More from Milwaukee: The National Herald Weighs In

national-herald-logo-150x150It appears that things aren’t dying down in the Dokos case. If anything, this latest story from The National Herald, causes me to feel that what is really going on here is some serious influence-peddling (at the very least).

To be sure, it’s possible that no laws were broken. After all, I suppose that a priest can write a check to a bishop (or two or three) for whatever purpose he deems necessary but it doesn’t pass the smell test. Being of Greek descent, many of us know that in the Levant palms were regularly greased during the Turkokratia. The Turkish word for this is baksheesh. Though unseemly to Western eyes, it was the only way things could be done in a time and place where the rule of law was mostly absent and legal capital formation was haphazard at best. Clergy and bishops regularly lived on the knife-edge of penury and churches needed to be funded. The survival of the various Levantine patriarchates –all the way up and down the line–depended upon this type of financial scheme so it was easy (and necessary) to look the other way.

I would think that in an American church we would be beyond this. None of the social and economic dysfunctions that plagued the Ottoman Empire are in existence here. Nor should we forget that bishops and priests in the GOA are paid well. Bishops especially make at least $125,000 a year, more than the average priest. On top of that, they are bachelors, without any familial ties. That being said, the amount of monies that were kicked upstairs to the three bishops named in this article, was meager in comparison to the monies skimmed from the top by Fr Dokos (if TNH story is accurate).

Regardless of how this plays out, there are lessons to be learned if we are serious about coming together and forming a territorial American church, one which is administratively united. Here’s some ideas for starters. Any input from our readers would be most appreciated.

1. Trust funds should have at least three or more Trustees.

2. Two signatures should always be necessary for any check drawn from any church fund, period. No clergyman should be allowed to sign on any check. That’s more for his protection than anything else.

3. Trust funds should be established only for specified actions. I’m sorry but this means that discretionary funds have to go. That doesn’t mean that alms-giving should be abolished; this can be taken care of with minimal amounts of cash; vouchers and gift certificates can make up for the rest. That way a paper trail always exists and priests are immunized from any false accusation.

4. Outside of their salaries, bishops should only be allowed to receive only an honorarium and/or a stipend for travel expenses. Since these originate from the parishes then a requisite paper trail exists as well and bishops are protected.

Since we’re putting our cards on the table let us say outright: the practice of baksheesh to curry favor with a bishop should be abolished. It’s too close to Simony (which is a serious violation of canon law, by the way). Any serious allegation of influence peddling should result in the accused bishop being put on administrative leave and remain there until adjudicated in a spiritual court. This is serious folks. Any officer in a secular corporation can’t behave in this manner, why should we expect any less from our bishops?

That’s a start. In the meantime, this story is getting stickier by the minute.

Metropolitan Axes Parish Council Pres

By Theodore Kalmoukos

Source: The National Herald

Glenview, IL – In a controversy regarding alleged trust fund misappropriations by a current priest at the Saints Peter and Paul Church in Glenview, IL when he had served at another parish, Metropolitan Iakovos of Chicago removed James Gottriech from the presidency of the Saints Peter and Paul Parish Council, as well as from the Council itself. What prompted the metropolitan’s action was a letter Gottriech sent him conveying the Council’s unanimous request to place the priest, Fr. James Dokos, on a temporary on leave of absence until the Milwaukee, WI District Attorney completes a full-scale criminal investigation about the alleged misappropriations. The investigation pertains to a trust overseen by Dokos while at the Annunciation Church in Milwaukee, where he had served for 22 years.

The prominent and well-respected Gottriech wrote in the September 18 letter to Iakovos, with a copy to Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos, that “we are advised that the District Attorney of Milwaukee has opened a formal criminal investigation of Fr. Dokos in connection with the Franczak Trust. The investigation has been widely reported in the press in both Milwaukee and Chicago, and on TV news broadcasts. Although Fr. Dokos has not requested a leave of absence from his duties at our parish pending the outcome of the investigation, his continuing to serve while under this cloud is hurting our parish life. Acting as if things are normal is dispiriting and demoralizing for many of our faithful, both those attending the Liturgy, and those who have difficulty pretending. Accordingly, we respectfully ask that you place Fr. Dokos on leave of absence until this investigation is concluded and that you assign, on a temporary basis, a retired or active priest who does not presently have a parish assignment, to serve along with Fr. [Presbyter Panagiotis] Boznos.”

 James Gottriech, the ousted Parish Council President of Saints Peter and Paul Church in Glenview, IL.


James Gottriech, the ousted Parish Council President of Saints Peter and Paul Church in Glenview, IL.

He also wrote that “setting aside for the moment the cloud that this criminal investigation has cast over our parish, we must address the issue of succession so that we are prepared when the time comes. [Dokos has, since he arrived, expressed his expectation that his ministry at the parish would be “short-term”]. When, and under whatever circumstances Fr. Dokos leaves our parish, we assure you that our Parish Council will be prepared to actively participate and be “consulted” in any future assignment of our Proistamenos [Art. 17, Sec.2 of the UPR].”

In a response on September 20, Iakovos wrote that the dispute does not involve the Saints Peter and Paul Church, parish council or any parishioners and there is “nothing that would suggest to us, as the canonical hierarch and archpastor, that Fr. Dokos is incapable or otherwise impeded from fulfilling his priestly, pastoral, and administrative duties. There are no parallels between past conditions and circumstances at the Annunciation Church and those present at Saints Peter and Paul, and there is no possibility that the matters in dispute could have any effect on our parish in Glenview.”

Iakovos also alleged that “on at least two occasions we have indicated to the president of the Parish Council that any discussion of the circumstances involving the dispute between Fr. James and the Annunciation Church was inappropriate for the Saints Peter and Paul Parish Council and explicitly prohibited such discussion as communicated to the Parish Council president through the Chancellor His Grace Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos.”

Iakovos also wrote that “Fr. James will not be suspended from his priestly duties, nor will he be directed to request or take a leave of absence. In fact, we commend Fr. James for his conduct during this difficult period”.

Iakovos declared in his letter that “by our decision and authority, Mr. Jim Gottreich is removed from his office as president and from his membership on the Saints Peter and Paul Parish Council effective immediately.”

Iakovos’ decision has created turmoil within the parish. The Council has voted unanimously to request from the Metropolitan to reconsider his decision and reinstate Gottreich, whose daughter is a district attorney and his son a defense attorney.

The whole issue started in 2008 when Annunciation parishioner Margaret Franczak shortly before her passing established the nearly-$2 million Ervin J. & Margaret S. Franczak Trust, designating Dokos as Trustee.

The Trust was created to benefit the Annunciation parish, which did receive $1,100, but alleges that Dokos had used huge amounts of money from the trust, ranging anywhere from $135,000 to $729,000. The Annunciation parish, after many requests to Fr. Dokos to provide a complete accountability and failure to receive accurate numbers and accountability, referred the matter to the district attorney and asked him to investigate.

According to hundreds of documents obtained by TNH, Dokos wrote the first check to himself for $5,000 his fee as Trustee. He also wrote checks to his personal credit card totaling about $50,000, and checks to his family members and himself totaling $75,000.

Dokos also wrote checks to Bishop Demetrios totaling $7,200, one check to Metropolitan Tarasios of South America for $10,000 and one of $4,500 to Metropolitan Nikitas of Dardanelia.

TNH has learned that Margaret Franczak had transferred her Florida apartment to Dokos, and that he sold it.

Dokos denies any wrongdoing, and the Chicago Metropolis attorneys assert that Dokos did nothing inappropriate. But the Milwaukee District Attorney launched a full-scale criminal investigation into the matter.

In May 2012, Bishop Demetrios transferred Fr. Angelo Artemas from Saints Peter and Paul to Annunciation in exchange for Dokos without parish approval or an explanation.

Gottriech told TNH “we didn’t request Fr. Artemas’ transfer, we only found out about it three weeks before it happened. We had no idea that it was even going to happen and we never being given a reason why. It was done. The hierarchs decided and it was done.”

Fr. James Dokos blesses the animals in front of the Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Glenview.

Fr. James Dokos blesses the animals in front of the Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Glenview.

Speaking about Dokos, Gottriech said “sometime in August we found out that there was an inquiry in Wisconsin of Fr. Dokos handling a Trust. We didn’t do anything until we found out that it became a criminal investigation. Once we found that out I called a special meeting of the Parish Council and the council voted unanimously to send a letter to the metropolitan asking for Fr. Dokos is placed on leave of absence pending the criminal investigation in Wisconsin…Surprisingly, a couple of days ago the metropolitan replied by removing me as president form the parish council and from the council altogether. Gottriech says that Iakovos’ response charged that Gottriech had discussed the Wisconsin investigation with people there, which Gottriech says is not true

Gottriech said “I go to church to worship; I don’t go to church to have fights. I have been there for 50 years. I have been on the Parish Council for over 25 years, I was chairman of the picnic for three years, I was the president in the 1980s when we bought the land next door, and I am well-known and respected in that church. Parishioners are calling for support, the place is going crazy. I feel betrayed by my church, by the hierarchs who supposed to be the shepherds of the church and it turns out they are not.”

Gottriech pointed out that “Bishop Demetrios of Mokisos received money from Fr. Dokos; from the Trust directly to Demetrios and cashed by him. How are they going to explain that? I think there is something wrong. The parish knows these things. It’s everywhere.”

Would Gottriech reach out to Iakovos or Demetrios? “No, I won’t talk to those people. I have nothing to say to them, they betrayed me. I met with Bishop Demetrios twice before over the last three months and he blew us off. Our parish is made up of lawyers, doctors, and businessmen. I think they picked on the wrong people.” Iakovos and Dokos did not respond to TNH’s request for comment.

As for Dokos, Gottriech said, he “never mentioned the investigation. He acts as if it doesn’t exist. We had two meetings. In the Executive Committee meeting I brought that up and I said there are all these reports and rumors from Wisconsin, he picked up a lot of papers waving them in the air and saying ‘I have proof here that I did nothing that was improper,’ but nobody ever saw them nobody knew what he was talking about.

“I was standing at narthex and people came up to me and told me that we don’t want to take Holy Communion from him with this cloud hanging over him. I said ‘relax nobody is guilty until is proven so.’ I am trying to be the voice or reason.”

About GShep

Comments

  1. I would add that any honorarium paid to a bishop for travel or whatever expenses should me given to the respective diocese and not directly to the bishop.

    • George Michalopulos says

      Very good idea, Fr. That way bishops can be protected from scurrilous accusations.

  2. Boundaries of a trust fund are established by the person who created it. The trustee is legally and ethically obligated to follow the instructions of the trust.

    According to what was written above, the trust was established to “benefit Annunciation parish”. Since we don’t know the details of the trust and whether it spells out more specifically what that means and how much can be spent from the trust it is up to the trustee to interpret the application. Does the trust indicate an annual percentage that can be spent, etc.? It could be Fr. Dokos followed the terms of the trust, depending on how loosely they were written, as he interpreted them.

    While I completely understand the parishioners not wanting to receive communion from Fr. Dokos, they must remember that the hand on the chalice doesn’t sully the content which, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, are the Body and Blood of Christ our Savior. When one is angry, it is difficult to separate the two. Don’t reject Christ because of the one who brings Him to you.

    • George Michalopulos says

      When you put it like that Philippa, it’s probably best that trust funds should not be established for churches, period. There’s just too much chance for mischief. I’d say the same thing for endowments. If the people of God don’t want to pony up money from their own purse to do the work of the Church then it’s on them.

  3. Why am I not surprised that Metropolitan Nikitas of Dardanelia was involved ? If they ever lift up the rock in the Metropolis of Chicago some ugly secrets are going to jump out.

  4. Philip Demos says

    Wouldn’t it be just sad if all the lines written on this subject were mooted by, a) an exoneration by the District Attorney; and, b) by the fact that over years the checks written to Bishop Kantzavelos were legitimate and approved by the parish council?

    While many checks (manifestly published here in an unseemly manner in order to embarrass rather than inform) do not specify the reason given, I have a question or two. Was I wrong to give a gift to the priest at my child’s baptism? Isn’t that an “honorarium”? Is it possible some of these were written for similar reasons? My parish has given a token of appreciation to visiting bishops; is that also wrong? It might not be necessary, but I do not recall ever hearing any member of the council complaining that it was required or mandatory (as fees for sacraments–simony–are required, not offered).

    Bishop Kantzavelos appears very active in various social ministries in Chicago. Could the check that is listed for “ministries” in the memo section legitimately serve such purpose?

    Wow. Maybe before speculating without full information on matters of import, we could be patient (a biblical virtue) for all the facts rather than judging on appearances–something also mentioned in the Bible that the Lord prohibits his followers from doing.

    In this regard, the statement of the clergy on the Chicago metropolis website is most appropriate, for none of this edifies the Church.

    And by the way, at no time in any of the controversy mentioned has a clergyman (Dokos) been accused of misusing CHURCH or parish funds, only those of a trust set up by former parishioners. Nowhere here is there mention of him or any other priest being a sole signatory of parish checking accounts. Why it merits mention here–implying in this context that it has something to do with this circumstance–is beyond me. Undoubtedly it is wrong in most, if not all, situations. But to my knowledge, such a scandal as would arise from such a situation has not appeared in our Archdiocese for a long, long time.

    • George Michalopulos says

      Mr Demos, you raise several interesting points. As I’ve written now at least once, it’s possible that no laws were broken. However the spirit of the law was certainly stretched almost to the breaking point.

      Leaving aside the technicalities, my concern is what stories such as this (and ADM monies given to Syosset) do to the morale of the people in the pews. I’ll tell you what I do know, that such shenanigans decrease ordinary giving. Why? Because the vast majority of Orthodox immigrant stock has a very jaundiced view of the higher clergy anyway. They think that they’re in the pocket of bigwigs already. Ergo, “I’m not going to increase my giving because that’s the job of the rich.”

      Simply put, stories like this make it impossible to raise awareness regarding tithing and/or proportional giving. Worse, it makes the Church ever more dependent upon the wealthy.

      • Philip Demos says

        And again, I say, “Wow”!
        How does one really express consternation or even sadness at the publication of “stories such as this” inhibiting stewardship in the Church when one is the publisher of such stories?

        And how do we know that the “spirit of the law was certainly stretched almost to the breaking point”?

        You have not published the provisions of the Trust in question, you have not demonstrated violation of law (and the D.A. has not yet even closed its investigation with an exoneration or charges), and you have only supplied innuendo about wrongdoing, with source information provided–obviously–by only one side in this dispute without identifying that source .

        So my opening question stands. There is a technical name for those who do one thing and then bemoan or denounce the same thing. So unless there is an actual instance of theft or misuse of funds by church officials worth reporting (which could inhibit giving, demoralizing as that may be), my suggestion is that you do not publish unproven stories–which is not really demoralizing, but plain immoral.

        • George Michalopulos says

          Mr Demos, I’ve answer your first question. Do you not see how secret trust funds which are used as quasi slush funds to give money to bishops can depress the giving of ordinary people? Let me give you an example: the Episcopal Church has been dying on the vine both in numbers and in contributions from the people in the pews. One reason of course is because of its enthusiastic embrace of apostasy and whatever whim of the moment the American elite latches onto. So how are they still around? It’s called “opium,” or “Other People’s Money.” (O-P-M, get it?) The elite of America have accumulated much wealth over several generations and have lovingly endowed trusts for their church. ECUSA continues to survive on those legacies. Indeed, it was because of those legacies that they were able to enjoy a cushion from economic vicissitudes, some of which included the mounting exodus of ordinary Episcopalians.

    • Fr. George Washburn says

      Mr. Demos sounds a note of caution that should be …but isn’t here on the instant reaction internet …common Christian practice: go slow and let the facts emerge. Sometimes I think this could or should be known as the official blog of the Rushin’ (as in rushin’ to judgment) Orthodox Church.

      One has to concede that in a Church where virtually all power …at least in the short run…lies with bishops, it is tempting to create public brouhahas so as to minimize the likelihood of questions being stonewalled (or steamrolled) or swept under the carpet. It is also tempting to appeal to and rely on secular authority, but in a major metropolitan criminal prosecution offices on short financial rations (and up against both the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of proof and often staggering loads of more traditional criminal cases) I would tend to expect either an indictment or a relatively terse decision not to prosecute, but certainly no exhaustive discussion or conclusions about whether the Church’s standards of conduct have been breached, which, if anything, ought to be our focus.

      Why “if anything?” The scriptures say that “the eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth,” which, as I look at my own conduct as well as SO many people I know, could have been a veiled prophecy of the days of the internet and endless cable TV.

      At what point do we slide into what I think was meant in scripture and traditional spiritual thought as the sin of “busybodying?” Does one really have to wear a housecoat and hang over the back fence to be guilty of that one? Does the fact that something is knowable, possible or just imaginable make it my, or our, business?

      love,

      Fr. George

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