CONTANTINOPLE – Despite the grilling by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America in an intense atmosphere at the meetings on November 27 and 28, Patriarch Bartholomew issued an announcement stating that “the members of the Holy Synod surround His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios Geron of America “with brotherly love and esteem.”
The Patriarch and the Synod rejected as “unacceptable” the Report –Opinion of the Legal Committee of the Archdiocesan Council regarding the List of Candidates for the Elevation to Episcopacy and the election of the Metropolitan of Chicago. (See related story on page 9.) The entire Patriarchal Announcement and the behind the scenes intrigues that forced Patriarch Bartholomew to issue his announcement of support to Demetrios is on page 9.
During the Monday and Tuesday November 27 and 28 Synodic meetings there was intense discussion of the rebuilding of the St. Nicholas Church at Ground Zero and also the Archdiocese’s dire financial situation, which has led it to a virtual state of bankruptcy. According to His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America, St. Nicholas will cost between $47 and $80 million and it is projected to be finished in February, 2019.
The archbishop had a private audience for more than an hour with Patriarch Bartholomew before the start of the meeting. Metropolitan Savas of Pittsburgh did not attend.
DEFICIT AND ST. NICHOLAS
The Archbishop read a brief report about the finances. The information was taken from the lengthy announcement that was produced a few weeks ago by New York public relations company, and also from his personal message, without any mention of numbers and the amounts of deficits in the millions.
Then, an extensive conversation took place about St. Nicholas. A Synodic hierarch asked why and how architect Santiago Calatrava was chosen. Criticism erupted because the Archdiocese ignored written objections about Calatrava by hierarchs who specialize on issues of Christian Art and church structures. Demetrios said that he did not receive the hierarchs letter and he described in detail the process of choosing Calatrava.
Demetrios avoided answering questions about Calatrava’s fee and how much the Archdiocese owes him. He also did not mention that Greek Orthodox architects had offered their services voluntarily, without any fee.
From the very beginning, the Archbishop attempted to downplay the deficits, which total approximately $12.75 million, saying the Archdiocese experienced “a small problem.” That position created turmoil in the Synod because it was considered as an unprejudiced mockery of the patriarch and Synod members, who fired off a litany of questions. They criticized Demetrios’ report as being so limited and abstract, devoid of details, even of any actual numbers.
Demetrios said: “can you guarantee me that what I am going to say will not be leaked from this room? How can I be specific when I am afraid it they will be leaked out?” Members of the Holy Synod answered him: “how do you secure the confidentiality of the Eparchial Synod on which you preside, and you come here to ask for guarantees of not leaking from the Holy Synod and the patriarch?
Demetrios’ report included mention that the audit would have been finished by the end of October, but did not explain why he did not bring those results with him, considering it is now the end of November. He also did not provide answers to the questions of: How was the deficit discovered? How much is it? How long is it going to take to resolve it?
Synod members said that in a recent Archdiocesan Council meeting, a member said the Patriarchate is responsible for the Archdiocese’s financial collapse because the Patriarchate constantly asks it for money, and that the Archdiocese paid for the Holy and Great Council (HGC) in Crete in June, 2016. They asked the archbishop why he didn’t stop his council from saying such things, and how is it possible that the Patriarchate is responsible when it only receives $1 million from the Archdiocese annually, yet the latter has several millions of dollars in uncontrolled expenses?
Demetrios insisted that the Archdiocese has a lot of money, referring to the organizations Leadership 100 and Faith: for Hellenism and Orthodoxy, particularly emphasizing that the former has doubled its coffers, from $45 to $90 million, under his tenure, and that the money can be used to help the Archdiocese’s financial needs. The Synod, however, reminded him that under U.S. law, those are independent organizations and their funds cannot be used to pay down the Archdiocese’s deficit. But Demetrios indicated that he can ask for as much money as is needed.
The Synod then asked why completion of St. Nicholas is taking so long. Demetrios attributed the delay to heavy winters in New York and said the project will be finished in February, 2019.
When Demetrios said the cost would be between $48 and $80 million, Synod members questioned why there is such a wide discrepancy in estimation, pointing out that the $30-plus million difference amounts to the Patriarchate’s budget for five years. The Archbishop did not reply to that.
Regarding the Holy Cross Theological School, the Synod hierarchs asked Demetrios if it is in financial trouble and in danger of losing academic accreditation. Demetrios replied no on both counts, and stated that the School has an $8 million Endowment Fund, and has even more money, and that the Archdiocese needed money and took it.