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OCANews: The Wheeler Interview

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  • Nina_Dimas_42
    11.06.06 THE WHEELER INTERVIEW On Saturday, November 4th, 2006 Protodeacon Eric Wheeler, former Secretary to Metropolitan Theodosius and former Treasurer of
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 6, 2006
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      11.06.06


      THE WHEELER INTERVIEW

      On Saturday, November 4th, 2006 Protodeacon Eric Wheeler, former
      Secretary to Metropolitan Theodosius and former Treasurer of the
      Orthodox Church in America, answered questions from the editor and
      readers of OCANews.org. The following is his interview in full.


      Mark Stokoe, Editor of OCANews.org: "Let's go back to October 2005.
      What made you finally go public six years after you were dismissed
      as Treasurer?"

      Protodeacon Eric Wheeler: "Although the hurt I felt after being
      removed from my position at the chancery subsided fairly quickly
      once I secured a new job and got on with my life, what never left me
      was a nagging sense that God would never have exposed me to all that
      I witnessed and not expect me to act somehow. I just never knew how,
      when or through what medium I was to respond."

      --So how did it come about?

      Wheeler: In the spring and early summer of 2005, as the Church
      prepared for the All-American Council, the Orthodox internet lists
      began to focus their activity on financial matters. Syosset was
      preparing to present the 'Fair Share' resolution in support of the
      work of the central Chuch. Through a friend I posted one, then two,
      finally three anonymous responses on the internet lists, addressing
      the financial mismanagement of the Central Church Administration.

      With one of the main focuses of the 2005 Council being finances, the
      Midwest Diocese requested that a full presentation of the operating
      budget of the Church be presented at the AAC. Father Kondratick
      refused this request. The negative response given Archbishop Job and
      the subsequent correspondence was the actual impetus for my memo " A
      Call to Accountability".

      (Read that document here)

      Recognizing that he would probably be put on the hot- seat during
      the private sessions of the Holy Synod for asking that the operating
      budget be presented, I took it upon myself to provide Archbishop Job
      with a little support. The earliest version of this memo was sent to
      him at the Toronto Sheraton during the week of the Council. The
      issue, however, was never raised during the meetings of the Synod.

      --So what did you do?

      Wheeler: In my discussions with Archbishop Job after the Council,
      and after prayerful consideration, I decided to address my concerns
      in a letter and memo directly to members of the Holy Synod. I
      delivered the packet of information to their hotel rooms prior to
      the 2005 Fall Session, primarily so that members of their staff
      would not become aware of its contents. It was my initial desire
      that the problems with regard to the finances of the Orthodox Church
      in America would be handled in a confidential manner.

      --But that didn't work?

      Wheeler: With no response from the Holy Synod, I emailed a cover
      letter and the packet I had sent to the bishops to members of the
      Metropolitan Council prior to their 2005 Fall meeting. Fourteen
      hours after I sent the information to the Metropolitan Council,
      Peter Zwick posted the information on the Orthodox Forum. And, for
      the record, I am not Peter Zwick, nor do I know who he is.

      --Some have suggested that this is all about lost jobs, or it is
      personal; that the issues are really less important than the
      personal animosities and settling old scores.

      Wheeler: I did have close personal relationships with Metropolitan
      Theodosius, Father Kondratick and many other people involved in the
      administrative work of the Orthodox Church in America - after all,
      we worked together for over ten years, often seven days a week. I
      deeply regret the loss of many of these close friendships due to the
      circumstances of this scandal. However, my actions have never been
      driven by the loss of these personal relationships, or for that
      matter, the loss of my position in the Church.

      I recall a conversation I had with Father Kondratick at the 1999 All-
      American Council as we sat together on the dais during one of the
      plenary sessions. He asked me if I was prepared to single-handedly
      bring down Metropolitan Theodosius over the issue of the
      discretionary accounts and the financial mismanagement of the church
      I responded that I was, and pointed to the 1,000+ people sitting
      before us, stating that: "These people deserve a much better church
      administration than the one they are currently have."

      My actions were based on the premise that the faithful were being
      short changed by the Central Church Administration as they
      continued to foot the bill for its existence. I never had a personal
      agenda with regard to the steps I took to correct the financial
      improprieties perpetrated by members of the administration.

      --You made specific allegations in your letter of October 2005 to
      the Synod. You said:

      • Metropolitan Theodosius and Father Kondratick maintained
      discretionary accounts "disproportionate" to
      the annual operating budget of the Church.

      • An unqualified audit could not be produced for the OCA for the
      periods ending December 31, 1997 and
      1998 because these funds were not included in the financial reports
      of the Church.

      • On a regular basis, petty cash checks were cut from these accounts
      in the amounts of $10,000 with the
      cash being given to Father Kondratick.

      • A review of the financial records of the church during this period
      will show a deficit in the Charity Appeal
      Fund of close to $275,000.

      --In the past year Syosset has admitted publicly that all these
      allegations are true. Vindication?

      Wheeler: If all of this was based on a personal agenda, I could
      very easily say that I have been vindicated. The actions of a few,
      and the lack of response from many, for countless years, have made
      this a serious problem for the hierarchs, clergy and faithful of the
      Orthodox Church in America. My feeling is that vindication can only
      come from the faithful once trust in the administration of the
      church is fully re-established.

      --Syosset has kept silent about other allegations you made:
      inappropriate personal, behavior, blackmail, side-businesses being
      run from Syosset. Can you elaborate?

      Wheeler: I first discussed these issues with Metropolitan Herman
      and Jonathan Russin in 1999. (Editor's note: Jonathan Russin is the
      OCA's legal counsel.) There is one page of my 'Call to
      Accountability' that was not made public, nor will I make it public.
      Within this past year I have discussed these issues with both
      Proskauer Rose and the FBI. I will leave it to the Metropolitan
      Council to determine what should appear in an official report
      presented to the Church. I will only add however, as I said before,
      that the secretive approach to the finances of the church was rooted
      in these problems.

      --Are you saying the FBI is now involved?

      Wheeler: I have been asked not to speak at length about it, but
      yes, it is not a very well kept secret that there has been an
      ongoing investigation. While I recognize that there are many legal
      ramifications for our church as we sort through the intricacies of
      this scandal, including putting our tax exempt status in jeopardy, I
      personally think that the report from Proskauer Rose will go a long
      way in removing any impression that this scandal is personal. It
      will also begin the healing process for our Church and begin the
      process of closure.

      --Can you tell us more about your allegations of "Off the books sale
      of merchandise brought back from Russia. Large caches of liturgical
      items offered for sale. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in
      profits", then?

      Wheeler: 'Hundreds of thousands' of dollars may be an exaggeration -
      but just about everyone traveling to Russia and exposed to the
      church liturgical factory in Sophrino during the late 80's and early
      90's got into the 'resale' business. One of our seminary bookstores
      was at the top of the list with pre-Memorial Day visits to Russia. I
      was even paid a commission of $500 once by Father Kondratick for my
      involvement in a sale.

      --And this was wrong, because....

      Wheeler: The issue was not the resale business per se, but the fact
      that these revenues and expenses were never audited or even
      accounted for. In this instance cash was taken into Russia from the
      church coffers; yet no record of the distribution of funds in Russia
      was ever provided, even though mandated by the external auditors.
      Worse, the revenue from the sale of these liturgical items was never
      accounted for in the operating budget.

      --Where did those monies go?

      Wheeler: No one knows where these money went 'cause no one can find
      it....

      --In the past year several new aspects of the scandal have been
      raised, of which you were not a part. Could you comment on these:

      -The Kondratick Promissory note?

      Wheeler: I do not think we have seen that last of the Kondratick
      lawsuit. My guess is that the next volley will be another lawsuit
      without Father Bob's name attached. Since I may be deposed with
      regard to this matter, I will withold any comment.

      -The Kondratick Tape?

      Wheeler: I have never seen it - but I was made aware of its
      contents first hand in the early spring of 2005. It was another one
      of the reasons for pushing me to finally act. Since it is currently
      in the hands of the FBI, I would rather not comment further.

      --Have you spoken with Proskauer Rose?

      Wheeler: I met with representatives from Proskauer Rose in March of
      this year for approximately five hours. I believe I was one of the
      first individuals they interviewed. I think there is a message in
      the fact that after all these years the only people that have asked
      me to present my story have been either lawyers or law enforcement
      officials.

      --Any thoughts on the investigation you wish to share?

      Wheeler: I personally believe that the Proskauer Rose investigation
      was actually completed some time ago. So when we hear information
      from the Central Church Administration that the investigation is
      still ongoing, the reference is to the FBI investigation and not the
      investigation initially undertaken by Proskauer Rose.

      --So what do you think will happen now? What would you like to see
      happen?

      Wheeler: If you review my initial letters to the Holy Synod and the
      Metropolitan Council you will see that I only asked for one thing to
      be accomplished -the re-institution of an independent audit. I
      understand that in our post-Enron society, the independent audit
      provides for good governance of all administrative aspects of an
      organization. If we look at the steps the current administration has
      taken in isolation of our financial scandal - re-instituting an
      independent audit, institution of Best Practices, establishment of a
      Donor's Bill of Rights, implementing job descriptions, following
      organizational flow charts, etc., we could become the envy of the
      majority of non-profits in this country.

      However, no organization serving the needs of others exists in
      isolation. Trust must be at its foundation. Our Central
      Administration has lost our trust.

      --So how do we deal with that lack of trust?

      Wheeler: There have been numerous recommendations put forth by the
      faithful of our Church and posted on the internet boards during the
      past year, all suggesting how this scandal can be brought to an end.
      My comments would only add to or duplicate much of what has already
      been expressed. I do agree that we need an All-American Council
      sooner rather than later, as part of an evolution to an entirely new
      Central Church Administration. What I do know is that until we begin
      to offer repentance and ask for forgiveness, individually and
      collectively, we will not see the beginning of an end to this crisis.

      --By 'new Central Church Administration' do you mean systems,
      structures or changes in personnel?

      Wheeler: While we can clearly point to a small group of individuals
      who abused their positions of leadership and placed our church in a
      most difficult financial position, we must also look at all the
      other administrative bodies that have been asleep at the wheel - the
      Holy Synod, the Metropolitan Council, the administration of the
      Central Church, the internal auditors, too many representatives at
      the All-American Councils - for many, many years.

      Not for nothin', but all the information that I placed in my letter
      to the Metropolitan Council, including what I flagged then was a
      $1.8 million debt, was gleaned from public financial documents.
      Wasn't anyone else reading those reports?

      --Apparently not. Are there still things we are missing?

      Wheeler: There is a great deal in there that has been overshadowed,
      especially the questions I raise about the investment funds. Re-read
      that letter.

      (Read the November letter here.)


      --So what needs to be done?

      Wheeler: What has been lacking in all of this throughout the entire
      year is an expression of humility and real repentance. From a very
      early age, all of us have been taught that repentance and
      forgiveness are essential to our salvation. I would therefore like
      to publicly confess and ask for forgiveness that due to my pride –
      the feeling that I could fix the problems of the Central Church
      Administration on my own - I did not take my concerns to anyone
      prior to the spring of 1999, and attempted to address the problems
      myself. I ask for forgiveness of all the people who have been
      scandalized by what I have done and of those driven away from the
      church due to the public disclosure of this scandal. I ask
      forgiveness of Bishop Tikhon, Father Dresko and Monk James Silver
      for disparaging them on the internet. I ask the forgiveness of my
      family for drawing them into this entire mess. I express this with
      sincerity and hope this can begin the process of healing.

      --The Church has lawyered up; the Kondraticks have a lawyer, even
      the Metropolitan Council has legal advisers now. Have you got a
      lawyer?

      Wheeler: My wife has always told me that being naive was one of my
      more attractive qualities - a quality that has gotten me into
      difficult situations on more than one occasion.So no, I do not have,
      nor have I ever retained a lawyer.

      --You were officially told to be silent in 2005. Has that been
      lifted?

      Wheeler: In the past year I have received four letters from
      Metropolitan Herman strongly suggesting that I refrain from posting
      on the internet for the good of the church. The receipt of each
      letter was followed by a phone call from me to Metropolitan Herman
      where I made my views known. I did make it clear that I would
      continue to post on the internet in a constructive manner when it
      came to commenting on the Church's financial reports, postings and
      press releases.

      I would say, though, that the letters, which sounded as if they were
      written by someone else, did not match the more pastoral approach to
      the scandal expressed by Metropolitan Herman in our phone
      conversations.

      There were pictures of you serving with the Metropolitan at your
      parish feastday this past Spring. You two have known and worked with
      each other for close to 30 years.

      Actually my relationship with Metropolitan Herman goes back about 40
      years. In the spirit of full disclosure, and as long as I am
      confessing past sins: Vladyka Herman, I was the kid who placed the
      bull frog in your tent during one of the summers I spent at St.
      Tikhon's Summer Camp.

      --Do you still speak with the Metropolitan?

      Wheeler: Yes, Metropolitan Herman and I still speak. I have always
      admired the fact that whenever he is in residence, he picks up his
      own phone.

      --How do you handle the attacks on you, your ministry, your
      intentions, your family?

      Wheeler: I have never viewed this scandal as personal, so I can
      honestly say that I have been able to harden myself against any
      personal attacks.

      My wife and children were never aware of what was transpiring during
      the 1990's at the chancery until early 1999, when it became clear
      that my days were numbered. They have been my pillar of support
      throughout this entire mess. And although they do not have a great
      love for the leadership of the Orthodox Church in America, their
      faith has never wavered.

      --What do you do now?

      Wheeler: I am currently the Finance Manager at a Museum and
      Botanical Garden on Long Island.

      --Would you ever go back to work for the Church?

      Wheeler: I recently read the press release by Deacon Stephen Vernak
      of the OISM encounter in Kodiak, Alaska which was posted on the OCA
      website. It brought to mind the purity, naivety and innocence with
      which I entered seminary some thirty-five years ago. Seeing all that
      is good and blessed by God – and having that goodness consume all
      that which is negative and destructive – that is the spirit in which
      each person begins seminary. Despite the hard knocks of life's
      experiences we strive never to lose this spirit. My heart is still
      in the Church even though at present my service in the church has
      waned. One never knows what the future may hold.

      --Thanks for speaking to OCANews.org.

      Wheeler: This was hard.





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