BOSTON – The Clergy Laity Congress of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America in 2022 will take place in New York City to mark the centennial of the establishment of the Archdiocese. The necessary communications with the Marriot Marquis Hotel in Manhattan are already underway. During the teleconference Metropolitan Savas of Pittsburgh expressed the desire to host the 2024 Clergy laity Congress in Cleveland, Ohio. This year’s Clergy-Laity Congress had been scheduled to be in Cleveland but it was postponed due to the Coronavirus.
The teleconference was convened in a good atmosphere and began with the keynote address of His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, which is printed in this edition.
Among the issues that were discussed was the completion of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine on which Denis Mehiel and Michael Psaros reported, noting that the necessary funds have been collected and the project is moving forward.
The pension plan of the clergy was also discussed. As The National Herald revealed in June 2018 and as was verified during the Clergy-Laity Congress in Boston in July of the same year, clergy pensions are underfunded by $55 million. Archbishop Elpidophoros, who shortly after his election in May of 2019 in a teleconference with the Clergy of the Archdiocese promised them he would fully support and embrace them, proposes the reorganization of the entire pension program on new and more viable basis because if nothing is done in 20 years there will be nothing left in the account. It was also reported that the Archdiocese will contribute the sum of one million dollars continuously instead for just for two years as was initially proposed.
It was also noted that the finances of the Archdiocese have been purged; its obligations and bills are being paid on time. The Archdiocese received from the U.S. government through the PPP program the sum of $2.5 million which it is not obligated to return because it was used for purpose for which it was intended, to pay the salaries of its personnel.
The Archbishop said that an evaluation of all the departments will take place soon, including reviews of the department heads and its personnel. There is currently the perception that the departments have been doing the same things for many years.
George Cantonis, President of Hellenic College and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology spoke about the pre-existing problems as well as the ones created by the Coronavirus pandemic. The School continues to be under probation by the academic authorities and it will remain so for another year.
The participants also spoke about the possibility of selling part of the real estate of the School, specifically, the plot of land containing a house known as the Barletta Property. It was purchased during Fr. Nicholas Triantafillou’s presidency for $6.4 million and today is worth $9.0 million. Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco reacted against the proposal to sell the School’s property, saying that he has dedicated many years in the service of the School, often during difficult periods, and he didn’t want to see the property of the School being sold.
Archbishop Elpidophoros intervened stating that now that the St. Nicholas project is moving forward and everything is developing well, it would be good to try to raise more money so that School’s real estate doesn’t have to be sold. Cantonis said that nobody wants to sell but the accreditation of the School is in jeopardy because there isn’t enough cash to prove to the academic authorities that the financial situation can be managed. That is why they are thinking of selling, he said.
The National Herald has learned that if it weren’t for the financial assistance of Leadership 100, the Philoptochos, and the Archdiocese, the School would have faced an even more serious economic problem. Andy Manatos offered to include in his will that 10% of his wealth would go to the School after his passing.
At this time the Archdiocese contributes $2.5 million annually to the school, and starting next year it will be increased to $3.5 million. The School had to reimburse the students the sum of $300,000 for room and board since they left early due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Concerning enrolment, Cantonis told The National Herald that this coming fall there will be 82 students at the School of Theology out of which 56 will be seminarians studying for the Holy Priesthood. Last spring the School had 73 students out of which 47 were seminarians.
Hellenic College will have 56 students this fall; in the spring it had 51. The total number of students for both Hellenic College and Holy Cross Theological Scholl for the fall semester will be 138. Last spring the number of students was 123. Cantonis made it clear that those numbers are estimates because of the uncertainty of the pandemic crisis.
The National Herald has learned that relatives, sons, daughters, and wives of priests are serving on parish councils and there are cases where these relatives have voted for the priests to receive a subvention from the parish after they retire, and for the subvention to be paid to their wives after the deaths of the priests. This issue will be discussed in September during the Clergy-Laity Congress which will take place via teleconference.