The 45th Clergy-Laity Congress of the Archdiocese has passed into history as a unique event in the sense that it wasn’t convened with the physical presence of the delegates of the parishes, who constitute a “communion of persons,” but from a distance, electronically via teleconference. No matter how developed the technology is, however, it cannot replace the gathering of the Church, the holy togetherness starting of course from the Holy Eucharist. After all, the Church is not a simple gathering of religious character with some common practices and sense of religiosity – it is the Paschal Supper, the Eucharist, with which the Church is identified. Having said that, let me state that there is an essential difference between Church and Religion (υπάρχει ειδοποιός διαφορά ανάμεσα στην Εκκλησία και την Θρησκεία). In the future I will write a separate analysis on that.
Today I will emphasize that Archbishop Elpidophoros’ decision to conduct the Clergy- Laity virtually was made in order for the life of the Church to continue according to Archdiocesan Regulations despite the opposing proposals not to have the Congress. That having taken place, the tenures of members of the existing Bodies should terminate with the Clergy-Laity Congress so that they can be rejuvenated with fresh blood and new persons. After all, the individuals who currently serve on them aren’t without responsibility for the humiliating spiritual, financial, administrative, academic (the School of Theology) bankruptcy of the Archdiocese, with the chief people responsible being former Archbishop Demetrios and, of course, the members of the so called Eparchial Synod.
I found really unacceptable the repeated calls, based on a misplaced compassion and sense of forgiveness, of the treasurer of the Archdiocese Elaine Allen, who urged all “not to look back” when she was addressing the massive underfunding – $65 million dollars – of the clergy pension program. Her words also went against the many announcements and statements that have been made promising accountability and transparency.
After all, Allen made her appearance only recently – just a few years ago – in the life of the Archdiocese after the resignation of Michael Psaros from the position of treasurer due to the unholy and inappropriate behavior of some priests who had the audacity to tell him at the Clergy-Laity Congress in Boston in 2018 to “go and find the money for our pension.”
Let me say it one more time: it was Psaros who purged the finances of the Archdiocese and discovered the deeds of Demetrios’ confidants, revelations that forced him to fire them just to save face.
And another thing – the millions of dollars that the Archdiocese was withholding from the clergy pension since 2006 was not Allen’s money or someone else’s. It was the money of the parishes, which means it was contributed by our faithful. It is as simple as that.
And this money was managed by the Archdiocese and more specifically by former Archbishop Demetrios, the Archdiocesan Council, the Eparchial Synod, and the officials George Vourvoulias and Jerry Dimitriou, who had become completely unconstrained.
Of course we should look back and see who was responsible for the funds not being deposited into the clergy pension, shouldn’t we? Where did the money go, how was it spent, and by whose authorization? It should be demanded that Demetrios, George Tsandikos, the members of the Eparchial Synod, the Finance Committee, and Vourvoulias and Dimitriou take responsibility. It is inconceivable that Allen tried to convince the Church to not look back.
Archbishop Elpidophoros inherited the chaos which all the above created. And now there are some libelers appearing as “concerned parishioners,” hiding behind “anonymity” thinking that they are not known … instead of just disappearing out of shame.
One would think that Archbishop Elpidophoros had not inherited enough chaos – the unfinished St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine after millions of dollars were spent, the mortgaged office buildings of the Archdiocese in the heart of Manhattan, the ruins of the School of Theology – and on top of all that he now has the demands of the ‘priests union’, the Presbyters Council, making demands about their pension. They were the ones responsible for the pension’s management. We should ask them what kind of management did they practice.
It must also be noted that the virtual Clergy-Laity Congress was a long and tiring process. I observed the first day’s opening and a few hours after that, but I could not watch through the end due to technical difficulties. But I followed the entire second day from 12 noon to past 9 in the evening. It seemed to me that there were too many procedures, legalities, and repetitions which could have been avoided and instead of nine hours, it could have all been finished in three.
The members of the Eparchial synod were essentially speechless. Even some who spoke didn't say anything of substance. They did the same thing at the Clergy-Laity Congress in Boston and it seems they are more practiced in talking and acting behind the scenes with coups and factions (τυρείες και φατρίες).
The intervention of Fr. Panagiotis Giannakopoulos from St. George parish in Cape Cod, MA was really pathetic. He spoke degradingly about the St. Nicholas Church and Shrine and demanded that the funds raised to finish it be used to fund the clergy pension program. He said that “we are actually spending millions of dollars to build a tiny church; some are estimating $24,000 – give or take – per square foot. We are having a lot of difficulties supporting programs of the Church, funding the clergy pension, and the other ministries of the Church. We talk a lot about accountability and transparency but I am not convinced of it.”
Giannakopoulos and individuals of similar mentality must remember that approximately 24 families and family foundations donated over $1 million or more, representing approximately 50% of the total raised. The Spanos Family set the standard with their absolutely stunning donation of $10 million. Eight institutions donated $1 million or more, representing approximately 30% of the total raised. The balance came from other very significant donations.
Giannakopoulos and others should stop repeating the myth that St. Nicholas is taking money away from the Church. These 24 families and eight institutions donated to St. Nicholas. The donations were specifically restricted for the purpose of constructing the National Shrine. These were not mere donations to the Archdiocese. These donors did not give money to the Archdiocese, which then decided to allocate the donations to St. Nicholas versus the pension or other things – the matter is as clear as that.
It should be noted that Giannakopoulos reflects the climate being cultivated in Boston against St. Nicholas. A while ago Metropolitan Methodios spoke about the project in the same vein at the Eparchial Synod and the Executive Committee of the Archdiocesan Council.
In this climate and with these co-workers Archbishop Elpidophoros is trying to free the Archdiocese from the chaos they put it in. Nobody should have any doubt that he will succeed.