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Year since Father Nick ousted -- what has changed, stayed same?

UPDATED, Aug. 3: More than a year has passed since "Father Nick" was ousted from St. Athanasius the Great.

What has changed, and what has not?


PERSPECTIVE

 

 


The festival of the Greek Orthodox church on Appleton Street sent its music rolling across the Heights as usual in June. The souvlaki and gyros were as tasty as ever, though selections were limited the first night and it appeared that fewer volunteers were available.

More significantly, in the past year, the size of the congregation has shrunk, as those faithful to the Rev. Nicholas Kastanas fled to churches in Woburn and North Cambridge.

Specifically, official numbers are hard to come by. I visited the church on a rainy Sunday in late April and saw what appeared to be about 75 people dotting the main sanctuary, led by the new priest, who was installed in January

On the same day, April 29, St. Athanasius parishioners and former parishioners held a Community in Unity Glendi (festival), drawing more than 500 people to the Indian Ridge Country Club in Andover.

My visit to the church included meeting one of the parish council members involved in ousting the priest of nearly 28 years. He declined to comment about the matter.

One Arlington parishioner who left St. Athanasius after being a member since the 1960s expressed dismay and sadness that the church hierarchy appeared to be willing to continue to lose members.

Silence from the top

Responses from those behind pushing Father Nick out is one issue that has not changed in the past year: Silence from the top. No response is even quieter than "no comment."

The lack of explanation from the church hierarchy is understandable in that the matter quickly went to court last August. Such cases are awash in no comments from the top. After a number protests in the summer and fall, comments from Greek leadership came out last November.

To summarize, Boston's Greek Orthodox Church has alleged in court papers financial impropriety by Father Kastanas, claiming his resistance to the hierarchy's questions about a fund for the homeless and needy.

In response, Arlington parishioner Ioannis Moutsatsos offers a point-by-point defense of the priest's action in a blog titled "Web of Deceit."

Read a summary of views from both sides >> 

The Superior Court case was heard April 13, so that Kastanas's lawyers could argue for a dismissal of amended counterclaims that the Metropolis of Boston brought. A decision was expected in about three weeks, but none has yet been issued. The judge in the case reportedly went on medical leave, and another judge has been assigned.

Read an account of what took place in court in April below.

Since then, in June, supporters of Father Nick have published a letter in The National Herald, a newspaper for a Greek audience publishing in English.

The letter reports that "the vast majority of long-time stewards and friends of the Saint Athanasius parish have formed 'Community in Unity'" -- a grass-roots organization gives voice to concerns and provides emotional support to each other and the former parish priest and his family who faithfully dedicated their lives to serve the community for 28 years.

The letter says: "Your Eminence Metropolitan Methodios, you hold the key to the resolution of the crises that now plague the Saint Athanasius parish. We urge you to accept the 'Community in Unity' request sent to your office to meet face to face and discuss a just, compassionate and speedy resolution to the crises and painful issues that currently face our beloved parish, Saint Athanasius."

Read the full letter >> 

This letter was sent registered to the Metropolitan.

As of Aug. 1, there had been no response.

Summary of April 13 hearing

Provided by Ioannis Moutsatsos, a supporter of Father Nick

At the Superior Court hearing lawyers for the Rev. Kastanas argued for a dismissal of the Metropolis of Boston amended counterclaims against the priest.

On Monday, July 31, 2017, after the priest's final liturgy service at St. Athanasius, agents of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston entered his office, confiscated his computer, vestments, documents and cash and changed the locks to his office. The priest was ordered to stay off the church premises.

In response, Kastanas's lawyer filed a restraining order so that he could recover his property. The Metropolis of Boston responded with a counterclaim (and a later amendment), accusing the priest of withholding official records of the St. Athanasius parish, and of irregularities in an "undisclosed" Homeless and Needy Fund that the priest maintained for more than 20 years with the Citizens Bank.

At the April 13 hearing, Kastanas's lawyer, Euripides Dalmanieras of Foley & Hoag LLP, presented legal arguments for dismissing the Metropolis amended counterclaim based on the fact that Massachusetts law does not allow someone to sue for property that they do not own. The St. Athanasius parish (incorporated in 1964) and the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston (incorporated in 2012) are legally separate corporate entities. As such, the Metropolis of Boston can't legally sue Father Kastanas, since both the disputed ecclesiastical records and the Homeless and Needy Fund belong to the parish and not the Metropolis.

Dalmanieras also disputed claims about the "undisclosed" account presenting evidence of various parish organizations donating funds to Homeless and Needy Fund and stating that over the 20-plus years of its existence, no one had disputed donations and disbursement of funds from this account. He stated that the Metropolis is trying to "perpetuate the litigation against Fr. Nick solely to drag his name through the mud."

"After filing these counterclaims against Fr. Nick," Moutsatsos wrote in April, "the Metropolis has clumsily tried to fix its legal case by forcing the St. Athanasius parish (read: the Metropolis appointed remnants of the former parish council) to join them in persecuting the counterclaims of the Metropolis against Fr. Nick by hiring a lawyer to represent the parish at the litigation (John Tocci of Tocci & Lee)."

The Metropolis lawyer, Michael Connolly, argued that the priests has resisted turning over ecclesiastical and financial records. His presentation focused on the hierarchical structure of the Orthodox Church, arguing that this gave the Metropolis the right to sue. He also argued that the court-ordered examination of the documents on the priest's confiscated computer did not reveal any emails from the needy thanking him for financial assistance.

"Many wondered," Moutsatsos wrote, "if there were any emails thanking Fr. Nick for the annual 60K+ parish contribution to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese!"

More than 130 supporters of the priest observed in court, to the extent that the court clerk had to pull out some extra chairs for people to sit.

Dalmanieras responded that if the Metropolis wanted to resolve the ownership disputes in the counterclaims outside Massachusetts law, it could have done so by adhering to its own internal dispute-resolution processes instead of bringing civil litigation against Father Kastanas. Clearly, this was done to punish the priest for resisting the demands of the Metropolis and asking the court for a restraining order. Now that the Metropolis has chosen to engage in civil litigation, it has to adhere to the civil rules, for which Massachusetts law and the court are the ultimate arbitrators.

John Scheft, the attorney representing the priest from the beginning of these legal actions, questioned Connolly's claim that the ecclesiastical records of baptisms, weddings and deaths in the parish are withheld by Kastanas and have not been returned to the Metropolis. One of Scheft's statement drew short applause -- that "the Metropolis is the one that confiscated everything in Fr. Kastanas office without any supervision and/or accounting, and it's now using the disappearance of these records as evidence against Fr. Nick."

Soon after, the court went into recess. 


Jan. 10, 2018: New priest for St. Athanasius the Great installed, on job
Dec. 4, 2017: Parishioners protest in public after celebrating in private
Nov. 27, 2017: Church says resistant priest hid fund; defender explains why 
Metropolitan Methodius' statement, November 2017 >> | Parishioner Ioannis Moutsatsos' blog "Web of Deceit" 
Sept. 19, 2017: Supporter seeking to return 'Father Nick' lays out way forward
Sept. 12, 2017: Rally held aiming to return 'Father Nick' to Arlington church
OPINION: Aug. 2, 2017: To Greek church leaders: Get past social media, come together
July 30, 2017: At his last service, 'Father Nick' draws strong parishioners' support 

This news summary was published Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018, and updated to add this note.

Someone has responded to this report with claims about ther case, but the person has not provided a real email address. Anyone seeking to provide information must use a real address and provide a full name.

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