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Analysis: The Pension Fund, Demetrios’ Legacy, and Hypocrisy

The issue of the pension fund of the clergy of the Archdiocese came to light last week when it was discussed extensively at the teleconference meeting of the Archdiocesan Council. Since then, messages and letters have been circulating – and, of course, the telephones have been working overtime among the priests.  
Let me just remind everybody at the very beginning that this is another painful legacy of the former Archbishop of America, Demetrios, and his regime. They led the Archdiocese and its institutions, including the pension fund, to virtual bankruptcy. Certainly the clergy are responsible as well to a great extent because when The National Herald revealed the problems in 2018 they didn’t bother to check what was going on. On the contrary, one of the officials of the pension fund, Rev. Costas Pavlakos, priest at the St. Katherine’s parish in Falls Church, Virginia slandered The National Herald in the plenary session of the Clergy-Laity Congress, showing of course his level of integrity and ‘ethos’, but none of his colleagues priests had the decency to remind him he was present at a Clergy-Laity Congress and not a casino. The two Patriarchal representatives were astonished by Pavlakos’ despicable behavior. Of course, Demetrios kept his mouth shut. He only cared about extending his tenure as Archbishop a few more months, which he did, enabling him to finish the job of leading the Church into virtual bankruptcy.
Let me also remind here that it was Michael Psaros, the then-treasurer of the Archdiocese, who disclosed the underfunding of the Clergy pension plan at that infamous Clergy-Laity Congress in Boston two years ago. He was very clear and direct, and TNH published his speech. It was then that some of the priests – I remember them very vividly – had the audacity to tell Mr. Psaros, a prominent global businessman respected throughout the world, “to go and find the money” for their pension program. It was exactly at that moment that Mr. Psaros resigned as treasurer because he is a person of integrity and ethos. 
In the most recent Archdiocesan Council meeting that was held last week, Ms. Elaine Allen presented disclosures on the financial condition of the Archdiocese. In addition to Allen’s presentation, there was an entire session devoted to the Clergy Pension Plan – a first.  I do not recall one single Archdiocesan Council Meeting where the pension was even discussed.  Not one. Why?
Speaking about accountability and transparency, let me also remind here that the Archdiocese had years of deficiency warnings and observations made by its auditors, the accounting firm of Grant Thornton, that were neglected year after year – completely ignored by the administration, the Audit Committee, and the Finance Committee. The Grant Thornton study of the financial condition of the Archdiocese was commissioned and paid for at a cost of $150,000 by Mr. Psaros personally, and it revealed hundreds of failures in the Archdiocese’s controls, policies, and procedures, along with recommended remedial changes. Many of those recommendations were implemented by dictat out of immediate necessity.  The Grant Thornton report was published by TNH.  
Regarding the pension plan’s underfunding – who is at fault?  An underfunding/deficiency in a “defined benefit pension plan” grows over time. It cannot happen in any one year, but rather over many years. If a company fails to make a contribution in one year, it creates a small deficiency, but that deficiency compounds over time. If a company fails to make a contribution in the next year, the deficiency compounds even more. The Archdiocese did not make pension contributions for over a decade. It collected money from the parishes for the pension fund and spent the money on other things. What other things?
Therefore, the priests who write and speak and gossip on the phone should ask Archbishop Demetrios, Jerry Dimitriou, and George Vourvoulias, the then-Chairman of the Finance Committee, who were in complete control of the financial architecture of the Archdiocese for well over a decade, why were the funds restricted to the pension plan spent on other things – and what other things? 
Further, there are over 40 people on the Finance Committee. Who spoke up regarding the clergy pension plan over the past 15 years? Who? Nobody. On the contrary, Fr. Barbas, the chancellor of the Metropolis of Boston, was praising both Dimitriou and Vourvoulias. If the clergy want to blame someone, start with Demetrios, then go to Dimitriou, and of course include Vourvoulias. The priests should ask them about the state of the fund starting from 2005, and go year by year, asking “why did you skip the payment in this year, the next year, the year after that?”
One more thing. The Archdiocese was only able to resume payments to the clergy pension plan, and if I may add, larger payments, because the Archdiocese generated a balanced budget/surplus. Three years ago the Archdiocese could not make payroll, could not pay for garbage pick-up, and essentially it had become an insolvent organization in crisis. The financial restructuring that was initiated by Mr. Psaros resulted in the Archdiocese having the money to make these pension payments. Where did the money come from? The sky? Maybe the beneficiaries of the pension plan (i.e. the clergy) should say “thank you” to him. 
Archbishop Elpidophoros was handed a pension plan that was in as dire a condition as the rest of the Archdiocese – St. Nicholas, the Theological School, etc. To now blame him for this disaster in his first year is insanity. To now blame those who created an organization that now has the ability to make pension payments is insanity. Audacity and hypocrisy should have some limits. 

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