Source: The National Herald
Rev. Angelo Artemas, presiding priest at the Annunciation parish in Milwaukee, spoke with TNH about his predecessor, Fr. James Dokos, who has been charged with stealing money from a trust of a former parishioner of his.
MILWAUKEE, Wisc. – Rev. Angelo Artemas, presiding priest at the Annunciation parish in Milwaukee, WI broke his silence and in exclusive interview to TNH spoke freely and openly about the situation involving his predecessor, Fr. James Dokos, who has been charged with stealing money from a trust of a former parishioner of his.
Dokos, who is charged with giving money to Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos, Chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago, was transferred after 22 years of ministry at the Annunciation in Milwaukee to the Saints Peter and Paul in Glenview, IL and Fr. Artemas was transferred against his will from there to the Annunciation church.
Bishop Demetrios through emails was pressuring and even “threatened” Fr. Artemas to make the issue of Fr. Dokos go away. Artemas forwarded Demetrios’ emails to the District Attorney of Milwaukee. Artemas believes that Metropolitan Iakovos of Chicago should “retire” and Bishop Demetrios should “resign.” The entire interview follows:
TNH: What can you tell us about your predecessor, Fr. Dokos? How is the climate in your parish today?
AA: The climate is one of exhaustion here at the parish and they want to move on and rebuild both their finances and their parish. The last several years of his ministry here were basically shrouded in negativity. There was innuendo about missing money and those types of things, and so the parish was not fully aware.
TNH: It seems it wasn’t only innuendo, it proved to be a reality.
TNH: Did Bishop Demetrios somehow attempt to interfere with the investigation by sending you emails directing you to stop the whole process?
AA: Yes, he did. At one point he indicated that I would be released from this Metropolis. At times in the past he had mentioned verbally that he would remove council members.
TNH: Did you ask him why he wanted to transfer you?
AA: For failing to be obedient to the Metropolis in not making the issue go away and having the District Attorney drop the charges.
TNH: Did you request, two years ago, to be transferred from St. Peter and Paul Parish in Glenview, IL to the Annunciation parish in Milwaukee?
AA: No. There was a point that even His Grace Bishop Demetrios made clear to the parish council of Saints Peter and Paul and also to the Annunciation that I was not requesting reassignment, but I was asked to take the assignment.
TNH: Who established the reassignment, Metropolitan Iakovos or Bishop Demetrios?
AA: Bishop Demetrios.
TNH: Does Metropolitan Iakovos know what is going on?
AA: It is hard to say what is coming directly from His Grace Bishop Demetrios and what is coming with the knowledge of His Eminence Metropolitan Iakovos, it is really hard to say. I don’t know.
TNH: Do you think it is time for Metropolitan Iakovos to retire and Bishop Demetrios to resign completely because of this scandal?
AA: Yes, I do.
TNH: What made you send the correspondence between you and Bishop Demetrios to the Attorney General?
AA: I was facing not having employment after a week or two. The emails were clear that I would be released before Holy Week and this was March of last year about the fourth week of Lent.
TNH: Do you think that Bishop Demetrios wanted to cover up the whole thing?
AA: I do not know what he wanted to cover up; I do not know what the urgency was. In May 2013 we disclosed everything first to Bishop Demetrios in the Metropolis, and it was only after he found no wrongdoing and told us to put the matter at rest that we went to the District Attorney.
TNH: Did you ever request to be transferred from the Annunciation parish to the Archdiocesan District of New York?
AA: No, I have not asked for any transfer outside of this Metropolis.
TNH: How do you explain the fact that Fr. Dokos had given monies to Bishop Demetrios?
AA: I can’t explain the situation. I do know that my predecessor is very close to Metropolitan Iakovos. I know he is close with Bishop Demetrios. Beyond that, I can’t explain anything that is more personal than that.
TNH: Do you ever talk to Fr. Dokos?
AA: I haven’t for two years now.
TNH: What are the parishioners saying now?
AA: A lot of the parishioners were not comfortable with the finances the last six to ten years. There were a lot of questions and a lot of rumors and at this point no one is really surprised by anything, and we are eager to move on. The District Attorney said that we can go to Civil Court but our parish council and I have decided not to do that. We are not asking for anything, we are trying to put this behind us and try to move on. [Note: a criminal case is brought by the District Attorney on behalf of the people, and a guilty verdict usually results in punishment, such as jail, whereas a civil lawsuit, a defendant found liable gives compensation – usually money – to the plaintiff/victim.]
TNH: Did you know Margaret Franczak, who established the trust?
AA: No I never met her. It was a trust established by her husband when he was still alive. He passed on first. They had a Goddaughter who was the original trustee but she was removed during the last few months of her life.
TNH: Why she was removed?
AA: We don’t know.
TNH: Did this whole issue have any influence on your ministry?
AA: It certainly has. It has actually helped me prioritize my ministry and it has made me realize that somewhere along the way whether in our Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology or elsewhere, clergy have to get better training in ethnics, primarily when it comes to inheritances and parishioner’s bequests and trusts and wills.
TNH: Are you implying that priests should not get involved in these things?
AA: Personally if someone asks to be a trustee even in my own family I would direct him to someone else, I will stay out of it entirely.
TNH: How many families do you have in the parish?
AA: We are about 450 families currently, but fifteen years ago we were about 800 families.
TNH: What happened?
AA: There was a negative environment here for quite a few years and we kept losing families.
TNH: Are you not afraid for speaking to me this freely?
AA: Yes, I am, but it comes a point that we really have to speak on principle, otherwise what good are we? This is the way I was raised and I think that is how at the end of the day this parish will regroup, and that is the only way to move forward in a positive direction.[subscribe2]
An observation, please:
In response to TNH’s question, “Did this whole issue have any influence on your ministry?,” I believe that Fr. Artemas must have meant ethics not “ethnics,” what with the fact that, as apparent from not only the crux of the issue but also my own experience in the GOA, the ‘ethnic’ dimension of the Episcopate is replete with, shall we say, the ‘milking’ of such, as well described if we revisit the following:
“Above and beyond the basic employment package are gratuities, “tyhera,” which the faithful give at the time of a sacrament – such as wedding or baptism, or even at a funeral. The gratuities are similar to the tips that the customers give to waitstaff in restaurants or hotel bellhops. There are parishes that present to the faithful their financial obligations in writing once the people call or visit the church office to set a day not only for a joyous occasion, but even for the funeral of a loved one. The faithful are asked to give an extra amount to the priest, the cantor, the sexton, and for the use of the church despite the fact that the faithful pay annually their dues or stewardship.
In many instances, the priests have asked to include their “tip” in the general expense of the funeral, as determined by funeral directors. There are also cases in which the relatives of the departed in their grief and deep pain approach the priests and give them an extra “tip” in cash which they take it without telling the relatives that they have already been paid a “tip” through the funeral director.
The custom of gratuities applies to many hierarchs who get from $500 to $1,000 and even higher when they officiate in Vesper Service or in a Liturgy. They might not ask for it directly, but the priests play the intermediate role recommending to the parish council to “give something to the bishop,” and they also are given such tips for officiating at weddings, baptisms, and funerals. [c.f., https://ocl.org/report-what-are-orthodox-priests-paid/]
In 1989, when, as Student Body President of Hellenic College/Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, I dared to write, my simply only having repeated — word-for-word, in fact — what the then-President of the institution, then-Bishop METHODIOS of Boston, publicly had told us students, namely that, “After all, no one is perfect, whether a student or a Bishop [his emphases], I forever was to be put on the Archdiocese’s “‘S’ List'” — on which, to this very day I still am — for having had the audacity to “question [no less!] a Bishop.” As Truth would have it, I now apologize, twenty-five years later, for having been off by few years, when I then foresaw the departure of this ‘perfect’ bishop (c.f., http://archive.ocl.org/?id=11794)
Hang in there, Fr. Angelo; the Church desperately needs priests like you.
As for Bishops helping themselves with other people’s money, let us, sometimes included as well, despite our being only ‘lowly’ priests, be the first not to forget: ” . . . for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God . . . ” (Romans 3:23).
This includes Bishops.
I agree the Bishop D. needs to retire, so that full parish healing can begin. It’s an awful situation that will need years of healing.
Dear Priests and Fellow Leaders,
The recent episode regarding Fr Artemas seems to illustrate that our cherished Greek Orthodox Church is at a crossroads. Let me explain what I see and what I believe is necessary for God’s Grace not be handicapped. St. Athanasios was a mere deacon yet he shared ideas with Patriarchs and Hierarchs. I am lower than that, but as public figures, I would imagine priests and leaders would like to hear the voice of the people. This note represents more than its writer.
On the one route our Church might embark on, we will wind up having more accountability, executive leaders that actually have a record of achievement, leadership that has relevance, leadership and ministry that connect with the souls entrusted to them. With this will come growth and its evidence. This is the slim chance route. This is the narrow and difficult route. This is the “wouldn’t-it-be nice-but-don’t-hold-your-breath” route.
The other route, the easy and more probable route, is for things to continue as they are. This is the superficial route where “form” is more important than “content”. This is the route that allows exploitation by masking it as humility and obedience. It is the type of thinking that allows a deckhand on the USS Titanic to rearrange furniture on the deck instead of sounding the alarm before colliding with the iceberg (or prevents him from helping save lives after colliding with it). It is your choice where we go. You my dearest brother Priests and brother Laymen. It is your choice which route our Church embarks on. Let me share something that might help.
There are a pair of qualities that need nurturing in the beginning, but then can stand on their own – undaunted in the face of danger: Character and Conviction. Unfortunately these threaten the status quo. Our leaders have been softened. Our communities have been taken for granted as a flock of fools by some leaders. Character and conviction are what’s needed to bring us back on track. One of our brother Priests used these qualities to stand up for truth. You will see this below. The shipwreck of the Chicago Metropolis is taking on water and sinking. Thousands have left the Greek Orthodox Churches here and are going elsewhere. Enough! What can be done? Priests and lay-leaders play a vital role in the direction of our Church. What then do we need more of?
Grow a pair of qualities, character and conviction, for the sake of truth and bringing our Church back on track. Stop being a lay-down and be a person of conviction. Fr. Artemas was afraid (as his interview documents) but he pressed on to voice the truth anyway. What courage! What character and conviction! Similar Character and Conviction was shown many years ago when scores of the brothers in the Priesthood in the GOA Direct Archdiocesan District (and beyond) all signed a document articulating their concerns during the tenure of the GOA Archbishop Spyridon.
All of our seasoned priests have seen their brothers suffer injustices. Whether it is in the Chicago Metropolis or Atlanta Metropolis, wherever it might be. It’s about time we become more vocal and hold the perpetrators of injustice accountable. When you see this happen and do nothing, you are the one allowing it to happen again. Every time you look away and say, “What a shame!” and do nothing else, you might be part of the culture that allows injustice.
For the sake of truth and protecting our Church, grow a pair of qualities that will distinguish you as worthy of your calling: character and conviction.
If you found this letter uncomfortable, it was meant to be. If you found this letter uncomfortable, you need to toughen up from the thin skinned boyish comfort that has softened you into submission, and grow a pair of qualities – character and conviction – to stand up when the spirit moves you. Stand up! If you don’t dear Leader, then who will? Stand up to make a difference. Stand up. Many will follow. Right now they are leaving because many of us are laying down.
Thank Fr. Artemas for reminding us of what we should be doing. Let him know he is not alone and his efforts did not go for naught.