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Eglise Saint Nicolas à New York : suite de l'affaire

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America borrowed $3.5 million from funds that were supposed to be restricted to construction of a church and shrine at Ground Zero in New York, and the archdiocese says it has begun paying it back with interest.

The figure came from an auditor's report presented to the executive committee of the archdiocesan council. That national church oversight board wrapped up meetings Friday in Pittsburgh, which is home to one of the archdiocese’s eight metropolises or dioceses.

The archdiocese says it has already repaid $1 million of the pending total to the shrine fund. It pledges to repay the rest, including with compensation for interest and for investment returns the funds that would have been earned for the Ground Zero project since donations began arriving in 2001. The rest of the donations have been accounted for and were properly used for the project, the report said.

Officials for the archdiocese said Friday they are pursuing a bank loan to cover what it had borrowed from the shrine’s fund so that the latter could be compensated in the near future.

The report by an outside auditor, PricewaterhouseCoopers, is the latest development since last fall’s revelation of financial crisis, which has drawn the attention of law enforcement in New York. The archdiocese, the nation’s largest branch of Orthodox Christianity, is headquartered in New York City.

The archdiocese last year replaced top financial administrators and sharply cut staff and budgets at its national offices while pledging to fix what it acknowledged were long-standing flaws in its financial controls.

A second, smaller round of cuts took place early this year. George Tsandikos, the archdiocesan council’s vice chairman, said the church has weathered the worst.

“It’s certainly not the desire of the archdiocese to reduce ministries,” he said. But, he added: “Right now, the revenues are more than amount of money being spent. That’s the elimination of the crisis.”

The archdiocese had been using donations that were designated for the shrine project to cover operating expenses. 

The project is to replace the old St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, which was crushed by the collapsing south tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Orthodox officials, after years of nationwide fundraising and negotiations with New York City officials, began constructing what is to be a replacement of the parish church and a landmark of Orthodoxy in America — and also a national shrine, open to all, with a place of reflection for visitors of all faiths.

But the general contractor halted construction in December when church officials fell behind on payments. 

The U.S. attorney’s office in New York has been investigating the shrine project, and the archdiocese says it’s cooperating with the probe.

“They are looking just exactly for what we are looking for. We want to know what happened at St. Nicholas, and I hope that the report will be helpful,” according to Cathy Walsh, who chairs the council’s legal committee.

Separately, the archdiocese says it has informed New York state attorney’s office of its financial situation and that is cooperating with what it understands to be an investigation of one individual.  

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