Boston, MA.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
Photos: Dimitrios Panagos
Efforts to put the finances of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese back in track with balanced budgets took a dangerous turn on Wednesday, when the Finance Committee of the Congress decided by majority, on one hand to reject a proposal for a 3% increase in the budget and immediately following that, to approve the allocation of 1 million dollars to the pension fund of the priests. There wasn’t any change in the budget since 2016 and in addition, because of the financial situation, the Archdiocesan Council had already decided not to apply the approved from the previous Clergy Laity raise in the total commitment of the parishes.
The Archdiocese has just returned in full the amount of one million dollars obtained wrongfully from the fund, by using the loan from Alma Bank. But still the parishes owe almost 4.5 million dollars to the fund by not paying on time their share. During Monday’s open forum on the financial situation of the Archdiocese, Auditing Committee Chairperson, Elaine Allen said that the pension fund for basically demographic reasons is underfunded by 53 million dollars.
The discussion lasted almost three hours and at times it was highly emotional. Members of the Archdiocesan Finance Committee tried to present the argument that certain increases had to take place and the 3% raise (just over $600.000) was merely covering them.
After that “freeze” was passed, the majority – mostly the clergy members – decided to add to the budget one million dollars, without presenting the source of the income.
One priest suggested increasing the priests’ contribution to the pension fund by just 100 a month, in order to raise approximately 700,000 dollars annually. He didn’t have much support among his fellow priests.
“We just voted to freeze the budget by rejecting a 3% raise and now you want to add one million dollars. Where is it going to come from? We have already made big personnel cuts. If we cut it any further, we may be able to save few dollars, but we won’t be able to save the amount we need. We are moving forward in the same reckless way of the past, knowing that we will be heading to a million dollar deficit.”
Among the ideas presented by the supporters of the million dollars payment to the pension fund was to use any possible funds recovered by the insurance covering “bad employee practice” and other savings. But basically, their approach was “find the savings and make cuts.”
Questions were raised about the travelling expenses of the Archbishop and the Metropolitans, both in U.S. and abroad. During the discussion it was revealed that while the expenses of previous Archbishop’s visits to out of town parishes were covered by the parishes, Demetrios is not following this practice.
The Chancellor of the Archdiocese Bishop Andonios of Phassiane tried hard to convince the members not to proceed in such a way to repeat the past mistakes. Following the vote, he took the microphone and announced that if the budget will be approved this way, he will resign from his duties.
“I hope at the plenary session tomorrow, before the Congress will approve the budget, they will make the adjustments”, Bishop Andonios told the “Greek News.” “The way it was approved at the Finance Committee it won’t work out, because we are repeating mistakes of the past; we approve budgets that they spend more than they bring in. It’s impossible to do that. Nobody does that in their households. Who spends more than they get? We will run into the same debt.”
The Chancellor told the “Greek News” it is impossible for him to implement such an arrangement.
“I cannot do it and I cannot be part of doing something that happened in the past; when we tried to borrow money from different accounts to pay bills; or I have to sit on the phone with people while we cannot pay them. It is impossible!”
Asked about his expressed intention to resign if such a measure will be approved at the Clergy Laity Congress, Bishop Andonios said:
“I was going to retire anyway. I postponed my retirement because I wanted to help my Archdiocese overcome what have happened. If we are going to be back in the same position, there is no reason for me to stick around because it is impossible for me to do my job.”
Members of the Executive Committee share similar feelings and express deep disappointment, while they are having second thoughts about serving another term, especially since all of them have spent both time and money in order to clean up the financial mess. In addition, the Treasurer of the Executive Committee Michael Psaros had paid for the company that helps for the restructuring of the Archdiocesan Departments. Psaros arrived on Wednesday in Boston and delegates are waiting with interest his remarks at the plenary session.