Voithia - March 27, 1999

Seminary scheme gives Spyridon autocratic authority

By Stephen P. Angelides
Voithia Executive Editor

Archbishop Spyridon's hand-picked trustees met today to adopt a restructuring scheme that gives Spyridon autocratic authority over the only theological seminary of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

The school will attempt to persuade its two accrediting agencies that the new scheme corrects its structural problems. Last year the agencies issued stern warnings requiring the school to either correct those problems or face probation. The school is to submit its plan to the agencies by April 1.

The agencies issued the warnings after investigating complaints by a former administrator and a former trustee of the school. The complaints alleged that Spyridon autocratically removed four priests from their academic positions at the school in July, 1997, after they refused to obey his orders to cover up an incident of homosexual molestation of an underclassman by a priest who was a graduate student at the school.

A key part of the restructuring scheme is an amendment to the school's bylaws that makes the Archbishop the highest ecclesiastical authority of the school. "The Archbishop, by virtue of his archiepiscopal office, is the highest canonical, ecclesiastical and spiritual authority of the Institution," the amendment states.

The amendment makes no mention of the Holy Eparchial Synod of the Archdiocese, even though the school is an Archdiocesan institution under the Archdiocesan Charter of 1977, and the Charter provides that the Archbishop exercises the highest ecclesiastical authority of the Archdiocese with the Synod, not alone. The Charter states that "The Archbishop presides over and administers the Archdiocese, exercising the said highest ecclesiastical authority with the Synod of Bishops."

The Archbishop's autocratic ecclesiastical authority over the school is thus inconsistent with the synodal ecclesiastical authority of the Archdiocese.

By restructuring the school under this scheme, Spyridon once again sets himself apart from the rest of the Synod. Spyridon is currently at odds with the five American Metropolitans who are the other members of the Synod over a number of key issues in the governance of the Archdiocese. Those issues include Spyridon's suitability as Archbishop and the role of the Synod.

In January Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew sided with Spyridon by rejecting the unanimous recommendation of the five Metropolitans that he remove Spyridon as Archbishop of America. But two weeks ago Bartholomew sided with the five Metropolitans in naming three new American bishops they recommended, and rejecting Spyridon's nominees.

Although the amendment designating the Archbishop as the school's highest ecclesiastical authority is in flowery language in the preamble of the school's bylaws, it is far more than window dressing, based upon an argument Spyridon's lawyers have recently made in another case. The argument is that a 1976 United States Supreme Court case, Serbian Orthodox Diocese of the United States v. Milivojevich, in effect excuses the highest ecclesiastical authority of the Church from complying with civil law.

The Archdiocese's lawyers recently cited that case to the New York Supreme Court to try to stop New York attorney Simos Dimas from gaining access to the books and records of the Archdiocese. Dimas is seeking such access to investigate sworn allegations by former Archdiocesan officials of a pattern of financial improprieties under Spyridon including almost a million dollars of unauthorized expenditures. "It appears that the instant proceeding is motivated by Dimas' desire to improperly interject this Court into the governance of the Archdiocese, which under the First Amendment is a matter in which civil courts cannot interfere," the Archdiocese's lawyers argued to the court, citing the Milivojevich case.

A second key piece of the restructuring scheme would amend the school's policies to give the Archbishop the power to reassign clergy faculty away from the school, as he did the four professors in July, 1997, even though at the time he lacked the power to do so. Again, that power is cloaked in flowery language under the new scheme. One version of that amendment states in part: "It is expected that the Archdiocese would exercise its ecclesiastical authority vis a vis the reassignment of clergy faculty on the rarest of occasions and for the utmost consideration of all parties concerned."

The restructuring scheme was drafted by the "Presidential Advisory Committee on Accreditation," working with attorneys and Roman Catholic Jesuit consultants. The scheme is based on the Roman Catholic model of autocratic ecclesiastical authority, rather than the Orthodox model of conciliarity. The committee ignored suggestions that it model the school's structure after the highly successful St. Vladimir's Seminary of the Orthodox Church in America.

One knowledgeable legal expert said that designating the Archbishop as the school's highest ecclesiastical authority was "the best legal move they could have made from their perspective." The expert pointed out that because the school is a separate corporation, a court might well accept that designation despite its inconsistency with the Archdiocesan Charter and Orthodox ecclesiology.

Although Spyridon's committee may have made a good legal move, Dr. Valerie Karras, a former administrator at the school who was one of those who originally complained to the accrediting agencies, expressed skepticism that both of the accrediting agencies would approve the restructuring scheme. "I think they're fooling themselves if they think they're out of the woods with this," Karras said. "This may fly with ATS (the Association of Theological Schools, one of the two accrediting agencies)," Karras said, "but the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (the other accrediting agency) may feel differently," Karras asserted.

Another knowledgeable academic source, however, felt that both accrediting agencies might approve the restructuring. "The accrediting agencies will accept the structure of the school as defined by the community," that source explained, "even if it is inconsistent with our theology."

Karras, who is an Orthodox theologian who is currently a professor at St. Louis University, a Roman Catholic university, was also upset that the restructuring was based on a Roman Catholic model rather than an Orthodox model. "Rather than choosing to base the structure on a fine Orthodox seminary like St. Vladimir's, they have chosen to model it on the unilateral Roman Catholic model. What does that tell you about the ecclesiology of the Archbishop and those around him?" Karras lamented.

In fact, Karras commented, even Jesuit seminaries traditionally have not given a diocesan bishop the authority to reassign clergy faculty. This comment is reminiscent of the report of the Metropolitans to Patriarch Bartholomew in January, in which they accused Archbishop Spyridon of being "hyper-Papal."

Since Bartholomew sent Spyridon back to America as Archbishop in January, some have even accused the Patriarch himself of attempting to establish an "Eastern Papacy." Others, however, continue to hope that Bartholomew will soon remove Spyridon, or that the Archbishop and the rest of the American Synod will somehow resolve their apparently irreconcilable differences. It is questionable, however, whether this latest scheme will contribute to such a resolution.

[ Voithia | | March 27, 1999 ]
[ OCL Archives | ]