Source: Orthodox Christian Laity
The Orthodox Christian Laity (OCL) has been advocating for accountability and transparency in Church governance for more than three decades. The success of OCL’s advocacy can be measured by the increasing use of those terms by Church leaders.
While the use of those terms is now common, the practice remains elusive. An example of the lack of transparency and accountability in church governance is the embarrassing story of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA) and its tiny parish of St. Nicholas in Manhattan, whose building was destroyed by the Islamist terrorist attack on September 11, 2001.
What can the faithful of the GOA gather about St. Nicholas from news accounts, mostly in the secular press?
- The Archdiocese took control of this tiny parish and spent years negotiating with officials of the City and State of New York, and the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey. The Archdiocese apparently exchanged the title to the small parcel of land that the parish owned for air rights over Port Authority land at Ground Zero on which to build a new church. The negotiations included offers from government authorities, demands for more, offers withdrawn, litigation threatened. Finally, a settlement was reached permitting work to be commenced under the supervision of the Archdiocese. Who was the supervisor for the Archdiocese?
- The Archdiocese reportedly raised and spent approximately $40 million on the project, including architectural fees for a famous architect known for uncontrolled cost overruns on his projects. Much of these funds were raised from Parishes, Parish, Metropolis and National Philoptochos and other organizations and individuals, as well as a small number of major donors. No list of all donors and the amounts donated has ever been published by the Archdiocese.
- The project was halted about two years ago, because contractors and subcontractors were not paid. The Archdiocese claimed that it had run out of money. Archbishop Demetrios reportedly said: “Don’t worry, there are many millionaires and billionaires in the Greek American community”. The response of the millionaires and billionaires, apparently led by their spiritual advisor, was to close their checkbooks and push for the removal of Archbishop Demetrios.
- With the arrival of Archbishop Elpidophoros, essentially the same group of Archdiocese insiders remains in place. A new entity has been formed, which has announced that another $42 million is needed to complete the project. The new entity (Friends of St. Nicholas 2.0) has announced that audits of the Archdiocese and the St. Nicholas Shrine project paid for by one of its members, have shown that “no money was stolen or misappropriated,” and that what happened in the past is closed and no further questions about the past will be addressed.
This is not what transparency and accountability look like.
For starters transparency requires answers to the following questions:
- Who donated the $40 million already spent on this project? List all donors, and the amount and date each donation was received. (Please include donations received from Philoptochos (local Chapters/Metropolis and Archdiocese donations), monies taken from two small parishes in Wisconsin which merged in order to continue to serve their parishioners, as well as any amounts received from “GOYA bake sales” and other Parish donations.
- What was the original cost of the project? List the amount of the original contract for architectural services and for construction. Who authorized and signed the contracts? Were the Executive and Finance Committees of the Archdiocesan Council informed and did they approve these contracts?
- Who was the Archdiocese (owner’s) representative on the project, authorized to approve change orders, and to whom did the representative report? Was the representative an employee (or family member of an employee) of the Archdiocese, or an outside professional? Was this a paid position, and if so, what were the terms of employment (salary, benefits, etc.)?
- List the change orders which resulted in the increase in the amount originally agreed to with the contractor for the completion of the project.
- Were the members of the Executive and Finance Committees of the Archdiocesan Council informed of and did they approve each of the change orders? Were the contracts, budget, and change orders for this project presented to and approved by Clergy-Laity Congresses?
- Were any of the funds raised for the St. Nicholas Project used by the Archdiocese to fund other needs of the Archdiocese? What amount was diverted? Who approved the diversion of funds? Did the Executive Committee and the Finance Committee of the Archdiocesan Council know and approve the diversion of funds? If all diverted funds have been repaid to the St. Nicholas Fund by the Archdiocese, what was the source of the repayment?
- Work was halted on this project about two years ago, because contractors and subcontractors were not paid for work and materials. Have all those contractors and subcontractors been paid and have all liens on the property been released? If not, when will those payments be made and liens be released?
- Who, on behalf of the Archdiocese, approved the new $42 million “guaranteed cost to complete” contract with the original contractor?
- Who owns the building? If it is a Parish, like all of the other Parishes of the Archdiocese, will the title to the building be in the name of the Parish? Or, like the Cathedral on East 74th Street, will the title be in the name of the Archdiocese? Or, will this Shrine be a Sacred Patriarchal and Stavropegial Church of the Ecumenical Throne?
In discussing what Accountability for the handling of the St. Nicholas parish in New York City should involve it is important to review the duties and responsibilities placed upon the leadership of the Archdiocese by the Regulations of the Archdiocese itself. What are the duties and responsibilities of the (1) Archdiocesan Council of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America; (2) Executive Committee of the Archdiocesan Council; and (3) Finance Committee of the Archdiocesan Council?
The Archdiocesan Council “is concerned with matters and issues that affect the life, growth, and unity of the Archdiocese and takes such decisions thereon as are required” [Art.5, Section 1 A of the Regulations of the Archdiocese]. “The Council is concerned with the ministries, institutions and financial affairs of the Archdiocese.” [Art. 5 Section 1. C. Regulations.] Emphasis supplied.
The Executive Committee has “in the interim, between meetings of the Archdiocesan Council, all of its authority”, [including its]“ investment powers with respect to the day to day management of the operating funds of the Archdiocese.” [Art. 5 Section 4 B. 1. Regulations]
“The Executive Committee shall: Prepare the proposed budget with the Archbishop, the Finance Committee and the appropriate heads of the departments of the Archdiocese for presentation to the Archdiocesan Council, for recommendation to the Congress.” [Art. 5, Section 4. B. 5. Regulations]
“Members of the Executive Committee shall be Directors of the Corporate entity of the Archdiocese as may be required by applicable law.” [Art. 5 Section 5. C. Regulations]
NB: Directors of non-profit corporations bear fiduciary responsibilities to the Corporation.
Accountability means that every member of the Archdiocesan Council, and especially the members of the Executive and Finance Committees of the Archdiocesan Council during the almost twenty-year period from September 11, 2001, until now should account for their actions or lack of actions relating to the handling of the St. Nicholas matter. At a minimum, those who served on the Council who claim to have no knowledge should apologize for their dereliction of duty in failing to ask questions and demand answers. Those who served on the Executive and Finance Committees have a higher duty to account for their involvement. Once again, those who claim ignorance of what happened must apologize for their failure to ask questions and demand answers. Finally, all members of the Archdiocese who oversaw the project, approved change orders or were otherwise involved in overseeing this project must give a full accounting of their actions, and where appropriate must be disciplined, including removal from their positions.
Only by being truly transparent and accountable will trust be restored to the Archdiocese.
Argo Pyle, OCL President
George Pontikes, Peter J. Petkas, William Souvall, George Karcazes and Andrew Kartalis, Executive Board Members