Voices from Russia

Saturday, 13 March 2010

The Widow’s Mite Revisited: What CAN the Church Use its Money For?

The Widow’s Mite… what should it go for?

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Editor’s Foreword:

You shall note that I name the intellectual protagonists in this debate. I asked my staritsa’s opinion, and she said, “The original statements were made in a public forum under their signatures. You MUST use their names. Send me your manuscript for vetting before publication”. I’ve done so. Remember, the truth shall set you free. Nothing else shall do… accept no substitutes.

BMD

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Some time ago, Fr Alexander Lebedeff made an assertion on the Orthodox Forum in connection with the legal case involving Raymond Velencia and Kristine Koumentakos. In short, his stipulation was that since the original donors didn’t intend the Church to use their money for anything other than legitimate church purposes, we shouldn’t use church monies to satisfy any future judgement against Rev Velencia in favour of Ms Koumentakos. Furthermore, he went on to posit that the entire case was illegitimate because Ms Koumentakos did not seek justice in an ecclesiastical court. I believe that Rev Lebedeff’s syllogism is faulty; indeed, I would say that it is fatally flawed; he didn’t think it out to its logical conclusion.

Firstly, if his syllogism is reasonable, that is, that the Church can’t use its money to satisfy a court judgement, then, he must condemn the OCA for its use of the faithful’s money. They spent more than a small amount as “hush money”, especially in the case of Metropolitan Feodosy Lazor. This is a matter of wide knowledge; furthermore, everyone knows that Revs Alexander Garklavs and Alexei Karlgut were the OCA’s “fixers” in this regard. Kristine Koumentakos exposed Rev Karlgut as the bearer of a secret legal deal (which is one reason that the Syosset/SVS apparat hates her so), which lends credence to the anecdotal evidence linking Rev Garklavs to this role, as well. Therefore, since the original donors did not wish that their offerings should go as “hush money”… you can see the argument, can you not? Rev Lebedeff has an unpalatable choice. On the one hand, he can defend his original statement; if he does so, he implicitly accepts “hush money” as “legitimate use of Church funds”. On the other, if he doesn’t accept the use of Church funds as “hush money”, he must amend his original stipulation with, “and I condemn the OCA for its use of Church funds to cover the immoral actions of its clergy”. To accept the first would leave Fr Alexander open to the charges of clericalism and careerism, to accept the second would leave him open to vicious personal attacks on the part of the Syosset/SVS mafia (as the late Archbishop Job Osacky pointed up so clearly and honestly). I wouldn’t call that a choice to be envied!

Actually, I think that his argument falls short. It seems to suggest that the Church shouldn’t use its funds to satisfy a legal judgement because the original donors wished them to go for clerical salaries, parish expenses, and aid to the poor. This opens up a discussion that I think the Rev Lebedeff did not envisage. I believe that his Orthodox Forum submissions were “heat of the moment” creations; I know that he didn’t think through the implications of what he wrote. For instance, did the faithful intend for their money to fund clerical junketeering (such as the jaunts of Lyonyo Kishkovsky to Kazakhstan and JP to Georgia)? Is it moral for clergy to engage in such expensive frippery at a time of economic crisis and financial hardship for many of the faithful (it does smack of “let them eat cake”, doesn’t it)? Did the faithful intend their donations to enrich the lawyers of the bishops? Did the faithful intend their offerings to fund the move of a bishop to a city with a higher cost-of-living than his previous abode (which, itself, had a COL much higher than the national average)? It does open an interesting debate, does it not?

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Is the Church liable in the secular courts?

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Does Rev Lebedeff argue that the Church is immune from civil and criminal suit in the secular courts? In all fairness, I do NOT believe that this is his argument, but I would warn him that a hostile party could read the present syllogism that way. Let’s put it another way, “Is the Church liable in the secular courts for its criminal and civil wrongs?” Of course, since Orthodoxy was formed in the New Roman milieu, where the secular power never collapsed, we would say, “Yes”, to that proposition. The canon law of the papists is different, but don’t forget that it evolved against the backdrop of the breakdown of civil government in the western provinces of the empire after the great barbarian incursions (yes, the culmination was in the fifth century, but it had been going on for at least a century or so beforehand). If such were so, then, it would follow that the allocation of Church funds for satisfaction of a judgement rendered in a secular court is not only legitimate; it’s binding upon us morally. In other words, the argument that the Church can’t allocate its funds for the compensation of those hurt by its delegated representatives (for that is what a priest is, legally) is specious and without merit. Why would Fr Alexander argue such a vacuous proposition? There’s a cause, and he doesn’t state it, for obvious reasons.

You see, in the event of the collapse of the OCA as a legal entity, a not improbable conclusion given its extremely precarious finances and its grossly incompetent metropolitan, the legal successor of the OCA would be the ROCOR. That is, if a judgement were rendered against the OCA, and the OCA went under, the ROCOR would not only be heir to (much of) its property and fixtures, it would also inherit the debts of the OCA. In other words, if the OCA received an adverse ruling in the Koumentakos case, and if the OCA collapsed, the ROCOR would be left holding the bag. I believe that such considerations clouded Fr Alexander’s judgement. He does tend towards clericalism, and his fears that the ROCOR would end paying for the sins of the OCA only strengthened that.

In a related vein, Fr Michael Reagan castigated Ms Koumentakos for saying that the faithful wouldn’t trust OCA priests any more. I would remind him that the OCA is going to the wall for Velencia, yet, at the same time, they’re saying that they aren’t responsible for his actions. Rev Reagan knows that in the times of the Metropolia the bishops wouldn’t have tolerated a priest who spread about what he heard in confession or counselling. Archbishop Kyprian Borisevich would have kicked in the door and booted the priest out. Today, the OCA is paying for its reliance on mealy-mouthed legal evasions. Furthermore, we must account for human weakness. I’ve no doubt that Rev Reagan wouldn’t wish to divulge pastoral confidences. However, he serves under a bad bishop, Benjamin Peterson. If BP were to say, “Reveal this to me or your priesthood is over”, we would find out what Michael Reagan is made of. That hasn’t happened, so, Rev Reagan has to understand that people have noticed what the OCA higher-ups are doing. There’s a price being paid, and the innocent are suffering along with the guilty. If you wish to not have any suspicion attaching to you, Fr Michael, then, you must state publicly that Velencia must be suspended pending an investigation. That would draw the ire of BP and Syosset, but it would establish your reputation as being beyond reproach. Yes, the truth shall set you free… but freedom ain’t free… shall you swallow a kopeck’s worth? I have and I can attest that it isn’t pleasant at all… it’s rather nasty, actually. However, that’s the way of it. Step up or go home.

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Archbishop Yelisei Ganaba of Sourozh (1962- ), ruling bishop in the UK. The situation there is now normal because they “did the right thing”. THAT is a lesson for the OCA.

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The specious “apology” of Paffhausen to Ms Koumentakos was bootless because it did not include the most important element. This situation required the same solution as the MP applied in England for the Osborne Affair. They held public meetings, everyone was welcome to come, not only to observe, but also to give testimony, and, so, the situation was defused. Only a small handful of schismatics left with Osborne (who was supported to the max by the usual gang of creepozoids at SVS) and the English diocese of the MP ended with an excellent archpastor, Archbishop Yelisei Ganaba. Indeed, the OCA has to be open not only on the Koumentakos affair, but on the whole mess that it’s sweeping under the rug at present. That would lance the boil… it’s not Eric Tosi saying, “The records simply don’t exist”.  To be blunt, if a judge demanded the records, they would be “found”, and in short order, at that. This is so obviously a lie that all OCA partisans must understand that they are putting a gun to their heads with such a statement. All the bloviating of Mark Stokoe cannot prettify such a clear and manifest fib. No one believes JP because he defends Bobby K and Piggy Iggy Burdikoff. Every action has its inevitable reaction.

I shan’t be bullied. That means that one must accept the inevitable. There are those who favour the present arrangement for various reasons… I know that this shall attract their ire. So be it. We all must stand and say, “No more”, or we deserve what we get. It’s going to be one of the most painful things that many of us have done… shall you swallow a kopeck’s worth?

Barbara-Marie Drezhlo

Saturday 13 March 2010

Albany NY

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