Lawsuit allegations of tax fraud, stolen donations 'without merit,' says Greek Orthodox Metropolis

"The spurious allegations made against our Metropolis are not grounded in fact and we eagerly await the opportunity to zealously defend ourselves using the appropriate process through Canada's justice system," reads a statement from the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto.

Allegations against archbishop, 4 priests not grounded in fact, reads statement

The Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto has fired back against a civil lawsuit filed against some of the most powerful members of Canada's Greek Orthodox community, saying the statement of claim is 'baseless and wholly without merit.' (Jon Castell/CBC )

The Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto has fired back against a civil lawsuit filed against some of the most powerful members of Canada's Greek Orthodox community, saying the statement of claim is "baseless and wholly without merit."

As CBC Toronto reported last week, the lawsuit includes allegations of abusive priests, tax fraud, stolen donation money, and sex offenders being placed in Toronto churches.

"The spurious allegations made against our Metropolis are not grounded in fact and we eagerly await the opportunity to zealously defend ourselves using the appropriate process through Canada's justice system," reads a statement from the Metropolis.

The organization initially told CBC Toronto it would not be commenting on the statement of claim, which was filed on Oct. 18 by the board of directors for the Greek Community of Toronto, a non-profit charity representing more than 150,000 Greek Canadians.

The charity owns four Toronto churches — St. Irene Chrisovalantou Greek Orthodox Church near Danforth Avenue, Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Cathedral Church in Parkdale, St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Thorncliffe, and St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Scarborough.

The charity made numerous allegations about the Metropolis, its metropolitan — the Greek Orthodox equivalent of an archbishop — as well as four priests, several members of one priest's family, and other individuals connected with the church community.

In the statement of claim, the Greek Community of Toronto alleges the Metropolis and Metropolitan Sotirios Athanassoulas have personally benefited from a share of church donations, without declaring the money "as a taxable benefit or income to the Canada Revenue Agency."

The Metropolis said that is not the case; in its statement, the organization said it "has always followed and adhered to the highest financial accountability and transparency requirements consistent with the Canada Revenue Agency."

Sotirios Athanassoulas has been Metropolitan, or archbishop, of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto since 1996. (Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto website)

4 priests are 'exemplary clergyman': Metropolis

The Greek Community of Toronto also alleges that thousands of dollars in money raised through a 2012 fundraiser for "Baby Alexander," an infant with a serious heart condition, may not have reached the child's family.

The Metropolis, in response, said the four priests named in the lawsuit have never personally benefited from donations made by the community.

"Our Metropolis paid the agreed upon $10,000 to the Global Angel Charitable Organization for the transportation of baby Alexander Karanikas from Greece to Canada, which has been confirmed by the charitable organization," the statement reads.

The four priests "are exemplary clergymen, married with children and wonderful families who selflessly serve our communities with dedication," it continues.

Another allegation in the Greek Community of Toronto's statement of claim is that in 2015, a priest at St. John the Baptist in Scarborough helped place a known sex offender at the church.

The Metropolitan has "never appointed sex abusers as clergyman," the Metropolis said in its statement.

The organization said it will "vigorously defend itself and its reputation in court."

About the Author

Lauren Pelley

Reporter

Lauren Pelley is a CBC reporter in Toronto covering city hall and municipal affairs. Contact her at: lauren.pelley@cbc.ca