The Lonely Path of Integrity
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Eleftherotypia (Sunday Edition) - December 10, 2000

Behind the Scenes of Spyridon's Dethronement

By Justine Frangouli

The individuals who took a leading role in the ousting of Spyridon were the very same people who victimized his predecessor, Iakovos.

The current vice-chair of the Executive Committee of the Archdiocesan Council, Mike Jaharis, and Fr Alex Karloutsos, with his wide network of contacts in the Greek-American community, were the pivots of the game. These were joined by the US Metropolitans and the establishment of Holy Cross School of Theology (Brookline, MA). The latter were instrumental in setting up GOAL, an extra-ecclesiastical pressure group (Greek Orthodox American Leaders).

The real power in the Executive Committee resided with vice-chair Alex Spanos, appointed by Spyridon because of his influential role on the American scene and his close friendship with Fr. Karloutsos.

The first Executive Committee meetings proceeded without conflict, although Michael Jaharis's inflexibility on the issues was clear from the onset. He tried to impose his own entrenched views, dragging along the remaining members, none of whom had any desire to lock horns with him. In private conversations, Jaharis, a Karloutsos friend, tried to prevail on Spyridon to restrict his role to that of celebrant and preacher merely conveying the "new vision" to Greek Orthodox communities throughout the country. Administration, Jaharis insisted, should not take up the Archbishop's time! Spyridon was told Jaharis himself would hold down the fort.

Removed from the Archdiocese of America in 1992, Fr. Karloutsos began systematically undermining Iakovos. He would now receive his salary directly from the Phanar, to which he would regularly deliver hefty checks from Greek-American millionaires.

Fr. Karloutsos who had visited Venice on a few other occasions to cement his relationship with Iakovos's successor, organized the Greek American contributions for the Patriarch's trip there. The priest once asked Spyridon whether his ties with the Patriarch would be a hindrance should he become Archbishop of America one day. This gave the Metropolitan pause for thought.

After Spyridon's election, Fr. Karloutsos, appointed Vicar for Public Affairs, returned to the Archdiocese even more acrimonious than before, managing to intimidate the Archdiocese personnel and the clergy. Fr. Alex often implied that revenge were to be taken on laymen and clergy who figured on his list as "antipatriarchal". Meanwhile, he prepared the enthronement gala and immediately began spreading rumors that the Archbishop was "transitory and on trial."


For the love of money

The relationship between the two men deteriorated when the Patriarch visited the United States (October 1997). The omniscient Fr. Karloutsos had been given carte blanche to organize the Patriarchal visit. Though the initial budget for the visit was approximately two million dollars, Fr. Alex's invoices totaled a much larger amount.

The Bishops, who had not delivered their agreed diocesan contributions to help defray the visit's considerable expenses, pointed the finger at Fr. Karloutsos. Alleging irregularities in the Patriarchal visit management, they set up an investigative committee to look into the matter.

Following the Patriarchal visit, the Archbishop gradually began to distance himself from Fr. Karloutsos and ceased calling him to senior staff meetings where key decisions on Archdiocesan matters were taken. The "Patriarch's friend," acting in a deliberate and systematic manner, transformed his office into a Trojan horse. Day after day, he slipped confidential documents to Spyridon's opponents and the media.

The spring of 1999 saw the Archbishop closing down various fronts and tying up loose ends. Even though the situation in the Greek-American community was relatively calm during Lent and the Easter period, the Patriarch, during his official visit to Athens in late May, decided to raise the question of Spyridon's status. Meeting with Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis, Bartholomew brought up the issue and expressed concern about discord in the Greek-American community.

The Prime Minister was reported to have said that since the case was ecclesiastical in nature, he would prefer to see the Patriarch handle it himself. The conversation was leaked to the press the following day.

In a routine briefing the next day, however, government spokesperson Dimitris Reppas flatly denied that the Prime Minister was involved in the affairs of the Church of America or those of the Patriarchate.

That day, Spyridon got a private phone call from a person close to Gerasimos Arsenis, Minister for Education and Religious Affairs. According to the caller, the Patriarch expressed concern about Spyridon to Arsenis. The minister replied, however, that it was only normal that a change of leadership in the Church, especially after 38 years, would cause some problems: nonetheless, he saw no need for alarm.

During the same period, Metropolitan Ioacheim of Chalcedon had visited the United States. The second-ranked hierarch in the Patriarchate hobnobbed with Fr. Alex Karloutsos and his millionaire friends. He was informed that Spyridon had alienated himself from big interests and big money in the Greek-American establishment.

A $1,000,000 check donated by magnate Alex Spanos for the purchase of a Patriarchal residence in Constantinople, delivered to Bartholomew in late April by the Patriarch's "fundraiser," Fr. Alex Karloutsos, seemed to have played a decisive role in Bartholomew's decision to end the Spyridon issue then and there.

Bartholomew was in constant contact with Fr. Alex Karloutsos. He even visited the artful cleric privately in his New Rochelle home, passing through New York on his way to Canada. A few days later, Fr. Karloutsos appeared on the scene in Toronto where he had another private meeting with the Patriarch. There could be no doubt: these meetings signaled a fateful shift in the relationship between the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Archbishop of America.


Hostility on the horizon

On June 2, Spyridon and Bartholomew met in the VIP lounge of Turkish Airlines Turk Hava Yollari when the latter was returning to Constantinople by way of New York's JFK Airport. Once the Phanar's favorite son, the Archbishop now detected coolness, even hostility in the Patriarch's manner. "Your friends say that I do not dare. Tell them that Bartholomew dares... And do not think this has to do with money," the Patriarch admonished Spyridon. Startled, the Archbishop demanded an explanation but none was forthcoming.

A few weeks later, in September, Spyridon felt completely isolated at the Synaxis of Ruling Hierarchs of the Ecumenical Throne in Constantinople. At a meeting of the Committee for the Throne's Eparchies, he looked on stoically while Bartholomew recited a litany of grievances against him; then he offered his resignation.

A flurry of attacks followed in that adverse fall of 1998. Though it looked now as if the Patriarch supported Spyridon in his struggle with the Metropolitans, in a private discussion in the Patriarchal Office with Metropolitan Ioakeim of Chalcedon present, he asked for his Exarch's signed resignation: "I want to have it available here in my drawer should the opportunity arise so you do not wake up as former Archbishop of America one morning," the Patriarch warned.

To ease the atmosphere after Bartholomew's ultimatum, former Halki classmate, Metropolitan Ioakeim of Chalcedon, himself a spiritual child of Meliton of Chalcedon, advised Spyridon that instead of tendering his resignation immediately, he should wait to see what would happen.

Two months later, Ioakeim phoned Spyridon and told him it was time to send the Patriarch his resignation without further ado...

For the Archbishop, however, it was like "a voice of one crying in the wilderness." He had decided that in the future the only dignified position to take with the Phanar would be "if you want it, come and get it." When Spyridon thought about the plotting and scheming that had gone on over the past year, he was convinced that the people huddling behind closed doors and managing the war from the East would have to bear full responsibility for his removal from the Throne.

He would perform his duty until the end even if it meant waking up one morning as the "former Archbishop of America," as he had been threatened.

[Translated from Greek]