Questioned By Clergy, +Philip Responds
First Reports from Convention
• Blames Synod For June17th Mess
• Admits Paying +Demetri
• Agrees In Principle to Audit
In two recent meetings, one with the clergy of the Diocese of Los Angeles on July 17th, and one with Archdiocesan hierarchs and clergy on July 21st, Metropolitan Philip faced unprecedented questioning regarding his administration and more recent events in the troubled Archdiocese.
In the meeting with the Diocese of Los Angeles clergy last Friday, Metropolitan Philip surprised attendees by claiming that none of the June 17th documents was ever voted on by the Synod. He then turned and asked Bishop Joseph, who was present at the meeting, to confirm this – which he did. +Philip then blamed the Synod for sending out contradictory messages, and said that this sort of thing is “typical” of them. He claimed the February 24th decision in reducing the bishops to auxiliaries “went too far”, but denied anyone at Englewood would ever forge documents. He noted that he personally never put the documents up on the website; but rather, Fr George Kevorkian was responsible for such things.
In response to questions about the status of the convicted, retired and now- active again Bishop Demetri, Metropolitan Philip stated Bishop Demetri is in the situation he is because he had a “bad lawyer.” It was not the Metropolitan, but the Patriarch who wondered why +Demetri wasn’t more active. It was not he, but the Patriarch who is arguing that if the Governor of Michigan pardoned the retired Bishop, maybe he could be reinstated? According to the Metropolitan, it was the Patriarch who first said +Demetri needed work, and Mexico needed a Bishop. Mexico couldn’t pay for another bishop, so +Philip agreed to give them a gift to cover his salary–just “like the gifts we give to all of the Archdioceses”.
When a priest asked why there were no balance sheets with the financial report, +Philip became angry. He asked: “Are you accusing me?” and stated: “I paid for your seminary education” as if that should dispel further questioning.
It did not.
+Philip stated there is no possibility of financial mismanagement going on in the AOCA like in the OCA, since the AOCA requires “two signatures per check.”
A Deacon asked +Philip about how the decisions threaten self-rule. +Philip raised his voice, repeatedly asking the questioner: “Does February 24th mention self-rule?” “Does June 17th mention self-rule?” “Does July 9th mention self-rule?” The Deacon tried to respond, but was shut down by +Philip’s rhetorical aggressiveness. At this point a Priest stood up and declared to +Philip that in his estimation, February 24th completely “obliterated” self-rule. +Philip responded that Japan and Finland are self-ruled and only have a Metropolitan with no bishops! (Here the Metropolitan misspoke: both Finland and Japan have 3 Metropolitans, as well as an auxiliary bishop in the former case.)
Another Deacon asked +Philip if it were true that we have come full circle to the state we were in before February 24? +Philip said that other than the term “assistant” nothing is different than before February 24th. He was then asked what difference the term “assistant” makes? He replied: “Nothing is different!”
According to witnesses, the clergy seemed much more open and less afraid than in the past. Likewise, +Philip’s treatment of the Priest who asked about finances and the Deacon who asked about self-rule seemed to offend many.
The July 21st Meeting
+Philip was not about to make the same mistake at the larger meeting, attended by some 150+ priests. According to multiple witnesses, the meeting began with a predictable format, with the Metropolitan speaking in a calm and cool manner, relating the history of the Archdiocese and his efforts to overcome the Toledo schism in the 1960’s. As he moved towards more recent events he spoke of reports on the internet ( such as OCANews.org) stating that they “did not bother” him, that he “knows who he is, where he has been and where he is going.”
The monologue then became a dialogue that involved the hierarchs of the local Synod, who were all present, as well as questions from the clergy on the floor.
Among the highlights of this larger meeting:
• In response to a question from Fr. John Mashburn concerning the necessity of conducting an Archdiocesan audit, the Metropolitan agreed in principle and said that
“we have invested your money well”. He indicated he would take up the issue of an audit with the Board of Trustees.
• In response to a question concerning the status of the Diocesan Bishops, Bishop Basil explained that the Bishops were told by Patriarch Ignatius that they were not auxiliaries, that they are diocesan bishops, and that dioceses within the Archdiocese exist. Metropolitan Philip agreed.
Tensions, however, quickly emerged as questions, and the blame game, continued.
• The Board of Trustees was brought up. +Philip had Bishop +Antoun explain how potential Trustees are vetted. As in an ordination they have to have a recommendation from their Priest. Although the decision is ultimately up to the Metropolitan, +Antoun blamed local priests for any “bad apples”.
• In regards to questions about the controversial appearance of two different June 17th decisions, and their posting on the Archdiocesan website, the Metropolitan again responded by denying anyone in his office forged documents. He called two Trustees up to the podium and asked them to identify the documents. One identified the English version. He said ‘yes, he had held it in his hands in Damascus’. Another identified the one in Arabic. In other words, the Metropolitan concluded, “the so-called forged documents were not forged.” Of course, what the Metropolitan left unspoken and unaddressed was the fact that according to the Patriarchate of Antioch, neither of the documents he defended were official, or authentic decisions of the Synod, despite being portrayed as such.
• Continuing on the same topic, the Metropolitan once again claimed that “None of the June 17th decisions of the Synod were voted upon”. Bishop Basil corrected the Metropolitan, and said the Patriarch told him the Synod did vote. Bishop Joseph said they did not vote – but all were in favor of the final decision. Met Paul of Australia, who is visiting the Convention, said they took no vote in Damascus – but that he and others did not agree – he for one adamantly disagreed with the decision. (In short, four Bishops offered four differing versions of the events – including the two who were present. According to the official website of the Patriarchate: “The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East is willing to announce herein the final official statement that had been agreed and voted among the majority of the Holy Synod members during the recent Synodal meeting that was taken place at the Patriarchate in Damascus from 16-18 If June 2009.” )
• Fr. Oliver Herbel, a historian, pressed such differences based on the facts, and asked the most difficult questions. He asked about Bishop Demetri’s current status. Metropolitan Philip again responded that it was not he, but Patriarch Ignatius who wanted Demetri reinstated. +Philip then defended +Demetri as having done nothing more than “touched a woman’s back”. (Once again, the Metropolitan mispoke. As the official police report states: “ (The victim) advised she had been playing slots at a set of four machines when the suspect came over with a female (girlfriend or wife.) ( The victim) advised Mr. Khoury was very lewd, made lewd comments towards his female friend, made gestures, unzipped his pants, and was fondling her and touching her. The female friend blew him off or squashed his advances. (The victim) stated she advised security. Security refused to serve Mr. Khoury any further alcoholic beverages. (The victim) then observed her machine was being played by someone else, she was upset, she found her husband and told him about Mr. Khoury’s actions. When she came back the slot machine was open, she sat to play some more. At that time the female friend of Mr. Khoury stated they were going to leave, Mr. Khoury stood up, he placed one arm around her and fondled /squeezed her left breast. (The victim) stated she backhanded Mr. Khoury twice on the head with an open hand out of surprise/reflex, as his touch was unwanted/she does not know Mr. Khoury. (The victim) contacted casino security, Mr. Khoury was detained at that time.” ( You can read the full report here)
• Under Fr. Herbel’s relentless questioning, things begin to get heated. The Metropolitan repeatedly asked Fr. Oliver to sit down. Finally another priest took the microphone from Herbel’s hands.
• Several then rose to praise and defend +Philip’s actions. Those who did not were criticized as “legalistic”, “unforgiving”, and “unloving”. Fr. Anthony Gabriel eventually stood up to conclude the meeting, praising +Philip and asking that all present to sing “Many Years”. The subsequent applause was described as “light”.
The Rest of the Story
According to witnesses, Fr. Herbel was later confronted by Bishop Antoun. Fr. Herbel asked for his blessing. +Antoun refused. He called Herbel “stubborn”, stepped into his personal space, shook his finger, poked him in the chest and questioned his priesthood. He asked where Herbel went to seminary, when he graduated. He said many priests were asking how Herbel was able to be in the meeting at all. +Antoun could not find his file. Herbel explained he was on loan from the OCA, serving a mission in North Dakota. Things wetn south, until Herbel, thanked the Bishop for his “openness and honesty” and walked away – leaving +Antoun speechless.
Posting on his parish website Fr. Michael Langley wrote of the meeting:
“Today I was impressed by Metropolitan Philip. I watch him answer questions from the clergy, some of whom were aggressive in their questioning, with openness and willingness to accept suggestions. Metropolitan Philip’s answers were clear (although sometimes off point) and for the most part satisfactory. I do not agree with all he has done or is doing, but to my satisfaction he has explained why he has done what he has, and the canonical authority—or interpretation—by which various actions have taken place. You have to respect a guy who will allow two hours of open microphone to answer questions from a hundred and fifty often grumpy old men. Do I think everything is now out in the open? Certainly not. I do, however, think that enough is out in the open to trust the rest—right now. The most important thing I have learned through this whole six months of misunderstanding is that misunderstandings are resolved by listening. Certainly human beings will disagree. That’s why we have leadership: if we all had to agree first, nothing would get done. But if we are open about what we are doing and why, and if we listen to the concerns of those who disagree with (or perhaps only don’t understand) us, then we can go a long way toward functioning together peacefully as churches and as an archdiocese.”
Writing to OCANews.org another attendee, who wishes to remain anonymous, summarized the meeting this way:
“ There was a marked change in what transpired this year. MP (Metropolitan Philip) was asked some difficult questions by several (including Fr. Oliver). For those of us who have been around for the past 3 decades or more, and have been to far too many of these meetings, we saw something different. MP was truly challenged by many. And his “Glee Club” was deflated– they couldn’t pump it back up (although Anthony Gabriel desperately tried– and failed). I suspect MP walked out of the room knowing his clergy aren’t behind him like they were…”
The General Assembly of the Convention Week’s activities begins tomorrow at 10 AM PST.