John Catsimatidis Speaks Exclusively to TNH about St. Nicholas, Archbishop

NEW YORK – In an exclusive interview to The National Herald, John Catsimatidis, one of the most prominent global businessmen, as well as a widely-known and respected Greek-American, spoke about Archbishop Demetrios – describing him as “a wonderful person, but not a builder” – referring to the St. Nicholas church.

He also spoke about the “squandering” of millions of dollars to what he called “nonsense expenses” and emphasized that “the Authorities of New York want to finish the project as soon as possible.”

Mr. Catsimatidis believes that it is imperative that the Archdiocese “regains the trust of the faithful.”  To the question of what to make out of the Archbishop’s trip  to the Ecumenical Patriarchate to meet with Patriarch Bartholomew one more time, he said “Well, we have several problems: Archbishop Demetrios is a wonderful person, a Harvard professor, very educated and actually very well-meaning, but he took on a task that they weren’t capable of, rebuilding the church of St. Nicholas. It became a mess, $38 million dollars were squandered without being able to finish the church. By comparison, other churches like Fr. Alex’s [Karloutsos’] church in Southampton, which I go to on Sunday, cost $18 million dollars and it is a wonderful facility. [The Archdiocese] had to spend $38 million [on St. Nicholas] and then estimated that they will need another $40 million to finish the project. This is something that we have to carefully look at. Fr. Alex believes that the monies to finish the church are available in the community. Once confidence is back, it will be worked on properly.”

Speaking about the trust of the people, Mr. Catsimatidis said, “I think they have lost trust in the Archdiocese. They are capable of religion but they are not capable of building another church. Nobody at the Archdiocese gave them a diploma in building churches.”

When asked about what the Authorities of New York have been telling him, Mr. Catsimatidis responded, “the Governor of New York and The Port Authority that owns the land want to finish the project as soon as possible. They don’t want to be embarrassed. The Port Authority is taking a hard look at it and they are willing to go along with the Committee that was recommended by the Governor and by The Port Authority. The Committee knows how to complete the project. I, myself, brought new counsels onto the board because we have built almost $2 billion worth of real estate in the last five – six years. [W]e know how to build and build efficiently. What the Archbishop should have done was to bring people like that in the mix before the problem occurred. I have a lot of respect for His Eminence. He is wonderful man but he is a wonderful religious man, he is not a builder, and I think this is the nicest way we can say it.”

Regarding the investigation by the Attorney General into the matters of the Archdiocese and St. Nicholas, he said “I don’t know details about it but if someone stole money for their personal use, then they should be punished.  There is a difference between stealing money and squandering money. Lawyers don’t go to jail for squandering money but this is nonsense, stupidity.”

To the question about the $3.5 million the Archdiocese took out of the accounts of St. Nicholas for operational expenses and the other missing money, Mr. Catsimatidis said, “squandering I understand, but Michael Psaros knows more than I do. I understand that $8 million was squandered up for professional fees and for some reason lawyers don’t go to jail – $8 million for professional and lawyers fees is foolishness. The other factor is with the professional contractors. There is an old expression my mother and father used to tell me that ‘[contractors] drink your blood.’”  Mr. Catsimatidis continued, “when [the Archdiocese] made some changes, for instance the change to the dome, there was an increase in price to $15 million for the new dome. Here are the figures $15 million for the dome, $8 million for lawyers – that’s $23 million out of the $38 million. We are talking about a huge silliness.” He added, “the big mistake is that the Archdiocese and the Archbishop didn’t bring in construction people that do this thing every day.”

When asked about whether he still stood by the letter he had written a few months ago reverently asking Archbishop Demetrios to retire, Mr. Catsimatidis said, “I believe that to regain confidence in the Archdiocese, I have recommended that the Patriarch either retire His Eminence or make him Ambassador at large of the entire Church.”

Shortly before our interview, Mr. Catsimatidis had lunch with Henry Kissinger. He said, “I have known Henry Kissinger since my daughter married President’s Nixon grandson and he is a very good friend. He is 95 years old but he is very sharp. The luncheon was with some other very important people, about ten of them. We discussed the problems in dealing with China and North Korea.” When asked if they spoke about Greece, he said, “We didn’t talk about Greece but I brought up the discussion of Turkey being an ally to the U.S. and a member of NATO – or not really a member of NATO. We also spoke about Japan and the Ottoman Empire having the same DNA – different than China.”


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