Peace & Quiet in Church? That’ll be $8.4M, Please 4

¡*!*¡*! UPDATE: There’s an error in this piece. Please see the comments. ¡*!*¡*!

A single church in Adelaide, Australia applied for and received $8.4 million ($8.2 million U.S.) from the federal government for noise abatement.

Here’s a picture of the church:

st-nicholas

Smell a rat? You’re not alone. For almost eight and a half million bucks, you should be able to build five or more of these, and soundproof the hell out of each and every one.

Besides, the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church had already gotten $3.4 million for a noise insulation project that was completed last year. Now that church authorities have secured another grant for the exact same type of work, this time with a $5 million price tag, people are beginning to ask questions — especially because the typical Australian grant for noise insulation is about $100,000 per building.

An Adelaide Greek Orthodox Church faces another investigation after it received $5m from the Federal Government for noise insulation from the neighbouring airport. The investigation launched is due to the excessive amount of funds received by St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church…

[S]enator Simon Birmingham has queried the amount of money received by the church and has written to Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese seeking the costs of the project.

St. Nicholas Church is no stranger to controversy. In a long string of irregularities, the church priest, Father Prokopios Kanavas,

• has been investigated for allegedly supplying a forged character reference;
• received multiple warnings from his higher-ups, including one that came after explicit images were found on a church computer;
• was defrocked in 2008 over what the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem obliquely called “unacceptable behavior” and “questionable and suspicious activities.”

prokopios

Somehow, Father Kavanas was again ordained and returned to Adelaide in 2010 a better man.

Just kidding:

• In 2011, he was fired as South Australia’s police chaplain when his law-enforcement bosses found information that affected his “suitability” for that role;
• Last year, he courted more trouble when, on his Facebook page, he made false claims about his accomplishments, such as academic degrees he didn’t possess.

Securing two government noise-abatement grants worth several times the going rate for soundproofing large buildings (and eighty-four times the cost of the average building) is another headline-making feat for Adelaide’s Greek Orthodox community. Can’t wait to hear what the investigators find.

[photo of Kavanas by Bianca De Marchi, via news.com.au

4 thoughts on “Peace & Quiet in Church? That’ll be $8.4M, Please

  1. Dimitri Dimitriou May 23, 2013 3:41 am

    As authors of the blog that was linked to in the above post (among other news sites), we received a pingback on this post and upon reading we felt that a couple of comments were in order. Firstly, it should be obvious to anyone who reads our blog (gocia.wordpress.com) that we aren’t seeking to try and do Mr Kanavas any favours. We point this out so that we cannot be accused of bias in what follows. And at any rate, the facts will quite clearly speak for themselves.

    In summary, the above post has gotten a number of key facts horribly wrong and has consequently misrepresented the funding situation completely.

    The first factual error is in the headline of this post “that’ll be $8.4M please”, as is the key paragraph:

    Besides, the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church had already gotten $3.4 million for a noise insulation project that was completed last year. Now that church authorities have secured another grant for the exact same type of work, this time with a $5 million price tag, people are beginning to ask questions — especially because the typical Australian grant for noise insulation is about $100,000 per building.

    In actual fact, St Nicholas Church has been awarded a single $5m grant. The earlier $3.4m grant was awarded to another church (St George), as is quite clearly stated in the original neoskosmos article to which you linked.

    The second misleading statement in the above paragraph is the comment about the average grant size of $100,000 per building, insinuating that the church is receiving much more than its fair share. What this statement fails to take into account is that the vast majority of buildings insulated under the scheme were residential properties (according to this official Federal Government statement, the Adelaide program has insulated 648 homes and 7 public buildings). For a number of technical reasons residential buildings are much cheaper to insulate (the most obvious of which being that they tend to be substantially smaller than public buildings such as churches, schools and nursing homes). Thus it is obviously not an apples-to-apples comparison to compare the St Nicholas grant with the $100k average – it should be compared with other projects of a similar size. In this vein (as noted) St George Greek Orthodox Church received $3.4M in funding for a similar task, and this news article has the Transport and Infrastructure minister mentioning that St George College received $5.7M. We’d guess that other public buildings (including other churches and a nursing home) probably received similar levels of funding. So people aren’t asking questions because it is costing a lot more than the $100k average – they are asking questions because it costs more than other comparable projects (like St George Greek Orthodox Church) or as much as projects of a much large size (St George College). As we stated in our blog post St Nicholas is physically smaller than both St George College and St George Orthodox Church; however we also know that there might be technical reasons that justify this additional cost in the case of St Nicholas in spite of its smaller size.

    In summary, if there is any over-budgeting here it would only be of the order of two times the going rate, not eighty-four times. We know this makes for a less sensational headline, but for a blog that styles itself as a “Moral Compass” we feel it is important to stick to the facts regardless of how mundane they might be.

    As for Mr Kanavas’ other exploits, we make no apology or defence as they speak for themselves. We pray that the people of St Nicholas will be relieved of his antics soon.

  2. Terry Firma May 23, 2013 4:40 pm

    Hello Dimitri:

    Thank you for your reply.

    I was not careful enough in interpreting the report I linked to, and somehow missed the phrase about the second grant being for the benefit of a different church within the Greek Orthodox community in Adelaide. I apologize for the error, and will append a note to the original post. No malice was intended.

    I do not doubt that it is more expensive to soundproof a church than a row house; that’s why quoting the average cost per building, while not the final word, is such a useful yardstick. The $100,000, per the Neokosmos article, was calculated by taking all the buildings in the area and looking at their respective soundproofing costs. Those buildings would include small homes and large, as well as businesses, warehouses and a hospital perhaps (?), plus churches, schools, and so on. The $100,000 is also the cost that’s provided in the Neokosmos article with which you don’t seem to take issue; that article does not give a breakdown of the kind that you seem to fault Moral Compass for not including.

    Taking five million dollars in tax money for soundproofing a building, even a church, does still seem a bit bizarre and excessive to me, as it evidently does to the local politicians and overseers who first raised concern about such a large grant.

    When the investigators conclude their sleuthing, will you report to us what they found?

    Thank you again,

    Terry Firma

  3. Dimitri Dimitriou May 24, 2013 1:37 am

    Dear Terry,

    Kudos to you for your clear and unambiguous admission & retraction of the erroneous figure. Such frank and honest admission of error is rare and to be applauded. It is the firm belief of we Orthodox that if there were more of it we’d all be better people and the world would be a much better place. 🙂

    To be clear, we do not fault Moral Compass for failing to include the breakdown (which, as you point out, also wasn’t present in the neoskosmos article). Rather, we fault Moral Compass because without knowing the breakdown it was unwarranted to assume that the average was a useful yardstick. It was unwarranted because comparing it with the average building cost is to implicitly assume that St Nicholas is an average building – there was no compelling reason to make this assumption, and in fact (as the breakdown shows) we see that it is a long way from average (in the 99th percentile, in fact). We feel it would have been more prudent to withold this particular part of the judgement until the breakdown was known. As you have noticed, there is enough of a story on Mr Kanavas for the likes of Moral Compass without us having to invent new material. 😉

    Regarding this comment:

    Taking five million dollars in tax money for soundproofing a building, even a church, does still seem a bit bizarre and excessive to me, as it evidently does to the local politicians and overseers who first raised concern about such a large grant.

    True, and to be honest even when when you compare it to other more comparable projects (like St George Church and St George College) it still seems a bit steep, so it’s definitely worth a closer look. But also remember that the local politicians like to play politics (especially with an election looming in September) and journalists like to stir the pot as well, meaning that we don’t always hear all of the facts reported in their proper context. As one example, a fact not widely mentioned by journalists or those politicians who are critical about the “waste of taxpayer’s money” is that the money spent on this program was collected by a specific levy, on jets landing at specific airports, based on the amount of noise that they make as they land, for specifically this purpose (as we reported on our blog – the Aircraft Noise Levy Act 1995). In other words, that’s what the money was always meant for. It would seem to us to be unethical to use the money collected under these conditions for any other purpose.

    And as another example of such “out-of-context” reporting, we point to the fact that the general media still refer Mr Kanavas as a “Greek Orthodox Priest”, even though (as you reported) he has been deposed from the ranks of the clergy by the official Orthodox Church (representing 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide) for his many irregularities. Unfortunately there seems to be nothing to stop him from continuing to assume the title of “Orthodox Priest” in spite of being officially removed (imagine still calling yourself a Congressman after being removed Congress!). So when the media expose his antics and refer to him as a “Greek Orthodox Priest”, unfortunately the reputation of the official Orthodox Church is collateral damage even though the official Orthodox Church has already done everything in its power to discipline him.

    The moral of these stories: when we are running exposé sites (as you and we are), we need to be extra careful to read through the media sensationalism to get to the real story underneath.

    We will try and keep you updated if there are any further developments in this case.

    Blessings to you and the rest of your team.

  4. Terry Firma May 24, 2013 1:54 am

    I take your points, and we are in broad agreement. I hope the appended note and my subsequent comment constitute satisfactory amends for the original error. Thank you again for writing, and I look forward to the update.

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