MANDEL: Greek Community of Toronto lawsuit claims unholy pilfering by Greek Orthodox church
TORONTO — Stealing donations for a sick baby, the appointment of known sex abusers and skimming money earmarked for the poor are some of the explosive allegations in a Greek church civil war now raging in Toronto.
In 2012, when baby Alexander Karanikas needed more than $100,000 to airlift him home from Greece for lifesaving heart surgery at Sick Kids, the Greek Canadian community rallied and raised thousands of dollars after the fundraiser was announced by the archbishop (“the Metropolitan”) of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto (Canada).
But most of the money never reached the child’s family, a lawsuit claims.
Instead, according to the suit filed by the Greek Community of Toronto (GCT), the Metropolis handed over a paltry $1,450 of the estimated $50,000 they raised and never issued the promised charitable tax receipts. “In misrepresenting the intended purpose of the subject fundraiser and the amount of the collected donations, from which they then personally benefitted, (they have) harmed and damaged the Greek Orthodox Churches’ reputation in Canada, in general, and GCT’s reputation in particular.”
That’s just one of many shocking allegations contained in the statement of claim filed recently against the Metropolis, its archbishop, Sotirios Athanassoulas, four priests, members of the church’s women’s auxiliary as well as the wife and children of Father Philip Philippou for allegedly misappropriating funds earmarked for the sick, homeless and poor.
The Greek Community of Toronto (GCT) owns and operates four Greek Orthodox churches — St. Demetrios, St. John the Baptist, Virgin Mary and St. Irene Chrisovalantou. Their suit names the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto, part of the Church of Constantinople, that oversees 66 churches across Canada and has the exclusive monopoly over the ordination and appointment of all Greek Orthodox priests, including those who serve in the four GCT churches.
The lawsuit contends the Metropolis installed known sex abusers in GCT churches: Ioan Popp was placed at St. John’s Church in 2015 despite knowing he was a sex offender on bail. The late Demetre Tsevlikos was appointed to St. Irene Chrisovalantou when they knew or ought to have known he was a sexual predator and pedophile. And former Bishop Georgije Djokic was invited by the Metropolitan to conduct mass in 2016 yet was defrocked for “allegations of indecent sexual behaviour.”
The suit also alleges the Metropolis and its appointed priests are “unlawfully” dipping into hundreds of thousands of dollars raised by GCT congregation members — from collection plate donations to payments for “priestly offerings” — and “misdirecting, dissipating and misappropriating” money earmarked for outreach programs for the disabled, widowed and orphaned, Sunday schools, food banks and physical upkeep of the churches.
‘Regularly verbally abuse and physically assault’
According to the statement of claim, the Metropolis has been demanding and collecting a share of the donations without disclosing the money to the GCT or the Canada Revenue Agency. Each priest is allowed to receive a “modest” amount of the donations for his annual fee and is supposed to declare the money as income on his personal tax return, the lawsuit says. Instead, it alleges Father Philippou of St. John the Baptist “for many years” has been secretly pocketing proceeds for his personal benefit and that of his wife, son and daughter.
The suit also claims Father Vitouladitis would “regularly verbally abuse and physically assault the members of the Women’s Auxiliary operating at St. Irene Chrisovalantou Greek Orthodox church.”
None of the allegations have been proven in court. No statement of defence has yet been filed. “We’re not allowed to talk about the lawsuit because the case is in the court,” said a Metropolis spokesman when reached by phone.
The GCT enacted a bylaw in 2015 to guard against any misappropriation of its church funds by requiring paperwork for all donations. In retaliation, the lawsuit claims the Metropolis excommunicated those on the women’s auxiliary who co-operated and imposed a unilateral “franchise” fee of $40,000 a year per GCT church as well mandatory sacrament fees of $600 for every funeral and wedding as a “profit making punishment.”
As a result of these demands and “diverted” funds, the lawsuit contends St. John’s church can’t afford the $600,000 needed to repair and renovate its roof, steeple, parking lot and broken disabled elevator lifts.
“The Metropolitan, the Metropolis, the priests and the Women’s Auxiliary were at all times aided and abetted in the fraud by each other, their respective family members, the other Defendants and persons unknown,” the claim charges.