Canadas Serbian bishop bans worship in the Falls

Author: Sharon Boase
Date Published: 04/22/2006

What began as an administrative dispute between Canada’s
Serbian Orthodox bishop and a parish in Niagara Falls has spiralled into a $17-million lawsuit and a ban on worship on the eve of Orthodox Easter.

While Christian Orthodox will joyfully mark Jesus’s resurrection tomorrow, congregants at St. George Serbian Orthodox Church will have to make-do without a priest, marking the highest Christian holy day with silent prayer and hymns.

“This is terrible, absolutely terrible,” said Dushan (Dan)
Kolundzic, president of the executive board at St. George’s in
Niagara Falls, one of six defendants named in a suit filed by
Bishop Georgije Dojic, head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Canada.

“Easter is what people wait for the entire year,” he said. “I feel hurt, the community is hurt.”

The suit seeks to dissolve the incorporation of St. George’s
which took place last December. St. George’s sits on 28 acres in the heart of Niagara Falls, just off Lundy’s Lane. Kolundzic says it’s worth about $15 million.

The lawsuit, filed in February, claims the incorporation transaction was “inappropriate and fraudulent” and is in violation of national church bylaws, statutes and its constitution. It also alleges the transaction violated church dogma and scripture.

None of the allegations has been proven in court and the
defendants have not submitted a statement of defence.

Lawyer for the national church Bernard Gassee said the
ecclesiastical issue was a personal matter and the bishop was
not available for comment yesterday, Orthodox Good Friday.

The dispute began last year when St. George’s board learned
the bishop cancelled a health insurance policy covering all Canadian Serbian Orthodox clergy and their families. Instead, money parishes across Canada paid on premiums was pooled in an account from which health-care costs were paid.

Kolundzic said Serbian Orthodox Church of Canada’s constitution and statutes require individual parishes to provide
health coverage for clergy, including long-term disability,
life insurance, health and dental coverage. To not do so could
open up the parish to legal action, Kolundzic said.

Under the old structure, the five trustees of the church would have been personally liable, with their homes, vehicles and other assets facing possible seizure in the case of a lawsuit.

For more than a year St. George’s trustees tried to get the
national church to say in writing that their parish was no longer required to provide health benefits. When that didn’t happen, they decided to protect their trustees from personal liability by incorporating, Kolundzic said.

There isn’t enough money in the national church bank account
to cover health care for clergy, said Branko Vincic, former
president at St. Nicholas Serbian Orthodox Cathedral on
Nash Road South in Hamilton.

“We think this is an extremely dangerous thing,” Vincic said.
“Disability claims can run into the millions of dollars and church trustees would be left holding the bag.”

The bishop followed the suit with an edict forbidding worship
services and the dispensing of sacraments at St. George’s.
Those who voted for incorporation are banned from receiving
the sacraments anywhere in the Serbian Orthodox Church, but may receive the sacraments if they rescind their votes.

Kolundzic said St. George’s congregants have no intention
of leaving the Serbian Orthodox Church and will not violate the bishop’s edict.