hellenic times - February 19, 1999
STRENGTHENING OUR FOUNDATION
Archdiocesan Council Stands By Financial Records,
Invites Dissenters To Check Books
By Evan C. Lambrou
NEW YORK - Throughout its two-day review of the 1998 budget February 26-27, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America's Archdiocesan Council wanted to send a clear message to every Greek Orthodox parish in the land: the Archdiocese is in excellent financial condition and not one dollar is out of place.
In a demonstration of unified confidence concerning the way the Archdiocese conducts its business, council members applauded when John Catsimatidis, president of the council, challenged to the self-appointed Greek Orthodox American Leaders (GOAL) to hire an accounting firm of their own and investigate Archdiocese financial records.
NOTHING TO HIDE
GOAL is an organization which has launched an aggressive campaign to remove His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon as primate of the Church in America, a narrow effort which reflects the paraecclesial movement's wider strategy to separate the Church in America from the Church of Constantinople. Contarary to most reports in the press, the movement does not enjoy anywhere near the support among the Greek Orthodox laity as it claims...
"This council stands behind every dollar. If a dollar is missing, we'll put it back in. I want to challenge GOAL: bring your own accounting firm. We have nothing to hide! I mean it. If they're so concerned, let them hire a Big Eight firm with credibility to check the books with our accountants," Mr. Catsimatidis said.
GOAL is an organization which has launched an aggressive campaign to remove His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon as primate of the Church in America, a narrow effort which reflects the paraecclesial movement's wider strategy to separate the Church in America from the Church of Constantinople. Contarary to most reports in the press, the movement does not enjoy anywhere near the support among the Greek Orthodox laity as it claims.
In its attempts to convince Greek Orthodox faithful in America to secede from the Mother Church, the group, which has no official or canonical status within the Church, has hurled a number of accusations against the Archbishop and his administration, among them the allegation that Archdiocesan funds have been mismanaged.
Those accusations are totally baseless, according to George Chelpon, chief financial officer of the Archdiocese.
"Any allegation of impropriety is utter nonsense... sheer, unmitigated nonsense. I don't mean to sound so strident, but such allegations are simply ridiculous," Mr. Chelpon told council members.
CONTROLS BEST EVER
In fact, he added, the financial controls at the Archdiocese under Archbishop Spyridon are the best ever put in place.
"Our financial controls are more stringent than they have ever been at any time in our history. Now every check requires two signatures before it's issued. And any check over $25,000 needs the signatures of two corporate officers, and corporate officers only! There is no possibility, in other words, of Archdiocese employees signing checks for $25,000 or more. The Archdiocese has never had that kind of control," Mr. Chelpon said. The new signature restrictions went into effect on November 10, 1998.
UNEXPECTED LAWSUITS MAINLY
As to why the Archdiocese's actual operational expenditures in 1998 were a little over $1 million more than what was originally approved ($2,063,075 as opposed to $1,015,000), Mr. Chelpon explained, most of them were a result of unprojected legal fees due to various lawsuits with which the Archdiocese has had to contend.
"The largest factor, by far, was the legal fees, for which we initially budgeted just $25,000. They ended up coming in at around $790,000. We were blown right out of the water," he said.
Of the $789,512 in legal expenses the Archdiocese incurred last year, Mr. Chelpon said, approximately $150,000 was a consequence of the lawsuit the Archdiocese initiated against GOAL in the fall (in an effort to protect its parishioners and recover the Archdiocese mailing list GOAL obtained and used without permission).
John Mavroudis, archdiocesan legal counsel, added that the Archdiocese has had much more on its plate than it had expected.
"We're in a much different position now than we have ever been. We have at present 17 different litigations. Many of them were unanticipated, and they involve work with outside law firms. I'm on the phone with attorneys, insurance brokers and Archdiocese staff every day," Mr. Mavroudis said.
Though council members seemed satisfied with Mr. Mavroudis' legal assistance and commended him, they expressed their general disapproval of, and dissatisfaction with, litigation for which the current administration is largely not responsible. Many agreed that because of movements like GOAL, a "bad climate" has infected the Archdiocese.
To avoid such problems in the future, the Archdiocese should follow Roman Catholic and Episcopalian models "and bring them in to examine our procedures," suggested Andrew Manatos of Bethesda, Maryland.
WESTERN MODELS NOT NECESSARY
Bringing in outside parties is unnecessary, Mr. Chelpon responded however, pointing out that GOAL's clamoring complaints have been sufficiently answered, and that the false picture GOAL has been trying to paint of the Archdiocese is no reason to invite outside interference from parties of other faiths.
"This campaign of terror has beeen adequately refuted. We don't need any outside interference," he said.
Regarding particular items in the 1998 budget, Metropolitan Methodios of Aneon, the bishop who presides over the diocese of Boston, asked why the budget for the Chancellor's Office was $243,067 more than the $300,000 allocation which was originally approved.
After Rev. Fr. Nicholas Triantafilou was replaced as chancellor by Rev. Fr. George Passias, Mr. Chelpon explained, the Archdiocese had to continue paying Fr. Triantafilou's salary until he could be reassigned to a parish. The Chancellor's Office also had to accommodate the salary of Rev. Dn. Demetrios Cantos, a recent graduate of Holy Cross who is currently working as the chancellor's legal assistant.
Metropolitan Methodios also questioned four more items in the 1998 budget:
annual contribution to Ecumenical Patriarchate - $566,029 (up from $500,000).
Archdiocesan District of New York - $208,091 (up from $175,000).
Missions and Evangelism - $125,250 (up from $30,000).
Ecumenical Office - $281,454 (up from $150,000).
Mr. Chelpon assured the Bishop of Boston that the Executive Committee of the Archdiocesan Council ultimately approves the budget.
Metropolitan Anthony of Dardanellion, who presides over the Diocese of San Francisco, also voiced some concerns, saying that the Archdiocese should consider reducing the size of its bureaucracy.
"There are hidden expenses which inhibit progress," he said.
Metropolitan Anthony was very critical of the Chancellor's Office, pointing out that the Diocese of San Francisco does more with less.
"The Diocese of San Francisco has been running for the past 20 years more creatively and more effectively than the Chancellory. Our allocation is under $200,000 (from the Archdiocese), and that covers the salaries of the bishop and one secretary. That's not fair. We did not have a chancellor, but we still had expenses," he said.
Metropolitan Anthony also urged the Archdiocesan Council to step up its commitment to the Archdiocese's Retired Bishops Program, insisting that the annual contribution of $240,000 ought to be increased.
We must deposit more than $240,000 a year to bring that program up to par," the Bishop of San Francisco said.
Mr. Catsimatidis and Mr. Chelpon agreed that the bishops' retirement fund was an issue which needed closer attention.
"In the past, everybody played ostrich and hid their heads in the sand and hoped the problem would go away. We're going to take it on," Mr. Chelpon said.
Toward the end of the first day's proceedings, Mr. Chelpon exclaimed that he appreciated the spirit of openness which pervaded the council meeting.
"This is the only administration which has gone public with these issues," he said.
Specific issues will be dealt with openly and honestly, Mr. Catsimatidis said as the council's deliberations came to a close on the second day, which was set aside for reviewing archdiocesan commitee reports.
"I want to assure our parishioners that full disclosure is our priority. We are going to keep everybody informed," he promised.
Mr. Catsimatidis also urged council members to begin confronting members of GOAL with issues.
"We're pro-Church, pro-Patriarch, pro-Archbishop, pro-Archdiocese. I want you all to get that message out. Let's not allow a few people who want to destroy our Church to have the louder voice, so I'm imploring all of you to start challenging them," he said.
Seventeen individual commitees met on the morning of the second day, but due to a lack of time, only two of them (the finance and legal commitees - generally considered the most important) were able to present their reports to the whole council. The other 15 reports were tabled.
The council decided that the remaining reports be summarized and submitted within ten days to the Executive Commitee, which will then review them in tandem with the individual commitee chairmen.
[ hellenic times - February 19, 1999 - p. 3 ]