Supreme Court Justice Rosengarten rejects motion of the defendants in Corona Parish battle. Legal Opinion by Professor I. Konidaris finds spiritual court decision “neither legal nor canonical”
New Υork.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese won the first round of an expected long legal battle against expelled members of the Transfiguration Parish in Corona, New York. On May 20th, Supreme Court Justice Roger Rosengarten rejected motions made by the defendants against his temporary order, prohibiting them from entering Church grounds and stepping on other property owned the parish.
His decision states that “the Court finds that the actions of Archbishop Demetrios and Bishop Savas of Troas relating to this matter were within their hierarchal ecclesiastical authority and the Court will not interfere”.
According to the decision, defendants are “preliminary enjoined and restrained from interfering with the parish priest of the Transfiguration Church in the performance of his spiritual and administrative duties”.
They are also restrained from interfering with the religious activities of any parishioners of the Transfiguration Church and they are ordered to surrender all parish records and transfer all accounts and assets to the parish. Additionally they are not considered to be members or officers of the parish.
Demetrios Spanos, one of the defendants and Vice President of the expelled council told Greek News that “on the basis of certain decisions made by a so-called Spiritual Court, the New York Supreme Court has issued a preliminary injunction. This is an order that is in effect only until a trial is conducted. We intend to push for a prompt trial, at which we will show that the Spiritual Court has violated its own rules and that the Archdiocese has refused to hear our appeal, which was filed before the Spring meeting of the Eparchial Synod.
At the trial we will also show that there is no need for the injunction, which bars parents from visiting their children at school and bars parishioner from worshiping at their own church”.
The cross motion of the defendants, was presented to the Supreme Court on May 11, 2005. According to the cross motion “under the 1st Amendment, to the US Constitution, this Court must accept the decision of the Highest ecclesiastical tribunal of a hierarchical Church. No such a decision exists in this case”.
A legal opinion of Professor of Canon Law at the University of Athens, Ioannis Konidaris, that was send to the Archbishop and the Eparchial Synod, was also included in the cross motion.
It’s not clear why the Eparchial Synod didn’t discuss the appeal at its Spring Meeting. According to sources, Vice Chancellor Fr. Michael Kontogeorgis told the Court that there was not sufficient time, although according to the defendants the appeal was made two days after the decision of the Spiritual Court, in March.
Interestingly enough, according to an affidavit submitted to the Court on May 17, by Fr Kkontogeorgis, “on May 14, 2005, the Archdiocesan Council unanimously approved that the UPR does not , in fact, impose a requirement that parishioners appointed by the Archbishop to serve on a parish council be parishioners at that parish for one year”.
On Thursday, June 2, 2005, at 7 pm, the defendants along with other parish members have called a meeting, to take place at the Stathakion (22-51 29 Street, Astoria NY) to update on Corona Community Crisis, the Future of the Greek Parochial Education in the US and the diminishing role of the laity under the current Archdiocesan charter.
THE LEGAL OPINION
In his 12 page long legal opinion, Ecclesiastical Law Professor Ioannis Konidaris raises 5 important questions:
1. Is the unilateral and repeated replacement of the legally and canonically* elected and reelected Parish Council of the Parish of “Metamorphosis of our Savior” of Corona, New York, under Mr. V. Livanos, legal and consistent with the law governing the Archdiocese of America?
2. Is the composition of the Ecclesiastical Court of First Instance of the Archdiocese of America, that judged and condemned the members of the above Parish Council, legal?
3. Are the penances inflicted to them concordant with the Regulations and the institutions of the Orthodox Church?
4. What possibilities of defense are offered to the condemned persons for the revocation of the decision of the Ecclesiastical Court of First Instance, either by the Holy Eparchial Synod or by the spiritual Leader of the Orthodox Church, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew?
5. Which is the procedure that must be followed, according to the current law of the H. Archdiocese of America, to exit the crisis and to restore peace and union of hearts at the Parish of “Metamorphosis of our Savior” of Corona, New York?
In his conclusions, Professor Konidaris sates the following
1. The unilateral and repeated replacement of the legally and canonically elected and reelected Parish Council of the Parish of “Metamorphosis of our Savior” of Corona, N.Y., is against the law governing the H. Archdiocese of America and, more specifically, it is contrary to the Uniform Parish Regulations, on the one hand because the majority of the members of the recently appointed Parish Council are not even members of the Parish, while the others have not met their financial stewardship obligations to the Parish, and on the other hand because the replacement of the whole Parish Council of this specific Parish twice in a 12-year period took place without the concordant opinion of the H. Eparchial Synod.
2. The composition of the Ecclesiastical Court of First Instance of the Archdiocese of America that judged and condemned the members of the Parish Council of the Parish of “Metamorphosis of our Savior” of Corona, N.Y. was not concordant with the law governing the H. Archdiocese of America, and therefore the decisions that were pronounced are not legal nor canonical.
3. Supposing that the Court was legally formed, the adjunctive penalties that accompany the ecclesiastical penance of excommunicatio minor (deprivation of the Holy Communion) are not concordant with the Ecclesiastical Canon, and constitute a direct offense against human rights that are secured by international treaties.
4. The persons condemned by the Ecclesiastical Court of First Instance of the H. Archdiocese of America have the right to appeal to the Ecclesiastical Court of Second Instance, and, in case of a verdict of guilt, they have the right to appeal to the Ecumenical Patriarch, whose decision is the only final and irrevocable one.
5. The procedure that should be followed to exit the crisis at the Parish of “Metamorphosis of our Savior” of Corona, N.Y., should include the immediate revocation of the inflicted penances, the recognition of the Charter and the Regulations of the H. Archdiocese by all parishioners and the calling an election for the election of a new Parish Council, in which it will be possible for all parishioners who have met their financial stewardship obligations to the Parish to become candidates.