The National Herald - July 1-2, 2000

Archdiocesan Council Chief Sees Progress and Defends Spyridon

By Theodore Kalmoukos
Special to The National Herald

BOSTON.-  John Catsimatidis, the prominent Greek-American businessman and major Democratic Party fundraiser, was the man at the helm of the Archdiocesan Council during much of the tenure of Archbishop Spyridon of America -- a period of immense difficulty for the Greek Orthodox Church in this country.

In an interview conducted one year after the resignation of Archbishop Spyridon and the election of Archbishop Demetrios, Catsimatidis told The National Herald that the Church is "moving along very nicely. People love the new Archbishop and he has put together a sense of unity."

Catsimatidis who was appointed by Spyridon vice-chairman of the Archdiocesan Council and its executive committee, said that the accusation that Spyridon left behind a $ 5.5 million deficit -- a fact reported officially at the recent Clergy-Laity Congress in Philadelphia -- "is not true. It is a spin that was put on," he said. He believes that the deficit "goes back to 1990," to the tenure, in other words of Archbishop Iakovos.

Catsimatidis also said that in 1988 there was "an endowment of 10 to 15 million dollars that was squandered" by the then administration of Archbishop Iakovos whom Catsimatidis nevertheless does not hold responsible "because he trusted certain individuals around him," he said.

Following is the text of the interview:

NATIONAL HERALD: What are your thoughts about the present situation of our Archdiocese today?

CATSIMATIDIS: I think we are moving along very nicely. People love the new Archbishop and he has put together a sense of unity.

Having said that you acknowledge that there were divisions in the Church.

There were certain fractions that chose to make war on previous Archbishop and the Archdiocese. The road and the leadership that I chose and the advice I gave to those people when Archbishop Spyridon was here was that the Church is our Church and we should gather around the table to discuss our problems. I chose this road for all the people who were upset over the removal of Archbishop Spyridon. I calmed them down and I told them that we must go forward and we should not make war on those people or on the Archdiocese and that we should practice what we preach before hand.

You are talking about war. Somebody caused the war. Those who were removed or did not create any rift with the Holy Synod, Archbishop Spyridon did. They did not cover up the sexual misconduct at the School of Theology, others did. So, what are you talking about?

There were problems of sexual misconduct in the Church for years and over the last few years we finally put an end to it that we will not tolerate it which was the right policy to do in our Church.

But Archbishop Spyridon did not fire the person who caused the problem but fired the professors of the disciplinary committee.

You are going into intimacies that I am not familiar with, of what happened then.

When Spyridon resigned he left behind, as you know, a $5.5 million dollar deficit.

That is not true.

It was even announced at the Clergy-Laity congress officially. You were present.

It is not true. It is a spin that was put on. It goes back to 1990 and I do not care to discuss it right now but if you want an accounting, I will give you an accounting. Unequivocally, there was a shortfall because the same people that scream about the shortfall are the same people who advice the churches and everybody not to send the money in. There was a short fall of a few million dollars.

How much?

Two to two-and-one-half. Going back to 1988 there was an endowment of 15 to 10 million dollars that was squandered.

By whom?

Whoever was in power in those days. I am not holding Archbishop Iakovos responsible because he trusted certain individuals around him. He had a lot of trust in them, and some of them betrayed his trust. I will give you an accounting.

May I have a copy?

Not today.

When Mr. Demetriou and officials stood up at the Clergy-Laity Congress and reported very clearly that we have a $5.5 million deficit [left] by the previous administration, why did you keep silent?

I have a rule in life that you should not throw numbers around unless you know the father and the mother of these numbers.

Why did you not stand up and say, Listen, you have your numbers wrong. Why did you sit there speechless?

We were not there to create disunity. I said it to the new Archbishop and he said to me, Let us go forward, let us not point fingers of who shot whom and I said that in my speech many times.

How do you characterize the filing of a lawsuit by Harry Pappas, the member of the executive committee?

I do not agree with the lawsuit. The matter is just about resolved and it is very close to be resolved. It is just a matter of lawyers siting down.

What matter is about to be resolved?

You know the Spyridon matter. The pension, the allowance whatever language you want to use.

You are finishing your term as an executive committee member with a lawsuit pending against the Church.

The lawsuit will be resolved.

What is going on with the $80,000 allowance for Spyridon?

It needs to be resolved. There are certain issues that the lawyers are dealing with that I am not permitted to tell you. It is in the middle of negotiations.

Did Spyridon accept the allowance or not?

He indicated to me that he will accept it.

Then, where is the problem?

The problem is with the lawyers. There are some technicalities that have to be resolved.

Can you be more specific?

I cannot tell you.

How often do you communicate with Spyridon?

I get an e-mail every couple of weeks.

Do you plan to visit him in Portugal?

No, I do not.

Do you see any problem with Spyridon's ecclesiological and ecclesiastical identity? What is he now?

In my opinion he is a retired Archbishop of America.

As you know the Patriarchate elected him to the rank of Metropolitan of Chaldia.

I don't want to get involved with the canon law because I am not familiar.

Do you agree with what Patriarch Bartholomaios did when he removed Spyridon and selected Demetrios?

I'd rather not go into that. Whatever happened, happened.

From time to time someone by the name Leonidas Peponofilos circulates some very slanderous letters in an attempt to support Spyridon. Do you have any idea who this person is?

I have seen them and I have been the target of some of them. I have no idea who this person is.

Did you ever ask Spyridon if he knows this person?

No, I never asked, he never said anything.

Do you thing that this person exists, or is it someone using a pseudonym?

I think someone uses a pseudonym.

What should we do as a Church to move ahead?

I think the lawyers should resolve any issues that are open and look forward.

How many legal issues are outstanding beyond Spyridon's allowance?

The legal committee knows.

How do you feel about the selection of Fr. Triantafilou to the presidency of the School of Theology?

I am not terribly familiar with him and I have no opinion either way. I wish him luck and I want the best for the School. I think whoever the president is, we should support him one hundred present.

Where do you want to see our Church five years from now?

It is a shame to have an annual budget of [only] 10-11 million dollars. We have to strengthen our Archdiocese, strengthen our presence and to be able to keep our people together. We have unlimited resources if they are properly used.

Do you have an opinion on the new proposed charter that provides for a semi-autonomous administrative system?

That is up to the Patriarch. I believe in tradition. I believe that the Church is part of the Mother Church.

Do you anticipate to be reappointed to the executive committee?

I have no opinion about that. If I am asked to serve, I will serve. If I do not I will still love my Church.

[ The National Herald - July 1-2, 2000 ]