Greek Orthodox Stewards of America - April 6, 1999
In a letter to parishioners, Father Palesty of St. Nicholas
rebuts allegations surrounding the Agape Fund
Greek Orthodox Shrine Church of St. Nicholas
196-10 Northern Blvd., Flushing, New York 11358
April 2, 1999
I am enclosing a resolution adopted by our Parish Council in support of our Holy Archdiocese, His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon, and Chancellor Very Reverend George Passias.
This act by the Parish Council was prompted as a unanimous response objecting to a report on the internet entitled "Indications of Malfeasance, Conspiracy to Defraud government at Flushing, N.Y. Parish under Fr. George Passias, Claims 1995 'Tryforos Report'". We believe that this reporting not only disparages the impeccable moral character of our former Pastor, but the image of our entire Parish. At a time in the history of our Parish when we are embarking on a major fund-raising campaign for the future of our Parish, we cannot allow such remarks to go unnoticed. The financial records of our church are open to all members of our parish. It is our duty as Priest and Parish Council to set the record straight!
Let us emphasize, at the very outset, that the Tryforos report of October 13, 1995 was prepared at the personal request of Fr. George Passias. Father George was anxious to make sure that his ministry was not unbeknown to him, in violation of any laws or some obscure IRS regulation. It was precisely for these reasons that the expertise and recommendations of Mr. Tryforos were solicited.
The description by Mr. Tryforos of the Agape Fund as a "secret, maverick enterprise within the church" is not only libelous, grossly unfair and inflammatory, but also does great disservice to dedicated and sincere clergymen, such as Father George, who take their responsibilities seriously and strive to offer material and moral support to the needy, sick and infirm within their community. Thus, Mr. Tryforos' comments about "authority", "legal advice" and "involvement by the parish council" are misplaced and out of context. For the very nature of this mission requires trust and confidentiality. Trust, since a priest is not an embezzler, therefore, whatever money he collects he will give to the poor based on his personal evaluation of each case. Of course confidentiality is necessary to protect the dignity, self-respect and privacy of the people in need.
Furthermore, Mr. Tryforos' hasty assumption that no records were kept and thus, no one can establish that the Agape fund did not inure to the benefit of the Pastor is simply wrong and factually inaccurate. The truth of the matter is that confidential records of every penny collected and disbursed each year were kept, and continue to be kept by the personal Secretary of the priest. Thus, the tax case of the Church of Gospel Ministry, which Mr. Tryforos cites in his report, has no bearing to the facts of our own case at St. Nicholas. If an IRS audit was to be conducted tomorrow, the personal Secretary of the Priest will be able to account as to where the income of the Agape Fund came from, who received financial assistance and how much each person received.
With regard to the agreement with the owner of a neighborhood store to collect money for the Agape Fund, the objective was a noble one, as Mr. Tryforos also concedes; i.e. to enhance the amount and thus provide assistance to more people. This arrangement, however, lasted for a few months only and was terminated immediately after Mr. Tryforos recommended against it.
Finally, it must be stated that the Agape Fund was indeed reported and examined by the officers of the Archdiocese. The Financial Director of the Archdiocese, Mr. Jerry Demetriou, carried out this examination at the time. The small amounts received and disbursed each year were entered in a special ledger kept by the personal Secretary of Father George, who also made all deposits and withdrawals from the Agape Fund bank account as directed by the Pastor. All of these records were produced to the Chancellor and Financial Director at the Archdiocese in 1996, to their complete satisfaction.
In view of the above facts, allegations of "conspiracy to defraud the Government" are preposterous and misleading. Please accept these remarks in the spirit of protecting our beloved St. Nicholas Parish from false rumors.
Praying that Holy Week and the Holy Resurrection of our Lord will shed His light to bring harmony and peace in the life of our Church.
Your Spiritual Father,
Protopresbyter Paul C. Palesty,
[ Greek Orthodox Stewards of America
April 6, 1999 ]