default.
The entire interview follows:
TK: Your Eminence, what are your thoughts concerning the current events at the parish of the Holy Trinity in Chicago?
MN: Concerning this issue, as you know, the Metropolis has issued a statement. There is nothing pleasant about what is happening. No one is pleased when churches are lost because they cannot pay their debts. Nonetheless, we are trying, as much as possible, to face this current matter in the best possible way.
TK: Why did matters reach this point? Couldn’t they have been prevented?
MN: The issue concerning the parish of Holy Trinity is complicated and one that spans many years. It is not an ecclesiastical or canonical matter. If it were, you can be certain that we would have found a solution. But here we need to address a legal and economic issue. From the briefing I received, I was informed that there were attempts in the past with my predecessor, Metropolitan Iakovos of blessed memory, to find a solution; unfortunately, however, these efforts did not lead to any tangible result. As we have emphasized in our communiqué, the issue of Holy Trinity is for me a top priority. Although we are limited by the provisions of the Law, we have devoted and continue to devote considerable time and professional manpower in an effort of good faith for the future of Holy Trinity.
TK: Did you give permission to the parish to file a lawsuit against Mr. Demetrios Logothetis?
MN: It is not a matter of permission. We live in a country where every person and every legal entity has rights, which we cannot limit, let alone violate, otherwise we would be accountable to the Law. One such right is that someone can appeal to the courts when they believe that they have been wronged. I personally did not give my blessing to the parish to take legal action against Mr. Logothetis or the Academy. However, I understand the council, when its members, having an obligation to protect the parish, felt they must appeal to the courts as their last resort. The matter between Mr. Logothetis and the parish is a legal matter and not an ecclesiastical one. Personally, this state of affairs, that our own people would go to the courts over whatever their differences might be, certainly does not please me at all. We have asked both sides several times, through their lawyers and through various faithful people and their associates, to sit down and find a solution outside of court. I pray that God, even if at the very last moment, will enlighten them.
TK: They filed a lawsuit on their own? Don’t they respect you?
MN: I do not think that they don’t respect me, nor do I think that we have an authoritarian regime in the Chicago Metropolis. I can tell you again that this is a legal issue that goes beyond the role and the capacities of the Metropolitan.
TK: In his interview, Fr. Nicholas Jonas told us that you advised them to work with a mediator. They did, but nothing came of it. As the Metropolitan, didn’t you call all the members together in a pastoral manner to find a solution?
MN: Of course, I suggested that there be a mediator so that we might not enter the judicial system. Of course, I called the two sides separately into my office, first to meet them, and secondly to hear their thoughts and opinions. What I found was that neither side was ready to dialogue with the other because there was built up tension and enmity. That is why, as I said before, I recommended the solution of having a third-party mediator, because, as an expert, he knows how to bridge opposing views and find solutions to legal disputes. The Metropolitan, apart from his pastoral and spiritual word, does not have judicial authority so that he might judge and render rulings on such matters.
TK: Given the reduction in parish members – 175 families according to Fr. Jonas, 75 to 100 according to Fr. Kaloudis – why does the parish pay two priests? Can’t one serve the needs of the community?
MN: That is a very good question! I inherited this situation and did not want to intervene immediately before getting to know the people and the situation. But now, due to the court’s decision to transfer the church building to the bank, we have organized, based on the regulations of the Holy Archdiocese of America that outline what we should do in such cases, a special Ad Hoc Committee that will study the facts at hand, work with the parish, and ask the parish to submit a plan for its future. The Metropolis will examine this plan and, together with the parish, we will attempt to pave a joint path toward the future. What matters to me and concerns me most is the future of the parish. I place great importance on this.
TK: Going forward, how do you think things should be, or rather, what are you thinking of doing as the Chief-shepherd of the region?
MN: I have already answered this. Importance is given to what the future plan will be. In this light, I would like to emphasize that I will not abandon the parish.
TK: Are there other parishes in your region facing serious financial problems?
MN: I am still researching and studying these things. I cannot give you an absolute and clear answer. When the parishes submit their annual budgets, we have a general picture of the parish’s condition; however, this is little more than a snapshot at that moment. Consider, for example, what will happen if a large benefactor of a parish moves or passes away; or if the festival or dinner dance doesn’t go well. Suddenly, serious financial problems arise, which may even threaten the survival of the parish. However, the parishes, in general, have difficulty getting by. They are in financial straits. Our people, working together with our priests, struggle hard and make great sacrifices in order to meet the many demands on the parish. We also have to bear in mind that the number of members in our parishes is decreasing, either because people are no longer interested in the Church, or because, unfortunately, they choose other Churches, such as those of the Catholics or Protestants. This is a phenomenon I encountered here in Chicago and I do not know if it exists in the rest of America. But it is a matter of particular concern to me.