NY Post Reports Much Wrongdoing at Saint Spyridon in Washington Heights
NEW YORK – The community was shocked to see the sort of accusations splashed across the pages of the Sunday New York Post against the Very Rev. George Passias, pastor of the historic St. Spyridon Church in Washington Heights.
With the lead sentence “It’s highly unorthodox,” the reporters, Isabel Vincent and Melissa Klein, wrote about numerous alleged financial and social improprieties.
TNH contacted Passias, who appreciated the opportunity to respond directly. He said, “These allegations are completely untrue. I suggest that people just read our website. There is an appropriate response to these things. I am just really very sad, for all of us, as Greek Orthodox, as Christians.”
A priest for over 34 years, Passias said it’s the first time he has encountered something like this. “Yes people talk about things, but that someone would go to this extent based on no knowledge, no substantiation,” is hard for him to believe. “But ‘exei o Theos’ – God is just. That’s all I can say,” he concluded.
A letter signed by the Parish Council President Efstathios Papadatos on www.saintspyridon.net -see story on this page- provided details about some of the matters referred to in the Post article and noted the Post left out pertinent information that the parish provided to the reporter, but the letter did not refer to the accusations involving Ethel Bouzalas, 43, who arrived at the parish as Passias’ assistant in 2006 and is now the Parish Council’s treasurer.
The Post quoted Papadatos saying that the allegations against Passias are “lies.”
The Post article, titled “Holy Furor as Greek Orthodox Pastors Hottie Goddaughter Gets Prominent Roles at Church,” is as follows:
It’s highly unorthodox.
The married pastor of St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church in Washington Heights showed up for his first day of work with an attractive younger assistant fond of high heels and short skirts.
Father George Passias, 65, introduced Ethel Bouzalas, 43, as his “spiritual goddaughter.” The Brooklyn woman, also married, told people that she converted to orthodoxy and that Passias baptized her while she wore a bikini.
Eyebrows were raised at the church, where Passias has imposed a dress code requiring women to wear head shawls in confession.
The duo’s arrival in 2006 has blown in a storm of controversy. Critics ask how hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent and why the Wadsworth Avenue church needs a $3.5 million mortgage.
Complaints about its finances have been made to the state attorney general and Manhattan DA. The AG’s Office said it was reviewing them. The DA’s Office declined to comment.
Appeals have also been made to the Manhattan-based Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in America, which transferred Passias to St. Spyridon from a Brooklyn church.
Many describe Passias and Bouzalas as inseparable. Bouzalas lives in Brooklyn with her husband and three children.
“I walk out one night and his so-called assistant was sitting on his lap in his office,” said Harry Torres, a former church handyman and superintendent for its apartment buildings.
After Bouzalas became principal, Passias moved his office from the church to the school.
As the church was falling apart, money poured into school renovations. There are marble finishes in Passias’ and Bouzalas’ offices.
Financial overseers were removed, and Bouzalas became a signatory on church bank accounts.
The firm that managed the church’s four apartment buildings, worth $15 million, was replaced with one tied to Alma Bank.
The church also turned to Alma Bank for cash and a mortgage refinance totaling $2.5 million in 2009. Renovations on the apartments have been done by two companies tied to the principals at Alma Bank.
Passias told The Post the church needed to borrow money for repairs. He said most of the work at the school, including to their offices, was donated.
“There’s one marble slab on the table where the poor woman has her meetings. She paid for that out of her own pocket,” he said.
He said he was only Bouzalas’ godfather and blamed the church unrest on a small group of malcontents.
Efstathios Papadatos, the parish council president, called the allegations against Passias “lies.”
After complaints to the archdiocese, auditors examined church finances and concluded in a March 2013 report that “someone other than Ethel” should approve payments.
An archdiocese rep said it was reviewing the church’s mortgage request.