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Crisis In The Cathedral


Even Father Karambis, Stephanopoulos's de facto replacement, said as much to the crowd assembled for the recent Sunday-afternoon meeting: "I know this is going to get a lot of you upset, but the church is not a democracy."

Soon after Spyridon reorganized the council, he had to deal with the matter of a priest accused of sexually harassing a male student at the Orthodox seminary. A disciplinary committee was recommending that the priest be expelled. Instead, Spyridon installed, as the school's new overseer, an archdiocesan vicar -- who fired the three clergymen who had served on the disciplinary committee. (One, Father Ted Stylianopoulos, was tenured and had been at the school for 30 years.) When the seminary's president, Father Alkiviadis Calivas, issued a press release objecting to the archdiocese's intervention in the process, he too was fired.

"There's no doubt in my mind that the decisions of the archbishop have been disruptive to the school. Derailed it, even," Calivas, on what he calls "terminal sabbatical," says from his home. "There's been a compromising of academic freedom." Another well-regarded professor, Nicholas Constas, decamped for Harvard Divinity School -- and, Calivas notes, "it's not as if we have theologians growing on trees."

Around the same time, at the archdiocese itself, the communications director, Father Alex Karloutsos -- said to be the man more than any other who eased Iakovos out and found Spyridon to replace him -- resigned, in what looked like a power struggle with the new archbishop. "You know that quote from Euripides? Unhappy Greeks are barbarians to each other," he says today from his new post, parish priest of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Hamptons. Karloutsos says he left rather than work with a regime that leaves "lives crushed and reputations ruined."

Accusations of financial mismanagement are floating about, too, though they're somewhat murky. According to a suit filed by prominent attorney and parishioner Simos Dimas, Spyridon expected the archdiocese to buy him a house in Westchester (as it had done for his predecessor), but he made a 10 percent down payment of $139,500 without the archdiocesan council executives' approval. The executives subsequently rejected the purchase, losing the cash. (According to some, this was when Spyridon angrily tossed the bishops off the executive committee.) The archdiocese doesn't dispute that the down payment was forfeited, but ascribes it to a simple misunderstanding with the council.

Though the archdiocese is said to be running in the black after many years of debt, there's a lot of legal infighting over those numbers, and a flurry of motions have been filed with the State of New York charging that the archdiocese is cooking the books. Dimas claims that chancellor George Passias, a Spyridon appointee, was receiving a large portion of his salary off the books, from a charitable fund administered by the archbishop. And, claims Dimas, $200,000 has just disappeared from an endowment fund intended for the Phanar.

The church says it's all untrue: "As was done with the last lawsuit by Mr. Dimas," says Arey, "we expect this one to be dismissed as baseless in fact. This is more of a nuisance lawsuit. . . . The archdiocese is, financially, running better than it has ever run. We've brought up the accountability standard very high."

Greeks love nothing so much as a good political fight, and the discontented within the church quickly organized a dissident group called Greek Orthodox American Leaders. (Tom Lelon, the former seminary president, is one of the two executive directors.) GOAL, made up of both clergy and lay Greeks, found its initial support through a mass mailing to church members nationwide. The archdiocese promptly sued the group for using the church's official mailing list. (A judge ruled in favor of GOAL; the church appealed; in late January, a judge dismissed the suit at the church's request.) GOAL also issued a formal request for the archbishop's resignation or removal.

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