May 12, 2000 - Vol 15, No. 19
Former Archbishop's Pension,
Charter Revision at Center of Debates
By Eleni Daniels
NEW YORK - As the Greek Orthodox faithful prepared to welcome the Holy Week of Pascha in mid-April, there came news of the recent cessation of former Archbishop Spyridon's salary and pension - an action that has been strongly criticized by at least five members of the Archdiocesan Council's Executive Committee.
Following a telephone conference meeting last month, five out of the nine council members said they would co-sign a letter to Archbishop Demetrios reminding the church leader that a duly adopted resolution made last year established the funding of a pension trust for the benefit of all bishops and metropolitans, as well as a pension agreement for former Archbishop Spyridon.
As agreed, the letter, dated May 1, was addressed to Demetrios by the executive committee members, in which they urged him to "act immediately in order to avoid an unprecedented dispute and flagrant disregard of a duly authorized, legal action of your Executive Committee."
In closing, the letter mentioned that "...the payment of this retirement benefit to the former Archbishop is reasonable and appropriate under the circumstances. Any Metropolitan who has achieved such preeminence to be elected as the primate of the Greek Orthodox Church of America should be treated with the highest degree of respect and be provided with a secure future, irrespective of the length of his service to the Church of America... Do we relegate our former prelates to the stature of beggars?"
The questions that arise have to do with how much authority Demetrios has over this matter and other administrative policies of the archdiocese, or if, in fact, this and other matters fall under the purview of the Patriarchate.
In a letter addressed to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (dated April 24), with copies forwarded to Demetrios and members of the executive committee, Michael G. Cantonis, executive committee member of the Archdiocesan Council, pleaded to the Bartholomew to allow Demetrios to implement the pension, recognizing that the pension is "under [the Patriarch's] jurisdiction."
"Unless he [Archbishop Spyridon] goes to Constantinople to meet you," he continues, Archbishop Demetrios' hands are "tied up."
Bartholomew is scheduled to visit the United States in November of this year.
Last September, in a letter addressed to the Patriarchate, Spyridon stated that he withdrew from active ecclesiastical duty and declined his appointment as Metropolitan of Chaldia, a ceremonial post with no authority or duties. This came after 31 years of service as a clergyman, bishop, metropolitan, and archbishop.
Aside from the legal issues as to whether or not Spyridon is entitled to such benefits, many feel that by cutting the pension, the Archdiocese projects an image that is more fitting to a private enterprise.
Of course, there are those who feel that a "full pension" - in excess of $100,000 per year - is not appropriate for someone who has held a position for less than three years. In response to a recent editorial by John Catsimatidis, president of the Archdiocesan Council, in his Hellenic Times newspaper one Archon of the Order of St. Andrew indicated as much, insisting that it "is a shame that our retired priests must get by on a meager pension and our hierarchs who, frankly, should retreat to a monastery, require such splendor and largess."
In his editorial, Catsimatidis said that he was "very disturbed that the issue of his pension remains unresolved" and included that, "...After all, even the most cutthroat corporations treat retiring CEO's with a certain level of decency. As a Church, therefore, we above all should show compassion and brotherly love." While he praised Demetrios for his efforts to resolve the issue, he said, "It is distressing to many members of our community... that anyone who preaches Christian love would resist this process."
In a recent interview given to Proini, a Greek-language daily published in New York, Cantonis expressed his displeasure with the "tense" situation. "I feel that our church is actually going down instead of going up. To me there is a lot of 'adrania' (stagnation) here. I think a lot of issues are not being faced. Although I believe that His Eminence is a very wonderful person and I have a tremendous amount of love and respect for him, I don't believe that he's in control of the whole situation. This is my personal opinion."
On the pension issue, Cantonis said that last December Demetrios had promised to resolve the problem by mid-January and call another meeting of the executive committee.
"Well, January came, February came and we only had one meeting and since then I mean nothing has been resolved..."
In the meantime, Cantonis has submitted a proposal to the Archbishop calling for the establishment of a trust fund for this purpose. The fund would ultimately benefit Holy Cross School of Theology and the Halki Theological School upon expiration of the pension.
The question whether the executive committee is considering any course of action to implement the pension is uncertain; although last December executive committee member Harry Pappas made a motion to enforce it, with Cantonis seconding.
The executive committee last met on May 3 under Demetrios' chairmanship to discuss the financial issues facing the archdiocese. Spyridon's pension and fundraising tactics to cover the impending debt at the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese were among the main topics discussed. Cantonis participated in the meeting by telephone.
On the issue of Spyridon's pension, Demetrios informed the committee of his proposal to provide Spyridon with an annual $80,000 compensation, under the condition that Spyridon meet with Demetrios in New York and agree to travel to Constantinople to meet with Bartholomew.
According to church sources, Demetrios said that the proposed pension for Spyridon (approximately $140,000 per year) is excessive. Demetrios' salary is $100,000.
Cantonis, saying he represented the view of the executive committee, felt that the conditions imposed on Spyridon were unacceptable and drew attention to the pension of former Archbishop Iakovos, which is set at $250,000 per year.
Who has the final say in this instance? How will the issue of Spyridon's pension be resolved, and how will the decision affect the archdiocese? The executive committee stands firm on the belief that a vote was passed which has not been implemented. How far the executive committee will pursue the matter and to what extent the archdiocese will comply remains to be seen. "When you vote for something and it becomes more or else like a law, it has to be implemented by the [archdiocesan] administration," Cantonis insisted.
On the issue of the archdiocese's debt, Demetrios asked council members to effectively help raise monies. In response, executive committee member Harry Pappas said it would not be possible unless a full disclosure of the current financial status of the archdiocese is provided. Reportedly Demetrios took the request as a personal insult, saying it "touched upon [his] honesty." The meeting adjourned with approval by the executive committee to raise $1.4 million. Concerns were also raised regarding Leadership 100 and its pledge to support the archdiocese and its ministries with the sum of $3 million, which is yet to be fulfilled.
Another pertinent issue facing the archdiocese is a proposed charter revision. Earlier this month, the Holy Synod, together with the Eparchial Charter Committee, clergy and lay representatives from each diocese, met under the chairmanship of Demetrios and reviewed the most recent draft of the proposed charter for the archdiocese - details of which remain unknown.
An official announcement from the archdiocese said that after completing the modifications to the text that were recommended, the document will be forwarded to the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. It seems unlikely that this charter revision will be ready in time for the Clergy-Laity Congress in July.
[ Orthodox Truth | www.orthodox-truth.bugs3.com/art_15.html - May 12, 2000 ]