In Trust - Autumn 1997

Changing Scenes   News you need to know...

Disciplinary Visit

The New England Association of Schools and Colleges and the Association of Theological Schools have announced they will soon make a "focused visit" to Hellenic College/Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts. The visit, prompted by the abrupt replacement of the school's president and the reassignment of three professors. one with thirty years' tenure, to parish work, could lead to probation or revocation of the schools' accreditation.

The situation was subsequently further complicated by the resignation of Holy Cross's new academic dean, who like the president had served only one year.

Dr. Valerie A. Karras, the schools' assistant director for institutional planning and special projects. formally protested the removals to the two accrediting agencies. She charged that Archbishop Spyridon of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, who chairs the board of trustees and who directed the changes, had exceeded the authority vested in him by the school's corporate bylaws. She also protested to the accrediting bodies and to the Massachusetts attorney general that the school had not followed its stated policies and procedures in the handling of a student sexual misconduct complaint and in the hiring of new faculty members.

"We've got a faculty person now who doesn't speak English and who doesn't have so much as a B.A.," she said.

Bishop Isaiah of Denver, Colorado, the new president of Holy Cross, declined a request from In Trust to discuss specifics of the turmoil at Holy Cross and its companion undergraduate institution, Hellenic College. He issued a statement in which he said in part:

"In the last three months, individuals, groups, and self-appointed organizations seeing themselves as the conscience of the church have surprisingly made detrimental and even embarrassing public statements regarding the state of the church in America.... It is as if the college and seminary are no more than secular institutions which only human power and reason can maintain. They see the seminary as of the people. by the people, and for the people. They do not see it as of God, by God, and for God's mission in the world.

"Hellenic College and Holy Cross has just begun its new academic year as it has the previous fifty-nine."

Bishop Isaiah's statement apparently referred in part to Greek Orthodox activist lay people who operate an Internet web page called Voithia (Greek for "help") (http://www. Voithia has posted voluminous reports on the situation at Hellenic College/Holy Cross and on disputes within the Greek Orthodox community over actions taken by Archbishop Spyridon since his installation last year as head of Greek Orthodoxy in the United States.

The situation at Hellenic College /Holy Cross has attracted considerable attention in the secular press, primarily over the handling of allegations that during a dormitory drinking party in February a male undergraduate was inappropriately fondled by a priest graduate student and in response had punched the priest in the eye. The Reverend Alkiviadis C. Calivas, then president of the schools, appointed a disciplinary committee to look into the matter; the committee investigated, concluded that the allegations were true, and in March unanimously recommended among other things that the priest be expelled. But the priest and other students penalized for their role in the party appealed to the then-dean of the seminary, the Reverend George D. Dragas.


According to a statement issued subsequently by Calivas, Dragas did not issue his findings until June 9, after the priest had graduated and moved to Greece. Dragas found the disciplinary committee's process to have been inadequate and exonerated the students.

On July 1 Archbishop Spyridon reassigned the three priest-professors who had served on the disciplinary committee to parish work and removed Calivas as president. Simultaneously Dragas's resignation was announced. (Both Calivas and Dragas remain on the faculty.) Neither the schools' board of trustees nor the six-member corporate board. in which hiring and firing authority is vested, appeared to have played any role in the action—in fact, according to one board member, the trustee board had not met in a year.

Calivas declined to speak with In Trust. But in a statement attributed to him that was published in August, he blamed some of the troubles at the schools on "the inability of the deans to gain the trust of their respective faculties, this was especially true in the [Holy Cross] graduate school [where Dragas was dean], where the situation had grown to crisis proportions; the deliberate circumvention of the schools' policies and procedures through direct appeals to ecclesial authorities; and the aiding and abetting of insubordinate behavior by a small group which sought at every turn and on all levels to frustrate, undermine, and defame the administration and certain faculty members.

"The archdiocese," he continued, "intervened in the affairs of the school by actions, pronouncements, and conveyed orders that at times inhibited the ability of the administration to deal promptly and effectively with certain issues. Though perhaps not intended as such, these actions unwittingly lent support to the insubordinate behavior of those who chose to read them as signs of disfavor for the administration."

While the handling of the sexual harassment allegation attracted the widest press attention, a major underlying issue at the school appeared to be the tension between those pressing for the development of an American-style Orthodoxy and those who favor the preservation of a Greek-speaking, strongly ethnic church. One element of this tension is the role that lay people will play in the church's decision-making processes.

Archbishop Spyridon, although American-born, is widely perceived to be a defender of the anti-Americanization view. His stance and the troubles at Hellenic College/Holy Cross have taken on a particular pungency in view of the current visit to the United States of Patriarch Bartholomew I, the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople (Istanbul). While the Orthodox churches of Greece and Cyprus are nominally under the pastoral guidance of the patriarchate, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America is the largest and richest jurisdiction under the direct authority of the patriarchate.

The patriarch's trip was originally billed as one honoring the seventy-fifth anniversary of the creation of the Archdiocese of America and the sixtieth anniversary of Hellenic College/Holy Cross. Recent official descriptions of the trip have ceased to mention the second anniversary.

[ In Trust - Autumn 1997 - pp. 24-26 ]