Voices from Russia

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Order in the Court!

Filed under: Christian,church in society,Orthodox life,religious,USA — 01varvara @ 00.00


I was passed an intriguing post by Fr Alexander Lebedeff concerning civil suits against the Church. I find it interesting, but, there was something that bothered me about it. I sent it to a lawyer-friend, who said that it was obvious that it had been written by a non-lawyer with no knowledge or experience of non-profit corporation law or case-histories. That is, any comments that follow are not personal attacks on Fr Alexander, but, I do fear that he did not take his logic far enough… but, bear in mind that Fr Alexander is not speaking as a lawyer, but, as a canonist. The comments as given could be construed by some as meaning that the Church is immune from legal action by its parishioners. I doubt that Fr Alexander meant that, God willing.

Here is Fr Alexander’s comment, in toto:

Re: Confessional Confidentiality

First of all, I want to make it clear I am not talking about the specifics of any particular matter, but as a matter of principle, so I ask that people please do not respond with rebuttals based on a specific case.

I believe most sincerely that it is morally and ethically wrong for a priest to reveal anything that was confessed to him. The Russian Orthodox Church has a clear position on this issue, and those who violate the sacred obligation of the priestly office to hold confessions in strictest confidence should be brought to account before the Spiritual Authorities and receive appropriate ecclesiastical punishment.

At the same time, I believe most sincerely that it is also morally and ethically wrong to sue the Church in civil courts for monetary damages based on allegations of misbehavior by a priest of the Church.

People donate money to the Church in order that it may be spent on the legitimate needs of the Church: the upkeep and maintenance of Church buildings and property; the compensation of clergy; construction and remodeling of church buildings; beautification of the church; supporting the educational, missionary and pastoral activities of the Church and its charitable work (helping the poor and the homeless), and other worthy needs.

These do not include paying out millions of dollars in monetary compensation to individual parishioners (and their attorneys). Does a elderly widow donate her “widow’s mite” to the Church, or for the benefit of an individual parishioner and his or her attorneys?

This applies to all donors, rich or poor, both those who give large sums and those who donate a little. All expect that the money will be used for legitimate Church purposes. This is, in reality, a trust or a covenant in which the Church accepts the money with the promise that it will be used exclusively for the legitimate work of the Church.

Doing otherwise is a violation of this trust, and seems to me to actually be something expressed in the legal concept of “conversion.” Money donated to the Church for its legitimate needs is instead “converted” to money to be paid out for the financial benefit of an individual parishioner (and his or her attorneys).

Under the principles of Non-Profit Law, I wonder: can monies donated to the Non-Profit (as a charitable, non-taxable gift) then be converted to the financial benefit of an individual (other than reasonable compensation for work performed)?.

If a civilian commits a civil crime, he should be tried in a civil court. If a clergyman commits an ecclesiastical crime, he should be tried in an ecclesiastical court.

No one should be able to sue the Church for compensatory or punitive damages, because the Church’s money is not its own. That money was donated to the Church to be used for legitimate Church activity—and not to inure to the financial benefit of any individual or his or her attorneys.

One could even imagine that a person receiving monetary compensation in the form of compensatory or punitive damages as the result of a lawsuit against the Church could then be sued by the other parishioners of the Church for benefiting from the diversion of donations to something other than what the donors intended the money to be used for.

With love in Christ,

Prot. Alexander Lebedeff

(The above was cut-and-pasted EXACTLY as I received it, as I have no URL available for a trackback).


There are more questions raised by the above than are answered… but, that may have been Fr Alexander’s intent! For instance, if a clergyman commits a secular crime, if one follows Fr Alexander’s logic, then, he must be tried in a secular court. That is, if a priest commits an offence against the Church, its canons, or customary practise, he should only be tried in an ecclesiastical court. If a priest commits a crime against the statutory code, such as extortion, credit-card fraud, or destruction of corporate records, then, he would be liable under the civil code. I see this distinction implicit in Fr Alexander’s argument… I mention this because some people are going to (falsely) accuse Fr Alexander of saying that the clergy are immune from civil action for their secular actions. I find that particular accusation specious.

Furthermore, there is another argument implicit in Fr Alexander’s reasoning that I believe that many shall miss. If money is given for the legitimate purposes of the Church, then, what remedy does the Church have for clergy who divert those funds for personal use? It is left unsaid explicitly, but, it appears clear that the Church and its parishioners can seek redress in the civil courts. What does one do if Church funds are misused, for instance, for a gambling trip to Las Vegas? This is not only an offence against morality; it is a statutory felony… extortion. This question, “Under the principles of Non-Profit Law, I wonder: can monies donated to the Non-Profit (as a charitable, non-taxable gift) then be converted to the financial benefit of an individual (other than reasonable compensation for work performed)?” applies to some well-known real-world examples that Fr Alexander did not enumerate, as they are still unresolved (nor am I implying that he was cowardly… it was not his place to comment freely on the matters involved. Fr Alexander is a public figure, which means that he is limited in his expression at times, and there are those who do not take that into account).

Fr Alexander does make it crystal-clear that he believes that any priest who violates pastoral confidentiality should be disciplined harshly by the bishop involved. Make no mistake on that score. However, it is clear that, in some high-profile cases, such justice has been denied via Church sources. I am not accusing Fr Alexander, nevertheless, I ask this question, “What does one do when the priest involved is not disciplined, but, rather, is rewarded and given high church office?“ There is a well-known case that I shall not cite… however, what does a parishioner do when such justice is denied? This was not stated explicitly… this is one of the areas that remain a question… again; this may have been Fr Alexander’s intent, to force us to think on the matter.

Actually, to my mind, this post is less about legal action than it is about money and its role in the Church. Fr Alexander makes it clear what he believes are legitimate uses of funds donated to the Church. Implicit in this is an argument that those who use Church funds for any other reason are criminals and must be treated as such, for such people have abused not only the monies of the Church, but, the parishioners’ trust as well. Ergo, if one reasons from this basis (if I understand the thrust of Fr Alexander’s argument correctly), extortion of Church funds is not only a felony punishable under the statutory law, it is a moral offence that can be remedied by ecclesiastical courts. Thus, one can not only seek redress in the civil law courts, but, also, seek justice in the ecclesiastical court, as well.

As for suits… I am no lawyer! However, the Church is not only the Body of Christ, it is a civil not-for-profit corporation licensed under the laws of the various states and provinces. As a canonist, Fr Alexander was not addressing that side of the issue… he was discussing the canons, quite a different subject. Is there any Orthodox lawyer out there who can address this question as secular jurisprudence has it? I think that not only I, but, Fr Alexander, as well, would welcome such a voice.

A note to Fr Alexander:

I fear that some shall not give your submission the proper time and attention it deserves. In addition, some shall not understand that you are speaking as a canonist, not an attorney/solicitor. Your post was meant to stimulate additional questions and thought… it certainly did so in my case! Thank you.

img_0001Barbara-Marie Drezhlo

Thursday 15 October 2009

Albany NY

Editor’s Postscript:

Someone was kind enough to send me the trackback for the post. Thank you!



An Ironic “Salute” to the “Brave”…

Filed under: Christian,internet,Orthodox life,religious,USA — 01varvara @ 00.00

bear sandwich

Fr XXX… why don’t you deal with those of us who can give as good as they get? Why did you kick a person who was down? Tangle with ME… after you answer the questions below.

I received an e-mail today from Kristi Koumentakos that set my blood to boiling. For those who don’t know, Kristi had intimate details of her life revealed in a public e-mail by Raymond Velencia, a sleazy OCA priest in Maryland (Mr Velencia knew of these things from confession and counselling)… the case is grinding through the courts as we speak. There was a discussion on one of the online forums (which one is unimportant) about the confidentiality of confessions. Kristi noted, “there is a juicy conversation going on since last night about the confidentiality of confession… basically, a guy wrote in saying he’d never been to confession since converting in 2001, was wondering if it’s private, etc…. I read that and blasted off… and got a warning of sorts from Fr XXX about being slanderous, disrespectful….I responded well, I think, and the conversation continues….”

Hey, Fr XXX! Why did you pick on Kristi? You know that she is a punching-bag for the Syosset apparatchiki! Did you get brownie-points from them for your “courage?” You knew that it was “safe” to attack her. Indeed, you knew that it would burnish your reputation with JP and his entourage, didn’t you? “Slanderous and disrespectful”… Shall you withdraw that and apologise to Kristi on that internet forum? You needn’t answer to me… I am nobody, a person of no earthly (or heavenly) importance or influence. The bullying implicit in it is noisome… by that, are you saying that you stand behind Raymond Velencia? Yes, Fr XXX… that is a good query… would you concelebrate liturgy with this hideous and amoral impostor? God knows that I have many and varied sins on my plate… but, I have not used the courts in an attempt to destroy another human-being. Neither have I contended that revealing the personal secrets of another is decent and acceptable behaviour. Do you agree with Mr Velencia on THAT, Fr XXX?

This illustrates one of the reasons why I do not belong to any internet forum… besides, my staritsa doesn’t think highly of them. For one, many of those posting are not using their actual names… Thomas pointed up in a comment that the MP is against such. Bravo! Every one of my posts is signed with my actual and legal name… I know that it opens me up to attack, but, a poster who hides behind a pseudonym is a coward… full stop! In short, you are NOT interacting with an actual person, but, a false internet persona, a cybernetic will o’ the wisp with no more reality than a “wind in the willows”.

Interact with me and you’re getting a real person… a woman who loves great art, joyously-rude songs, smiling, funky little diners (especially 3GSs), pastrami on rye with a half-sour on the side, travelling about and seeing and hearing new things, and someone who shall keep anything personal you say to me in the strictest privacy and confidence. If I don’t… I don’t respect you… it is that simple, truly.

Note well that I did NOT use Fr XXX’s name. My staritsa says it is proper to give no quarter to ideas… but, to give people the benefit of the doubt. Fr XXX… do be careful with the words “disrespectful” and “slanderous”… JP just signed an agreement with the TEC… what’s your opinion on that? I would say that it was… DISRESPECTFUL to the Church and SLANDEROUS to Her reputation! I think that is FAR more serious than anything said by Kristi.

So… do be careful… and DO remember the Law of Unintended Consequence.

img_0001Barbara-Marie Drezhlo

Wednesday 15 October 2009

Albany NY

Editor’s Postscript:

Do remember Kristine and her family (both the Koumentakos and Patico families) in your prayers and thoughts. We all have to stand together on this. JP supports this monstrous priest. So do most other konvertsy… reflect on that!

In Kristi’s words, “Please, pray for me because I continue to struggle greatly with balancing this fight with the rest of my life, my husband, my kids”. Shall you let her down?

Don’t forget… they all have faces… they all have names.

Then, We Had Magnificent Expectations… Now, We See a Wretched Reality

Nashotah House ecumenism 2009

In case you had forgotten… here is the photograph that the OCA refuses to post on its official website. JP in a chapel of the TEC posing with TEC bishops after signing an agreement with the TEC after promising not to have relations with the TEC. Things are, indeed, getting curiouser and curiouser…

A year ago, most people were genuinely open to Jonas Paffhausen as First Hierarch of the OCA. Truly, I was no exception. All of us received an initial good impression of the man. Today, most are disappointed, disheartened, and upset by the turn of events. What caused this? We were all so hopeful only a short time ago…

Firstly, we did not attend to the sober voices that told us of his past association with the cultish Holy Order of MANS, or “Christ the Saviour Brotherhood” (better known as HOOMies), a group known for its questionable activities. The following link leads to an enlightening article on the topic: http://www.pokrov.org/resource.asp?ds=Article&id=289&sSrch=behind%20the%20doors%20of%20repentance&sType=Articles

Then, people noticed that one of his first actions was to go to Venice FL to attend to Robert Kondratick, the deposed former Chancellor of the OCA. Many were confident that Mr Kondratick would be removed from his sinecure (provided him by Joseph Fester, the Chancellor of the OCA Diocese of the South) by Jonas… after all, “It’s all over. Everything has changed”. Nothing happened… NADA. This was the first disappointment. More followed swiftly upon the heels of this one. Soon after his election, an item appeared on the OCA official website. It concerned the legal case concerning Paul Sidebottom. Apparently, a secret agreement was reached with Mr Sidebottom to resolve the matter. The wording of the press release was a “punch in the gut” to many of us. “We have done no wrong”… if you had done no wrong, why was the agreement secret? Why did the OCA agree to change its policies of ordination by 1 June 2009? Mr Sidebottom was not allowed to discuss the agreement openly. Why? If the OCA had “done no wrong”…. there was nothing to hide, no?

JP made loud noises of “changing the guard” at Syosset. Wait a minute… this Garklavs… he was related to the late Bishop John Garklavs, wasn’t he? When is Lyonyo (Leonid Kishkovsky, perhaps, the most questionable character in the OCA) going? He’s staying on… he’s still the head of what passes for the OCA DECR (indeed, he is in Georgia with JP as I write, still in office, still pocketing his salary)… despite what JP said about everyone from the old order being gone. All the old faces were still about… Aleksei Karlgut was still a strong-arm in the legal cases (just ask Kristi Koumentakos)… Igor Burdikoff was still Dean of Upstate NY after having “mislaid” four years’ worth of financial records. “Here’s the new boss, same as the old boss”… as Moses so presciently pointed up to me in an e-mail.

Indeed, a pattern was emerging. SVS had no change. Syosset had no change. Old HOOMies such as Gerasim Eliel (a former classmate of JP) were brought forward. Raymond Velencia was not disciplined for his trashing of pastoral confidentiality. The central administration did not follow the published budget. New Skete’s Renovationist liturgy and practises received the approval of the central church. Nothing had changed… save for the California crowd (mostly konvertsy) replacing the Pennsylvania crowd (mostly ethnics).

Then, on 30 May 2009, JP came to my parish for the “dedication” ceremony. It was the strangest event of that sort I have ever seen. There was only four weeks notice given, when everyone knows that such things are announced at least three months in advance. The present starosta was not present, and a  former starosta attempted to get the priest to change the date because of a conflict with his schedule and the priest absolutely refused. Why? What was the rush? You see, the rector (Igor Burdikoff, he was the one who “mislaid” four years’ worth of financial records) wished his son to be ordained to the diaconate before the 1 June 2009 date for the change in procedure for OCA ordinations (Why? What was Iggy hiding?). JP (along with his HOOMie deacon) obediently came trotting up at Iggy’s beck-and-call.

Only 80 people were present, out of over 150 claimed as members on the books, and 50 of them were from outside the parish (I saw licence-plates from Jersey and Connecticut out in the car-park… 30 members present out of over 150… VERY poor for such an event!). 80 faithful and 10 clergy… that’s almost Anglican in proportion (with the Anglicans having the better percentage!). In short, it was a gathering of the true-believers. Oh, yes… two of the three GOA priests in the area did NOT attend (the one who did had attended a class at SVS with Iggy some 25 years ago), including the rector of the largest parish in the region, St Sophia, in Albany NY. Interestingly, a ROCOR deacon showed up for the ceremony… I wonder if he was sent by Vladyki Hilarion to report back… or, his attendance could have been a “roll-your-own” affair. Things being what they are in Orthodoxy… it could be either, nicht wahr?

The defining moment for me was the signing of the agreement with TEC through Nashotah House and the attempt by the OCA to keep it under wraps. Let’s keep it simple… the OCA signed an agreement with an institution of Ms Jeffert-Schori’s TEC… That’s all folks! Then, no word was placed on the official OCA website for five days… and the photograph of Jonas in the TEC chapel beaming with the fully-vested TEC bishops is still not posted. In August of this year, JP promised that there would no more “ecumenical relations” with the TEC… Yet, last week, he signed an agreement with the TEC (through Nashotah House, an agent and institution of the TEC).

This last lie was the “straw that broke the camel’s back”. Note well how the konvertsy are defending this action, and vehemently so. They do not care that it is in contravention of JP’s own words uttered only a few months ago. They do not care that it is in defiance of Moscow’s suspension of dialogue with the TEC. They do not care that it is an agreement with Ms Jefferts-Schori (for Nashotah House is in communion with her), who spat on Orthodoxy by interfering in the funeral of her mother… who was Orthodox, not Anglican. What is most amazing is that many of those who are defending this action are former Anglicans… as is JP, by the way. Have these people converted… that is, beyond the formal sense of the word… have they abandoned Anglicanism? I fear not.

It is not going to be easy. We were so hopeful a year ago… God has something better in store for us, but, we must first pass through the fire before we go home. How many of us shall be found standing at the end? Only time shall tell.

Shall you take my hand? The gradient appears to be getting steeper. We’ve got a while yet to go… shall you stand by me?

img_0001Barbara-Marie Drezhlo

Thursday 15 October 2009

Albany NY

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