New York.- GreekNewsOnline
Photos: Dimitrios Panagos
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese announced on Friday that it has completed a demanding restructuring process that advanced the financial stability of the Archdiocese. Following this process, the Archdiocese is now projected to achieve a balance budget and generate additional funds that will be applied to first retire its financial obligations and then establish a reserve for its future.
According to the statement, the Archdiocese reduced approximately $8 million or approximately 25% of annual operating cash expenditures and it has eliminated its former structural operating deficit.
Earlier this month, the Archdiocese Council, including its Executive, Audit, Legal and Finance Committees, received the Executive Summary of the Grant Thornton Operations Review, with recommendations on best practices that can be implemented in order to maximize resources and results.
On Thursday, the Archdiocese issued another statement discarding claims by its former executive director Jerry Dimitriou against Archbishop Demetrios, for having full knowledge on the financial problems of our Church and St Nicholas rebuilding effort.
Statement on the
“Archbishop Demetrios, the Holy Eparchial Synod, the Executive Committee and the Archdiocesan Council reacted decisively to resolve the Archdiocese legacy financial problems discovered in 2017. The Archdiocese overcame its legacy financial challenges by introducing a new leadership team and organizational structure, implementing new policies and procedures to control and govern expenditures, a material reduction in operating cash costs, and the creation of budget that will allow for the dynamic monitoring and management of the Archdiocese finances.
New leadership team and
Following the 2016 Clergy-Laity Congress, the Archbishop restructured the Executive Committee and new lay leadership at the highest levels, including a new Vice President and Treasurer of the Archdiocesan Council, were installed. His Grace, Bishop Andonios of Phasiane, Chancellor, assumed key administrative responsibilities after the resignation of the former Director of Administration in September 2017. Father Soterios Baroody was appointed as Chief Financial Officer (“CFO”) of the Archdiocese in April 2017. Prior to his appointment, the GOA did not have the position of CFO; by adding this position, a critical change, separating administration and finance, was made in the Archdiocese organizational structure.
A new group of financial and legal professionals to serve as members of the Archdiocesan Council’s Standing Audit Committee, was appointed by the Archbishop, with Ms. Elaine Allen serving as Chairperson. The responsibilities of the Audit Committee include assessing the reliability and accuracy of financial reporting; selecting external auditors; meeting with those auditors to review audit plans and results; reviewing internal controls and developing any necessary remediation plans; and monitoring compliance with applicable laws and regulations pertaining to financial controls. The newly constituted Audit Committee and its Chairperson have already made an impact on the operations of the Archdiocese.
Archon Lazaros Kircos was appointed by the Archbishop to serve as Chairman of the Archdiocese Finance Committee. Under Archon Kircos’ leadership, the Finance Committee has taken its proper role in the functioning of the Archdiocese, including leading and monitoring of areas involving budgets, expenditures, finance, treasury, and long term strategic planning.
Implementation of new
policies and procedures
to control and govern
The Archdiocese, due to its mission and its ecclesiastical identity, is permanently committed to becoming a world-class, not-for profit institution from accountability – transparency perspective. Critical to this objective is establishing and enforcing policies and procedures to control and govern expenditures. The work of the Finance Committee has resulted in an immediate positive financial impact on the Archdiocese.
In April 2017, with the blessing of His Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios of America, the Archdiocese started the process of improving internal controls by management directive. In furtherance of this objective, the Archdiocese also retained Grant Thornton in 2017 to conduct a thorough, independent review and analysis of the operations of the Archdiocese finance function, and to provide an in-depth, third party view of areas where the finance function, and therefore the Archdiocese, can become more efficient, effective and transparent. In January 2018, the Archdiocese Council, including its Executive, Audit, Legal and Finance Committees, received the Executive Summary of the Grant Thornton Operations Review. The Operations Review makes recommendations on best practices that can be implemented in order to maximize resources and results. This highly technical document will act as a critical tool for the Archdiocese with respect internal controls, practices and procedures. Implementing internal controls is a complex process that must be conducted with care, and external resources will be required.
Material reduction in
operating cash costs.
The Archdiocese reduced approximately $8 million or approximately 25% of annual operating cash expenditures. As a result, the Archdiocese eliminated its former structural operating deficit and is now projected to achieve a balanced budget and generate additional funds. Further, the Archdiocese cumulative accounting deficit from prior years is being reduced. The cost reductions, which are permanent and structural, were achieved primarily by reducing Archdiocesan staff levels, reducing general administrative costs, and implementing new vendor management protocols and controls.
Approves 2018 Budget
Under the leadership of Archbishop Demetrios, His Grace, Bishop Andonios, the Officers and the Finance Committee, a comprehensive and achievable 2018 budget, approved by the Executive Committee, was created and accurately reflects the true financial position of the Archdiocese. The Treasurer and Finance Committee will work with the management of the Archdiocese to monitor variances in the new budget relative to actual performance. This budget process is a first and critical step in establishing a solid foundation for the Archdiocese finances.
A summary of the 2018 Budget will be posted on the Archdiocese website in the near future.
Legacy Financial Obligations
The Archdiocese has disclosed that it is encumbered by certain legacy obligations resulting from its former financial problems. The Archdiocese has retained professionals to determine the quantum and nature of these liabilities.
The Archdiocese also disclosed that certain custodial and restricted accounts were used to fund operations. The Archdiocese will prioritize the expeditious return of funds to the custodial and restricted accounts.
Financial Stability Achieved
Accompanied by Decreased
Burden on Parishes
The financial stability of the Archdiocese was achieved without any additional burden placed on its parishes. The Holy Eparchial Synod decided to keep the contribution level of the parishes at the 2017 level. The 7.74% increase for 2018, which had already been approved by the 2016 Clergy-Laity Congress, was rescinded, representing a savings of $1.6 million to parishes in 2018.
Strong Support in Total
The Archdiocese recognizes and appreciates the continuing strong stewardship by its Parishes. The Finance Committee reports that for 2017, the Archdiocese Total Commitment receipts from its parishes across the country met 100% of the budgeted Total commitment for the sixth consecutive year. In the recent uncertain environment, that result was only achievable through the hard work and dedication of our Metropolitans and their Metropolis Finance Committee members. Our parishes should be assured that considerable efforts described in this announcement towards achieving transparency, accountability and financial stability for the Archdiocese are being implemented. The Archdiocese is deeply indebted to the parishes, and is grateful to God for them.”
Dimitriou’s letter as
an effort to divert
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America with a statement issued Thursday afternoon, discards claims by its former executive director Jerry Dimitriou against Archbishop Demetrios, for having full knowledge on the financial problems of our Church and St Nicholas rebuilding effort.
Jerry Dimitriou who has resigned, has sent a letter to the Archbishop on January 24. The content of the letter was leaked to various media immediately.
In a statement by its Chancellor, Bishop Andonios, the Archdiocese points out that the Kiwi review of the finance “identified specific payroll discrepancies associated with former staff of the Archdiocese” that led to a further separate investigation that revealed “significant and unprecedented irregularities”.
“Those who would seek to divert attention from this serious issue by falsely accusing His Eminence, or others, of indifference in confronting the financial challenges facing the Archdiocese, ignore the facts while bringing no honor upon themselves”, says Bishop Andonios.
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America is committed to total transparency and accountability, so that through strict adherence to established governance, it may ensure its ability to meet the spiritual needs of the Faithful.
In December of last year, the Archdiocese engaged Kiwi Associates, an independent accounting firm, to launch a special review of Archdiocesan payroll records for 2016 and 2017. During their review, they identified specific payroll discrepancies associated with former staff of the Archdiocese.
“This discovery” stated His Grace, Bishop Andonios, Chancellor of the Archdiocese, “led the Archdiocese to immediately undertake a far closer inspection of its payroll and credit card expenses for the 5 year period between the beginning of 2013 and end of 2017. That separate investigation revealed significant and unprecedented irregularities,” the Bishop explained. “The investigation of these matters continues.”
Consistent with prior disclosures, beginning in April 2017, the Archdiocese implemented appropriate internal payroll controls with rigorous internal oversight and periodic independent reviews, now a permanent requirement. The Archdiocese had also adopted strict controls regarding the issuance and use of corporate credit cards.
“We shall pursue all available remedies to address the discrepancies but, while doing so, we have created far stronger audit and control procedures, additional oversight and strict reviews,” continued His Grace. “Those who would seek to divert attention from this serious issue by falsely accusing His Eminence, or others, of indifference in confronting the financial challenges facing the Archdiocese, ignore the facts while bringing no honor upon themselves,” he concluded.
JERRY DIMITRIOU’S LETTER
January 24, 2018
His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios Geron of America
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
8-10 East 79th Street
New York, New York 10075
I write with great sadness, disappointment and loss. And I write with fear: for myself, for my family and for our Church.
For five months since my resignation I have watched, uncertain of what to do (in part because my resignation agreement with the Archdiocese prohibited me from speaking out) as unsupported assertions of overwhelming debt, huge deficits and missing funds circulated, unanswered by the Archdiocese. I watched to the point where my reputation and integrity have been called into question, and trust in the Archdiocese has eroded to such an extent that parishes are withholding their national ministries commitments to the national Church.
I have watched as a difficult financial situation became a crisis for our Church – completely avoidable – because the good members of the legal and finance committees acted on misleading financial information supplied to them by those too far divorced from the process to understand it and the information they were supplying to their committees.
Worse than that, I keep reading reports that you have said you knew nothing of the state of the finances of the Archdiocese and that I was responsible for everything.
Were you not the Archbishop of America for the past 17 years? Did we not work together with Michael Jaharis and Manny Demos and many, many others to first solve the financial debacle that former Archbishop Spyridon plunged the church into? Did we not work together on the inherited bank debt of over $6 Million and a fiscal deficit in 1999 of close to $3 Million when you took over as Archbishop? Did we not retire ALL that initial debt and fix the deficit together?
Did we not work together to settle multi-million dollar lawsuits against those clergy who had abused children and women that they were sworn to serve under Christ? Did we not work together to pay down over $17 Million in legal bills and settlements to take care of the burden they made for our Archdiocese? Did we not work together, with many dedicated lawyers and professionals, to create new misconduct policies and ensure their enforcement to protect both the faithful and clergy from these same types of situations?
Did we not work together to restructure the Archdiocese finances to change the national ministries allocation formula of the Parishes from an income-based formula to an expense-based formula, making it a more fair system of allocation for the Parishes and thus increasing the Stewardship Revenue of the Archdiocese from $9 Million to over $20 Million in these 17 years?
Did we not work together to create new ministries and new departments in the Archdiocese to further the ministry work of the Church; Ministries that you personally created by your challenges to the faithful through your keynote addresses to the many Clergy Laity Congresses? Were you not part of the process of creating and funding these ministries through our budgets, fully aware of their funding
and costs? Did the Executive Committee and Clergy Laity Congress not approve those budgets and fund the ministries of the Church these past 17 years in open transparency?
Did we not discuss, together and with others, the loss of our very dear beloved friends and major stewards of our Archdiocese, Mr. Michael Jaharis and Mr. Nicholas Bouras, and the very difficult financial situation their loss would place upon the Church? Did I not inform you that the loss of over $3 Million from their personal stewardship would have a direct impact upon the Church in America and the budget of the Archdiocese?
Did we not work together, with Fr. Alex Karloutsos, Michael Jaharis and many other dedicated individuals over these past 17 years to fight for St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church at the World Trade Center? Did you and the committee you appointed not choose Santiago Calatrava as the Architect to build the Church? Did you not agree to all the design changes that were made by Mr. Calatrava? Did I not advise you and others that those changes would cost millions of extra dollars; dollars that would have to be raised and dollars that were not in the budget? Did you not sit in meetings with Mr. Calatrava discussing and ultimately agreeing to those changes and cost increases? Were you not told, before Mr. Calatrava was chosen, that if you choose him as the design Architect, the budget would surely be at least double what was originally estimated?
If you were not aware of these financial situations of our Archdiocese as you claim, then who was the Archbishop I was working very close with these past 17 years? Who was the Archbishop that I considered a spiritual father and leader these past 17 years? Who was I serving, taking personal attacks for and standing up for these past 17 years? Who was the Archbishop I met with and spoke to thousands of times when we made these, sometimes very difficult, decisions?
The answer, as you know Your Eminence, is yes you were aware, you did make decisions, you knew the facts of what we were doing and where our Archdiocese was headed. You are the Archbishop and you are responsible for these decisions; many of which are documented in letters and memos.
I have served the Church for 30 years and you for 17 of those years. I have done so out of love and not for financial gain as you yourself can attest. You and Michael Jaharis asked me to return to the Church in 2000 from my secular job. As you know, I did not want to return, but to serve in other capacities. You both insisted and knowing my love for my Church and the Archdiocese, I returned as Executive Director, not as Chief Financial Officer as many in the press seem to think.
Again, five years ago I came to you and told you I was leaving the Archdiocese for a secular position and I would give you 6 months transition so you could fill my position. You and Michael Jaharis pleaded with me to stay on and not leave the Archdiocese and then offered me a contract to stay. A contract that was negotiated in good faith by me and the Archdiocese through our mutual attorneys, all because you wanted me to stay with you as Executive Director until you left the Archdiocese.
Now is the time, Your Eminence, to speak out in truth and love.
The first step you can take is to acknowledge the decisions you made as The Archbishop and as our spiritual and administrative leader – decisions of which you were fully aware and in which you participated fully.
Second is to acknowledge the damage caused to our Church by the repeated rejection of my offers before and after my departure to meet with you and the new CFO, formerly our Controller, to review the finances and the financial condition of the Archdiocese. Simple communication and meeting with
me would have averted some of the crises you face today. A clear example was the termination of the construction contract for St. Nicholas by Skanska because no one bothered to sign the suspension agreement I had negotiated and to which Skanska had already agreed before they fully terminated their contract. A decision that will cause the St. Nicholas budget to expand exponentially should the restart of construction be delayed any longer. Another example was termination of the 40-year relationship of the Archdiocese with Chase Manhattan Bank because apparently no one bothered to negotiate and discuss our situation with them as you and I had done many times before.
Third is to acknowledge your full involvement in the entire process of the rebuilding of the St. Nicholas Church at Ground Zero, and the hundreds of briefings that I gave you over the years, keeping you fully and completely informed as to the status of the rebuilding effort – including each and every change made to its design, all of which you personally approved.
Fourth is to convene a structured process involving Your Eminence and a representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the new management of the Archdiocese, the new CFO, and me in order to seek out the facts as they relate to the financial condition of the Archdiocese; with special emphasis on the fiscal operating deficits, and the allegations of misappropriation of monies, some of which have been directed at me, and which I categorically deny. This process will also ensure that correct and complete information is made available to any audits or special investigations that may be underway. I challenge the false claims and the false numbers that have been irresponsibly leaked to the press and would like them to be corrected, verified and then properly and fully released to the public.
Your Eminence, I am a son of my Archdiocese and have spent almost my entire professional career serving my Church, my Archdiocese, Archbishop Iakovos and Your Eminence. I have given my life protecting my Church, my Archdiocese and my Archbishops! The last place I want to be is on the opposite side of my Archdiocese. You know my heart and you know my commitment to my Church. I am pleading with you to allow me the opportunity to clear my name and to provide clarity and understanding of the finances of our Archdiocese for those who don’t understand them.
I repeat: I was and am fully prepared to share my full and complete knowledge of the finances of the Archdiocese and the rebuilding of St. Nicholas in the framework of a fair and objective process that has as its aim the truth. What I am not prepared to do is to remain silent and permit myself to be the scapegoat.
I take no joy in writing this letter. I know the road ahead is a difficult and sad one for all of us – for you, for me and my family, and most of all for our community. I take comfort however if the facts are made known and fully understood, our faithful will rally around and support the good works of faith and ministry that are being performed by the many dedicated and faithful people of our Church and those who serve it.
With Love and Respect,
cc: His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
The Holy Eparchial Synod of America