The National Herald - January 30-31, 1999
THE FATE OF A LETTER
In last week's issue, as part of a story on Fr. Robert Stephanopoulos' new, reduced status at the Cathedral of The Holy Trinity in New York, we revealed that two more priests had suffered a rebuke by Archbishop Spyridon for signing a letter last fall decrying the situation in the Church. The revelation was first printed in our Greek- language sister publication on Thursday, January 21.
The incident in question took place on Sunday, January 17 at the parish of St. Athanasios, in Paramus, NJ, where priests from neighboring parishes gathered to co-celebrate vespers with the Archbishop on the feast of St. Athanasios. The Archbishop prevented Fr. Dimitrios Antokas of the Holy Trinity parish in Westfield, NJ and Fr. James Mourketis, of the St. Nicholas parish in Wyckoff, NJ from participating. After the service, he summoned the two priests into the parish office and sharply rebuked them for signing the letter (which was co-signed by over 100 of their fellow priests), called them "enemies" and ordered them to denounce the letter and ask for his forgiveness in writing.
On the day the incident was reported in the Greek-language National Herald and as last week's issue of this newspaper was going to press, we received the following letter, written in English, that was circulated by Fr. Antokas:
Dear Mr. Diamataris,
I am writing to express my dismay regarding the article that was published in the National Herald on January 21, 1999, regarding a private meeting with His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon, following the Feast Day Vesper Service of St. Athanasios in Paramus, New Jersey. His Grace Bishop Philotheos of Meloa and the Chancellor of the Diocese of New Jersey, the V. Rev. Evangelos Kourounis, also attended this meeting.
Your article is in no way reflective of the reconciliatory nature and tone of the meeting. Your newspaper and other sources have reported that His Eminence referred to us as his enemies and threatened us with suspension of our duties. This was never the case. There was never a harsh tone but a paternal one. The tone and message of His Eminence reflected Paternal admonishment to move on in reconciliation and dedication to direct our efforts and ministry to the continued good works of glorifying our Lord Jesus Christ in our Holy Archdiocese.
In His Service, Rev. Dimitrios Antokas
To begin with, the Herald stands by its story which, as always, is well sourced. But since the Archdiocese's office of communications has seen fit to use Fr. Antokas' letter in an effort to portray the Herald as biased, we feel we owe it to our readers to explain the circumstances of our reporting and the fate of Fr. Antokas' letter.
Firstly, the Greek-language National Herald does not, as a rule, publish letters in English, and certainly not on the day of their receipt. There was nothing special about Fr. Antokas' letter that would warrant its being placed at the head of the queue of readers' letters awaiting publication. As for the English-language edition, the letter simply came too late for last week's issue and, more importantly, at a time when this publication had not yet printed the story about the incident. We had planned for the letter to he printed in this issue, in the Letters column. Secondly, Fr. Antokas' letter was also sent to publications which had not reported on the incident, a move that qualified it as a press release. Press releases arc not guaranteed publication.
But there is more to the story than deadlines and editorial policy. It is more than plausible that Fr. Antokas was coerced in writing the above-mentioned letter. Here is why: In the days preceding the publication of our report, the Herald repeatedly called Fr. Antokas seeking his comment about the incident. He never returned our messages, left both with his parish secretary and in the parish answering machine. Also, in his letter, Fr. Antokas neither denies nor explains why he was not allowed to participate in the vespers service at St. Athanasios, Was it out of "paternal" concern and in the spirit of "reconciliation" that the Archbishop prevented Fr. Antokas from donning his priestly vestments that day?
A final thought directed at the office of communications of the Archdiocese, which saw fit to post Fr. Antokas's letter on its website without naming its recipients "in the interests of privacy." The recipients are news organizations, and there is nothing private about us or our address.
P.S. The Herald made news internationally last week when we revealed that Fr. Stephanopoulos was being stripped of his administrative duties at the Archdiocesan Cathedral. Our report was used by the Associated Press, was reprinted in several newspapers and aired in CNN. Here's the relevant paragraph of the AP report: "On Monday the National Herald, a Greek newspaper based in New York, reported that Stephanopoulos, the dean of the New York cathedral, had been 'stripped by Archbishop Spyridon of most of his administrative duties' and made an 'assistant' under the Rev. Gabriel Karambis, who had been given 'pastoral authority.'"
We have yet to receive any letters of denial from the Archdiocese.
[ The National Herald - January 30-31, 1999 - p. 2 ]