Thursday, December 4, 2014

Priest claims non-Greek priests treated as second-class clergy

(Metro) - There will be no Christmas service in Peterborough for Greek Orthodox Christians this year.

Former priest of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church Reverend Father Kurt (Kyriakos) Wegner is fighting his archbishop at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, alleging he’s been discriminated against because he is not Greek.

Wegner is an American, raised Catholic, who converted to the Greek Orthodox Faith in 1998.

In 2001, he moved to Toronto with his (now ex) wife, who is Greek Orthodox, and he was ordained as a priest. He served briefly as the priest of The Three Hierarchs Church in Toronto, before moving to Peterborough where he served for almost a decade.

Wegner alleges that Archbishop Sotirios Athanassoulas hired him only because the church was desperate for a new priests, especially one who would take inferior positions and less money than Greek Greek Orthodox priests. He is asking the tribunal to award him $380,000 based on the wages and benefits he was denied over almost ten years due to his ethnic origin, and $25,000 for emotional distress.

Wegner alleges he was treated poorly, subject to racism and refused a transfer away from the small Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox church in Peterborough, where he was paid only $800 a month. He claims his Greek peers were given choice churches and salaries of $60,000 a year and more.

His alleges the archbishop “deliberately set him apart due to his ethnic dissimilarity in the hopes that (he) would feel inferior and powerless and would therefore accept any duties and responsibilities thrust upon him just so that he could prove to the Greeks that he was committed to the Greek Orthodox faith, despite being an ‘outsider.’”

His lawyer, lawyer, Jean-Alexandre De Bousquet, argues that in Wegner cannot legally be discriminated against for not being Greek in the Greek Orthodox Church, despite an exemption in the Human Rights Code that allows churches to hire only those within their denomination.

“Since they have made him a priest and waived that requirement (that he be Greek), they can’t now say, ‘You’re a priest but you’re not Greek, so we’re only going to pay you half a salary,’” said De Bousquet.

Wegner claims he faced discrimination from a segment of the Greek community in Peterborough who objected to the fact that he was neither Greek, nor fluent in Greek, and passed around a petition asking for him to be removed from the Church. In response, churchgoers passed around another petition, supporting him, said De Bousquet.

When Wegner spoke with Archbishop Athanassoulas about the racism, the Archbishop relied, “I’m sorry, but Greek’s are racist,” implying that this a fact of life he should accept, said De Bousquet.

The Archbishop denies saying that and that the church’s treatment of Wegner was based in racism. In a written submission to the Human Rights Tribunal, the church argues that Wegner was never given a better posting because he was never able to become fluent in Greek, and said the level of his pay was due the financial position of the small Greek Orthodox community in Peterborough.

Wegner, on the other hand, has argued that members of Greek Orthodox faith in Canada speak English, and many speak English only, so Greek need not be a requirement.

The two sides disagree on the context of Wegner’s employment, as well as how popular he was among the parishioners in Peterborough.

“If, as you have said, there are only 12-17 people participating in the Divine Liturgy, how do you expect this community to pay a full salary?” Archbishop Athanassoulas wrote to Wegner, in June.

When Wegner and his wife divorced in 2012, his financial position changed. Where he used to receive financial support from his wife, he eventually had to take a minimum job working for a landscaper to make ends meet. After he was refused a request to be paid more money, he filed the human rights complain.

In July, Wegner was let go and told it was due to the financial situation of Holy Trinity and the church was shuttered.

However, the money was later found to reopen and a different priest, who is from Toronto, was hired but he will be unavailable for the Christmas services, according to De Bousquet

“They have decided not to allow (Wegner) to go to the church to perform the services, and no other priest available,” he said. “There will be no Christmas services at the Greek Orthodox Church in Peterborough.”


  1. How is it that this man was allowed to continue serving as a priest after a divorce? Should he not have been canonically deposed?

    1. It sometimes depends on the situation.

    2. If his wife initiated the divorce then he could remain a priest. I know a few priests to whom that has happened.

  2. What I question is why he was ordained a priest at all. There is more to this story that we do not know. For example, he converted in 1998 and was ordained a priest in 2001? Where did he go to seminary? What was his spiritual formation? I think (my personal oppinion) he was ordained too quickly. Surely, he could have spent more time as a layperson in the church. Secondly how can a parish with only 12 to 17 people support a full-time priest? I do not think this is a human rights issue at all.

    1. The question being asked is would they have put a Greek, seminary-trained priest in the same position? If not, why was this man placed here creating an uneven pay scale?

    2. This man was ordained too quickly...what happened to him is wrong but too many converts are ordained too quickly and then they bring their baggage with them..

    3. Steve and Stephen, you both assert Fr. Kyiakos "was ordained too quickly." Do you know him and have a basis for saying this? We just celebrated the Feast of St. Ambrose of Milan who went from catechumen to bishop in the space of a week. I suppose you could be making a post-facto judgement based on his willingness to appeal to the secular courts, rather than seek a canonical transfer to a jurisdiction that would give him proper employment, or appealing the whole way to the Ecumenical Patriarch, but there are a great many fine priests who were ordained not that long after their conversion to Orthodoxy, some who passed through the orders of layman, taper-bearer, reader, subdeacon and deacon before their ordination to the priesthood in a much shorter time than Fr. Kyriakos.

  3. This whole thing does not surprise me. The Greek Church is Canada is a disaster. Putting aside other issues, like parishes charging upwards of $300 for a baptism, of which Metropolitan Sotirios not only approves, but at times has even enforced on some unwilling churches in Quebec. I have heard him on multiple occasions give sermons at church in which he has made racist remarks. For instance, he has referred to the Greeks in a number of his sermons as “the greatest race on earth.” I also remember once having to sit through a sermon where he rambled about how horrible it was that some Greeks in Greece had married Albanians and Pakistanis. The problem was not because these people weren’t Christians, because some certainly are, but instead it was an issue for him because they are diluting the Greek ethnicity. It should be no surprise that most Greek churches here are rather empty, with priests almost begging people to attend.

  4. Sadly some of the jurisdictions still have a very ethnocentric tone to them that can border on racism. I haven't seen it often, thank God, but I have seen it. In my experience it's hit and miss with the Greeks. A lot of their parishes are very friendly and welcoming to non-Greek inquirers but a few are just not. I am guessing the same could be said of ROCOR, the Ukrainians, Serbs and so on.

  5. A bit of ethnophyletism? And here I thought that was a heresy.

  6. “PETERBOROUGH - A new priest will begin at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church on Dec. 21, five months after his predecessor walked out in July and launched a lawsuit. …In July, Wegner was let go and told it was due to the financial situation of Holy Trinity and the church was shuttered. However, the money was later found to reopen and a different priest, who is from Oshawa, was hired and he will host his first service on Dec. 21. “
    Also what the original article did not state was that the parish was upset with Wegner and spoke to the bishop about removing him.