Rebellion of Holy Trinity Parish in Philadelphia Against Eastern Diocese Appears to Be Result of Failure of Diocese to Fully Explain Reasons for Dismissal of Controversial Priest

Author: Edward K. Boghosian
Date Published: 11/23/2002

NEW YORK, NY – The failure of Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church, and the Diocesan Council to provide a full explanation for their decision to remove Very Rev. Sasoon Zumroukhdian from his post as pastor of Holy Trinity Armenian Church of Cheltenham, PA is viewed as the principal reason for the revolt against the Diocesan authorities by the Philadelphia parish.

The parish has virtually rebelled against the central church authorities, with cries to sever its relations with the Eastern Diocese in the event that the body does not recall its decision and allow Father Sasoon to return to his post.

A spokesman for the parish, in interviews, said the parish was simply outraged by the Pastoral Letter Archbishop Barsamian issued to community members in Philadelphia. (See text  in last week’s issue.) That letter failed to explain the reasons why he and the Diocesan Council dismissed Father Sasoon and did not allow him to stay in Philadelphia. The spokesman pointed out that the Diocese should further explain its position rather than hide behind ambiguous  statements.

When the spokesman was told that perhaps the lawsuit brought against Father Sasoon by a Ms. Karen King, the half-Armenian who once worked at the Church of Holy Saviour in Worcester, Mass., was the actual reason why the Diocese refrained from explaining its position in the matter, the spokesman simply responded by saying that his fellow parishioners could not understand how a past action by Ms. King could have any bearing on the appointment of Very Rev. Sasoon Zumroukhdian to the parish. He explained that the lawsuit, brought by Ms. King, goes back to 1993, at the time when Father Sasoon was still pastor of St. Paul Armenian Church in Fresno, and that it could not have been a threat to the Diocese since it was settled with an alleged payment of $30,000 to the woman, and the case was sealed by a Fresno court.

FINANCIAL IRREGULARITIES

Asked about some financial misconduct by Father Sasoon when he was still a pastor in Fresno, the spokesman explained that Archbishop Vatche Hovsepian, Primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, simply and arbitrarily fired the priest after discovering that Father Sasoon had created another church account by using the church’s ID without notifying Diocesan authorities. Deposited into this other account was a major sum, believed to be close to $200,000, donated by a successful local farmer, who apparently did not trust the Diocese.

Contacted by telephone in Fresno, Mr. John Stevens, the donor of the sum, admitted giving that sum to Father Sasoon, whom he admired for his dedication to the church. He said he did not see any irregularities in that account. Subsequent to the giving of the gift, Father Sasoon traveled to Armenia and disbursed some sums to those in dire need of assistance.

At no time was there any accusation of wrongdoing and the sole reason why Archbishop Vatche fired the clergyman was because he accepted the donation in question rather than turn it over to the higher authorities, something the donor did not wish to see.

Apparently Ms King has contacted the Diocesan authorities in New York and threatened them with another lawsuit in the event the Diocese reaffirms the permanent appointment of Father Sasoon to the Philadelphia church. She is said to have attempted to commit suicide over her affair with Father Sasoon.

Efforts to contact Ms. King in the Worcester area were not successful.

“Since when should the action of a somewhat heartbroken woman dictate the Diocesan policy, particularly when there is an acute shortage of qualified clergymen?” asked the spokesman of Holy Trinity Church in Cheltenham. “Did the Diocese punish or defrock Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, when a deranged woman continued to harass him, both in church and publicly when he was the Primate in New York and even at the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem? Since no action was taken against Archbishop Manoogian by  the Diocese, why then is Father Sasoon being singled out for punishment over a case that is history and is closed for ever?”

Queried as to what action the parish is contemplating next, the spokesman said there is such a thing in this country as “civil disobedience” that can demonstrate the outrage of the parish against Diocesan authorities.

The Parish will have a special Parish Assembly this Sunday, November 24, at which time the matter of Very Rev. Sasoon will be discussed thoroughly. It is expected that the parish will demand the reappointment of Father Sasoon over the protest of the Diocese.