New York Daily News - October 10, 1998

Feud Over Big Bucks Tests Leader Of Greek Orthodox

By Charles W. Bell

ARCHBISHOP SPYRIDON, spiritual leader of 1.5 million members of the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States, has been fighting off attacks from dissidents who don't like his leadership style. So what he does not need is another headache.

But he's got one, and it's right under his nose.

This one is a few offices from his own on E. 79th St., the archdiocesan headquarters, and it involves a fierce dispute within a lay organization of men who have donated millions of dollars and hours to the church.

The organization is called the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle, whose members are inducted by the archbishop during once-a-year ceremonies. The current national membership stands at some 750.

At one level, it's only a dispute over a fee paid to a Manhattan fund-raising consultant. At a deeper level, it is a factional fight about leadership style and accountability, and like all fights in church families, this one is noisy and nasty.

The two sides are throwing around some ugly charges secret payments, mismanagement, sloppy accounting, political shenanigans and coverups.

None of the key figures is speaking for the record, but statements and letters have been flying, and it's headline stuff in weekly Greek-American newspapers.

The story began, in a way, with a tribute concert and dinner planned to honor the visit to New York last fall of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, spiritual shepherd of 270 million Orthodox Christians around the world.

Nana Mouskouri, the world's most popular Greek entertainer, would sing at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine at what was billed as the Concert for Peace. The dinner would follow at the Waldorf-Astoria.

Both events went off as scheduled and were hailed as great successes by everybody, with Mouskouri reportedly waiving her usual hefty fee. But other costs, according to a later accounting, totaled $630,719.74.

The financial flap is over $159,635 of that total, paid to the consultant fund-raiser, Theodora Corsell, who had been recommended to the Archons by an archdiocesan official who said he knew Corsell through his brother-in-law.

How much Corsell was promised, under what circumstances and for what, is part of the ongoing imbroglio.

The order puts the total income from the concert, dinner and contributions at $867,180.14, which more than covered the costs but did not leave enough to cover a $500,000 pledge by the Archons to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

That, too, is part of what the dispute is about.

Even the role Mouskouri may have played is a factor. According to a note attached to the account of the expenses for the concert and dinner, the singer reportedly told Corsell she would cover $100,000 of the consultant's fee.

According to the weekly newspaper National Herald, which covers the Greek-American community and is based in Long Island City, Queens, Corsell allegedly said Mouskouri promised to put this in writing when she returned to New York. Since then, Archon officials say, the singer has denied she made any promises. (She was scheduled to perform this week but called off her engagements, citing health reasons).

When the storm over the consultant's fee broke, it was partly about the sum and partly about the way it was paid. Other officers of the order said National Commander Anthony Limberakis, an anesthesiologist in Rydal, Pa., did not consult them before agreeing to the deal with Corsell.

In a statement last month, Limberakis said "procedural mistakes" were made. For example, blank checks were given to Corsell instead of checks for specific amounts.

But in another statement issued after a meeting of the National Council last month, Limberakis said financial safeguards and controls were in place and that the Council passed a resolution demanding Corsell return about $100,000 an amount they said she received without its knowledge or approval.

Complicating the matter, and tangling it in another layer of emotions, is a bubbling discontent by one faction over the way Lamberakis came to power early this year.

BY TRADITION, the anti-Limberakis faction contends, vice commanders are appointed by the archbishop to succeed the outgoing national commander. That did not happen this time. The vice commander, Anastasios Manessis, a popular New York restaurant owner, was passed over by Spyridon in favor of Limberakis, who was national secretary.

"The archbishop is at least partly responsible for this mess because he didn't check Limberakis' claim to leadership," one long-time Archon says. "So now we've got two more factions and a lot of ill will."

It is something that may take Spyridon to settle, but no matter what he does, he will make more enemies and he's already got enough of them.

[ New York Daily News -
  1_ecumenical-patriarchate-greek-orthodox-church-greek-american - October 10, 1998 ]