NEW YORK.- More than 80 parishioners of the Transfiguration Community in Corona took part in a protest across the Archdiocesan headquarters in Manhattan, demanding the restoration of the expelled president Vasilios Livanos and the removal of their priest, Very Rev. Cleopas Stongylis, who has been accused as responsible for various irregularities. Most of the protestors were school children and parents.
The Chancellor Bishop Savvas of Troas refused to see the protestors, who met instead with fr Alex Carloutsos and Fr. Demetrios Antokas. Both promised to convey their messages to Archbishop Demetrios, who was in Constantinople. The demonstrations were postponed, until an answer comes. It is not clear if and when they will continue.
According to reliable sources, both sides move legally, to secure the administration. Mr Livanos, who still has the control of the offices, claims that he will stay in power until the conclusion of a D.A. investigation. But the appointed by the Archdiocese new president, George Georgiadis, in a letter to the assistant Queens D.A. Peter Crusco, asks him to clarify urgently if such an investigation is under way.
115th Police Precinct’s Captain Douglas Rolston, in a letter to Father Cleopas, states that “he is unaware of any investigations being conducted by the Queens D.A.”. He also clarifies that on May 13th, 2004, “no arrests or reports were made”, regarding the call to the Precinct. The issue is considered a “civil matter” and an “internal church affair”. .
But, he felt short to allow the newly appointed council, to change the locks and enter the offices.
Apostolis Zoupaniotis interviewed on the dispute Bishop Savvas of Troas.
Q: You see the people right outside, are you planning to do anything?
A: I’m not going to be with them, no. This isn’t about the school. This is about the Parish Council. The connection was made by the school board, by the administrators of the school; they never called to ask us to attend the meeting; never called to inform us that they were meeting. They never ask an explanation on our part, in which decisions that communicated But in the through the press or through the radio. This is not the way we respond. The use of children on a school day to shout disrespectful slogans, speaks very poorly for the parents and for the administrators that allowed this to happen. This is not about the school. Contrary to the rumors that have circulated, it is not our intention to close the school of Corona.
Q: Practically a situation like that, the school in Corona is going to close.
A: All this happens, because this is in a sense off the record, until six months ago, Mr. Livanos was telling me na min pisteuete afta pou akoute gia to Kleopa, afta pou kikloforoun stin Corona. The theory is this, by firing Livanos, the parents lose the confidence they have in the school, and they won’t involve their kids. But by firing the priest it creates a sense of hope and possibility and they’ll all run back to register, even though I have no priest to assign there.
Q: Grace we are talking about a priest who for seven years had changed parish councils, people very respectable that are reports from much more respectable people appointed there to do a job against this priest. Why are you covering him?
A: I’m not covering, if I’ve waited as log as I have it’s because I’ve waited for definitive proof that the checks that he signed went to him, I have yet to be shown one such check. Of the checks that he signed, of the period he was signing checks from the insurance money that came in to the school, that came into the parish, the 120,000 something dollars that came in.
Q: But still is that a good message you were talking about principles…You think it’s a good message for someone to forge signatures?
A: One of those checks was a 30,000 dollar check into the school account so that it could open on time.
Q: That’s irrelevant
A: Why is that irrelevant?
Q: It’s irrelevant because you legalize an illegality
A: Is it illegal? Be careful how you use that word, you can sign a check in somebody else’s name, if you are not copying their signature and if they’ve given you authorization, I’ve conferred with my lawyers about this.
Q: So it’s legal? Sol that’s the message the Archdiocese sends that it’s legal for the priests to put their signatures
A: There are people who will sign affidavits that have heard Mr. Livanos say “Do this on my behalf.”
Q: So why won’t you make an amendment to the UPRs?
A: We reprimanded the priest for doing that. We don’t condone this practice, but when the signature of the parish is given…
Q: How about giving raises to himself without giving any authorization? How about spending money? How about condoning violence inside the school? How about that? And how about if you have a priest for 8 years, and has his community in turmoil isn’t that enough to keep him there? To send him somewhere else or go yourself there and practice the services?
A: Look the fact that some people dislike Father Cleopa is no secret. Others have a different opinion of him This really, my first involvement with the parish began at a time when certain parties at the school wanted to move his office out of the school building and across the street on the second floor of a building that you own so there could be some distance from both the church and the school. Because they needed the space for a computer lab or something. And that was the first involvement that I had, during my tenure, because you use the term 7 years but you know Apostoli as well as I do that I have been in this position for 4 years. And you know that the problems in Corona predate Father Kleopa. And you know that we are still paying for irregular practices on the part of the previous school boards in term of paying of their teachers and were holding not contributing to their taxes. You know that, and you know that these, and you know as well that in order to, here is another big part of my problem, that Mr. Livanos in order to involve the District Attorney, who requires 2/3 of the parish council to sign off on his investigation asks Mr. Georgiaris, as the acting secretary to sign an affidavit that 10 people equals 2/3 of 18, 10 people equals a quorum, in otherwords an illegality in order to involve somebody to investigate a supposed illegality and in the meanwhile he has hired a secretary whom he has no right to work in this country and who when I asked by my secretary if she received the records from the archdiocese responded they came in handy as I was going into the bathroom at the time. And if you want to talk to me in the future you can talk to my lawyer. Look what I’m saying that the investigation will not stop with Kleopas’ check signing. The investigation will involve a whole lot of other things.
Q: So that’s a threat to them?
A: No, no, no. It’s a simple fact.
Q: You suspect any other things are hidden there?
A: I do indeed.
Q: So why didn’t you start your own investigation? 2 years ago, 3 years ago 4 years ago?
A: Oh please, why didn’t I start an investigation. I’ve asked for evidence, every time I ask for an audit it doesn’t happen.
Q: Grace, don’t you feel a bit guilty, even wrongfully, the children down there protesting?
A: No I have Mrs. Lidakis’ letters.
Q: You have a 100% clear consciousness?
A: Yes I do, absolutely.
Q: Can you see anything else that can be done to solve the issue? Let’s say a diplomatic lead…
A: Not involving Mr. Livanos, no, not involving Mr. Livanos. I’ve spent long hours explaining to him the way things are properly done. Mr. Livanos is of the opinion that he was elected to be a one man rule of law. That he was elected to become a Sadam.
Q: Anyways his election from what I saw, you appointed him without a proper quorum there, only 8 members were present. And you signed that. I saw the minutes. I saw the signatures.
A: I can do that
Q: You can?
Q: So why you didn’t decide to do that in that occasion?
A: Because I wasn’t asked to, I was informed. There was no petition for me to accept these people, I was told as he was leaving for the airport. He faxed me. This is the problem in Corona, I’m told as the president leaves for an undisclosed period of time. You can’t do business this way.
Q: Grace that’s my last opinion. Some people say that like in the past, you can find a solution, appoint a council of members that are not involved in this crisis and send Father Kleopas on a leave of absence and either you or someone else be there. Do you think such a solution would work in order to deflate the crisis?
A: In years past such attempt were made and they were incredibly difficult to do. When the Blue Ribbon commission was appointed by Father Pashis, it isn’t easy to set up a government in a hostile climate. As we are learning in Iraq.
Q: So what are you going to do?
A: What am I going to do?
Q: (?) of the community?
A: No, is that what you suggest?
Q: No you said Iraq that’s why.
A: Well did I dismiss the board? I dismissed one member from the board. One person from the board, and the 9 people who weren’t coming to the board, by the way we’re withholding their support of the board, but never resigned from the board were women who claimed that Mr. Livanos was creating a sexually hostile environment.
Q: With 70 year old women or 80? 85?
A: The ginekoules.
Q: Yeah but we are talking about 75, we are talking that we have a president as a pervert there…
A: No sexual harassment does not mean it’s about assertion of power. And when a woman opens her mouth and she’s told eseis i ginekoules go back to your kitchens and leave your work to the real men you don’t belong on this board, that’s an old world attitude. We have to overcome.
Q: So do you have any other suggestions that this one you promoted in Corona in order to deflate the crisis?
A: I put 1 of 18 people out. And I called for reelection, I appointed a president and I called for reelections pen to all the other members of the board of the January board that I approved. I cannot support lawlessness. I’m not going to cave in to strong men and the myth, and out there it is believed by some that I haven’t acted because Kleopa pays me. And Kleopas people believe I haven’t acted because Livanos pays me. Which would be a pretty good deal, neither party has, they both know better that to attempt to bribe me with any such things. Anything.
Q: Do you suggest Livanos bribes anyone.
A: No I don’t suggest that. I don’t suggest that. But the word out there is that he’s a huge supporter of the archdiocese and that we treat him this way despite his enormous generosity to us. His generosity is directed to the Corona community, he’s not a benefactor of the archdiocese per se and if he were I would still opt for the right, I’m not caving in , you know, I don’t believe that there is a different set of rules applying for people with money.
Q: Thank you Grace. Is there anything else you want to add?
A: I deplore the use of children in this manner, this is a political situation that, it was never our intention to adversely affect the school, we want stability and order. And if we directed Mr. Livanos to step down it was for the sake of stability and order after a protracted period of resisting our directives.