Source: The National Herald
I had written about the so-called “Spiritual” Courts some years ago. The reason that I decided to write about the issue once again is the recent case of Rev. James Dokos, who pled guilty to embezzling funds. And entered into a differed agreement with the authorities in order to avoid imprisonment.
There are two types of “Spiritual” Courts. The First Degree, which is convened on the local level at the Metropolis and the Second Degree on Archdiocesan level.
Specifically, the Eparchial Synod itself becomes a “Spiritual” Court. The First Degree Court submits its proposal to the Eparchial Synod, which in turn sends its recommendation to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople for the final action and decision.
I am of the opinion that the “Spiritual” Court on the local and Archdiocesan level is in reality a joke, if you know from inside the behind the scenes intrigues, unholy games and influence.
The way the Spiritual Courts are formed and operate is certainly an insolent flout of the intelligence of every dignified, honest, and thinking person. The local metropolitan selects some priests who are usually his friends with blind obedience to him. He appoints one of them as “chief justice” to preside over the “court” rather than presiding personally, because he wants to state hypocritically the he didn’t have any part in the outcome, claiming that the members of the “Court,” his puppets, acted justly and objectively.
Actually before the meeting, he instructs them what to do and what outcome he expects. I write these things based on firsthand inside information. Clerical members of Spiritual Courts had spoken to me many times – off the record of course – because they are petrified of their superiors, the metropolitans and chancellors. In one instance, for example, a metropolitan was so anxious who was communicating during the “court session” with its members asking them why they were delaying.
The tragicomedy of the whole Spiritual Court issue, which even goes beyond the Dark Ages, is when laypersons are called to the Spiritual Court to be judged by five or six priests for “disobedience” to the Ecclesiastical Authority or for “violation” of the Uniform Parish Regulations, if they dared to ask questions, about a metropolis’ finances, for example.
These shenanigans have made many honest, educated, and faithful parishioners detest the whole process and leave not simply from their involvement in the administration of parishes but from the life of Church altogether. They stop going to church except for Christmas and Easter, and occasionally for funerals, baptisms, and weddings. Their young children see the adult’s reactions to these indescribable “Spiritual” Courts, and they simply laugh and stay away too.
No mention was made in the Statement of Metropolis of Chicago about the outcome decision of its Spiritual Court. It simply stated that “the Spiritual Court convened on Wednesday March 2, 2016, and has submitted its report to the Eparchial Synod of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America for final disposition.”
After Dokos’ guilty plea, the Spiritual Court has just only one option or rather obligation: to propose his defrocking. Anything else would simply be a travesty of justice.
We shouldn’t forget that the Chancellor Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos and also Metropolitan Iakovos of Chicago made unprejudiced efforts to give “cover” to Dokos. Bishop Demetrios received an “honorarium” of thousands of dollars from Dokos. He transferred Dokos from the Milwaukie parish to Glenview, Illinois. He attempted to “interfere” with the attorney’s general search. Along with the “company” of Chicago, they find no wrongdoing by Dokos. Metropolitan Iakovos dared to send a ‘sealed’ letter to the US Court in his desperate attempt to “save” Dokos.
The question is what is going to happen at the Eparchial Synod on April 12? Probably the majority of the members will not recommend Dokos’ defrocking. They won’t want to hurt Metropolitan Iakovos, because he has done favors to them also. Unfortunately, this is how the system works, with a “coffee shop mentality”. We are talking here about a completely sick situation. Everything now depends on the position that Archbishop Demetrios will take as the President of the Synod and as the only ruling hierarch of the Archdiocese.
I think this is what needs to be done: 1) Metropolitan Iakovos should retire now with some dignity before the situation gets completely out of control. 2) Bishop Demetrios should be placed on suspension and asked to leave from Chicago and go to New York. Actually, he is auxiliary Bishop to Archbishop Demetrios, and he serves in Chicago on loan. The situation not only in Chicago but in many other areas has rotted, and the stench is unbearable.
Mr. Kalmoukos has shed light on a problem that is usually not in the SPOTLIGHT. [If you haven’t seen the Academy Award winning film I recommend it to everyone. In fact, the Archbishop should insist that the entire Eparchial Synod and Executive Committee of the Archdiocesan Council sit through the film together at their next meeting.].
I agree that Fr. Dokos should be defrocked; Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos should be suspended and removed from the Metropolis of Chicago; Metropolitan Iakovos should be required to release the contents of his secret letter to the Judge in Milwaukee who is handling the criminal case against Fr. Dokos and that he should be retired and replaced by a locum tenens until a worthy replacement can be found and installed in his place. That will address the Kantzavelos/Dokos scandal, but not the administrative issues it has revealed.
As a parish delegate to ten Clergy-Laity Congresses I have to say that I am disappointed with the lay leadership of the Church who attended Clergy-Laity Congresses for years in order to wear their tuxedos and ball gowns at lavish banquets and hear speeches by government officials. They attended lectures and workshops that could better be presented in each Metropolis, while they blindly allowed the “insiders” to run the Administration and Finance Committees, where the only real work of these Congresses was done. This where the Uniform Parish Regulations were amended time and again limiting the voice of the laity and increasing clericalism in the administration of the Church. The laity have to jump through multiple hoops in order to have any item added to the agenda of a Clergy-Laity Congress essentially needing the approval of the local Metropolitan and Clergy to sign-off on any proposal. If Spiritual Courts are a “joke” the “Dispute Resolution Policy” approved by the Congress is a “bad” joke. Metropolitans and Bishops can remove individual Parish Council members and entire Councils without valid reasons or any real recourse. The president of my Parish Council was removed from office and the Council for signing a letter addressed to Metropolitan respectfully requesting that Fr. Dokos be placed on leave of absence pending the outcome of his criminal case. I was recently removed from a volunteer position on our Stewardship Committee by the young priest who replaced Fr. Dokos because I wrote a letter to the Editor of The National Herald which was published and quoted in the Chicago Tribune. A dispute arising between a lay person or parish council and a clergyman or hierarch is “resolved” in a Star-Chamber proceeding which lacks any semblance of “procedural due process”. There is no right to be represented by an attorney. There is no record kept of the proceedings. There is no right to appeal from the decision of the Metropolitan. If the leadership of the Church wants to earn the respect and confidence of the faithful in the decisions of these so-called “Courts” they would include independent laypersons of unimpeachable character and they would conduct the proceedings in an open, honest and transparent manner with rules that guarantee justice for all. If power and control trump transparency, truth and justice these leaders will find themselves presiding over an ever-declining flock. Fewer and fewer among the laity are content to “pay, pray and obey”. If published reports that the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has lost 30% of its members over the past five years are true, where is the response from the Archdiocesan Council which is the “highest legislative body” of the Archdiocese between Congresses? Even if they have been convinced that are merely an “advisory” body.. what “advice” do they offer? If they just sit on their hands and listen to reports and they are not offering solutions and demanding that solutions be implemented they need to be reminded that “if you are not a part of the solution, you are part of the problem”. I sincerely hope that they will recognize that the Church is in crisis and they need to act. Now. Before it is too late.