Association of Macedonian Communities in Australia Inc
The Association of Macedonian Communities in Australia Inc strongly opposes the Macedonian Orthodox Church Property Trust Bill 2010 and disputes the basic premises and purposes underlying its design.
The Bill represents an attack on the founding principles by which Macedonian Orthodox communities in Australia have been established, and have operated and accumulated assets since 1956. Those principles include freedom of religion, freedom of association, democratic, independent, and accountable self-government in the interest of the local Australian Macedonian Orthodox community, respect for general Australian law governing the registration and operation of non-profit and charitable organisations, and the right to preserve and promulgate the Macedonian ethnic heritage free of the repressive assimilation that Macedonians have been subjected to by state and church regimes in different parts of the Macedonian homeland for centuries.
ABOUT THE ASSOCIATION OF MACEDONIAN COMMUNITIES IN AUSTRALIA (AMCA)
The Association of Macedonian Communities in Australia (AMCA) is incorporated in South Australia. It is an affiliation of independent Macedonian ethnic community organisations from across Australia, including eight incorporated Macedonian communities, which, in addition to secular activities, are responsible for the establishment and operation of the following Macedonian Orthodox churches:
- The church of “Saints Kiril & Metodi” in Rosebery NSW, established since 1969 by the Macedonian Orthodox Community of Sydney Ltd (which was an unincorporated association until 1971)
- The church of “Saint Nikola” in Cabramatta NSW, established since 1977 by the Macedonian Orthodox Community of Sydney Ltd
- The church of “Saint Petka” in Rockdale NSW, established since 1977 by the Macedonian Orthodox Church Community St. Petka Inc (which was an unincorporated association until 1992)
- The church of “Saint Dimitrija Solunski” in Wollongong NSW, established since 1967 by the Macedonian Orthodox Community of the City of Greater Wollongong ‘Saint Dimitrija Solunski’ Ltd
- The church of “Saint Mary – Mother of God” in Newcastle NSW, established since 1965 by the Macedonian Orthodox Community of Newcastle and District Ltd
- The church of “Saint George & St. Mary” in Victoria, established since 1956 by the Macedonian Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria Ltd
- The church of ‘Saint Kliment of Ohrid” in King Lake, established since 1970 by the Macedonian Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria Ltd
- The Macedonian-Australian Orthodox Church “Saint Mary” Inc in St Albans Victoria, established since 1994, at the initiative of and on property owned by the Macedonian Cultural and Artistic Association ‘Jane Sandanski’ Inc
- The church of “Saint Naum of Ohrid” in Adelaide SA, established since 1967 by the Macedonian Community of Adelaide and South Australia Inc
- The church of “Saint Nedela” at the Gold Coast, established since 1992 by the Macedonian Orthodox Church & Cultural Community “Sveta Nedela” Gold Coast Incorporated
All of the above churches, which are attended by tens of thousands of parishioners, were loosely affiliated to an unincorporated Macedonian Orthodox Diocese of Australia until bishop Petar Karevski was appointed as its clerical Head, by the Holy Synod of the Macedonian Orthodox Church in Macedonia (renamed on 12 November 2009 to “Macedonian Orthodox Church – Ohrid Archdiocese”), in 1996. Shortly after his appointment, bishop Petar forced these churches out of the Diocese by insisting that they could not be in spiritual unity with the Macedonian Orthodox Church without meeting his arbitrary demands for money and property transfers, and if they did not accept an objectionable Diocesan Statute (constitution) and local church community by-laws, the operation of which would effectively have allowed him to usurp all churches and other assets owned by the legally independent communities that previously comprised the Diocese.
Some associations that are opposed to the Bill remain members of bishop Petar’s Diocese, even though he repeatedly claims that an incorporated association or company cannot be a church or operate church property. Future conflict over this fundamental difference between those associations and the bishop is inevitable. For now, he has offered them unprincipled deals to retain their self-governing status and ownership of their properties, as long as they pay levies to his Diocese and employ priests appointed by him. This deal is inconsistent with the absolutist demands for property ownership and control that he has made from communities that are affiliated to the AMCA, and with his prohibition on priests serving in the churches of those communities. It is our opinion that this application of double standards by the bishop is only a temporary strategic measure to “divide and conquer” the body of incorporated Macedonian Orthodox communities that object to his grab for community money and assets. It also allows him to utilize levies paid by some non-compliant communities to sue and otherwise attack others.
We are aware that at least two other Macedonian communities in Australia, which together operate three churches, have written to bishop Petar objecting to this Bill. They include the Macedonian Community of WA Inc, which owns and operates the Macedonian Orthodox Church of St. Nikola in North Perth WA, and the “Macedonian Orthodox Church St. Clement of Ohrid and Macedonian Orthodox Monastery St. Petka – Kembla Grange.”
The fact that, under Clause 17 of the Bill, the only properties that are proposed to automatically vest in the new trustee corporation are those whose current legal owners are Petar Karevski (i.e. the bishop), Jovica Simonovski (a priest and the bishop’s deputy) and Tone Gulev (a priest appointed by the bishop), suggests that none of the incorporated associations that operate churches which bishop Petar considers to be within his Diocese genuinely support the despotic appropriation of community-funded church property envisaged by the Bill.
Historical structure and political context of the Macedonian Orthodox Church
1.1 The Bill is based on a misguided presumption that the Macedonian Orthodox Church is historically hierarchical in its management and control of property.
1.2 The Macedonian Orthodox churches in Australia, America and Canada, as well as the modern Macedonian Orthodox Church in the Republic of Macedonia, were established as self-governing, legally decentralized institutions by a grass-roots movement of the Macedonian Orthodox people. Their establishment was led by the Macedonian national independence movement, with the objective of freeing the Macedonian people from oppressive state and church regimes. The clerics who provided spiritual leadership in the establishment of self-governing Macedonian Orthodox churches did so in defiance of the clerical hierarchies by which they were ordained and under which they served until they broke away.
1.3 Prior to 1913, the Macedonian homeland was under the religiously and politically oppressive rule of the Ottoman Empire for five centuries. In the course of the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire, under international pressure, allowed the national Orthodox churches of neighbouring Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia to operate in various parts of Macedonia. The desire of indigenous Macedonians to have their own Macedonian Orthodox Church was not respected. Macedonians, most of whom were historically Orthodox Christians, could only choose between the Serbian, Greek or Bulgarian Orthodox church. The clerical hierarchies of these churches used their resources and influence to indoctrinate and assimilate the Macedonian people into the new Serbian, Greek or Bulgarian and national identities, as defined by their nation-states.
1.4 In the Balkan Wars of 1912/13, Macedonia was occupied and divided by Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria. All of these states denied the Macedonian people the right to self-determination and the right to preserve and promulgate their autochthonous Macedonian identity, culture, language and historical heritage. Serbia insisted that the Macedonian people are Serbs. Greece insisted that the Macedonians are Greeks. Bulgaria insisted that the Macedonians are Bulgarians. The national Orthodox Church of each of these states used its religious influence to promote these politically, culturally and ethnically oppressive policies.
1.5 The “Macedonian Orthodox Church – Ohrid Archdiocese” (MOC-OA) operates only in the part of Macedonia that was under Serbian rule between the Balkan Wars and WWII, and subsequently achieved the status of a federal Republic in the Yugoslav Federation of nations, before declaring independence in 1991. Macedonians currently living within the borders of neighbouring Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia and Albania are not offered the opportunity to establish their own Macedonian Orthodox churches. They continue to be subjected to systematic national assimilation by the Serbian, Greek and Bulgarian Orthodox churches. The hierarchy of the MOC-OA is doing very little, if anything, to support them in achieving respect for their basic human rights. This is a key point of distinction between the MOC-OA in Macedonia and Macedonian Orthodox communities abroad, which are made up of Macedonian migrants from all parts of Macedonia.
1.6 The process of the establishment of the modern Macedonian Orthodox Church has been traced to a resolution by the Supreme Headquarters of the Macedonian People’s Liberation Army and Partisan Divisions to appoint father Veljo Manchevski (a rebel priest originally ordained by the Serbian Orthodox Church) as its Religious Head, dated 15 October 1943.
1.7 The earliest recorded meetings of a Holy Synod and Church-people’s Assembly of the Macedonian Orthodox Church occurred on 17-19 July 1943, without the presence or blessing of any bishop.
1.8 The first Macedonian Church-people’s Assembly acknowledged in the preamble to the current Constitution of the MOC-OA, held on 4 March 1945, was also held without the presence or blessing of any bishop. Among the resolutions of that Assembly were the following:
“1. That the (medieval) Ohrid Archdiocese be renewed as a Macedonian independent church that will not be subservient to any other Church;
2. That it shall have its own national bishops and its own national clergy as a guarantee of the preservation of its distinct national characteristics.” 
1.9 A subsequent Assembly of Macedonian Priests, held in May 1946, resolved:
“1. That the Church in the People’s Republic of Macedonia have national bishops, national clergy and self-government in the resolution of all internal church-people’s matters.
2. That bishops be elected by the people and the priests.”
1.10The Macedonian Orthodox Church in the Republic of Macedonia operated without any bishops and without recognition by any other Orthodox Church hierarchy from at least 1943 to 1958. During that time, its legitimacy as an Orthodox Church was disputed by the hierarchy of the Serbian Orthodox Church within Yugoslavia, as well as by other Orthodox Church hierarchies.
1.11 On 4-6 October 1958, a Macedonian Church-people’s Assembly held in Ohrid Macedonia adopted a Constitution for the establishment of an autonomous Macedonian Orthodox Church, which would be in canonical unity with the Serbian Orthodox Church, and have bishops approved by the Serbian Orthodox Patriarch. On 17 July 1967, an Archiepiscopal Church-people’s Assembly of the Macedonian Orthodox Church declared autocephaly, that is, complete independence from the Serbian Orthodox Church.
1.12 Article 4 of the foundational constitution of the Macedonian Orthodox Church makes it clear that it was conceived as a decentralised affiliation of various legal entities, each of which was to be independent in the legal ownership and control of its property:
“The Macedonian Orthodox Church consists of the following legal persons:
- 1. Macedonian Orthodox Church;
- 2. The Metropolitan residency;
- 3. The Dioceses;
- 4. The bishops’ regencies;
- 5. The church communities;
- 6. The monasteries;
- 7. Charitable foundations;
- 8. The independent institutions and funds, legacies and individual parishes, according to their properties;
These legal persons are entitled, in accordance with the existing state laws, to accumulate and hold real property and any other property, to use and manage it, and to exercise all rights and obligations arising from its ownership.”
1.13 The definition of local church communities as separate legal persons remains a part of the Constitution of the MOC-OA to this day. However, Article 172 of the current version of the Constitution, which was passed in 1994, ambiguously attempts to subvert the right of individual church communities to independently determine how they will use their properties, by providing that they accumulate their properties “for the Church” and manage them “in accordance with this Constitution and church regulations, which are passed on the basis of this Constitution.” This provision was introduced in Macedonia without the free and democratic consent of the members of individual Macedonian Orthodox church communities in Australia, America, Canada and Western Europe. Most of those communities continue to rely on the democratic constitutions and legislation and regulations by which they are incorporated in their new homelands.
1.14 The establishment of a self-governing Macedonian Orthodox Church in Australia dates back to 1956, that is even before the official declaration of an autonomous Macedonian Orthodox Church in 1958, when the Macedonian Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria democratically elected its first church committee and bought the property on which it built the church of St. George. A majority of the members and leaders of that Community were and still are Macedonians originating from the part of Macedonia under Greek state rule. There was no Macedonian Episcopal hierarchy operating in any part of the Macedonian homeland in 1956. The only Episcopal hierarchies operating in parts of Macedonia were the Greek Orthodox Church (in the parts of Macedonia under Greek and Albanian state rule), and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church (in the part of Macedonia under Bulgarian state rule). Both of those Church hierarchies, along with the Serbian and other non-Macedonian Orthodox Church hierarchies, had branches in Australia. A key motivation of the Macedonian Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria was not to be under their jurisdiction and to remain legally independent.
1.15 Article 75 of the Community’s foundational constitution provided that “The Community shall from time to time employ a priest who shall perform all such religious rites, ceremonies and duties as are ordinarily performed by priests of the Eastern Orthodox Church.” There was no reference at all in the constitution to any specific Orthodox Church’s hierarchy.
1.16 When an administratively autonomous Macedonian Orthodox Church was subsequently established in the Republic of Macedonia, under the canonical jurisdiction of the Serbian Orthodox Patriarch, in 1958, its bishops accepted the St. George church as the first Macedonian Orthodox parish outside of Macedonia. However, the Macedonian Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria, with its parish, retained its self-governing status. It did not make any amendments to its constitution that would legally bind it to the autonomous Macedonian Orthodox Church in the Macedonian Republic.
1.17 The foundation stone for the St. George church was laid on 2nd August 1959, blessed by a priest of the Syrian Orthodox Church, father George Haydar. The church was consecrated on 1st August 1960, by a bishop and priest from Macedonia. Its first parish priest was also from Macedonia, but it never accepted the jurisdiction of the Serbian Patriarch, even though the Church in Macedonia was under his canonical jurisdiction until 1967.
1.18 All other Macedonian Orthodox communities and churches established in Australia prior to bishop Petar’s arrival in 1996 followed the independent self-governing model of the Macedonian Orthodox Community of Melbourne of Victoria, with respect to property ownership and control. Hoewever, some of them, like the Macedonian Orthodox Church Community “St. Petka” Inc and Macedonian Orthodox Church Community “St. Nikola” in Preston Victoria adopted constitutions that put them under the canonical jurisdiction of the Macedonian Orthodox Church in Macedonia for what the founders thought would be only spiritual, rather than material purposes. Communities that accepted such provisions, without an understanding of the potential implications under trust law, ultimately became the targets of extremely costly and complex legal proceedings by bishop Petar, in his attempt to put their properties under the absolute and unaccountable control of himself or his appointees.
1.19 In 1996, having been freshly appointed by the Synod of the MOC-OA in the Republic of Macedonia to head its Australian Diocese, bishop Petar tried and failed to persuade existing Macedonian Orthodox communities in Australia to accept a new Diocesan Statute and By-Laws that would give him absolute and unchecked control over their funds, assets and appointment of office-bearers and delegates to his Diocesan Assembly. He then resorted to legal action, which led to claims of property having been held on trust for the MOC-OA that were previously unheard of.
1.20 The founders of the St. Nikola Community in Preston Victoria were the first to be sued. They promptly lost the proceedings due to inability to afford effective legal representation. They lost much of their own property, including homes, on legal costs. That is what they remember as the bishop’s and the MOC-OA’s show of appreciation for their countless voluntary hours in the establishment of the St. Nikola church.
1.20 The court victory against the St. Nikola Community emboldened the bishop to sue the MOCC St. Petka Inc in Rockdale NSW. Those proceedings have been on foot for 14 years now and the Community is severely struggling to afford effective legal representation. Bishop Petar’s source of funds for his legal expenses in the ongoing proceedings remains undisclosed.
Contemporary political hostility surrounding the Macedonian Orthodox Church
2.1 The Serbian Orthodox Church disputes the autocephalous status of the Macedonian Orthodox Church on the basis that it broke away without approval from the Serbian Patriarchy and that it is a non-canonical, ‘communist’ creation. The hierarchy of the Serbian Church has also maintained the hostile nationalist position that the Macedonian people are historically Serbs. Other Orthodox Church hierarchies have either actively supported or otherwise appeased the position taken by the Serbian Orthodox Church. Orthodox Macedonians worldwide find this position to be a violation of their right to freedom of religion, freedom of association and freedom to preserve and promulgate their distinct ethnic, cultural and linguistic heritage and identity.
2.2 Bishop Petar is one of several modern bishops in Macedonia who have a history of supporting the Serbian position on the independence of the Macedonian Orthodox Church. On 7 May 2002, he led a delegation of three Macedonian bishops who signed an agreement with the Serbian Orthodox Church to the effect that the “Church in Macedonia” would relinquish its Macedonian national identity, adopt the name Ohrid Archdiocese and come under jurisdiction of the Serbian Patriarch. Numerous sources suggest that a majority of bishops in the Holy Synod of the MOC were prepared to ratify that agreement, but backed off due to vehement opposition by bishop Kiril, bishop Agatangel, some lower ranking clerics, and overwhelming public revolt and political pressure within the Republic of Macedonia. Given the political volatility in the Republic of Macedonia, this position could easily change, against the will of Macedonian Orthodox Australians.
2.3 Despite the positions taken by bishop Petar and other Orthodox Church hierarchies, most Orthodox Macedonians are proud of the self-determination and the commitment to democratic, decentralised and transparent self-government that led to the establishment of independent Macedonian Orthodox churches in the Republic of Macedonia and Australia, as well as in America, Canada and Western Europe.
Lack of accountability and potential for abuse of power
3.1 If passed, the Bill will give absolute, unfettered, non-transparent and unaccountable control over Macedonian Orthodox churches and related properties in Australia to bishop Petar. It will thereby disenfranchise thousands of Macedonian Orthodox Australians who have contributed to the accumulation of those properties on the premise that they would be used for their communities’ benefit and in accordance with well-established democratic processes and financial checks and balances.
3.2 The explicit purpose of the Bill is to vest all rights over Macedonian Orthodox churches and related properties in Australia to a new corporation. According to Clause 5, that corporation will consist of the “Metropolitan” (the bishop), seven persons who will be directly appointed by the bishop, and three office-bearers of his Diocese, who by virtue of the practical operation of the Diocesan Statute are also selected by the bishop. The effect of this is that all of the powers of the new corporation will be ultimately vested in the bishop. This type of legal ownership and despotic power and control over Macedonian Orthodox churches and related properties is without precedent even in the Republic of Macedonia or any other country with active Macedonian Orthodox communities and churches.
3.3 It is our understanding that no democratically governed Macedonian Orthodox community organisation in Australia supports the establishment of despotic power over church and related properties envisaged by this Bill. To the extent that Parliament has received supportive submissions purporting to represent relevant organisations of the Australian Macedonian Orthodox community, we urge the Inquiry to examine the validity of such representations most rigorously. We make this suggestion because bishop Petar and his priests have a history of coercing individuals to make representations that conflict with the policies of the board and membership of the organisation they purportedly represent, without substantive understanding of what they are signing. Examples of such acts of coercion include threats of excommunication from the Orthodox Church (not just the Diocese or MOC-OA, but from the Orthodox Church in general), the laying of anathema, threats that dissent will result in being stigmatized as a traitor and a heretic by the MOC-OA and the Macedonian state, superstitious claims that refusal to submit to the bishop’s material dictates is an act of hostility towards the Church which will incur the wrath of God and a fatal curse on one’s family, and, in the case of priests, threats of suspension, defrocking, excommunication or relocation to a less ‘lucrative’ parish. Bishop Petar’’s supporters have also used physical attacks, intimidation and threats of violence to coerce people into submitting to his demands contrary to their free will and conscience.
3.4 We dispute the claim in the Second Reading that “the bill follows the governance of the church in relation to matters regarding the assets of the church but causes the utilization of property assets by the church to be subject to civil and canonical accountability required by its statute.”
3.5 It is misleading to say that the Bill will establish a “statutory body, the constitution of which cannot be changed except by an Act of Parliament.” The Bill relies on the Diocesan Statute for constitutional provisions concerning civil and canonical accountability. But there is no provision in the Bill requiring an Act of Parliament to effect changes to the Diocesan Statute i.e. constitution. We question whether Members of the NSW Parliament, including Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile, have ever analysed the Diocesan Statute, or the Constitution of the MOC-OA to which the operation of the Diocesan Statute is allegedly subject, let alone considered the extent to which bishop Petar respects and implements them.
3.6 The Diocesan Statute applied by bishop Petar provides no effective mechanism for delegates who purportedly represent local Macedonian Orthodox community churches in the Diocesan Assembly to hold the bishop accountable in relation to appropriation of Diocesan assets and funds.
3.7 The Diocesan Statute effectively gives the bishop absolute and unfettered personal control over all matters concerning the Diocese and churches and church communities within the Diocese.
3.8 Bishop Petar has persistently evaded providing proper financial reports or inspection of records of receipt and appropriation of contributions that he has demanded from local Macedonian Orthodox churches and communities in the name of the Diocese. At a Diocesan Assembly held in Wollongong in 1997, chaired by bishop Petar, a representative of his Diocesan Ruling Committee provided a vague oral summary of income and expenditure. The writer of this submission, as a delegate of the Macedonian Orthodox Church Community St. Petka Inc, proposed that the Ruling Committee provide a written financial report resembling the itemized form used by the certified accountants of each of the incorporated Macedonian Orthodox communities that were members of the Diocese at that time. The bishop replied that he would not disclose “church secrets” and that the proposer could not be a delegate of the MOCC St. Petka Inc because he was not a member of its Executive, even though his vote as a delegate had already been counted for several preceding resolutions proposed by the bishop. There was no provision in the Diocesan Statute or St. Petka’s constitution suggesting that only an Executive member of St. Petka could be its delegate to the Diocesan Assembly.
3.9 Bishop Petar has persistently refused to disclose his source of funding for the legal expenses in his Supreme Court and High Court proceedings against the Macedonian Orthodox Community Church St. Petka Inc. He claims that he has not used any money of his Australian Diocese, but has failed to provide Diocesan members with financial reports and access to other financial records to verify that claim. The writer of this submission has been directly informed by at least four current bishops of the MOC-OA that bishop Petar has not revealed the source of his funds for the litigation to the Holy Synod of the MOC-OA.
3.10 Between 1996 and 2004, bishop Petar, in the name of his Diocese, vehemently insisted that the Constitution of the Macedonian Orthodox Church and Orthodox canons prohibit a company or association from holding church property, being a church or operating a church. Since then, he has made such claims intermittently and opportunistically. If these claims were true, it would be non-canonical and unconstitutional for the corporation envisaged by the Bill to hold church property. If they were false, which we submit they were, they indicate that bishop Petar and his unincorporated Diocese lack the competence or integrity that should be necessary for Parliament to grant them anything resembling the despotic trustee powers over church property envisaged by the Bill.
3.11 Contrary to bishop Petar’s claims that it is unconstitutional and non-canonical for local church communities to be incorporated as non-profit associations or companies, bishop Timotey, who headed the Australian Diocese between 1981 and 1993, has publicly acknowledged that there is nothing improper about Macedonian Orthodox Church properties in Australia being legally owned by incorporated non-profit communities. He has also publicly stated that the most secure way to register Macedonian churches and church communities, which best protects their interests, is under Company Law.  Bishop Petar’s response to this is that bishop Timotey is should not undermine him by mixing in his affairs and stirring people up.
3.12 In recent days, bishop Petar has publicly accused bishop Timotey of hostile interference in his Diocese, and demanded that he be sanctioned for it by the Synod. The basis for this charge was bishop Timotey’s letter of congratulations to the Macedonian Orthodox Community of Victoria, for the 50 Years Anniversary since its church of St. George was consecrated. This demonstrates the fact that, as far as bishop Petar is concerned, he is a law unto himself within the Australia Diocese, and is not required to justify his personal declarations of church law by reference to the Macedonian Orthodox Constitution or other Church canons.
3.13 A resolution by the Diocesan Assembly dated 24/9/2004, and proposed by Bishop Petar, made the following offer to three of the fourteen Macedonian Orthodox communities that were until that time rejected as “non-churches” by the bishop on the basis that an incorporated association or company could not be a church or hold church property:
“…to join the Macedonian Orthodox Church Diocese of Australia and New Zealand, if they accept the Holy canons, the Constitution of the Macedonian Orthodox Church and the Statute of the Diocese, as basic church law acts, according to which all Macedonian Orthodox Church Communities, Churches, Parishes and Monasteries in the MOC, and the Diocese of Australia and New Zealand, which have accepted and recognize the canonical jurisdiction of the MOC, are governed.
Also, the abovementioned Macedonian Orthodox Church Communities are obliged to abolish the registration of the so-called Macedonian Orthodox Church of Australia Inc.
The above-mentioned Macedonian Orthodox Church Communities, which separated and excommunicated themselves from the MOC Diocese of Australia and New Zealand, only to avoid transferring their churches and church properties to the MOC, may continue in future to hold the churches with their properties as company property, and to still be in unity with the MOC, but in that case, their elected members (parishioners) will not be able to vote and to be elected (and to participate) in the bodies and organs of the Macedonian Orthodox Church Diocese of Australia and New Zealand, as well as in the Archiepiscopal Management Committee and the Archiepiscopal Church-people’s Assembly, up until such time as they pass a resolution that they accept the Macedonian Orthodox Church Property Trust Bill .
Apart from the abovementioned, they are obliged to fulfil their financial obligations to the Macedonian Orthodox Church Diocese of Australia and New Zealand for the period up to their separation from the MOC, as well as to withdraw their legal [defamation] proceedings against the Diocesan Ruling Committee.”
This resolution demonstrates the propensity of bishop Petar to abuse his power in the Diocese for blatant blackmail. It also demonstrates that the bishop and his Diocese interpret and apply constitutional provisions arbitrarily, and engage in deceiving people about the existence and effect of canon and state laws, for materialistic purposes. The alleged church law prohibiting companies or associations from holding church property or operating as churches were suddenly forgotten in an alternative pursuit of material benefit. An apparent concession allowing incorporated associations and non-profit companies to retain their legal status and property interests was deceptively used to bait them into expressing support for a Bill that would vest their properties in a new statutory corporation controlled by the bishop (as per the provisions of the Macedonian Orthodox Church Property Trust Bill 1998).
3.14 In late 1997, bishop Petar made an unsubstantiated demand that the Macedonian Orthodox Community of Sydney Ltd. (MOCS) pay a sum of money for purportedly outstanding levies to the Diocese. When MOCS questioned the basis for his claim and asked him to account for advance payment of levies it had made to the Diocese, he retaliated with a fresh demand that MOCS must deregister itself as a (non-profit) company (limited by guarantee) because a company or association could not be a church or hold church property. MOCS then pointed out that it has been incorporated as a company limited by guarantee since 1971 and has since built and operated two churches that were consecrated by prior bishops of the Macedonian Orthodox Church. It also pointed out that most of the Macedonian Orthodox communities comprising his Diocese are incorporated associations and companies limited by guarantee. The bishop then attempted to blackmail MOCS into submission by ordering his priests to stop conducting certain liturgies in its churches. This eventually forced MOCS to sponsor new priests from Macedonia, who were willing to serve its churches despite the bishop’s unjustified bans. In retaliation, he declared the new priests suspended and then defrocked, without any fair process.
3.15 Allegations against bishop Petar of abuse of power, misappropriation of funds, with disregard for state law and the Constitution of the MOC, the Holy Canons, and other governing authorities in the MOC are recorded in an Indictment against him by the late Archbishop Gavril, dated 9 June 1990, which led to a decision by the Synod to defrock him, dated 14 June 1990, and signed by Archbishop Gavril.
3.16 Bishop Petar defied the defrocking decision and retaliated with a public rally in his Bitola Diocese, at which he and his supporters made grievous accusations of impropriety and immorality against bishop Kiril, the then Archbishop Garvril, the previous Archbishop Angelarij, and bishop Mihail, who later succeeded Gavril to the Archbishop’s throne. In 1991, speeches from the rally were published by bishop Petar’s Bitola Diocese, in a Macedonian language book entitled “Voice of the Truth – Conditions in the Macedonian Orthodox Church.” In the book, bishop Petar accuses Archbishop Gavril and bishop Kiril of falsely doctoring the Indictment and the decision to defrock him. He accuses Archbishop Gavril of having signed the decision on behalf of the Synod without the majority of Synod members having seen it. He accuses bishop Kiril of leading an immoral life, of being a hypocritical politician, “and anything else but a bishop”, of purporting to be a bishop contrary to the Holy Canons, and of being secretly married to his own brother’s wife while purporting to be celibate. He accuses the late bishop Mihail (previously known as priest Metodila Gogov and later enthroned as Archbishop) of having become a bishop through abuse of the Holy Canons and the constitution to gain a majority vote on the Synod. He makes the superstitious claim that this sin was paid for with the death of bishop Mihail’s former wife and the death of another bishop, Gavril-Svetogorec (presumably because he too committed some sin involving the appointment of father Gogov as bishop). An article by Zoran Vraniskovski (who was subsequently promoted by Petar to bishop of the MOC and has since broken away to become a Serbian bishop) says: “Perhaps our sister churches are right to some degree in claiming that our Church is a communist one.”
3.17 After the publication of bishop Petar’s outrageous book of speeches from his rally, the Synod allowed him, and later Zoran Vraniskovski (as bishop Jovan), to carry on as bishops as if the signed decision to defrock him and the retaliatory rally and book never happened. He proceeded to sit on the same Synod with bishops Kiril and Mihail (who later became his Archbishop), and Archbishop Gavril, without ever substantiating, rescinding or apologising for his extreme accusations against them, which, if true, would make them illegitimate bishops.
3.18 Following the election of the current Archbishop, Stefan, on 9-10 October 1999, bishop Petar, along with bishop Jovan (Zoran Vraniskovski), publicly declared the election invalid and the new Archbishop illegitimate. The allegation has never been tested by the Archiepiscopal Church Court, but has never been rescinded by bishop Petar either. Yet bishop Petar continues to serve under Archbishop Stefan. Prior to being elected Archbishop, Stefan gave an undertaking to a delegation of the AMCA, including the author of this submission, to put an end to bishop Petar’s legal proceedings and hostile accusations against our communities on behalf of the Synod. Following his election, Bishop Stefan has avoided all contact with our Association.
3.19 In 2006, a delegation of the AMCA, accompanied by Peter Breen, who was then a Member of the Legislative Council of the Parliament of NSW, was in Macedonia seeking a meeting with Archbishop Stefan, to discuss grievances against bishop Petar. While communications with the Archbishop’s office to arrange a meeting were ongoing, bishop Petar appeared on television calling for the state to lay criminal charges against Archbishop Stefan, in relation to alleged misappropriation of property belonging to the MOC. The delegation was subsequently informed by the Archbishop’s Secretary that in order to meet with the Archbishop it must request permission from bishop Petar. Written and oral requests to bishop Petar for permission to meet the Archbishop, in his presence, were met with a reply that the delegation could only meet the Archbishop if it first reached a deal with bishop Petar regarding property ownership and constitutional status of communities affiliated to the AMCA. Since that time, numerous written requests by the AMCA to meet with the Archbishop or Synod of the MOC-OA, for the purpose of negotiating a resolution to the schism in Australia through dialogue, have remained unanswered. Perhaps coincidentally, bishop Petar has not repeated or rescinded his public calls for criminal charges against the Archbishop.
Power to place Macedonian Orthodox church properties in Australia under the jurisdiction of another denomination
4.1 If this Bill is passed, it will empower bishop Petar and other present or future like-minded bishops of the MOC-OA to place Macedonian Orthodox church properties in Australia under the jurisdiction of the Serbian Orthodox church or another denomination, contrary to the free will of Macedonian Orthodox Australians with whose contributions those properties were accumulated. There is nothing in this bill to protect the free will of Macedonian Orthodox Australians against such a decision being imposed by the unaccountable hierarchy of the MOC-OA in Macedonia.
4.2 The variation of trust provisions in Clause 14 of the Bill give the bishop and his appointees a discretionary power to declare that the trust property is subject to another trust. This will effectively allow the bishop to wilfully place Macedonian Orthodox Church properties in Australia on trust for the purposes of the Serbian Orthodox Church or some other purposes that are contrary to the intentions of the donors with whose contributions those properties were accumulated.
4.3 There is nothing in the Bill that would require the bishop to obtain the consent of the Archiepiscopal Church-people’s Assembly and Holy Synod of the MOC-OA before placing Macedonian Orthodox Church properties in Australia under another trust.
4.4 The provision in Clause 13 for arrangements for other churches to use trust property will allow the bishop and his appointees to use Macedonian Orthodox Church properties for services of the Serbian Orthodox Church or some other religion, contrary to the intentions of the donors with whose contributions those properties were accumulated.
4.5 There is nothing in the Bill that would require the bishop to obtain the consent of the Archiepiscopal Church-people’s Assembly and Holy Synod of the MOC-OA before using Macedonian Orthodox Church properties for the purposes of another denomination.
4.6 Bishop Petar has omitted to brief the Holy Synod of the MOC-OA on the existence of the powers he would hold under the operation of Clauses 13 & 14 of the Bill. There are no provisions in any constitutional document of the MOC-OA or its international affiliates that grant such extraordinary powers to a bishop or any trustee corporation.
Special powers and protections for trustees and reduced safeguards against neglect of implied intentions of donors
5.1 The Bill unjustifiably affords bishop Petar’s trustee corporation special powers or protections that are not generally afforded to trustees. Macedonian Orthodox Australians whose donations have been used to accumulate and maintain properties that would come under the new trustee corporation will not be entitled to the legal assurances that other donors to trusts can generally rely on.
5.2 We refer to the published submission to this inquiry by Mark Leeming SC, in which he suggests that Clause 13 has the potential to operate retrospectively. According to Mr Leeming, “A person who gave property to the predecessors of the Trust on terms that it be used for the purposes of the Church, but which terms did not expressly prevent its use by another denomination, would be affected by cl. 13 if the Trust entered into a scheme of co-operation with another denomination. Generally speaking, retrospective legislation should be avoided absent some special reasons.” We see no special reasons why this bishop and his trustee corporation should have the benefit of retrospective legislation, with disregard for the intentions of Macedonian Orthodox Australians who have contributed to the accumulation and maintenance of affected properties.
5.3 In relation to Clause 14, Mr Leeming suggests that it may impliedly repeal the Charitable Trusts Act 1993, ss6 and 12-16. There is no public interest to be served in allowing this bishop and his proposed trustee corporation to be exempt from the operation of any provisions of the Charitable Trust Act 1993. The potential exemption would be unfair to Macedonian Orthodox Australians who have voluntarily contributed to the accumulation and maintenance of affected properties without notice that such properties could be placed on trust for the Serbian Orthodox Church or some other denomination.
5.4 We also refer to Mr Leeming’s submission in relation to Clause 32, which entitles trustees and executors of trust property to be indemnified out of trust property for certain expenses and liabilities, in a way that is “typical of the protection afforded to statutory officeholders.” We object to the Bill making the liability of any trustee less strict than it would otherwise be pursuant to s. 85 of the Trustee Act.
5.5 Since 1996, the Macedonian Orthodox Church Community “St. Petka” Inc has been forced to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and immeasurable human resources on defending legal proceedings by bishop Petar, in which he seeks to advantageously interpret and enforce the terms of the trust on which St. Petka’s property was originally acquired. A 2003 finding by Justice Hamilton of the Supreme Court of NSW that the association holds its property for the charitable purpose of using it to conduct services according to the Macedonian Orthodox religion, has been abused by the Bishop to keep the St. Petka church without a priest for seven years, while attempting to blackmail the association into relinquishing control of its property. Requests to the Attorney General’s office and other representatives of the Government for the introduction of legislation that would allow the Association to vary the terms of the trust declared by Justice Hamilton, on the basis that they have become impossible or inexpedient to carry out, have been refused. If the Parliament were to now pass a Bill which effectively allows bishop Karevski to vary the terms of the trust on which he currently holds property, it would be applying double standards, to the detriment of the Macedonian Orthodox Australian community. It would also exacerbate the disillusionment and revolt within the Macedonian Australian community over what is perceived as a flawed legal and political system that allows an imposter to unjustly usurp or destroy what our communities have built through years of hard voluntary work and donations.
Clause 19 and potential effect on community organisations whose properties are not listed in Clause 17 (2)
6.1 We dispute the claim that this Bill doesn’t affect Macedonian Orthodox communities that are opposed to it. We are aware that the Bill “does not effect any automatic vesting, mandatory or compulsory transfers of any properties to the trust” other than those listed in Clause 17 (2). However, Clause 19 provides a process for “vesting of other property held on trust for the Church”.
6.2 The ‘Church’ is defined in Clause 3 as the “Macedonian Orthodox Church, Diocese of Australia and New Zealand with its seat in Melbourne, being an integral part of the Macedonian Orthodox Church with its seat in Skopje, Macedonia, a hierarchical religious body whose leader, overseer and shepherd is the Archbishop of Ohrid and Macedonia.” Since 12 November 2009, the name of the Church in the Republic of Macedonia is “Macedonian Orthodox Church – Ohrid Archdiocese” (MOC-OA).
6.3 We reject as unsubstantiated and misleading the presumption that Macedonian Orthodox churches and related properties in Australia other than those listed in Clause 17 (2) are held on trust for the Diocese or for the MOC-OA. This claim is central to the hostile and unseemly attacks that bishop Petar and his advocates have conducted against Macedonian Orthodox communities in Australia since his arrival in 1996, in an unjust attempt to usurp their funds and assets against the free will of their members and donors.
6.4 In his Second Reading speech for this Bill, the Reverend Hon. Fred Nile claims that “since its establishment in Australia in the 1960s the church has accumulated significant landholdings – parish churches, church halls, manses and other residential properties, picnic and sports grounds and licensed reception centres for the use and benefit of local communities, a cathedral and monastery.” None of the Macedonian Orthodox churches and related properties that were acquired and developed in Australia between the 1960s until 1995 were accumulated by Bishop Petar’s Diocese, by the MOC-OA, or by any trustees acting on their behalf. All such properties were accumulated by self-governing Macedonian Australian communities.
6.5 Given that none of the properties listed in clause 17 (2) of the Bill were accumulated in the 1960s or at any time before 1995, Reverend Nile’s reference to landholdings accumulated since the 1960s indicates that this Bill is in fact primarily intended to affect existing Macedonian Orthodox communities whose properties are not specifically identified in the Bill.
6.6 Clause 19 provides for transfer to the new corporation of property “held on trust for the Church on or after the date of commencement by any person or persons”.
6.7 Our extensive experience with bishop Petar leads us to expect that if this Bill becomes legislation, he will use it to persuade representatives of churches other than those covered in Clause 17 (2) that the Parliament has determined that their properties are held in trust for the Diocese or the MOC-OA. He is likely to arbitrarily accuse them of breaches of trust and blackmail them into transferring their properties to the new trustee corporation with the threat of costly and exhausting legal proceedings for breach of trust.
6.8 If this Bill becomes legislation, bishop Petar is likely to attempt to coerce individual office-bearers of existing Macedonian Orthodox community associations in Australia into falsely declaring that their association holds its property on trust for the Diocese or the MOC-OA, and that it agrees to transfer its property to his new corporation. Previously demonstrated coercion methods include threats of laying an anathema, denial of Holy Communion, excommunication, stigmatization as a “non-believer” or “outcast” and enemy of the Macedonian state and Church, claims that dissenting churches are “not real churches”, barring or threatening to bar priests from serving in churches of dissenting communities, as well as harassment and threats of physical violence by persons whom the bishop continues to endorse as his ‘true believers’ despite their demonstrated resort to obscene harassment and threats of violence.
6.9 Some of the themes bishop Petar is likely to use to mislead or blackmail people into purporting to transfer community property to his trustee corporation were flagged when he promoted the Bill in his recent Macedonian language radio interview in Melbourne, on 15 August 2010, in which he said:
“… it has been claimed that the best forms of registration in Australia are the registration as a company or an incorporated association of the church properties, but that is in fact the greatest danger if the people of the incorporated associations and companies misappropriate the property….
These four properties will be the basis of the trustee of the Macedonian Orthodox Church with a law of the Parliament of Australia.
This will prove who loves the mother Church and how much.
Once all these matters are resolved and not everybody can represent themselves as Macedonian Orthodox Church, and once the propaganda stops, we will pay more attention to opening aged care centres, childcare centres, and other facilities for taking care of people dependant on drugs, alcohol, and we will take special care of them.
In relation to misappropriation of funds, in the past there were no strict measures taken to protect church property.
For property that belongs to the Macedonian Orthodox Church and those who want to give it for the Macedonian Orthodox Church (but not under duress), we will see who loves the Macedonian Orthodox Church and who wants to vest the property that is created for the Macedonian Church, so that it will be the property of the Macedonian Orthodox Church. And conversely, we will see who continues to use the property as ownership of a given organisation, company, incorporated association etc.
Let us again emphasize that our aim is to create once and for all a trustee of the property of the Macedonian Church in Australia according to the example of the first believers in the Church, as was the case with the believers recorded in the writings of the apostles. Back then the believers were selling their houses and farms and placed the money from their personal properties at the feet of the apostles, who placed the money in the church treasury and from there they gave it to the believers according to their needs.
That which belongs to the Church belongs to God and anybody who lays hands on what belongs to the Church will have to one day suffer punishment. The Church takes care of the property….
We are not registered as Macedonian Orthodox Church in Australia. This registration that we are talking about, this Law for a trustee means registration of the Macedonian Orthodox Church.
We must distinguish between registration of the Church as a religious institution and registration of the Church as a legal person. We are not registered as a legal person here in Australia.
Our believers must once and for all understand the seriousness of the problem of the Macedonian Orthodox Church in Australia.
The registration of our Church will happen when this Law for a trustee becomes operational. Until then we will not have a registered Macedonian Orthodox Church in Australia.
Our believers must understand that.
This propaganda against the registration of our Church as a legal person in Australia is to that end. Practically, somebody is working to stop it from ever being registered as a legal person….
If you do not have a registered Church, a Diocese as a legal person according to the Law for a trustee of that property, you do not have a Church.”
6.10 Bishop Petar’s propensity to engage in coercion was among the reasons for the Indictment against him by former Archbishop of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, Gavril, dated 9 June 1990, and the decision by the Synod to defrock him, dated 14 June 1990. In the Indictment, bishop Petar was, among other things, charged with forcing the clergy of his Bitola Diocese to sign declarations against bishop Kiril (the only signatory of the declaration of autocephaly of the Macedonian Orthodox Church who is still alive) and bishop Mihail (who subsequently became Archbishop and has since passed away), under a threat of being expelled from his Diocese. He was further charged with centralising power over his Diocese by “relocating, penalizing and suspending several priests in the absence of a final ruling by the Archiepiscopal Church Court” and by “unconstitutionally and unlawfully prosecuting and passing judgement in all conceivable instances, and thereby causing heavy and unacceptable tragedies for the families of the persecuted priests, in given instances, in the absence of wrongdoing or guilt.” Macedonian Orthodox priests in Australia have faced similar persecution for failing to follow his unjust directions.
The Parliament has been misled about the Diocesan Statute
7.1 The proposer of this Bill and therefore the Parliament have been misled into believing that the Diocesan Statute has been passed by a Diocesan Assembly, and authorised and certified by the Archbishopric Church and Lay Assembly (more accurately translated as “Archiepiscopal Church-people’s Assembly”) on 24 February 1996” (see the definition of “Diocesan Statute” in Clause 3 of the Bill).
7.2 A majority of the associations whose delegates are supposed to comprise the Diocesan Assembly and whose churches the Diocesan Statute purports to affect have never approved it in its current or any other final form. They have not approved the Statute at general meetings of their members or amended their own constitutions or relinquished ownership of their properties to comply with the despotic rule provided for by the Statute.
7.3 According to article 190 of the Constitution of the MOC-OA:
The composition of the Diocesan Assembly, as well as the organisation of the Diocesan bodies and organs of the dioceses of the MOC outside of the territory of Macedonia, are regulated by a separate statute, which, in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution, is passed by the Diocesan Assembly, after a previously provided opinion by the Holy Synod of the MOC, in plenary composition, and is approved by the Archiepiscopal Church-people’s Assembly.
7.4 On 15-16 February 1996, in Geelong, Victoria, a Diocesan meeting, which was not constituted according to any pre-existing Diocesan Statute, resolved to adopt a draft Statute, proposed by bishop Petar, based on the understanding that Macedonian Orthodox churches from across Australia would have an opportunity to take the draft back to their organisations for approval or to consider further changes before its final adoption. Bishop Petar has since misrepresented that resolution as a resolution by the majority of Macedonian Orthodox church communities in Australia to pass a Diocesan Statute in final form. Yet he is well aware that the majority of delegates present at that meeting were not authorised by the church communities they were supposed to be representing to pass the proposed Statute, considering that it conflicted fundamentally with the constitutions by which those communities were lawfully incorporated, and that it had never been approved by most of those communities in general meeting.
7.5 Over one third of those present at the Geelong meeting were priests whose titles and jobs depended on the will of bishop Petar, with the rest being representatives of incorporated Macedonian Orthodox organisations from across Australia. Audio recordings of the meeting include explicit statements by some delegates that they were not authorised by their organisations to pass or reject the Statute. The bishop insisted that the delegates must vote for or against the Statute as a draft only, and that it could later be changed. Some time after the Geelong meeting, the bishop declared an amended version of the draft as effective without ever taking it back for final approval to the associations comprising the Diocese.
7.6 The Archiepiscopal Church-people’s Assembly, being the highest governing and legislative body of the MOC-OA, did not even convene on 24 February 1996, so it could not have “authorised and certified” any Diocesan Statute as alleged by bishop Petar. In the course of the current Supreme Court proceedings against the MOCC St. Petka Inc, bishop Petar was asked to produce minutes of the Assembly’s meeting as evidence of his claim. He replied that the Archbishop of the MOC-OA is not willing to release the minutes to the Court. This Inquiry should place a strict onus on him to show evidence of the alleged decision of the Archiepiscopal Church-people’s Assembly or accept our submission that claim that it occurred is an act of deception.
7.7 During a visit to Macedonia in August-September 1999, the writer of this submission, in company with other delegates of the AMCA, personally asked bishop Stefan (now Archbishop), bishop Agatangel, bishop Timotej, and bishop Gorazd, all members of the Holy Synod and Archiepiscopal Church-people’s Assembly of the MOC, whether the Assembly had convened at any time since 1995. They all confirmed that the Assembly had not convened in that period. As a result, representatives of 14 Macedonian churches from across Australia made a submission to the Holy Synod and the Archiepiscopal Church Court of the MOC seeking a declaration that the Diocesan Statute was not in force because it had not been approved by the Archiepiscopal Church-people’s Assembly. We have received no reply at all, despite several follow-ups. This is indicative of the lack of accountability and absence of the rule of law (including the MOC-OA constitution) within the MOC-OA generally.
7.8 Individual Macedonian bishops have repeatedly confirmed to us, in private conversations, that no Archiepiscopal Church-people’s Assembly took place in 1996. This is supported by records of the MOC-OA’s internal bulletin, “Sluzben Vesnik”, which contain reports of all Archiepiscopal Church-people’s Assembly meetings since 1994. We have checked all issues of the bulletin from 1996 and there is no mention at all of a meeting of the Archiepiscopal Church-people’s Assembly.
7.9 Article 7 of the current constitution of the MOC-OA, which was adopted in 1994, lists each Diocese under its jurisdiction. There is no “Macedonian Orthodox Church Diocese for Australia & New Zealand” on the list. There is a “Macedonian Orthodox Diocese of Australia”. This suggests that bishop Petar has breached the constitution of his own MOC-OA by wilfully changing the name of the Australian Diocese and expanding its borders to New Zealand. He has made no efforts to rectify this situation, even though it has been repeatedly brought to his attention since 1997.
Purported supporters of the Bill have been fundamentally misled about its operation
8.1 The substance of this Bill does not enjoy informed support even among the parishioners of the churches listed in Clause 17 (2) or within the highest governing bodies in the MOC-OA, including its Archiepiscopal Church-people’s Assembly and the Holy Bishop’s Synod.
8.2 Bishop Petar and his advocates have rallied support for this Bill with the misleading and deceptive claim that its purpose is to gain recognition of the Macedonian Orthodox Church by Australia or to “register” the Macedonian Orthodox Church “as a legal person”. They falsely claim or imply that Macedonian Orthodox churches that have been established in Australia since the 1950s are illegitimate according to Australian law. They have gone so far as to claim that the passing of this Bill by the NSW Parliament will amount to effective recognition of the Republic of Macedonia under its proper name, even though that is a matter for the foreign affairs jurisdiction of the Federal Government. For the record, Macedonian Australians strongly and unanimously object to the Federal Government referring to the Republic of Macedonia as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
8.3 In his Second Reading speech, the Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile claimed that if this Bill is passed, “the community will understand that the church is acknowledged, organised and well administered.” This statement serves to reinforce the misleading suggestions that the Bill is about recognition of the Macedonian Orthodox Church by the State of NSW, that the State has somehow disputed the legitimacy of Macedonian Orthodox community churches in Australia since the 1950s on the basis that they have been disorganised and poorly administered, and that those Macedonian Orthodox churches whose properties will not be transferred to the corporation established by the Bill will remain disorganized, poorly administered and not recognized by the State.
8.4 The Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile further said: “The Concern is that when the property is vested in trustees incorporated associations or companies there is no accountability to the church.” Unless “accountability to the church” is taken to mean absolute submission to the will of bishop Petar, this is a baseless accusation, which serves to conceal the fact that the passing of the Bill will in effect reduce, rather than increase accountability to the Church.
8.5 We are deeply offended by attempts to equate the entire Macedonian Orthodox Church with bishop Petar. The Macedonian Orthodox Church was constituted by the Macedonian Orthodox people. This fact has been acknowledged by the current Archbishop of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, Stefan, with the words: “Throughout the centuries, the only patriarch of the Macedonian Orthodox Church was His Holiness, the Macedonian People! In that sense, the Church exists because of the people, and not the people because of her.”
8.6 The incorporated organizations at whose expense the proponents of this Bill seek to benefit represent local communities of the Macedonian Orthodox people in Australia. They are transparently and democratically controlled and scrutinized by their constituents, their supporters and by state agencies, in accordance with well-established and comprehensive Australian laws for the registration and responsible governance of non-profit and charitable organisations. This is what the proponents of the Trust Bill seek to circumvent. The basic purpose of the Bill is to avoid transparency, scrutiny and accountability in the use of property that was meant to serve the common needs and objects of the Macedonian Orthodox people in Australia, and at the same time to gain special protection that is not generally afforded to non-profit corporations and trustees.
8.7 Although bishop Petar insists that an incorporated association or company limited by guarantee cannot be a church or hold and control church property, he has himself tried to benefit from incorporated associations. A number of Macedonian Orthodox Church Community associations in Australia have been stacked and taken over by priests appointed by the bishop, with arbitrarily selected members. All voices of dissent in those associations have since been arbitrarily expelled from those associations or coercively silenced.
8.8 On 5 October 2000, bishop Petar procured a special resolution by a general meeting of the Macedonian Orthodox Church “St. Petka Inc., in Mill Park Victoria, of which his appointee, reverend Tone Gulev, was and remains President, to amend the constitution of that association, in a purported effort to comply with the Diocesan Statute and local church by-laws designed by the bishop. The Deputy Assistant Registrar of Incorporated Associations, from the Victorian Department of Justice, refused to approve the special resolution because of non-compliance with Section 6(a)(i) of the Associations Incorporation Act, in that the proposed rules did not comply with the provisions of the Act in relation to:
– The entrance fees, subscriptions.
– The quorum and procedure at meetings of the committee.
– Whether members are entitled to vote by proxy at general meetings.
– The source/s from which the funds of the association are to be or may be derived.
– The inspection by members of the relevant documents of the incorporated association.
– The disposition of any surplus assets on the winding up or dissolution.
– The grievance procedure.
– The requirement of 21 days notice to members and ¾ majority votes to pass a special resolution.
– The manner of altering the statement of purposes of the incorporated association.
8.9 The Australian Securities & Investments Commission’s public database of corporate and business names lists the “Macedonian Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia and New Zealand Incorporated” as an association incorporated in NSW, under number INC9882840. Unfortunately, the database does not include names of office-bearers and we have had no opportunity to make further inquiries prior to this submission.
8.10 In promoting this Bill on a Macedonian language radio interview in Melbourne, on 15 August 2010, bishop Petar stated (in Macedonian):
“…once that property is under a trustee, there is no legal possibility for anybody to abuse that property because if I as an individual do anything at all that would place me in a situation where legal proceedings are conducted against me, the legal dispute will automatically be conducted against me as a person who does not at all touch the property of which I am a trustee.
That means that I can be held accountable with my personal property if any court proceedings are commenced against me, or if I am fined. The property is separate from the trustee as a personality and is thereby completely protected.
In the alternative case, if we have persons who are in an incorporated association or in companies then those persons are protected as members of that incorporated association or company and when you sue that person he will say: ‘Not me. They are suing because I am a member of that incorporated association or company, and I am protected, and that association or company will be in dispute with the person who is suing me,’ and in that case the incorporated association or company pays for every breach that he has personally committed.”
With statements such as the above, the bishop has fundamentally misled the Macedonian public in relation to his own controversial reliance on incorporated associations, and in relation to the liability of trustees or members of the trustee corporation under the Bill. The statement falsely suggests that the Bill absolutely prohibits members of the trustee corporation or other trustees appointed by it from having recourse to trust property or other assets and funds of the trustee corporation, if they are sued in relation to the exercise of their functions. It also serves to conceal or cloud the fact that the Bill will create a trustee corporation headed by the bishop, as opposed to making him a trustee in his personal capacity. This misrepresentation is reinforced with a further misrepresentation that the Board members of incorporated associations or companies can under no circumstances be held personally liable for breaches of their duties. Misleading and deceptive statements of this nature are regularly used to persuade people to support the Bill. This gives reason to question the relevance of any letters of support for the Bill that the bishop has procured.
The Bill conflicts with existing Government policy – Similarity to Macedonian Orthodox Trust Bill 2008
9.1 This Bill is substantially similar to the Macedonian Orthodox Church Property Trust Bill 1998, which was introduced by the Government, under the false belief that it enjoyed broad support from the Macedonian Orthodox community in NSW. In response to objections to that Government Bill, we received a letter from the Hon Morris Iemma MP, on behalf of the then Premier of NSW, dated 26 may 1999, in which we were assured as follows:
“Following introduction of the Bill, the Government was advised that some Macedonian Orthodox community organisations held concerns about the Bill and that members of the Macedonian Orthodox community are currently involved in a Supreme Court action to this matter.
In light of this court action and the concerns expressed by community members the NSW Government will take no further action to proceed with the Bill until the Supreme Court action has been resolved. The Attorney General has also assured me that his Department will continue to liaise with the Macedonian Orthodox community to establish the level of support for the Bill prior to any re-introduction.”
9.2 The Supreme Court proceedings referred to above have not yet been resolved. There have been no attempts by the Attorney General’s Department to liaise with us regarding support for the reintroduction of legislation similar to the 1998 Bill. Bishop Petar’s contested claim that the properties of the Macedonian Orthodox Church Community “St. Petka” Inc were accumulated and are held in trust for the MOC-OA is the most fundamental matter in the ongoing Supreme Court proceedings, and pending appeals to existing rulings. These proceedings have cost the local Macedonian Australian community millions of dollars in legal fees, ancillary expenses and lost income. They have resulted in the parishioners of the St. Petka church in Rockdale being denied the services of a priest for almost 7 years now, due to interim rulings that this bishop has an exclusive right to appoint a priest and his refusal to do so unless the community hands over its property and funds to him. Apart from that, in his attempts to force the MOCC St. Petka and other Macedonian communities to capitulate to his demands, bishop Petar and his followers have engaged in a ruthless campaign of vilification, defamation and intimidation against all dissenters. This campaign has included:
a) Persistently misleading an uninformed Macedonian public that a church cannot be a real church if it is legally owned by a corporate body, even though he is well aware that the only way to register a non-profit, charitable organization in Australia as a separate legal person in its own right is for it to become incorporated, and even though he is now himself seeking to establish a corporation to hold church property;
b) Blackmailing our communities by ordering Macedonian Orthodox priests not to serve at their churches unless his demands for a handover of properties and funds are fulfilled;
c) Baselessly declaring over ten Macedonian Orthodox priests as defrocked, on trumped up charges, whereas the true reason he has acted against them is only that they have defied his orders to desert or boycott our parishes;
d) Baselessly, maliciously and hurtfully declaring tens of thousands of parishioners of dissenting church communities as “self-excommunicated non-believers”, and their churches as ‘desecrated’ churches;
e) Baselessly and maliciously claiming that his dissenters are motivated by a desire to misappropriate church funds for personal benefit (this has led to some successful and some ongoing defamation proceedings).
10 Bishop Petar’s motivations behind this bill are not in good faith. He has divided the community throughout Australia. His actions do not even represent the will of the majority of bishops of the Holy Synod, the hierarchy that he purports to represent and defend. In an interview conducted on 3 January 2008, posted on the official MOC-OA website, Bishop Naum was asked: What do you think, when will the situation with the property of the MOC in Australia be solved?
First peace must reign between the faithful in the Australia and New Zealand Diocese of the MOC, and that will occur when one or perhaps even two new bishops are appointed as the authorized prelates, behind whose work will stand a united Holy Synod of the Macedonian Orthodox Church.
For us, in Australia, there occurred a failure of the stages of solving the problems. The problems must first be solved on a spiritual level, and only after that on the material level. The problems must first be solved by prayer, in our heart, and only then outside of us. The church above all is its people, only after come its buildings.
Thus other Macedonian bishops have recognised bishop Petar as a force of division, who has damaged community harmony so severely that the wounds cannot be healed without his replacement. bishop Petar will undoubtedly use this Bill as just another offensive instrument (like ex-communications, defrocking of priests and anathematizing believers), for his material and political aims, not for the people of the Church, but at the expense of the people of the Church.
11 Passing the Bill will amount to political support for bishop Petar’s hostile and unfounded claims that all Macedonian Orthodox churches and related properties in Australia are and should be held in trust for his Diocese or the MOC-OA. Such support will undoubtedly be used to deflect the public criticism he has received in Australia and Macedonia over the astronomically expensive litigation against the Macedonian Orthodox Community Church St. Petka Inc. It would serve as moral and political support for him to continue to try and coerce or vilify communities that dispute his claims to their properties, and to commence fresh litigation against communities that resist other forms of coercion.
12 The premise of this Bill as presented is misleading. Its true motivation is the furtherance of bishop Petar’s partisan war of attrition against Macedonian Orthodox communities in this State and throughout Australia. The NSW Parliament should not permit itself to be so used.
Igor Avramovski Aleksandrov
Association of Macedonian Communities in Australia Inc
 Prof. Dr. Cane Mojanoski, The Autocephaly of the Macedonian Orthodox Church (Documents), Makedonska Iskra, Skopje 2004, p. 10.
 As above, p. 11.
 As above.
 Peter Hill, “The Macedonians in Australia”, Hesperian Press, 1989, p. 89.
 As above.
 As above.
 As above.
 See Macedonian language interview with bishop Timotey, by Mirlslav Spirovski, in ‘Nova Makedonija’, 3 February 1998.
 Македонската црква е најстара православна црква меѓу сите словенски православни цркви, Утрински Весник бр. 933, 4-8-2002.
Other submissions to the Inquiry into this Bill can be found here.
For an objective picture of what this Bill is really about, as opposed to what it is being sold as to the vulnerable, everyone interested should at least read the NSW Government’s submission and the principal submission in support of the Bill. The submission by the Macedonian Community of Western Australia Inc is also of particular significance, as it is not formally affiliated to the AMCA and its Church is considered to be part of Bishop Petar’s Diocese.