The GreekAmerican - June 23, 2000

Archbishop Ignores Executive Committee Deadline

Debate continues over Spyridon pension




NEW YORK -  The growing controversy over the impending issue of former Archbishop Spyridon's pension has been preoccupying the affairs of the Archdiocesan Council's executive committee for the past six months and has yet to be resolved. At the same time, the revision of the Archdiocese's charter remains an issue of concern for many Greek Orthodox faithful as this year's Clergy-Laity Congress approaches in less than two weeks.

On June 9, the executive lay body of the archdiocese "acting as the Board of Trustees," convened a teleconference meeting during which they unanimously voted to adopt a resolution or a "final proposal " to establish a "Special Pension Restricted Trust Fund" to help subsidize Spyridon's pension for life and to ultimately benefit Hellenic College/Holy Cross and Halki Theological School.

The resolution, dated June 15, was submitted to Demetrios in order to "effectuate within seven days of the date hereof the payment and delivery to His Eminence Spyridon of the full amount of all pension benefits due to him  - and continuing hereafter on a monthly basis until his death -  calculated on the basis of 80 percent of $140,000 per annum."

However, since Demetrios did not participate in the meeting, archdiocese officials maintain that any decisions that arose from it are nullified.

"No one can give a deadline to the archbishop," insisted Jerry Demetriou, the archdiocese's director of administration, who also said the issue would not be placed on the agenda for July's Clergy-Laity Congress. "That meeting was held in the absence of the archbishop and was not official."

"That's garbage," said Harry J. Pappas, member of the executive committee and president and CEO of Pappas Telecasting Companies. Pappas says that Demetrios was duly informed of the meeting  - a meeting that had been originally scheduled for June 6, but which was adjourned due to the archbishop's inability to attend due to inclement weather.

"The archbishop never showed up [for the meeting] although he was fully aware of the meeting. He knew of the [teleconference] call, he was available, and had asked us not to take action."

"The fundamental issue," says Pappas, "is one of fairness and decency. The fact is that the Archdiocese of America has always made its own decisions with respect to pay level and pension arrangements for its clergy."

Pappas pointed out the previous council's decision to provide former Archbishop Iakovos with a retirement package costing in excess of $400,000 per annum (which includes housing, deacon and secretary)  - all paid out of archdiocese coffers. Pappas stressed that under the pension plan established for Spyridon last year, there would be no direct cost to the archdiocese as the monies for the plan would come from a special trust fund created by donations from the executive committee members.

Demetriou, however, believes the "the people" are misinformed. "Under the regulations of the law for the pension plan," he says, "a clergyman must be vested in the program for five years. He [Spyridon] is clearly not entitled [to a pension]. There are regulations."

He indicated that Spyridon's eligibility for a pension "within the realm of the archdiocese falls under the Ecumenical Patriarchate" and not in the hands of the Archdiocese of America.

"Any employer could fully change the vesting for different classes of employees," Pappas said. "A Church can make different arrangements for its hierarchs and the exigency of its ministry."

"There have been a lot of behind-the scenes negotiations and discussions that Demetriou is not privy to," said John Catsimatidis, vice chairman of the executive committee, adding that, "regulations are meant to be changed."

"It is not for Jerry Demetriou to say. We are trying to get all parties together, and I hope to have it resolved soon."

According to the existing charter, jurisdiction of the archdiocese falls "by canonical and historical right under the supreme spiritual, ecclesiastical and canonical jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate."

"If the Church in America is an eparchy of the patriarchate," said Cantonis, "you work for the Church regardless of where you serve." And so the burning question is who manages and executes the financial affairs of the archdiocese? Is it the executive body of the archdiocese or the patriarchate?

The letter, prepared by committee member Michael G. Cantonis, came with a deadline to respond by June 19. The deadline was ignored and, at press time, neither Catsimatidis nor other committee members have received a response.

"The deadline is over, and I don't know where we stand," Cantonis said from his home in Tarpon Springs. "If they preach love, compassion and forgiveness, and they care about unity in the Church in the U.S., they had better give Spyridon the pension or else they will divide the Church. The ship of the Archdiocese is going full speed against the rocks. I hope they will change course soon."

Catsimatidis told The GreekAmerican that he was informed of a forthcoming proposal from the archdiocese, but that was delayed due to the unexpected hospitalization of the archdiocese's lawyer Emmanuel Demos. An upcoming archdiocesan council meeting scheduled for July 1 was cancelled yesterday.

"We are at huge crossroads," emphasized Pappas. "Demetrios is highly regarded, but I feel he's a captive of other persons, unable to escape the clutches of those giving the orders."

According to the Special Regulations and Uniform Parish Regulations of the archdiocese, the Archdiocesan Council is "the advisory and consultative body to the archbishop. It interprets and implements the decisions of the Clergy-Laity Congress and these Regulations, administers the temporal and financial affairs of the archdiocese and possesses interim legislative authority between Clergy-Laity Congresses."

A recent episode that occurred at the commencement exercises held at St. Basil Academy last Saturday suggests that it is not just the executive committee that is disturbed by these recent developments. Diane Hatzis, the assistant treasurer for the National Philoptochos, handed more than 300 signed letters advocating for the issuance of Spyridon's pension to Demetrios following the ceremony. The letters stated: "We the Greek Orthodox Christians of America are appalled that the issue concerning the pension for former Archbishop Spyridon has still not been resolved. Withholding Archbishop Spyridon's pension is illegal and unethical."

"To withhold his pension is a disgrace for the Church," Athena Georgotas, a National Philoptochos board member, said in a written statement.

[ The GreekAmerican - June 23, 2000 - p. 3 ]