To the Editor:
I have been struck by some recent letters to the National Herald calling for the Greek American community to “Move on” regarding responsibility for the calamitous state of the finances at the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and even a statement regarding this issue approximating, “Who Cares?” as to who is to blame for this debacle.
Well, I CARE and not just because my family sacrificed to contribute to the “St. Nicholas Rebuilding Fund” after 9/11. The “mismanagement” of the Archdiocese’s finances (to give this sordid matter the most sympathetic spin) should be of concern to EVERY Greek and Orthodox American.
The mismanagement of the Archdiocesan finances has only been surpassed by the mismanagement of the public perception of what has transpired over the past two years. There has been significant obfuscation of the facts regarding what transpired including many rounds of finger pointing by those in charge; there has been NO acceptance of responsibility and have even alleged attempts by the Archdiocese to retaliate against the National Herald and others who have sought to bring this issues into the light of public scrutiny. We have heard that the Archdiocese is “virtually bankrupt”, that the Archbishop himself is “poor and homeless” and there has apparently been no further investigation regarding an individual who is alleged to have been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by the Archdiocese for “travel expenses.”
Many of your readers will recall that before this scandal broke onto the public stage, the Archdiocese put the squeeze on local parishes by demanding that that they increase their contributions to the Archdiocese, in some cases approaching 40%; that numerous Greek Orthodox day schools have been forced to close in the past few years and that lack of funding continues to plague Holy Cross School and Seminary. There were obviously those who KNEW that a financial calamity was approaching and sought to cover it by asking local parishes literally to do the impossible.
All of this has greatly eroded trust in the Archdiocese, the Archbishop and the officials who have served under him. Far worse, it has greatly damaged the perception of the Greek Orthodox Church in America as a place that one would want to join, support and contribute to. Greek and other Orthodox Christians as well as other faith communities in the US face tremendous challenges from assimilation aided by inevitable intermarriage( it is reported that intermarriage in the Greek American community is OVER 80%, i.e., 4 out of 5 Greek Americans marry someone from outside their faith) as well as plain apathy and disconnectedness from traditional religious identification.
In a jarring but timely article published in the National Herald of January 1, 2018, (“The Crisis Facing Greek Orthodoxy in America”) Dan Georgakas, a retired Director of the Greek American Studies Project at the Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies at Queens College-CUNY and Editor of the Journal of Hellenic Diaspora states that;
“Church records, federal statistics, and research projects regarding Greek millennials reveal a multi-decade decline of 40% in the number of Orthodox marriages and baptisms and a similar multi-decade rise in the number of burials. In 1976, near the peak of the Second Wave of immigration (1965-1980), there were more than 250,000 Orthodox households. Today, the number is about 190,000, a decline of approximately 27%.
A handful of parishes have grown, but more churches had been closed than new parishes opened. The number of students in parochial schools has declined drastically. Aggravating the situation is a chronic shortage of priests…
Most converts to Greek Orthodoxy are non-Greek spouses of Greek-Americans. The Church welcomes such converts, but it has no vigorous policy regarding converting non-Greeks. In that sense, the Church remains primarily an ethnic institution.
The current out marriages of Greeks to non-Greeks is at least 80%.” (Italics mine).
The Greek and other Orthodox denominations (Save the Antiochian Orthodox Church in America) have been hemorrhaging members and attendance for years and the trend continues unabated. The Orthodox Churches, particularly the Greek Orthodox Church MUST have strong and visionary leadership backed by the faith and trust of an engaged laity to even begin to insure our survival.
Other faith communities have designed and implemented imaginative and creative ways to shore up group identity and participation with their adherents. They have utilized outreach initiatives for their members to connect with and serve the wider community in ways that bring a greater sense of pride, inclusion and connectedness to their home faiths. These tools and programs must be employed by the Greek Orthodox Church to stop our decades long decline in membership.
But before anything else can be attempted, this erosion of trust has to stop. There MUST be an accounting, accepting of responsibility for those who have been a party to this devastating scandal and appropriate penalties for those who are responsible, along with safeguards and reforms to insure that such damage to the financial well-being of our church and that the perception of incompetence, impropriety and overall lack of integrity is never again associated with our Church.
Sure, we all want to move on from this shared train wreck. The challenges facing our beloved Orthodox faith in this country are myriad and complex.
However, to begin ANY regrowth and reformation, the Church must again be seen to be a place of competent stewardship, activism and above all integrity, to be able to compete and survive in the religious landscape of the United States.
Paul J. Kutscera, Esq.