In the history-filled chambers of the Holy Synod of the Phanar a week ago, Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios finally asked Archbishop Demetrios of America to submit his resignation.
Demetrios refused. “I still have a lot of work to do,” he responded. It was an astonishingly rebellious act.
Vartholomaios had entrusted him to lead the must-keep Eparchy of America almost 20 years ago.
Furthermore, it became clear that Demetrios was in utter denial that under his watch the Archdiocese had become insolvent, and to make matters even worse, the Office of the Attorney General as well as the New York State Attorney General’s Office are examining the Archdiocese’s financial records.
Never before in the long and proud history of our community in America had we fallen to such a low point. Having gone through the tumultuous years of Spyridon – 1996 to 1999 – the arrival of Demetrios of Vresthenis, at age 74, got off to a good start: He reunited the community.
He gets high marks for the first five years – 1999 to 2005 – of his reign. Had he left at the five-year mark, he would have been regarded as one of the finest archbishops of America. However, having accomplished that, it became evident that he was neither an adept administrator nor a statesman.
What followed was a long period of stagnation, which inevitably led to the unraveling of the organizational structure of the church, the closing of numerous Greek schools and the further marginalization of the Theological School and Hellenic College in Boston to such an extent that they run the risk of not even opening in September. Demetrios had to go. But he would not budge.
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 destroyed, along with everything else surrounding the majestic Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, the historic Church of St Nicholas, built in 1916 by Greek seamen.
After protracted negotiations with the authorities, our Archdiocese finally secured a location upon which to build the new St Nicholas.
Given its unique location, the whole world would see it as a testimonial to the financial might of the community and the spiritual and political reach of the Patriarchate.
The Archdiocese secured the services of architect Santiago Calatrava and started off with a budget of $20 million. It soon skyrocketed to $80 million.
When The National Herald broke the news in September 2017 that the Archdiocese was bankrupt, Demetrios’s reaction was to shoot the messenger. Meanwhile, in the midst of all this mayhem, a group of dedicated professionals devised a plan to extinguish the gaping hole in the budget.
It should be noted that the budget had ballooned to $30 million, double what it was when Demetrios was enthroned. What was the fallout of the unconstrained spending expenditures?
Approximately 30 people working for the Archdiocese were fired. The out-of-control expenses put on credit cards, including limo rides and first-class travel, were eliminated.
Although the picture significantly improved, we were soon reporting that large amounts of money from the St Nicholas building fund were being used to pay the Archdiocese’s debts.
A whopping $15 million was missing. They said it was “unaccounted for.” It still is.
The work at the church building site has stopped, construction companies are suing the Archdiocese for money owed, and all fundraising activity has ceased because people refuse to blindly contribute their hard-earned money until a comprehensive report is produced illustrating where the millions given went.
Trust, that invisible but absolutely imperative element that unites a community with its institutions and leaders, has evaporated.
The archbishop is desperately trying to borrow $10 million from a Greek American-owned bank to stay afloat. But he has not assumed responsibility. And he has not asked for forgiveness.
Harry S. Truman popularized the saying “The buck stops here.” Archbishop Demetrios would do well to keep President Truman’s favorite expression in mind.
In the meantime, the more this impasse is prolonged, the more credence is lent to the perception that the Patriarchate is unable to impose its will and liberate our community, which is held hostage.
Antonis H. Diamataris is the publisher-editor of the New York-based National Herald.