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When Amateurism Abounds Trouble is Sure to Follow

The Archdiocese made negative headlines (again) following its intervention in the administrative affairs of the cathedrals of St. Demetrios in Astoria and St. Paul in Hempstead. The removal of Parish Council members – and more importantly, the manner in which this was carried out – is cause for concern.

According to reports, in the first case, the reason for the intervention seems to be linked to financial issues, which, among other things, precluded St. Demetrios from paying its annual parish assessment of $150,000 to the Archdiocese. What remains to be determined is whether the Archdiocese’s decision was made solely because of the parish’s inability to pay (AKA a shakedown) or genuine concern over its financial well-being, which, if left unremedied, could eventually threaten the operation of its parochial school. If Archdiocesan action was motivated only by intent to collect a debt, it threatens to spark an administrative crisis in the Parish that would only serve to exacerbate financial woes. Ultimately, the Archdiocese’s handling of the situation henceforth will reveal its true intent.

After all, an uncollected parish assessment is a small price to pay for the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s wealthiest eparchy – especially when the best interest of an historic parish and the sole Greek high school in America is at stake. Besides, debt forgiveness, assessment reduction, and even exemptions from Archdiocesan financial obligations for parish communities operating parochial schools is long overdue. It’s the least the Archdiocese can do to actively support Greek Education and local parochial schools. The parishes that shuttered their schools and are now making money hand over fist from renting their school buildings can easily cover the bill.

Aside from the merits of the cases in question, we must also examine the manner in which the Archdiocese chose to communicate and implement its decisions. Parish members, including executive board members, were notified of their dismissal via an e-mail from the Chancellor of the Direct Archdiocesan District. The decision to resolve a delicate matter like this via an impersonal e-mail is unfortunate, to say the least.

Let’s not forget that the dismissed parties are volunteers, while the officials from the Archdiocese are paid professionals. This means that even when parish councils come under scrutiny for amateurism, the responsible ecclesiastical authority must stand out for its professionalism (to say nothing of its pastoral care).

Repeated communication blunders like this simply aren’t acceptable for high-ranking Archdiocesan administrators. After all, it doesn’t take a graduate degree in theology or much of anything else – save for some common sense – to realize that a face-to-face meeting with the Parish Council aimed at brokering a mutually agreed upon solution that would save face for everyone would be much more effective and beneficial.

This would have allowed for a dignified solution to be reached through a consensus. Moreover, it would have protected the Archbishop’s public image, which has been considerably tarnished in the short time since his overhyped and much-ballyhooed election, while allowing any volunteers who needed to resign from their duties to do so with their heads held high and with as minimal a negative taste in their mouths as possible.

Instead, after such a high-handed and haughty display, parishes may soon have a hard enough time assembling a council at all, because volunteers (many of whom are highly educated and successful professionals) will become increasingly resentful of the amateurism displayed by the Archdiocese and the blunt sophomoric browbeating of local Chancellors.

Aside from doling out punitive measures, the exercise of authority requires the virtues of discretion and empathy.

The chosen recourse would be justified if the Archdiocese exhausted other options, however, this doesn’t seem to be the case. To onlookers, it appears as yet another instance of the Archdiocese shooting itself in the foot because of the temerity of its administrators. Worst yet, they don’t seem to learn from their mistakes, as this isn’t the first time antics like this have occurred.

Ultimately, the Archdiocese will need a major overhaul in its mentality if it stands any chance of effectively handling issues that are bound to arise. The imposition of some silly dress code (in this case mandating Orthodox priests to ditch their robes in favor of collars and jackets) isn’t going to solve anything – except point out the bad taste of whoever concocted this flippant policy.

People expect sincerity and substantive change. Establishing a healthy communication climate can help toward that end.

If these things aren’t already painfully obvious to those in charge, it would appear as if parish council candidates aren’t the only ones in need of mandated annual seminars so they can exercise their duties… Perhaps the Archdiocese should implement professional development for its clergymen as well, to avoid future unfortunate displays of amateurism.

 

Follow me on Twitter @CTripoulas

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