The New York Times - August 15, 1997

Orthodox Prelate Creates Rift Over College Move
Distress And Anger As 4 Are Dismissed


The removal of the Rev. Alkividias C. Calivas, above, as president of Hellenic College in Brookline, Mass., and the transfer of three faculty members has led to dissension at the college and among some church members.

BROOKLINE, Mass.— Sited atop a grassy hill with an arresting view of the Boston skyline, Hellenic College appears an inspiring setting to educate students in the only college affiliated with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

But the pleasant location belies the tension that has gripped the archdiocese since July, when the Greek Orthodox Archbishop Spyridon demoted the president and informed three faculty members at the college's seminary, all of them priests, that they would be "re-assigned," dismissed from their academic jobs and placed in parishes.

The three faculty members had been serving on a disciplinary committee investigating an incident of alleged sexual harassment by a priest of a male student at the seminary, the Holy Cross School of Theology. The committee had recommended expelling the priest, a student at the seminary, but its ruling was overturned by the seminary's dean.

Officials of the archdiocese deny that the dismissals were linked to the committee's work.

The Archbishop is chairman of the college's trustees, but he took the action as head of the archdiocese, without a meeting of the board. The decision has caused distress among many in the archdiocese, and some at the college have called it a violation of the institution's procedures and integrity.

The controversy comes at an awkward time for the archdiocese, which is preparing for a visit in October by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, who has authority over Greek Orthodox affairs in the Western Hemisphere.

George E. Matsoukas, president of Orthodox Christian Laity, a group that has pressed for a greater role in the archdiocese for lay people, said that "the whole church fabric" had become divided over the controversy at Hellenic College.

The college's former president, the Rev. Alkividias C. Calivas, called the dismissals "inexplicable and unwarranted," and "entirely contrary" to the college's bylaws. He said his administration had had "very strong support" from students, faculty members, alumni and trustees.

Archbishop Spyridon will meet with Hellenic's trustees on Saturday in New York to discuss his decisions regarding the college, which had 182 students and 17 full-time faculty members last spring. A spokesman referred questions to the archdiocese's chancellor, the Rev. George G. Passias, who said the Archbishop's actions had been intended to rectify "administrative difficulties" and "discord" at the college.

The controversy comes as the archdiocese celebrates its 75th year, serving an increasingly assimilated community estimated at 1.5 million parishioners. In most of the more than 500 parishes, services are conducted primarily in English. Sociological surveys show that people of Greek Orthodox background tend to be highly educated and solidly middle class.

"We're of Greek descent and we respect our heritage, but we're an American church," said Andrew T. Kopan, a retired professor in Chicago who founded Orthodox Christian Laity. "We respect the hierarchy, but we do not expect them to lord it over us without due process."

Some Greek-American newspapers, usually cautious on church affairs, have lamented the dismissals. In July an editorial in The Hellenic Chronicle, said, "We love and respect our church and its leaders, but we cannot look the other way when we see injustice."

Archbishop Spyridon was enthroned last September after his election by a 12-member Synod of Bishops under the leadership of the Patriarch Bartholomew.

Unlike his predecessor, Archbishop Spyridon, 52, was born in the United States. He spent much of his adult life serving the Greek Orthodox Church in Italy. With his American background, many parishioners hoped he would prove amenable to working with lay people in a more collaborative spirit of church governance.

The current turmoil at Hellenic College follows an investigation into an incident on Feb. 27 at a party. Archdiocesan and college officials say that a seminarian, questioned by college officials later, accused a priest of making unwelcome sexual advances to him.

In March a disciplinary committee appointed by Father Calivas recommended that the priest, who was doing graduate study at the seminary, be expelled. But the ruling was reversed by the seminary's dean, the Rev. George Dragas, two months later on appeal. By then the priest and his accuser, both of them citizens of foreign countries, had left the United States. The incident was not subject to criminal investigation.

On June 20, a disciplinary committee member, the Rev. Theodore Stylianopolous, notified Father Calivas that the committee stood by its findings. Four days later, Archbishop Spyridon intervened. A priest serving as his representative to the college told Father Stylianopolous, a tenured New Testament professor, that he had to leave teaching and take a parish.

On July 1 the Archbishop's representative told Father Calivas that he was being removed as president and was to return to teaching, while Bishop Isaiah of Denver would succeed him as president of the college. Within the week two other faculty members who had served on the disciplinary committee, the Rev. Emmanuel Clapsis, a professor of theology, and the Rev. George Papademetriou, the seminary's librarian, were told that they were dismissed and would be assigned to parish work.

Father Dragas has resigned as the seminary's dean but continues to teach church history and theology at the seminary. He said he rejected the disciplinary committee's findings because there was "no evidence," and "only allegations" in the case.

In July another college official, Valerie A. Karras, sent a letter complaining about the dismissals to two accrediting agencies, the Association of Theological Schools and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. Ms. Karras, assistant director for institutional planning and special projects, is leaving the college on Aug. 31 when her contract expires.

Father Passias, the chancellor, said Archbishop Spyridon had asked five lawyers in civil practice to review the documents related to the Feb. 27 incident to determine whether it legally constituted a case of sexual harassment and whether the disciplinary committee's response was warranted.

Father Passias also said the Archbishop intended to keep a close eye on Hellenic College.

[ The New York Times - August 15, 1997 - p. A14 ]
[ The New York Times -
   college-move.html ]