NEWS

Alleged sex scandals in the Church Hierarchy

Judicial investigations into recent accusations of extortion within the ranks of the Church of Greece are yet another item in a long list of allegations and media reports over the past few decades hinting at scandals. Some have been forgotten, while others are still fresh in people’s minds, such as the barrage of accusations of homosexuality by former Bishop Nicodemos of Attica against the incumbent Pandeleimon. Now judicial authorities are investigating accusations that members of the Hierarchy have been blackmailed about their supposedly scandalous lives. The case involving the Attica Metropolitan has nothing to do with the current extortion allegations, but the common denominator in all these incidents is the loss of prestige on the part of those concerned and the search for the truth, which can prove extremely difficult. In practice it is almost impossible for there to be eyewitnesses, for clerics to be caught in flagrante delicto with their «nieces» or «nephews.» That is why all allegations have been based on testimony by third parties or on cassette recordings whose authenticity is easily questioned. A former archbishop of Athens, Iakovos Vavanatsos, resigned from his post after allegations were made against him, although the courts vindicated him years later. He had actually been discredited by fringe church groups by order of the then-prime minister, Constantine Karamanlis, because he had wanted to found a Church bank, something that would have been disastrous for the National Bank of Greece, where all the Church’s money was deposited at that time. Preveza’s bishop at the time, Stylianos Kornaros, was blackmailed by one of his own priests in cooperation with the priest’s wife. Any allegations against clerics usually remain unproven and the truth rarely comes out, so scandalmongering is an easy method for extortionists. This brings us to the second reason why clerics are vulnerable to blackmail, and that is the near-impossibility for a cleric to protest his innocence within a society that is inured to scandal. Whether innocent or guilty, the result is the same. The guilty succumb to the blackmail because they are guilty, and the innocent succumb because it is so difficult to prove their innocence beyond all doubt, and doing so would put them through an enormous ordeal, with the humiliation of being interrogated, judged by courts and these days, by the media. Even if they do decide to be dragged through the mill, and even if they are vindicated, they will always be surrounded by a whiff of suspicion. Thus so far, even the innocent have given in to blackmailers. So there is every reason to believe that any clerics called to testify in the current investigation will deny they have been victims, thereby letting their blackmailers off the hook. One wonders how clerics have even become involved in the string of allegations in connection with the extortion of prominent business figures, but no fortress is impregnable; there is always a Trojan horse. Clerics with any integrity believe that judicial interest in the Church was prompted by those within its ranks who wanted to discredit some of their colleagues, thereby settling old accounts. It has even been reported that the investigating magistrate is in possession of a letter from a member of the Hierarchy. The same sources say that allegations have come from a woman who wanted to get back at someone connected to the accusations of extortion attempts against clerics. Because most honest clergymen are familiar with these methods, and also know that the Church is particularly vulnerable to blackmail attempts, they are even more hesitant about giving testimony. After all, «Christ forgives but some bishops never do,» as the late Archbishop Serapheim used to say. So if clerics are being blackmailed, the only hope of breaking the chain of silence is for the more courageous bishops, and those who have a card up their sleeve, to speak out, such as Bishop Chrysostomos of Zakynthos [who testified Monday before the prosecutor investigating blackmail claims against leading industrialists and churchmen]. Even then, there are few hopes of shedding full light on the phenomenon, since the judiciary in Greece has always shown a particular sensitivity toward the Church and, despite the best of intentions, never goes straight to the heart of any investigation. Therefore, the only revelations that are likely to come out will concern nothing more than petty misdemeanors such as small fees for minor publications or for small favors asked of bishops around the country. The really big issues will never become public. Based on what has gone before, it is clear that unless the Church itself decides to undergo a catharsis and take courageous action, unless it decides to free the country of unworthy clerics, restore worthy ones to office and ensure that these incidents that embarrass and weaken the Church never recur, the same sickness will continue to plague the ranks of the clergy. Cassettes in London According to certain sources, Bishop Germanos of Ileia, an experienced and strict member of the Hierarchy, is not only investigating whether his flock has been scandalized by allegations involving the former and incumbent bishops of Attica, as the Permanent Holy Synod had – wrongly – decided to do, but to go to the heart of the matter and check the authenticity of the some 350 cassettes supposedly containing evidence that the bishop had engaged in homosexual acts, by sending the cassettes abroad for examination. The charges are of a very serious nature. Moreover, talk of punishing Nicodemos or removing him from the body of the Church of Greece should cease. At one time such measures may have served a purpose, but as Archbishop Christodoulos used to say when he was bishop of Dimitriada, the punishment for refusing the sacrament should be abolished and the two remaining members of the Hierarchy, Nicodemos and Constantinos, should be restored to their posts, as was the wish of the late Archbishop Serapheim, but which the Hierarchs in question did not agree to because of «poor legal advice» at the time. So in this case, the cooperation of Nicodemos himself should be sought in order for the truth to emerge. The uproar over the extortion allegations presents a unique opportunity for the Church to begin a catharsis from within if it wants to convince the faithful that it truly wants to change and at the same time discourage future blackmailers.