The world’s Orthodox Church leaders yesterday upheld the overthrow, by his own bishops, of scandal-mired Jerusalem Patriarch Irenaios, one day after the senior churchman defied a final appeal to voluntarily step down. «We had to make a very sad decision concerning the Jerusalem Patriarchate,» Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios, who convened the rare meeting of senior representatives from the world’s main Orthodox Churches – which Irenaios attended – told journalists after the decision was announced. Irenaios has been accused of involvement in the politically explosive, covert handover of Church land in the Arab sector of Jerusalem to Jewish investors. Although Irenaios insists he is innocent – calling on God to cut off his hands should he be lying – rebel bishops raised the necessary majority in the Patriarchate’s ruling body, the Holy Synod, to depose him early this month. This decision has since been confirmed by the Jordanian and Palestinian governments. After an eight-hour session yesterday, Church leaders agreed to no longer recognize Irenaios as head of the Patriarchate, to strike him off the list of Orthodox leaders and to cease mentioning his name during prayers. Rebel bishops in Jerusalem were invited to appoint a caretaker patriarch before electing a replacement for Irenaios. «We first decided to address a brotherly appeal to [Irenaios] to voluntarily tender his resignation,» Vartholomaios said. «This was requested by our Synod, which did not convene as a court, as an act of sacrifice to pacify the Church. As [Irenaios] refused, the Synod accepted the decision by the Jerusalem Holy Synod.» During his address to the Synod, Vartholomaios argued that, irrespective of Irenaios’s culpability, «the peace of the clerics and lay members of the Church of Sion [the Jerusalem Patriarchate] has been broken, and cannot be restored without a sacrifice.» In Athens, Deputy Foreign Minister Panayiotis Skandalakis said the Church leaders’ decision should be respected by all. «Obviously, whoever diverges or does not comply with the decision will bear the full responsibility for any negative developments,» Skandalakis said. Athens had already strongly hinted that Irenaios should stand down, drawing angry complaints from the patriarch.