The GreekAmerican - June 16, 2000

Archdiocese's Executive Committee
Submits Final Proposal on Spyridon's Pension

Demands response by June 19




NEW YORK -  In a unanimous vote, members of the Archdiocesan Council's Executive Committee adopted a resolution last Friday to resolve the impending issue of former Archbishop Spyridon's pension, regarding immediate implementation and the amount entitled to him.

In a letter to Archbishop Demetrios (dated June 5), Michael Cantonis, a member of the committee, outlines a "final proposal" calling for the archdiocese to "create a Special Pension Restricted Trust Fund for the specific purpose of assisting (subsidizing) the Archdiocese to pay Archbishop Spyridon's pension for life, with benefits to the HC/HC and Halki's Theological School." However, in a subsequent letter (dated June 9), Cantonis conditionally revokes his previous offer to fund a separate pension for Spyridon. The letter is in response to "the unwarranted delay" by the current archbishop to resolve the issue.

"As a result of the action of the Executive Committee of the Archdiocesan Council on June 9, 2000, I hereby withdraw my reiterative offer in my letter to you of June 5, 2000 to fund a separate pension for His Eminence Spyridon and any offer therein contained," he writes.

On May 3, executive committee members met with Demetrios where they were informed that the archdiocese had agreed to allocate $80,000 per annum towards Spyridon's pension. The committee, however, countered that the proposed amount was not enough for a retired archbishop to "live with dignity."

At their recent meeting, the executive committee convened by phone in the absence of Demetrios. The archbishop had reportedly requested additional time to resolve the pension issue, leading up to the Clergy-Laity Congress scheduled in July. However, executive committee members moved ahead with a resolution to implement Spyridon's pension, indicating that he had resigned with the understanding that he would receive retirement income "as a collateral benefit of his attornment to the Partriarchal request" [that he step down].

To date, the archdiocese has yet to provide the monthly pension benefits, determined by the executive committee last June, amounting to the sum of $112,000 annually (calculated from 80 percent of his $140,000 per annum salary). For the past two months, his monthly salary has been suspended pending certain conditions that the former Church leader had not abided by. Those conditions include that Spyridon meet with Demetrios in New York and again with Patriarch Bartholomew in Constantinople.

As for the trust fund, Cantonis and other friends of Spyridon had originally proposed that "five percent of the trust fund will go to the archdiocese annually or $55,000 against the $80,000 basic amount of pension that the archdiocese has already agreed to give." In addition, Cantonis had offered to personally pay "the difference of $32,000 annually" to supplement the pension.

According to his last communique to Demetrios, however, that offer has been rescinded, unless the archbishop commits to fulfilling the committee's request in writing.

The specific wording of the resolution calls for the Clergy Pension Program to "calculate the amount necessary to fund a retirement benefit equal to 80% of the annual salary of the Archbishop during the last year of his archiepiscopacy in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, which amount shall constitute the obligation of the Archdiocese..."

The executive committee has taken a strong stance on the issue and has requested that the administrative and legal entities of the archdiocese adopt their resolution and abide to a seven-day (working day) deadline, which ends June 19. An indication of the frustration level felt by certain members is evident. In his letter, Cantonis vowed to resign from the executive committee and the archdiocesan council if Demetrios does not come up with a "definite satisfactory solution" to this matter within the allotted timeframe.

Executive committee members are taking matters into their own hands as they hope to see an end to this issue prior to the upcoming archdiocesan council elections on or before the Clergy-Laity Congress in July.

"I think everyone is in favor of giving Archbishop Spyridon his pension. I am optimistic that this will happen. If not, we are prepared to write the check ourselves," said John Catsimatidis, vice chairman of the committee. According to Catsimatidis, he has been in constant communication with the Demetrios regarding this issue.

"I try to be hopeful that people will come together. I believe in war in the corporate world but peace in the Church," he said.

This "final proposal" and resolution comes after six months of talks, promises, and anticipation towards the implementation of Spyridon's pension between members of the committee and Demetrios. The resolution includes details relating to the proper funding of a "Bishops' Supplemental Retirement Plan" from monies donated by Cantonis and the Michael G. Cantonis Foundation, Inc., reaching nearly $1 million with interest. The resolution closes with the immediate request that the archdiocese's director of finance implement the committee's resolutions within a seven-day timeframe followed by a "report of the successful implementation of these resolutions or the status thereof to the executive committee in writing no later than ten (10) days following the adoption of this resolution."

The committee's urgent demands are perhaps a reflection of the fact that the body could have an entirely different make-up following upcoming elections. A lack of response from the archdiocese could be interpreted as a stalling tactic until those elections are held, or, at the least, an indication of the archdiocese's inherent bureaucracy.

"Time is of the essence," Cantonis told The GreekAmerican. "I hope that they are not grabbing so that they can throw the matter at the Clergy-Laity and kill everything that the Archdiocesan Council voted for. If they want to do something constructive, it should happen within the next few days."

According to one executive member, the matter may fall under the purview of the patriarchate. "The way the man [Spyridon] has been treated does not give dignity to the Church. This is not a Christian way," the member said. "I don't think our church has been run in a democratic way."

Catsimatidis recently met with Demetrios last Saturday where he informed him of the committee's decisions at length. Demetrios expressed his disappointment over the decision to implement the resolution in his absence and mentioned that he would have agreed on the trust fund but that it should be renamed and be solely for the purpose of Spyridon's pension. Also, that upon expiration of the pension, the monies would then be directed to the patriarchate. Catsimatidis has requested a written proposal by the archbishop to that effect.

[ The GreekAmerican - June 16, 2000 - p. _ ]