GOA financial problems will be discussed during a lengthy open forum on Monday – People optimistic that unity will prevail despite undermining efforts
New York.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
Photos: Dimitrios Panagos
The official opening of the 44th Clergy Laity Congress of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America is set for Monday, July 2nd, at the Marriot Copley Hotel in Boston and the attentions of the delegates will be focused on the key note address by Archbishop Demetrios and the message of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew that will be conveyed by his representative Metropolitan Apostolos of Derkon.
The congress begins 9:30 am and at 2 pm an open forum with Presentation and Discussion Concerning the Financial Status of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese will take place, until 5 pm.
Following the strict measures undertaken few months ago, the Archdiocese took another decisive step on Friday, June 29, with the announcement of the conclusion of the loan with the New York-based Alma Bank, whose major shareholder is Stathis Valiotis.
Under the terms of the loan, the Archdiocese immediately received $ 5.5 million, which has provided to the Archdiocese credit facilities at closing to immediately restore funds due to donor restricted and custodial accounts and to additionally satisfy legacy obligations from prior years, according to an announcement issued by the Archdiocese.
Alma has provided a 10 year $5.5 million mortgage at an initial 5-year rate of 4.25% and a credit line of two million. As the well-informed source told us, the two building used as the headquarters of the Archdiocese on 79th Street in Manhattan have been secured. Detailed announce4ment on the terms of the loan will be released soon.
A source close to the bank and its major shareholder said that the terms of the loan and the amount of the mortgage are determined by strict banking regulations and the fact that the decision was approved by the Attorney General’s Office of New York State makes it completely transparent to the proceedings. At the same time, he described as “malicious”, comments that supposedly Mr. Valiotis by providing the loan intends to grab cheap the property of the Church.
“Someone who donates 10 million for St Michael’s Home deserves better comments,” he said.
The statement is as follows:
“We are grateful to Alma Bank for its confidence in the concrete actions already taken by the Archdiocese towards financial stability and a balanced budget for this and future years” noted Bishop Andonios, Chancellor of the Archdiocese. “The decision of Alma, along with the approval of the Attorney General’s Office which was required for such a transaction, validate the actions taken to date by the administration of the Archdiocese to implement appropriate and necessary managerial and financial controls. That our finances and accounting practices have successfully undergone thorough due diligence, and have subsequently been found strong, represents an objective vote of confidence in the Archdiocese and is a success shared by us all.”
Alma has provided a 10 year $5.5 million mortgage at an initial 5-year rate of 4.25% along with a credit line on terms that are considered customary for commercial loans to a not-for-profit organization. The Archdiocese used loan proceeds from the mortgage and credit line aggregating $7.5 million to restore monies to the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine, fulfill obligations to restricted funds and the pension plan, and to fund the Metropolises of the Archdiocese.
The debt service associated with the bank loan are well within budgeted amounts for addressing past obligations of the Archdiocese which is pleased to have established the banking relationship with Alma Bank.
Delegates from most of the 550 Greek Orthodox parishes across the United States will participate at the conference, that has as main theme, “All Things Are Possible to the One Who Believes in Christ (Mark 9:23).”
Despite the attempts to create a climate of turmoil and confusion by “recycling” of articles in both the United States and Greece that gave a greatly distorted picture of the Archdiocese and Archbishop Demetrios, very few risk prediction of a repetition of the Orlando Clergy Laity, in 1998.
George Tsandikos, Vice Chairman of the Archdiocesan Council, stressed last week in an exclusive interview with the “Greek News” that The Congress gives us a much needed opportunity to correct the mistruths and fake news that threaten our unity. There, we will have the opportunity to present data-based and factual information that establishes the truth about the issues we have seen manipulated and misrepresented to serve the interests of those seeking to divide us for personal, political gain.”
“We continue to make progress in correcting past issues, implementing change that precludes them from happening again, and restoring the financial bedrock our Church needs to serve future generations. These are inarguably positive developments for the Church and its faithful. There is simply no place or reason for division on these points.”
Tsandikos comments to the Greek News that “His Eminence enjoys deep support across our community, clergy, and lay leadership” and that he hopes the Archbishop “will continue to lead us as we, the Executive Committee, complete the steps taken to ensure the Archdiocese is restored to full financial strength and the resumption of work on his legacy project, the St. Nicholas Church and National Shrine,” were presented by the daily Greek American daily “Ethnikos Kiryx” as “Archbishop Demetrios incites revolt against the Ecumenical Patriarchate.”
In a strong statement issued on Tuesday, June 26, the Archdiocese described the article as “misinformation” and “cynical and blatant falsehood.”
The statement is as follows:
“The Greek American daily newspaper of New York “Ethnikos Kirix” published today, June 26, 2018, a first page article under the false and unsubstantiated title “Archbishop Demetrios incites revolt against the Ecumenical Patriarchate.”
The misinformation and allegations of the article have no foundation whatsoever. They are cynical falsehoods using as pretext a recent interview by the Vice-President of the Archdiocesan Council in another Greek American newspaper. That interview provides no basis for the allegations of the “Ethnikos Kirix” (“National Herald”) newspaper and they are simply a continuation of the well known and in every aspect unacceptable tactics which this newspaper has used for many years.
As we embark on the 44th Clergy-Laity Congress in Boston in the coming week, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, Geron of America, are steadily and unshakably committed to the service and ministry of the people of God in the United States, under the care and love of the Mother Church, our Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople”.
In addition to Monday’s lengthy forum on the financial issues, delegates will have a great interest on the first meeting of the Financial Committee on Tuesday (from 9-11:30 am) and the Administrative Committee (Wednesday from 8 – 10:45 am). A second meeting of the Finance Committee will take place on Wednesday, from 11 am to 12 pm.
The plenary session will take place on Thursday, from 10 am to 4 pm and the Congress will close at night with the official banquet.
According to the Phase I report of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) on St. Nicholas Church (SNCNS) released on Wednesday March 16, the SNCNS accounts payable balance as of December 31, 2017 was $8,880,633.
The Report does indicate that the Archdiocese borrowed the sum of $3,504,550 from the St. Nicholas fund for general Archdiocesan expenditures. On May 2, the Archdiocese returned $1,000,000 to the fund, reducing the balance owed by the Archdiocese to the St. Nicholas fund, to $2,504,550 plus interest, expected to be given back immediately using the loan from Alma Bank.
The delegates are expected to raise questions for some interesting findings of the PWC, including:
The amount of $288,638 the GOA charged SNCNS for a portion of the authorized salary of the former GOA Executive Director of Administration Jerry Dimitriou or the time he spent on SNCNS rebuilding related activities during the period January 2013 to September 2017”
- The $532,000 charged by Archdiocese for fundraising costs related to the SNCNS Capital Campaign and travelling expenses. According to the report the GOA reversed fundraising costs and GOA travel, transportation and other entries totaling $190,000 and $17,000, respectively, from the 2016 and 2017 SNCNS general ledger accounts.”
- The almost $2 million legal cost.
- The amounts of $2,000,494 and $1,136,709 respectively received by companies owned by architect Nicholas Koutsomitis ( Koutsomitis Architects PC and RKK & G Museum & Cultural), former chairman of the Board of Trustees of Archdiocesan Holy Trinity Cathedral.
- A debt of $410,190 from the Orthodox Synod in Crete, for which the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese paid in total $987,605.
The Phase II of the report will be released by the end of the summer and “will discuss procedures and observations regarding the baseline costs of the St. Nicholas Shrine; the causes of cost increases and design changes to the Shrine; and undisclosed relationships, if any, between the Shrine’s project management and vendors paid from St. Nicholas funds.”
As George Tsandikos told the Greek News, “Phase 2 is well underway and we expect to have the results by the end of the summer. We have begun strategic planning for the completion of the project and we will resume fundraising with robust controls, oversight, and transparency once the plan is finalized. Having separated the administration and finance roles within the Archdiocese, and having appointed new leadership of the Finance and Audit Committees, I am very confident that we are already well-positioned to move forward.”