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17707Paedophilia Claims Circle Again Over Serbia's Church

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    Apr 2, 2013
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      http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/paedophilia-claims-circle-again-over-serbia-s-church

      01 Apr 13
      Paedophilia Claims Circle Again Over Serbia's Church

      As the Bishop of Vranje faces yet another paedophilia charge, the
      Serbian Orthodox Church is under pressure to end its silence.

      Police in the southern town of Vranje are questioning potential
      witnesses about alleged sexual abuse committed by the local Serbian
      Orthodox Bishop, Pahomije.

      "We are investigating the case on the order of the prosecutor's office.
      We will question the Bishop as well and the prosecutor will decide
      whether to submit charges," a source from Vranje police told BIRN.

      The Serbian Orthodox Church, SPC, is yet to decide whether to launch its
      own internal investigation into paedophile sex claims against the bishop.

      "We still don't have the answers whether the SPC will start an
      investigation or discuss the case at the Holy Synod in May," the SPC
      press office told BIRN.

      Repeated claims of paedophilia against Bishop Pahomije and the absence a
      reaction to them from the Church threaten the reputation of the Church
      in society, experts say, predicting that the Pahomije case will feature
      at the bishops' assembly on May 15.

      "Unfortunately, in recent years, the Church had tendency to cover up
      things that might compromise them in some form. The charges against
      Bishop Pahomije were no exception," Nikola Knezevic, from the Centre for
      Studies of Religion, Politics and Society, said.

      "It would be better for the Church to respond faster and more
      efficiently in cases such as this, because otherwise it will damage the
      Church's reputation in society," he added.

      On March 21, /Vranjske/ newspaper published the testimony of 24-year-old
      Nemanja S, a SPC Vranje diocese warehouseman, who stated that Pahomije
      had sexually abused him since he was 16 years old.

      Lacking confidence in the Vranje police, the man reported the case to
      the Belgrade police on February 20.

      Bishop Pahomije, who has denied the claims, stated that he was ready to
      respond to any call from the police or prosecution regarding the case.
      "It is my duty, and I will not escape from it," he told the newspaper
      /Danas/ on March 25.

      After the story hit the headlines, Vranje diocese responded with a
      counter-claim on March 25, filing charges against the warehouseman for
      embezzlement and abuse of office.

      The diocese stated that the investigation into embezzlement was launched
      in January and that the claims on sexual abuse were brought to discredit
      the investigation.

      On the other hand, Nemanja S. says that the charge of embezzlement was
      filed just now because he decided to talk about paedophilia.

      "It's easy to establish whether I have been taking goods from the
      warehouse and selling them, as it can be checked within ten days," he
      told the local newspaper /Vranjske/ on March 28.

      "I believe the criminal charge of embezzlement came with such a delay as
      a sort of vendetta for what I have told the police," he added.

      Bishop Pahomije faced trial for paedophilia in 2003 and was acquitted.
      Since the first charges were brought against him, the Church has made no
      comment on the issue.

      The Church has its own legal system and penal system based on a canon
      law. Following accusations against its members, it can lead an internal
      investigation and order sanctions parallel to any proceedings conducted
      in front of the state courts.

      However, Mirko Djordjevic, a sociologist of religion, says that in the
      past the Church preferred not to assume this role and left the state
      courts to deal with such matters.

      "The Church remains silent, which is a huge mistake, as it is not too
      late for it to take a lead and resolve the issue," he said.

      "Some mention that Pahomije might be retired, which is not the worst
      solution, but without an investigation that leads to the truth, it does
      not solve the problem," Djordjevic added, noting that the case must be
      discussed at the May assembly of bishops.

      "I expect the assembly to deliver precise decisions on launching an
      investigation and possible sanctions. If they fail to do that, it will
      be both bad for the Church, as it will be a sign that it is not ready to
      deal with such a huge issue, and for Pahomije, who will remain under the
      shadow of doubt," Djordjevic continued.

      Nikola Knezevic also says the Church should respond to the latest claims
      of paedophilia, and show responsibility "not only for its evangelical
      calling, for its believers, but also for the truth.

      "Finally, it is in the interests of the Church to respond clearly and
      unambiguously. The lack of reaction damages not only Church's
      reputation, but also reduces its chance to point to the possible
      groundless accusations.

      "I am convinced that the SPC has the strength and ability to cope with
      all the problems that impair its position in society. They have enough
      smart and talented people to make such moves. I hope that in the future
      the SPC will be more efficient and respond to problems within its
      ranks," he added.

      *Repeated claims on paedophilia
      *

      The saga dates back to October 2002, when a 13-year-old boy entered the
      police station in Vranje, accompanied by his mother and grandmother, to
      complain that he had been subjected to sexual abuse by Bishop Pahomije.

      After a four-month police investigation, Pahomije was eventually charged
      with sex offences relating to four underage boys.

      Subsequent court proceedings lasted almost five years before all charges
      against the bishop were dropped on March 6, 2007.

      The municipal court judgment was confirmed in a second-instance court in
      Nis -- the equivalent of an appeal court.

      Two charges were declared inadmissible because the court proceedings had
      dragged on for so long and the time limit within which a court decision
      must be reached had expired.

      The other two charges were dismissed because the court found the boys'
      testimony unreliable.

      Under the principle of /In dubio pro reo/, a judge with any doubts about
      whether the accused has committed an offence must rule in favour of the
      accused. Bishop Pahomije was duly set free.

      But the Supreme Court ruled in October 2007 that the two verdicts
      clearing the bishop were unlawful, saying that the case had been delayed
      until the charges expired, and there were no grounds to dismiss the
      boys' testimonies as unreliable.

      However, the court was unable to order a retrial because of
      double-jeopardy laws.

      Many believed that the two judges presiding over Bishop Pahomije's first
      and second-instance trials did not act independently, but caved in to
      pressure from the then Democratic Party of Serbia-led government of
      Vojislav Kostunica, which had close ties to the Church.

      Slobodan Homen, former state secretary in the ministry of justice,
      stated in 2011 that Kostunica's government "covered up" the case against
      Pahomije.

      The ministry also decided to pay compensation to the four boys in
      October 2011, despite the fact that the Bishop had been set free.

      While during all that time the Serbian Orthodox Church remained silent,
      in 2008 one bishop, Grigorije of Trebinje, in Bosnia, wrote to the
      Church's metropolitans stating that the Church had to take a more active
      role and should have found out the truth of the Pahomije case in order
      to protect him from false claims, or sanction him had he been found guilty.

      In 2010, BIRN revealed that the Church had in fact formed a special
      commission in 2003 to investigate the charges.

      However, the existence of the commission and its findings has remained a
      closely-guarded secret.

      That the commission was led by then Bishop Irinej, now Patriarch of the
      Serbian Orthodox Church, has also been kept from the public.




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