Orthodox officials to meet here

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After a financial scandal forced the retirement of one of its leaders, the highest governing council of the Orthodox Church in America will meet in Pittsburgh to elect a new metropolitan and try to address deep personal and fiscal wounds.

Due to concerns about the scandal, a full complement of nearly 1,400 clergy and laity may come to the Hilton Pittsburgh, Downtown, to vote at the All-American Council Nov. 10-14, said the Rev. Patrick Carpenter, local communications director and pastor of St. Mary Orthodox Church, South Side.

That would be more than twice the number present when Metropolitan Herman, the former primate who was forced to resign, was elected in 2002.

The recent release of an investigative report detailing the scandal "restored some sense of balance, but it will take time to rebuild trust," Father Carpenter said.

The council meeting will be followed by the Nov. 15 election of a new archbishop for Western Pennsylvania, which has been vacant since the death of Archbishop Kyrill earlier this year.

The Orthodox Church in America, a multi-ethnic jurisdiction with Russian roots, claims 1 million members in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Last month's resignation of Metropolitan Herman came as an investigating committee reported that more than $4 million had disappeared into unaudited "discretionary accounts" that, among other things, financed a posh lifestyle for longtime chancellor and now-deposed priest Robert Kondratick.

Mr. Kondratick has since filed a $25 million defamation suit against the church.

The report concluded that Metropolitan Herman and his predecessor, Metropolitan Theodosius, along with the Synod of Bishops, several treasurers and a governing board of clergy and laity, had ignored years of warnings from auditors, a former treasurer and others. The metropolitans were accused of blocking audits and, in Metropolitan Herman's case, silencing priests who asked for an investigation.

The election of the new metropolitan is a bit like a papal election in that no candidates are declared beforehand.

"There is no favorite going into this," Father Carpenter said.

The rules call for electors to write a name down on the first ballot, and if no one receives two-thirds, to proceed to a second ballot. The two names with the most votes on that ballot are sent to the Synod of Bishops for canonical election, although the bishops can reject a name and require a third ballot of the clergy and laity.

"This could be the first time in history that that happens," Father Carpenter said.

"The report on the scandal named several bishops. We don't know how people will view them or how the bishops are viewing each other. It's a very bizarre situation."

There also is a proposal -- slated for a vote prior to the election -- to change the system so that the metropolitan's name is chosen by lot from three produced by the earlier process. "That is the most traditional way of electing a hierarch. It would be a return to a centuries-old process," he said.

The later election of a local archbishop will be held at St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in McCandless.

The two candidates for archbishop of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania are the Rev. David Mahaffey, a native of Mahaffey, Clearfield County, and a parish priest in Pottstown, Montgomery County; and Archimandrite Melchisedek, who was born Thomas Pleska in Dayton, Ohio, and is now at a monastery in Greece.

Ann Rodgers can be reached at arodgers@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1416.


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