Church sinks deeper in scandal

The Church of Greece’s ruling body yesterday suspended Panteleimon, Bishop of Attica, for six months, pending an investigation into claims he was part of an alleged trial-fixing ring composed of judges and churchmen that aided suspected drug dealers. Meanwhile, a prominent priest suspected of acting as a middleman in the ring was arrested yesterday – minutes before he began testifying before a Piraeus examining magistrate regarding charges he stole precious icons from a Kythera monastery in the 1990s – following fears he might flee the country. Archimandrite Iakovos Yiossakis, who is also allegedly involved in embezzlement, comes under the jurisdiction of the bishop of Attica, who suspended him on Thursday under strict orders from top Church authorities. Panteleimon came under considerable pressure yesterday from the 13-member Holy Synod – which is chaired by Archbishop Christodoulos – to resign, but refused to do so. The bishop has protested his innocence in the face of charges, based on taped phone calls, that he spoke to senior judges and lawyers in an attempt to influence the outcome of specific court cases. He only admitted to having spoken to a lawyer. Panteleimon has also denied accusations, also deriving from recorded telephone conversations, that he made lewd suggestions to an unidentified man. The Church officially abhors homosexuality, which Christodoulos condemned in November as «a blatant, crying sin.» According to the Holy Synod spokesman, Dorotheos, Bishop of Syros, Panteleimon will now have to prove his innocence. «If he proves that what is being said and written against him is untrue, and the furor settles down over [the next six months] then the Synod will re-examine its decision,» he said. Otherwise, Panteleimon could be stripped of his see. Sources said that yesterday’s Synod session also saw the head of the Greek Church – who has vowed to crack down on corruption in the clergy – protesting that he himself has become a prime target for false allegations in recent days. Late on Thursday, a TV journalist whose allegations sparked the trial-fixing investigation published a letter Christodoulos had written to an examining magistrate while still the Bishop of Demetrias, in which he sought the release of a young Albanian man suspected of drug dealing and claimed another Albanian was in fact culpable. Yesterday, Christodoulos’s spokesman confirmed the authenticity of the letter, which he described as a «humanitarian act.» Church sources, however, said the youth in question was very close to the current Bishop of Thessaliotis, Theoklitos, who at the time was a top aide to Christodoulos. Theoklitos has also been summoned by the Holy Synod to defend himself in writing, by Tuesday, against charges – by his predecessor – that he was detained by police in a dodgy club and that the matter was subsequently hushed up. While the Synod did not discuss the matter of the Albanian suspect – who was jailed for six years – dissident bishops yesterday said this offered Christodoulos a good opportunity to fully apply his previous pledges to clean up the Church.