It is unfortunate that, still most people do not see the root cause of the problem in our church that led us to our present dire situation. According to our byelaw, the archdiocese with its Archbishop has the highest authority on spiritual matters.
Church Byelaw Chapter 3 Article 9:6 says “Whereas, the archdiocese has spiritual authority over the church, the physical funds as well as assets including fixed and non-fixed properties belong to the Assembly of Membership Congregation.”
When the byelaw is crystal clear in assigning authority over spiritual matters to the Archbishop, the following unacceptable & unlawful behaviors were deliberately encouraged by the Plaintiff board members a.k.a Ato Abate Zewdie Group, or simply identified in this article as the Plaintiff.
- The rebellious Priests continually attempted to undermine the power of the Archbishop, publicly speaking against him personally, and against the Holy Synod. The most notorious in this regard were Aba Hailemichael who is now in Washington DC area and the ex Kesis Alemshet.
- The Board, particularly those who ironically present themselves now as Plaintiff, completely failed to discipline the Priests who have been working against the archbishop, by instigating disobedience and unrest within the laity. Also, the complete silence of the Audit Committee puts its members in the same footing with that of the Plaintiff Board members.
- Contrary to their fiduciary responsibility of maintaining order, the plaintiff board members collaborated with the divisive & rebellious priests, and members that were acting in violation of the article in the byelaw chapter 3 article 9:6, by attempting to undermine the authority of the archbishop through various defamations.
- It is only God that cannot err and accordingly, the following canonical and legal remedies were available to both the Priests and members, in addressing their concerns or their allegations against the Archbishop.
- Priests – The Fitha Negest (Law of Kings) clearly mandates that any priest within the Ethiopian Orthodox Church submits complaints with evidence to the Holy Synod, following the church’s rich traditions that are not elaborated here. However, the priests acted with a total disregard for the cannon laws of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The Priests were distributing flyers and bringing controversial issues to Sunday mass, to instigate innocent members and create chaos. The Plaintiff Board members and the Audit Committee were accomplice in their silence to these unlawful behaviors of the renegade priests since they failed to enforce the authority of the Archbishop, inscribed in Chapter 3 article 9:6
- Church Members. The only way for members to rightfully complain against the archbishop is, request addition of the complaint as agenda item for discussion either at an annual or special meeting of the congregation. However, the Plaintiff group chose to follow a devious tactic of setting up a Fact Finding Committee, and attempted to remove the archbishop through the back door merely basing on the dubious report of the committee.
- Although the Byelaw demands holding one General meeting each year in September, the board completely failed to call annual general meeting of members both in September 2015 and in September 2016. Although the defendant group presented various petitions to the Board and the Audit Committee demanding for a General Meeting of members, its multiple written requests were given deaf ears. The Plaintiff group knew that majority of members would not agree to its allegations against the Archbishop, and hence continuously denied members of their right to participate in the General meeting or Special meeting ,and have a say on the most significant problem the church has faced in two decades.
- The Board held a meeting on 6/12/16 and decided to call a General meeting of members, and present the so-called ‘Fact Finding and Solution Seeking Committee Report’ for discussion in the annual meeting of the congregation. There was an agreement that it would be unlawful for the Board to remove the Archbishop without the consent of members. However, instead of calling the General Meeting, the Plaintiff group called another Board Meeting on 10/09/2016, and presented the same agenda discussed & settled in the prior meeting. At that moment, the defendant board members left the meeting on two grounds (i) There was no point re deliberating on the agenda settled in the prior meeting on 6/12/16, and (ii) removing the Archbishop without a joint consent of members in the General Meeting and that of the Holy Synod representatives, would be against the byelaw for the church.
However, the Plaintiff Board members chose to follow an evangelical church methodology, and tried to give a verdict based on opinion of Committee of Elders, disregarding the authority of the Holy Synod and the General Meeting of the congregation. The irresponsible and the unlawful act of the plaintiffs, to fire the archbishop flared up the whole situation.
- General or Special meeting of the Congregation (Tier I Structure) is the highest administrative body that elects the board and has a significant say in resolving disputes between the Board and Priests/Archbishop. The Board (Tier II Structure) is accountable to the General Meeting of members and it appoints the Executive committee.
- The Executive committee is formed by the Board and it is the lowest level or Tier III administrative structure with in the church. Chapter 3:16:8 of the church byelaw says “አስፈላጊም ሆኖ ሲያገኘው ጊዜያዊም ሆነ ቋሚ ሰራተኛ በህግ ይቀጥራል ያሰናብታል” and the correct translation of this is that the executive committee can, as needed, hire and fire permanent or temporary employees without violating relevant In order to discern that law, here, refers to relevant Federal laws, State laws and the Church’s byelaw, one does not need to go to law school.
- The executive committee in exercising its powers to hire and fire, is required to make sure that its actions are consistent with other legal provisions within the church byelaw. It is illegal for the executive committee to fire a Priest or an Archbishop, in contravention with specific provisions that award special authority to other higher body like general assembly of the congregation. Accordingly, the following are relevant byelaw provisions that need serious consideration by the executive committee before taking a decision to fire.
Byelaw Chapter 3:19:3
Whenever controversies arise between the board and the Head Priest, the decision taken by the Archbishop and the Assembly of Membership Congregation shall be final.
Internal Guideline Page 19 (Ethiopic “ረ” read as ‘Re’) – the 2012 Amendment
ችግሩ በሀገረ ስብከቱ ሊቀጳጳስና በአስተዳደሩ መካከል ከሆነ ግን ጉዳዩ ለሲኖዶሱ ተላልፎ የማህበረ ምዕመናኑ ጉባኤና ሲኖዶሱ የሚወክላችው አባላት በጋራ እንዲያዩት ይደረጋል። ሁለቱ የሚሰጡት ውሳኔ የመጨረሻ ይሆናል።
…When the dispute is between the Archbishop and the Board, the issue will be passed on to the Holy Synod. And members’ representatives of the General Meeting and representatives of the Holy Synod will enquire in to the issue together. The joint decision of the two representatives will be final.
The 2012 amendment was presented to the 2012 general meeting, and it was approved by acclamation. There are email correspondences among the plaintiff, and other church activities that prove the amendment has been effective since 2012. The problems are (i) Even if the document is an amendment to the Chapter 3:19 of the byelaw, the document is still appended to the Internal Guideline. This only shows the poor understanding of the Plaintiff when it comes to legal matters. If you amend the byelaw, why append the amendment to Internal Guideline, instead of the byelaw itself, where you find Chapter 3:19 (ii) The Plaintiff Group has denied the validity of the amendment altogether.
- The Grand Manipulation. It is comical that the termination letter served to the archbishop says, we are firing you with your role as a priest, not as an archbishop. The letter also prohibits the archbishop from entering the church facilities. Isn’t it true that if one is a priest he is not an archbishop, and vice versa? How is the archbishop going to serve in his capacity as an archbishop when he is not allowed to enter the church facilities? Isn’t that a grand deception? Isn’t switching to the Addis Ababa Synod the hidden grand motive?
- Clearly the Tier III, Executive committee, does not have the mandate to fire the clergy contrary to the byelaw. It can only take this action after getting the approval of members in the General meeting (Tier 1). Also the consent of the Archbishop is required in case of a dispute with a priest, and the consent of the Holy Synod representatives is required, when the dispute is with the archbishop.
- Common Sense. The right of the archbishop cannot be any lower than the right of a Head Priest. If the consent of the General Meeting is required to resolve a dispute between the Board and the Head Priest, the consent of the General meeting should, if not more, at least equally be necessary, to determine the fate of an Archbishop in an Orthodox environment. This is a simple common sense one cannot lose sight of! The concept of Matrix structure is in play. The Head priest is accountable to the Arch Bishop and to the Board. Similarly, the Archbishop is accountable to the Holy Synod and the church’s congregation.
- To make the situation even worse, the church Administrator Aba Hailegiorigis and the Board Chairman, Abate Zewdie, allowed the priests to conduct Sunday liturgy, even after receiving a clear written instruction from the Holy Synod that no Liturgy was to be conducted by the priests, without the approval of the Archbishop. The misconduct of the priests, holding Sunday Liturgy after uncanonically removing the archbishop, completely ignoring the direct written order of the Holy Synod not to do so, exacerbated the problem to a whole new level of misunderstanding & division among church members. This forced the defendant group to resort to other remedies to protect the interest of the Holy Synod in Atlanta Sehalite Mehret Cathedral.
- The Plaintiff Board members, instead of accepting their mistakes, and trying to apologize or asking for reconciliation, reconfirmed their total unlawful and dictatorial behavior by taking the case to court. It is alleged that the Plaintiff has used over US $ 100,000.00 of church funds paying for its legal team. As members of the church, the defendants, have a say on use of church funds but it is being used against them without their say on the budgetary process. The defendants, though, are using their own personal funds in defending their case, in effect are paying for both sides.
- Still the allegations on the Archbishop are not presented to Members for deliberation. Everything is a rumor with he said, and she said. The significant number of church members did not participate with questionnaires of the Fact-Finding Committee because it was designed with ill motive, and it was against the Orthodox tradition of empowering the Holy Synod in resolving a dispute of this magnitude or nature.
The members who had a complaint could have simply gathered in Starbucks, and come up with list of allegations against the archbishop. Instead, they tried to deceive more than six hundred members by creating a committee that would pose as neutral, but whose only agenda is present a stepping stone for the Plaintiff Board member’s originally designed agenda of removing the archbishop, through the backdoor i.e. without the consent of members in the general meeting. That was why only seventy-one people responded from about six hundred members.
The Board was simply required to (i) call Annual General Meeting of members (ii) deliberate on the agenda (the allegation compiled at Starbucks or wherever), and (iii) if the majority agrees with the allegation elect member representatives for discussion with representatives of the Holy Synod. (Iv) Member representatives meet with Synod representatives to make that final decision on the fate of the Archbishop. Removal of the archbishop requires joint agreement of the representatives of members and that of the Holy Synod.
So far, not a single meeting of the congregation has been held since 2014, and until that occurs all the allegations against the archbishop are mere rumors with a he said and a she said. It is normal and healthy for anyone to complain against another. The problem in our church is not because there are complaints. The root cause of the problem in our church is how the Board and the Audit Committee chose to address the issues. It all started since the plaintiff chose to undermine the authority of the archbishop over spiritual matters, and follow procedures that are poisonous and hence alien to Orthodox Church traditions, and the church’s byelaw. One thing for sure is that due process has not been followed by the Plaintiff Board Members and the Audit committee. They have violated the right of the Archbishop as supreme authority in the church on spiritual matters, and the right of members to express their opinion in general meeting on important matters to the church.
You should be asking why these people would go against the archbishop. As members of the church, our issue is with the due process. Let us hear the allegations formally in the general meeting, and let the accused be given a chance to answer. Then only then, we would know what’s up.
It was wrong for Megabi Haddis Eshetu, Deacon Daniel Kibret or others to get involved in the internal affairs of the church/the exiled Holy Synod. We are particularly shocked at the action of Megabi Haddis Eshetu, as our expectations of him are higher. Did he talk to the archbishop before he took sides? Did he try to verify? Was it right for him to take role of a religious father to a rebellious group that rejected the exiled Holy Synod? Isn’t he expected to advise the group to sort out their differences with the Holy Synod first? Is the Holy Synod a buffet for the laity to choose from? Isn’t what we are evidencing at Atlanta Sehalite Mehret the height of Sebhat Nega’s claim that he has broken the backbone of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church? Is Megabi Haddis Eshetu to apologize for his actions? The three rebellious priests, that probably have misled Megabi Haddis Eshetu, are now excommunicated by the exiled Holy Synod, and we are now required to refer to them as Ato Hailegiorigis, Ato Abraham and Ato Alemshet. The main culprit Aba Hailemichael is still at large, hiding within the Addis Ababa Synod.
At this crucial time, it is necessary that the true Ethiopians join in prayers and remember the hundreds of fellow Ethiopians who lost their lives and their families because of the divisive and backward ethnic based politics in our country. There are fellow church members who have not yet realized that the same force is lurching in our church creating divisions among us.
The Archbishop is the highest authority over spiritual matters. That is per the byelaw. If anyone has a problem with the archbishop, follow the due process. No due process, meaning dictatorship. Why?
Wishing all Ethiopians a Happy New Year!