Greek Orthodox Stewards of America - April 23, 1999
The Truth about the Lawsuit
In September, 1998, the Archdiocese filed a civil lawsuit against the Greek Orthodox American Leaders, Inc. ("GOAL Corporation"), alleging that it misappropriated a confidential membership list. Soon after the suit was filed, a public relations and media blitz occurred in which the GOAL Corporation and its supporters said that the act of filing the suit was improper. A GOAL Corporation director characterized the suit as "an attempt to squelch dissent and intimidate faithful upstanding members of the Archdiocese who are legitimately exercising their First Amendment right to express concerns about the Archdiocese." That same director went on to say that the "lawsuit is unprecedented in that . . . in the 75 year history of the Archdiocese, it has never sought legal redress from a group of its own faithful."
Implicit in the position of the GOAL Corporation and its supporters is the apparent belief that the Archdiocese, or for that matter a Diocese or an individual parish, can never sue one of its members. Such a contention is nonsensical. A simple example illustrates this point. Assume parishioner X at St. Demetrios Church objects to the way the parish priest is running various aspects of the Church. He asks the priest and the parish council for a copy of the parish membership list so that he can communicate via letter his concerns to parishioners. He wants to prepare the letter on the Church's computer and he asks for access to it. His requests are denied. During the middle of the liturgy one Sunday, parishioner X goes into the Church office while nobody else is there, and removes a copy of the membership list from a secured file draw. He then disconnects the computer, puts it into his car and drives home. After the liturgy, the theft is discovered, and it becomes clear parishioner X is the culprit. The priest and the board ask him to return the computer and mailing list. He refuses, claiming the First Amendment entitled him to do what he did. The local district attorney refuses to bring criminal charges, claiming it is a Church matter. What should the parish do? Should it sue the parishioner in order to get its property back and thereby run the risk of being accused of trying to squelch dissent? Or should it just not do anything? Would abstaining from bringing a suit encourage similar acts against the Church?
The real issue in the Archdiocese lawsuit against the GOAL Corporation had little to do with free speech issues. It really had to do with how GOAL obtained the membership list and protecting the integrity of the Archdiocese against possible tortious or other illegal acts. Because GOAL Corporation has never revealed how it obtained the list, the faithful do not know whether it engaged in such conduct. In the opinion denying the Archdiocese's motion for a preliminary injunction, the Court was obviously disturbed about GOAL Corporation's actions, noting:
First, it would appear that the Archdiocese has a substantial basis for arguing that GOAL misappropriated confidential information. The Archdiocese has worked hard to develop the list and to maintain its confidentiality. At the same time, GOAL has made no effort to deny that it obtained and used the list without the Archdiocese's permission. Even assuming, however, that GOAL took the list and used it with good intentions and for the benefit of the Archdiocese, the ends do not justify the means.
- Second, even if GOAL would have been able to obtain the list eventually through other means, GOAL still acted improperly if it indeed misappropriated the list. The fact that the information could have been obtained through proper channels did not entitle GOAL to obtain the information more quickly through improper channels.
To the knowledge of this writer, GOAL Corporation has never attempted to explain how it obtained the list. Why? Is it hiding anything? People have lost sight of this fact. Through clever manipulation of the media and clergy, they have turned the issue against the Archdiocese and made it out to be the "bad guy." People should see through this sinister, albeit clever, tactic and see the "mailing list" incident for what it is.
The faithful deserve some answers from the GOAL Corporation. Specifically, they deserve to be told the exact way in which the membership list was obtained. The people responsible for these acts should be identified and made to answer for their actions. This has nothing to do with free speech. It has do with making people responsible for inappropriate and possibly tortious or otherwise illegal activity directed against the Church. Such behavior, if it in fact occurred, cannot be tolerated under any guise. GOAL Corporation and some of its supporters amazingly seem to say otherwise. As the court aptly stated, "the ends do not justify the means." GOAL Corporation cannot do whatever it wants. Yet some apparently seem to think otherwise. Such are thoughts of people who are immersed in a vat of their own arrogance. For the good of the Church, the GOAL Corporation should come clean with respect to the mailing list. Unless it has something to hide or to be embarrassed about, GOAL Corporation should not be afraid to say exactly how the list was obtained and who participated in the venture. Silence on this issue is unacceptable.
By Stavros Kriticos,
[ Greek Orthodox Stewards of America
April 23, 1999 ]