Slow-motion Orthodox scandal?

dioceseDCOne or two people have asked me if I would comment on the allegations of financial scandal in the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), a branch of Eastern Orthodoxy here in North America with Russian roots. I haven't commented for two reasons. First of all, the story has been simmering in Orthodox media for some time, at a stage where there are allegations and opinions on both sides but not much in the way of information that can be confirmed. Second, it wasn't out in public media and, since this the purpose of this blog is to comment on media coverage of religion news (as opposed to being a blog about religion in general), there really wasn't much to talk about.

I have friends with OCA ties who think the story has already peaked. They also stress that there are sharply divided opinions among key clergy and laity about the quality of the accusations.

I, personally, simply hope that justice is done and the much more information is -- in good time -- made public. Here is a brief summary from Richard N. Ostling of the Associated Press:

With a former church treasurer leveling charges of financial mismanagement, bishops of the Orthodox Church in America decided at a special meeting Wednesday to order audits and work toward tighter fiscal controls.

"To encourage financial accountability, and trust," the 10 bishops authorized a review of all special collections since 2001 and independent audits covering 2004 and 2005. They also vowed to implement such principles as "decisive financial governance" and "transparency of financial data."

Those steps, however, fell short of dissenters' demands for an audit of all church accounts over the past decade and a full-fledged investigation. The bishops, who met at church headquarters in Syosset on Long Island, said they would continue work at their regular May meeting and possibly establish "a special committee of review."

The action came after allegations from the OCA's former treasurer, Protodeacon Eric Wheeler. He says that church funds were spent on "embarrassing credit card debts," individuals who continually "leached off" family members, and unspecified blackmail payments. Wheeler also questioned accounting for millions of dollars in gifts and said no full, independent audit had occurred since 1996.

There are more details in a report by Alan Cooperman of the Washington Post. I would note, both as a reporter and convert to Orthodoxy, that it is crucial that a large network of clergy is involved in requesting further investigation (a very American development) and that some information and documentation is (a very American development) finding its way to a website dedicated to the case -- OCANews.org.

It is especially important to observe efforts by individual bishops to push for a public airing of the charges and their resolution, one way or another. In an earlier report, Cooperman noted:

Metropolitan Herman [pictured, at left], the archbishop of New York and Washington who is first among equals in the Holy Synod, has directed church officials not to discuss the matter publicly. Archbishop Tikhon of San Francisco has urged the synod to discipline Archbishop Job of Chicago -- not because Job is in any way implicated in the scandal, but because he has called for a church commission to conduct an investigation.

It does not appear the Bishop Job has been disciplined. Will he speak out again?

Stay tuned. Can anyone provide any public facts linked to that ugly word "blackmail"? I was surprised to see that aired in this manner, with no attributed information to flesh it out.

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