Orthodox Church 'stunned' by extent of financial abuse

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Leaders of the Orthodox Church in America, who had long resisted calls for an investigation, have acknowledged a history of financial abuse at church headquarters in Syosset, N.Y.

"Large amounts of church funds were used to improperly pay for personal expenses," said a joint statement yesterday from the Holy Synod of Bishops and the Metropolitan Council, a governing body of clergy and laity.

The statement was issued at a special meeting that ended yesterday. Church leaders heard from attorneys and accountants hired in March to investigate allegations raised by a former church treasurer and others. Their statement said they were "stunned by the magnitude of today's revelations."

It does not cite the amount of money and does not name a culprit, although it said the bishops will discuss possible disciplinary action.

"The severity of some of the problems could not be fully determined due to a lack of documentation. However, these abuses of church trust were determined to be centered on and around one individual and were not found to be widespread among the employees of the church," it said.

The investigation will continue under a special committee led by Archbishop Job of Chicago, a leader in the calls for investigation. It will include Greg Nescott, a Pittsburgh attorney who had also pressed for investigation.

No one from the headquarters of the 400,000-member denomination was available to comment on the statement, which was posted on the church's Web site.

But Mark Stokoe, a layman from Dayton, Ohio, whose Orthodox Christians for Accountabilty had documented the allegations on its Web site, was jubilant. He said he expected more details when the investigating committee reports to the entire church next year.

"It's a great day for the OCA. It's beginning to restore integrity to the institutions that have really been challenged. A lot of people had been losing hope that things could be changed. This shows they can be," he said.

The OCA is a daughter of the Russian Orthodox Church. About 40 of its 600 parishes are in Western Pennsylvania.

Former insiders claimed that from 1996 to 2002 millions of dollars in grants and charitable gifts were siphoned into two unaudited accounts. One was controlled by former Metropolitan Theodosius, who retired to his native Canonsburg in 2002. The other was controlled by the Rev. Robert Kondratick, the church's treasurer, who was dismissed in March. Father Kondratick has said he was a scapegoat.

Also in March, the church's administrative committee hired the New York law firm of Proskauer Rose, known for expertise in investigating corporate misdeeds, to track any missing money.

Yesterday's report said financial controls had been circumvented since at least 1998. It cited "numerous unsubstantiated cash withdrawals." It said credit cards were abused, trips were reimbursed without proper documentation, there were attempts to divert money from charities and financial reports were poorly documented, untimely and sometimes even falsified.

"The Metropolitan Council will oversee the implementation of appropriate accounting procedures in the OCA's accounting office, which will include the replacement of antiquated accounting systems," the statement said. "But the new direction is clear -- changes need to be made in order to bring the church to the high level of accountability that is expected of it."

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


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