Time Magazine - August 30, 1999

Kicking Out The Archbishop
How U.S. pressure led to the ouster of a prelate

By David Van Biema

The Archbishop's fall had a bit of everything: a sex scandal, an Internet cabal and even a Stephanopoulos. Not to mention speed. Last week, three short years after the Greek Orthodox Patriarch in Istanbul installed Ohio-born Archbishop Spyridon, leader of 1.5 million American believers, Spyridon bitterly gave his resignation. It was as if the body religious had rejected a transplanted organ.

Spyridon first alarmed his flock in early 1997, when one of his appointees reassigned seminary staff members who had recommended expelling a priest involved in a homosexual-harassment complaint. Critics claim Spyridon wanted to hush the case up. They also said he was traditionalist and high-handed, espousing monastic beards and ceremonial hats for priests and castigating American touches like female choir participation. When more than 100 priests--including the Rev. Robert Stephanopoulos, a popular Manhattan cleric and George's father--signed a letter criticizing him, he handed Stephanopoulos a de facto demotion. A dissident campaign sprang up, organized via websites. Its message, says Dean Popps, a leader, was, "This guy's gotta go." In January all five U.S. senior bishops publicly agreed, flying to Constantinople (as the Greek Church still calls Istanbul) to petition Patriarch Bartholomew I. He told them that Spyridon would be Archbishop "until he dies."

Last week Bartholomew apparently re-thought. Spyridon's successor is Demetrios Trakatellis, 71, a Greek senior bishop with a Harvard degree. The reversal's immediate cause may have been fiscal: American congregations had begun withholding contributions to the church. But a larger issue looms. Spyridon's predecessor considered founding, with other Eastern believers, an American Orthodox Church--a step away from Constantinople's authority that some still find attractive. "The mother raises the daughter, but eventually the daughter leaves home," says Popps. Bartholomew may have hoped his prickly prelate would forestall such talk. But in the end Spyridon may only have spurred dissent--and thus had to go himself.

[ TIME Magazine - August 30, 1999 ]
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