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The Truth Behind OCATruth.com

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  • William S
    http://ocanews.org/news/TheTruthAboutOCATruth4.30.11.html 4.30.11 The Truth Behind OCATruth.com On March 3, 2011 a website appeared stating: The purpose of
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 30, 2011
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      The Truth Behind OCATruth.com

      On March 3, 2011 a website appeared stating: "The purpose of this
      blog is to provide an alternative source of information and analysis
      about the current crisis in the Orthodox Church in America. An
      alternative, that is, to OCANews.org." The new site, it claimed was
      "....run by laypeople who have experience in the OCA, and sources
      throughout the Church who have been sharing insights and inside
      information with us that paints a very different picture of the
      situation than what readers of OCANews have been seeing." There was,
      they wrote, " ...an urgent need in the OCA: for an independent
      source of real inside information and analysis in this critical time in
      the life of the OCA."

      The bloggers apologized "... for being anonymous, but we all have
      to be here to protect the sources who have been telling us the real
      behind-the-scenes story." They had "....no interest in
      publishing propaganda", so the author affirmed " I will not
      publish anything here that I don't believe to be 100 percent

      Scores of emails between the principals of the site, obtained by
      OCANews.org, paint a very different picture. This is the story of how
      OCATruth.com came to be, and why, and how it works, in their own words.

      Why I am Here: OCATruth

      According to the emails, OCATruth.com was designed by Jason Folsom and
      is written by Jesse Cone and Rod Dreher. All three are current and
      former parishioners of St. Seraphim's Cathedral in Dallas. It was
      established with the support and cooperation of Fr. Joseph Fester, the
      former Dean of St. Seraphim's (and current Dean of Metropolitan
      +Jonah's St. Nicholas Cathedral in Washington DC), who provides
      information and direction; and done so with the knowledge and blessing -
      and all evidence would suggest - cooperation of Metropolitan Jonah.

      The Need

      In an early morning, March 2, 2011 email to Fr. Fester, journalist Rod
      Dreher laments about his recent conversation with Washington Post
      writer, Julia Duin::

      "Father Joe:

      Julia Duin wrote me this morning to say she'd spoken with Stokoe
      yesterday, and he told her the Synod was furious with HB (Editor's note:
      HB is His Beatitude - Metropolitan Jonah) for not actually going on
      retreat. This is what prompted them to release the minutes of the
      meeting; they believe Jonah is spinning this thing. Julia is wondering
      what the heck is going on, saying that this latest information looks bad
      for Jonah.

      She's right -- and I say this purely as a public relations matter.
      You all know the background information, not I and certainly not Julia
      Duin. But she's a journalist sympathetic to Jonah who is having a
      hard time figuring this one out. To be clear, I trust your judgement re:
      the picture you've painted for me about what's really going on
      behind the scene, but as your friend and supporter, I need to to tell
      you that this stuff needs to come out, because the release of the
      minutes of the meeting do put Jonah's case in a negative light. I
      received this morning an e-mail from an Orthodox friend who has been a
      strong supporter of Jonah, who read those minutes and now says he
      doesn't know what to believe, because it looks like HB is being
      misleading in his Sunday statement.

      That this man, and a sympathetic journalist, are now doubting HB's
      side of the story tells me that y'all have a problem. You are at a
      disadvantage because Stokoe has his site, and y'all have nothing
      like it to counter. What about Fr. Hans Jacobse's blog? I don't
      think many people read it at all, but if word gets around that key
      documents supporting HB's case are appearing there, at least people
      a place to go and see them. Its clear that Team Stokoe is going to play
      hardball here. HB may choose to rise above it, at least until after
      Pascha, but that decision should be made, if it is made, in full
      awareness that in a case like this, perception is to a large extent
      reality and perception makes reality -

      ( emphasis in original) -- by which I mean that what people believe may
      have happened, or may be happening, can make certain future outcomes
      more likely.

      For example, I looked on Stokoe's site this morning, and see that he
      has a snarky comment up about HB's participation in the reception in
      Chicago saying something to the effect of "it is unseemly for the
      Metropolitan, who agreed to go on retreat, to go party in the luxury
      suites."* Stokoe is correct --and I say that not as moral judgement
      but strictly as a matter of public perception and PR. (emphasis in
      original). I imagine it's the case that protocal required HB to be
      there, and perhaps Jonah feels he needs to demonstrate a certain
      independence from the Synod in these matters. That may be true...but to
      the wider public, who doesn't have the picture of what's really
      going on that you and HB do, it doesn't look good. I fear that HB
      may be giving his enemies ammunition unnecessarily. Stokoe is a master
      at using information to his advantage, and he is definitely armed more
      heavily in this regard than our side.

      Please understand that I am offering you this media management advice
      not as someone in the peanut gallery throwing spitballs, but as a
      friend and supporter, one who wants Jonah to triumph. I have a lot at
      stake in this too, not only in that I want my church to live, but some
      of the dearest people in the world to my family, +Jonah, you, Kathy
      (Editor's note: Kathy Fester, Fr. Fester's wife) Fr. Gregory (Editor's
      note: Deacon Gregory Stevens, aide to Metropolitan Jonah) -- have
      everything at stake.

      I think also y'all should be open to having an "on
      background" conversation with Julia Duin to make sure she knows
      exactly what's going on, and isn't susceptible to Stokoe spin.
      "On background" means that which was spoken of in the
      conversation cannot be quoted, that it's only an informational
      session for the reporter. This is distinct from "off the record"
      which means the reporter is to treat what she learns in that session as
      if it never happened.

      If I can help in anyway, let me know.


      A few minutes later Father Fester offers a one sentence reply:

      "You will now begin to get some background."

      Dreher then asks Fr. Fester:

      "...Is it possible for you to start a blog and to post on it. You
      could set up a blog in 15 minutes. I could help you with it. Is there
      someone one step removed from you who could run it, and to whom you
      could feed background information? I would be pleased to help you shape
      the narrative from behind the scenes, if that helps the cause.

      When the WaPo's (Editor's note: Washington Post) story comes out,
      this becomes a bigger public story, and things are going to move
      quickly, I imagine. Team Jonah needs to think two or three steps ahead,
      and anticipate what the Stokoe people are likely to do next."

      From its very conception, OCATruth.com was intended as part of publicity
      campaign for +Jonah, one that included the Washington Post story, which
      Dreher, in an earlier February 26th email to Fester, had already
      discussed in the following terms:

      "...I am acutely aware that I don't know the inner dynamics of
      Jonah, or of this political situation within the Church. But I offer it
      as speculation. Here's something I do know about: this Washington
      Post profile is going to be enormously important in re-establishing
      Jonah's footing. Julia Duin, I learned from her phone calls and
      emails yesterday, is worried that this will derail Jonah. The way she
      spoke of the metropolitan yesterday convinced me she is personally on
      his side. As I`ve mentioned to you before, there will never be
      change to have a media outlet of this prominence write a portrait of
      Jonah that will be so positive. We have to make the most of it. It is
      scheduled to run, she said, on March 17th. My advice is that Jonah
      should plan to speak with her sometime late next week, if only for five
      minutes. Or failing that, write her an email message from his personal
      account-- something that doesn't look like it was composed by a
      publicist or spin doctor. I can guarantee
      you that her story, as it is right now, will end on a cliffhanger: what
      kind of Jonah will emerge from the wilderness? I say this not because
      she has told me so, but because that is the natural arc of this story.
      If I were Jonah media manager, I would ask him to think about the
      impression he wants the public and faithful of the OCA to have of him
      and this crisis. The story will the stage for his re-emergence. It's
      hugely important that he take advantage ( and not in a cynical way) of
      the reporter's sympathy, and the fact that this story will establish
      the playing field in the public's mind. My sense - and I stress that
      this is only an informed guess - is that the piece will the remarkable
      story of a gentle abbot who rocketed to the top of a crisis-ridden
      church in a moment of its greatest peril, simply speaking the truth in
      charity. But now the abbot -turned metropolitan's rise has been
      damaged by his enemies in the church. Duin is not sympathetic to the
      Stokoe crowd, as best I can tell. She will let Jonah have the last word.
      It won't be the worst thing in the world if Jonah doesn't speak
      with her, and lets the story go forward as its stands now. But I think
      him communicating with her in some way - via email even - from his
      retreat would give him the last word and could be enormously helpful in
      establishing strong field position in the contests he faces when he

      Dreher concludes: " If I can help you craft a media message in any
      way, don't hesitate to ask. I know yesterday's OCA Press
      Release* was probably the only thing that could be said politically
      about this extremely delicate and combustible situation, but it still
      reads like an Official Story."

      Your Spy in Philadelphia,


      Team Jonah

      A second March 2nd email from Jason (Elijah) Folsom to Fr. Fester
      describes how OCATruth.com came to be, and who is on what Dreher
      described as "Team Jonah". Folsom writes:

      "Father Bless.

      Father, you may have heard both Jesse (Cone) and Rod (Dreher) express a
      desire to have some sort of medium to post some clarifications of what
      is going on so that the truth can be made more clear to those who want
      to know. Jesse is currently seeking the spiritual counsel of His
      Beatitude in pursuing that idea. If he is given a blessing from His
      Beatitude I would also like to have your blessing to facilitate the
      means for them to do so. I basically just want to buy the domain name,
      set up the site, hands the keys over to them, and deal with any web
      administration that needs administrating.

      Jesse advised me in seeking the advice of my spiritual father in this
      situation would be wise, I agreed, so I am asking you, if this would be
      ok to have that facilitational involvement with them in their desire to
      post some truthful information.

      We miss you a LOT!

      Jason Elijah"

      That evening Dreher informs Fr. Fester:

      "Looky here: http://www.ocatruth.com"

      Fr. Fester immediately responds:

      "tell your friends. tell your neighbors. you want more info, let me

      Dreher, however, cautions Father Fester:

      "Please, please, please don't tell ANYBODY that I have anything
      to do with this site. Very, very important. You know, Fr. Gregory knows,
      Jesse Cone knows ( he's posting too), Jason knows and HB knows. But
      really, I am taking a big risk here."

      Why Anonymity?

      According to his column "Rod Dreher - Science Religion Markets and
      Morals" on BeliefNet.com: "Rod Dreher is director of
      publications at the John Templeton Foundation, a philanthropy that
      focuses on science, religion, economics and morality. A journalist with
      over 20 years of experience, Dreher has written for The Dallas Morning
      News, the New York Post, and other newspapers and journals. He is author
      of the book "Crunchy Cons."

      The anonymity of "muzhik" and "parishioner" on
      OCATruth.com is not only to protect their sources - Fr. Fester and
      Metropolitan Jonah - but just as much to protect their writers - Dreher
      and Cone - the latter of whom is a parish council member at the Dallas
      cathedral. Anonymity also allows Dreher to post on the site under his
      own name as well ( such as here <http://www.ocatruth.com/?p=746> and
      here <http://www.ocatruth.com/?p=513> ) in an attempt to suggest to
      "third-party" objectivity.

      If OCATruth.com's claim that it is "not publishing propaganda"
      is untrue; as well as its stated reason for publishing anonymously; how
      accurate is the site in publishing "...the real behind-the-scene
      story"? Different people can honestly view events differently;
      accounts can differ without calling the whole experience into question.
      But there is a point beyond which suggesting "differing
      viewpoints" becomes dissembling, and from there misinformation, and
      from there, only a short step to outright lies.

      There are more than 60 posts on OCATruth.com and an examination of each
      for veracity is simply not feasible at this time. Consider then, the
      post on OCATruth.com on March 31st entitled "Stokoe and the SMPAC
      Report" - which while typical of the posts one finds on the site -
      lies "at the heart of the current crisis", according to Dreher himself.

      Dreher, as Muzhik, writes:

      "This is interesting. In a recent comments thread on OCANews, Mark
      Stokoe denies that he has seen the Sexual Misconduct Policy Advisory
      Committee report:

      '(Editor's note: To paraphrase Charlie Sheen: Confused! No one
      suggested any amendments. And as I read it no one is seeking to
      "recalibrate" the balance of powers; merely to use the existing
      ones so as to bring one of those power back to his conciliar senses. I
      agree that many of the complaints against the Metropolitan seem
      "vague" to those who have not worked with him. That is for
      several reasons, I suspect. One, the Synod was unwilling to list them
      – and so referred to "mental/spritual" issues in their
      redacted Minutes. They have the SMPAC report, we don't. [The
      emphasis is mine -- Muzh.]'

      He ought to deny that he has the report, because the report is supposed
      to be highly confidential, for the eyes of the bishops only, and the
      SMPAC members. The report is at the center of this crisis. We know that
      members of the SMPAC committee believe Met. Jonah has been lax in taking
      care of sexual misconduct allegations. We also know that His Beatitude
      believes that the report was a smear job in which information was
      manipulated to put him in the worst possible light. We also know, from
      Metropolitan Council member Faith Skordinski's leaked e-mail to
      Stokoe, that she believed former OCA Chancellor Alexander Garklavs was
      actively trying to manipulate that information to put HB in a bad light.
      We also know that Skordinski saw this sexual misconduct issue as the
      "hook" (her word) they could use to drag the Metropolitan down.

      Later, in the same comments thread, Stokoe writes:

      '(Editor's note: While all those issues are dealt with in the SMPAC
      report, that is not the main issue of the Report. To reduce it to just
      those is to misrepresent it. …'

      How does Stokoe know what's in the SMPAC report if he hasn't
      seen it? If he has seen it, why did he say in the same thread that the
      bishops have that report, "we don't"? If he has seen this
      confidential report, who leaked it to him? According to the OCA, the
      committee members are:

      Archpriest Alexander Garklavs (Chair), Archpriest Eric Tosi, Archpriest
      Michael Matsko, Archpriest Theodore Bobosh, Protodeacon Peter
      Danilchick, Dr. Nikita Eike, Mr. James Spencer, Esq.

      Note that Fr. Bobosh is Stokoe's parish priest. All the bishops have
      copies of the report too. There may be no way of telling who leaked the
      report to Stokoe, if he has in fact seen it. It is up to him to clarify
      whether he lied the first time, in claiming only the bishops have a copy
      of the report, or lied the second time, in indicating that he knows the
      content of the report? Unless there is something I'm not
      understanding, somebody, either on that committee or among the bishops,
      released highly confidential information to a partisan Internet
      journalist and Metropolitan Council member who is openly out to get His
      Beatitude, for the sake of playing church politics.

      I hope Stokoe will clarify what he meant, but I am not holding my
      breath. When will the laity wake up? Are there any decent men on the
      Synod who will stand up and distance themselves from this garbage?
      Increasingly, their silence indicates their consent."

      When a HalfTruth becomes a Whole Lie

      Dreher offers a general smear of the OCA Synod, the professional
      integrity of the SMPAC Committee, two MC members and a former Syosset
      staffer in one fell swoop, predicated on the assumption that
      "Unless there is something I'm not understanding, somebody,
      either on that committee or among the bishops, released highly
      confidential information to a partisan Internet journalist and
      Metropolitan Council member who is openly out to get His Beatitude, for
      the sake of playing church politics."

      He understands.

      Somebody did release a highly confidential information to a partisan
      Internet journalist. Not to Stokoe, but to Dreher himself.

      A March 3rd email exchange between Fr. Fester and Dreher confirms the
      breach. Dreher writes:

      "I have the full texts of the SMC (SMPAC) Report, and HB's
      response. Would it be good for this to appear on a website?"

      Fester responds:

      "No. Its confidential. Please Wait."

      Dreher answers:

      "Got it. Just checking."

      It was not the SMPAC Committee, nor the Bishops, nor Fr. Garklavs, who
      compromised the confidentiality of the Report by distributing it to
      unauthorized readers - it would clearly appear it was Fr. Fester, and
      behind him, Metropolitan Jonah. It was not Stokoe who received the
      Report, but Dreher; and he received not just the SMPAC Report, but the
      Metropolitan's confidential Response to it, given at the Synod
      meeting in Santa Fe.

      (And for the record, to answer Dreher's question: "I did not
      have/possess/however you want to parse it, the Report when I wrote those
      comments. To my complete frustration, I still have not (emphasis mine)
      received, however you want to parse it, the Report despite an
      official request to the Chancellor and Committee as part of the
      official work of a Metropolitan Council Committee. Is that clear enough?
      As for how I could accurately write what I did, as you admit I did, when
      no one breached anything confidential with me by giving me anything,
      speaking off the record, or on background, I will say only this: I did
      nothing illegal, immoral or unethical to obtain that information. Like a
      magician's trick, the answer is usually pretty simple, as is this one.
      Pardon me, however, if I choose to share my secrets with the world at
      later date.)

      Disinformation Goes International

      If the anger, outrage, conspiracy theories, accusations and suspicions
      on OCATruth.com are misplaced andpredicated on dissembling and
      distorting the facts as in the above example, Team Jonah's mission
      is not limited to the pro-Jonah campaign, nor even to their own
      website. One set of emails tell of a campaign to take Jonah's spin
      on events international. Fester, in the immediate aftermath of Santa Fe,
      asks one correspondent:

      " how do you get them to look at the video that he is NOT

      He receives the chilling reply about one Russian website:

      "... he will publish whatever he will be told to - so yes, he can be
      a liar. I believe he tries to agitate internet users to make waves - old
      internet PR methods. But his reputation is bad, or I would say,
      specific), he is very loud , but marginal - so mostly empty-headed

      American-haters will follow him."

      No problem if it is for the cause. Fr. Fester replies:

      "Yes, see if you can promote it on Russia media."

      The April 30th Plot

      Increasingly, the the leaders of Team Jonah understand their mission
      seems to include not only pushing positive publicity and suspicions, to
      spinning "facts" on their site, and others; but to engage in campaigns
      to intimidate and punish those whom they feel do not support +Jonah

      Today's taget, literally, is Bishop Mark of Baltimore, the new
      administrator of the Diocese of the South.

      In an email on April 25th, Bright Monday, Fester announces the news that
      +Mark is "Dead Man Walking" to Dreher:

      "Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

      HB is going to remove Mark from Dallas.... Fr. David (Moretti) is most
      likely to be moved as well.."

      Two days later, in an April 27th email, Fr. Fester outlines to Dreher
      the how the plan is to proceed :

      "1. The Case For One Diocese Now, and Two Going Forward ( The
      combination of the DOS and Washington diocese into one with a date
      certain of two dioceses within 10 years.)

      2. +Philip's Problem is Now Our Problem ( The Troubled ways of
      Bishop Mark... maybe Philip wasn't so wrong afterwards)...

      3. The turmoil in Dallas ( How a peaceful, stable parish has been
      disrupted by Mark)...

      Anyway, just FYI"

      Dreher replies:

      "... I think it it will be crucial to get as rich and as detailed
      account of marks tenure at SS ( St. Seraphim's) up as soon as is
      feasible (eg. as soon as Jonah fires him). We can be sure Stokoe will
      play up the martyr narrative. If we have a lengthy and highly detailed
      post ready to go, we can get out ahead of the stokoe narrative. ...

      I'll work out something up with Jesse and Jason. Am I right to
      expect Mark will get the heave-ho on Saturday ( April 30th) ? If yes, u
      or dn. gregory ( Editor's note: Deacon Gregory Stevens, the
      Metropolitan's assistant) shd text w the signal to publish at

      Later that same day, April 27th, Dreher emails Fester with news of a
      setback to the plan. Not all on Team Jonah are onboard:

      "...Jason and Jesse are reticent to post anything about Bp Mark
      until and unless Stokoe does anything on him. They want to be respectful
      and not make things harder on him than they have to be. While I can see
      where they are coming from, I strongly believe this is a strategic
      mistake. I've told them we have to have something ready to go when
      Jonah pulls the trigger because Stokoe will absolutely raise hell over
      it. It would be foolish to let him get the first work and to thereby
      define the story in people's minds. I have recommended that whatever
      we write its "more in sorrow than in anger" tone, but that we
      publish it as soon as the Mark thing is announced, without waiting for
      Stokoe's reaction. My sense is that maybe the guys are so close to
      the story that they assume people outside the parish know more than they
      do. This will be the first thing 90+ percent of the church will have
      heard about it, and we will likely be fighting an uphill battle against
      the impression that Mark was the victim of an vindictive Metropolitan
      and his cutthroat groupies at the cathedral.

      I've told them that one or both of them really ought to write the
      thing, but if they want to publish it under the Muzhik name to avoid
      having to face Mark, that would be fine..."

      Fr. Fester, however, answesr that he will use an anoymous posting on
      another website to begin the attack:

      "I just posted a volley under Southern Comfort on George's blog
      about (Bishop) Mark. I think it can serve as a starting point to smoke
      this turd out."

      (Read that in the comments section on the Monomakos blog here
      urch-toward-schism/> .)

      Why +Mark?

      It is ironic that "the turd" that was praised to the heavens
      upon his arrival in January by both +Jonah and Fr. Fester, has now
      become a condemned man. Why? Apparently "disloyalty" that was
      evidenced by his participation in the recent Synod meeting in Santa Fe
      in February, and for his keeping his head down and mouth shut in the
      weeks that followed.+Mark was in the room at Santa Fe: he knows what
      happened and did not support +Jonah's, or OCATruth.com's version of
      events. In an atmosphere of suspicion, conspiracies, accusations,
      frustration, and anger that dominates the world of Team Jonah, when lies
      fail, intimidation begins. Fr. Fester's emails explain why +Jonah
      suddenly decided to attempt to resume the position of "locum tenens" of
      the South on Bright Monday - to be in position to dispose of +Mark, and
      unite the two dioceses under +Jonah.

      Bishop Mark, like the entire Synod, is in Chicago this morning, April
      30th, to consecrate Bishop -elect Matthias to the See of Chicago. He
      will later participate in the Synod meetings May 2-3rd - or not.

      Team Jonah is just waiting for the signal.

      A Sad "Truth"

      OCAtruth.com is certainly an "alternative source of information and
      analysis about the current crisis in the Orthodox Church in America. An
      alternative, that is, to OCANews.org." But it is not "....run by
      laypeople who have experience in the OCA", rather it is small group from
      one insular parish, formerly run by Fr. Fester and Metropolitan Jonah.

      Their "... sources throughout the Church who have been sharing insights
      and inside information with us that paints a very different picture of
      the situation than what readers of OCANews have been seeing" are limited
      as well: they consist of Father Fester and Metropolitan Jonah.

      They are not, as they claim "..an independent source of real inside
      information and analysis in this critical time in the life of the OCA",
      but rather nothing more than a front for "Team Jonah". They may
      apologize "... for being anonymous, but we all have to be here to
      protect the sources who have been telling us the real behind-the-scenes
      story", when in fact, it is to mainly to protect themselves and their
      ability to cross post on their own site using their own real names. They
      say they have "....no interest in publishing propaganda", but
      the facts - and their own emails - belie that claim. As for their
      promise: " I will not publish anything here that I don't believe
      to be 100 percent true"? Tell it to the SMPAC Committee and everybody
      else they have tarred and feathered with hypocrticial and false
      accusations over the past two months in a campaign of disinformation.

      In his SMPAC post Dreher asked: "Are there any decent men on the Synod
      who will stand up and distance themselves from this garbage?"

      One hopes there are. Now we all know who is creating the garbage.

      - Mark Stokoe


      Next: Friends and Enemies

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