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19159Myriad questions abound in church molestation scandal

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    Jan 27, 2014
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      http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2014/Jan-27/245371-myriad-questions-abound-in-church-molestation-scandal.ashx#axzz2reR5nYgM

      Myriad questions abound in church molestation scandal
      January 27, 2014 12:19 AM
      By Rayane Abou Jaoude
      The Daily Star

      BEIRUT: After years of silence, reports of sexual abuse at the hands of
      once-respected Lebanese priests and bishops have recently emerged,
      leaving a trail of unanswered questions and putting the Maronite and
      Orthodox churches in the limelight. Fresh reports of yet another scandal
      involving a bishop accused of sexually molesting a young boy at a Greek
      Orthodox monastery have raised further questions about how the Lebanese
      churches have been dealing with cases of sexual harassment in which
      clergy members are the suspected perpetrators.

      Bishop Costantine Kayyal was implicated for allegedly sexually harassing
      a 10-year-old boy at the Mar Elias Monastery in the Metn town of Dhour
      Choueir, sources close to the case confirmed to The Daily Star, after
      local media outlets reported the story last week.

      Kayyal’s is the third such case to emerge in Lebanon in a matter of
      months, but the church has so far been secretive about the case and has
      not revealed any details to the public.

      Elya Haber, a lawyer and a sub-deacon at the Orthodox Church, told The
      Daily Star that the church adopts measures of “healing” over
      recrimination to deal with such cases.

      “The church has to take certain measures to deal with this situation. It
      follows up on that same priest, and can go as far as ask certain people
      to stay close to that priest, provide psychological counsel, limit or
      strip him of his ecclesiastical duties,” he said, adding that the priest
      could even be sent to a different country, or be asked to spend time
      alone in a monastery.

      “These are all put under the title of healing, in a way of redeeming a
      certain situation. It is all part of a healing process, what is referred
      to in the Orthodox Church as ecclesiastical economia” Haber added.

      The church carries out an investigation into the accusations and speaks
      to witnesses in closed sessions before choosing the appropriate
      “punishment.”

      However, while members of the clergy who have been accused or indicted
      of an offense are asked to “stay away” from the church, their duties
      could be reinstated in due time, Haber said.

      But the case of Bishop Costantine Kayyal was filed in civil court, not
      with church authorities.

      According to Haber, when the case is brought up in civil court, the
      church is not involved. If the priest is found to be guilty, however,
      then the church can choose to intervene.

      “All a civil court can do is give compensation to the family,” the
      lawyer said.

      A court session will be held in April to determine the final verdict in
      Kayyal’s case, his secretary, who requested anonymity, told The Daily Star.

      Kayyal himself is currently not speaking to the media or giving any
      interviews, the secretary added.

      An Orthodox priest close to the case who also chose to remain anonymous
      told The Daily Star that the accusations leveled against Kayyal were
      untrue, and stemmed from a personal dispute between the father and the
      Orthodox bishop that related to investments belonging to the monastery.

      According to the boy’s father, who spoke to local media station LBCI
      last week, the 10-year-old was molested in the monastery in April 2012.

      He said that Kayyal had approached his son, nude underneath his robes,
      and tried to kiss him several times. Right after the incident, the
      father said he had seen his son run screaming into the courtyard outside
      the monastery. The boy eventually told his father what had happened with
      the bishop.

      The boy’s father also said that the judiciary had postponed court
      sessions in light of Kayyal’s absence, which he blamed on the
      controversial political and religious dimensions of the case.

      The family has German citizenship, allowing them to transfer the case to
      a human rights court there and to the Committee on the Rights of the
      Child in Geneva.

      But the source, who has been in close contact with Bishop Hanna Haikal
      in Germany who is involved in the case, said the father withdrew the
      file from the German courts.

      “If the father was present at the monastery, how was it possible for
      [Kayyal] to sexually molest his son?” the source said.

      He cited the case of Archimandrite Panteleimon Farah, who was sentenced
      to a life of isolation at the Hamatoura Monastery in the Koura town of
      Kousba last month by the Clerical Disciplinary Council, an
      ecclesiastical hearing where a church member is tried over certain
      allegations, following what the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Byblos and
      Batroun called “violations of Christian life.” The sentence was based on
      a decision reached by Orthodox Bishop of Mount Lebanon George Khodr.

      Both Farah and Kayyal could have been potential candidates for
      high-ranking clerical positions, the source said, and the accusations
      could be part of an attempt to thwart their candidacies.

      “Or an attempt at targeting Christian churches in Lebanon,” he added,
      saying that Christians were at risk in the Middle East. He argued that
      this might explain why incidents of sexual harassment at the hands of
      the clergy have only recently surfaced.

      “We are very distressed,” the source said, speaking on behalf of the
      Orthodox Church.

      But Haber was more optimistic, saying he didn’t believe such accusations
      could lead the church to lose its credibility, nor were they necessarily
      part of a conspiracy aimed at targeting Christianity in Lebanon.

      “A small thing such as this does not erase such a long history, nor
      would a flaw efface the good deeds of a clergymen,” he said, adding that
      "reptence can redeem all."

      The case comes just a few months after that of Lebanese priest Mansour
      Labaki, a renowned cleric who was sentenced to a life of penitence and
      isolation by the Vatican following a conviction for sexually abusing at
      least three children, as well as soliciting sex.

      Of the recent rise in such sexual harassment cases, Haber said there
      were many allegations under trial, “but nothing is concrete so far.”

      “Anything related to sexual behavior is highlighted, it is the most
      read,” he added, saying that social media platforms make the allegations
      available to everyone.

      While some may consider the punishment for sexual assault cases
      relatively mild, Haber said: “The repercussions of its measures are to
      heal the clergy and the community at the same time. From this
      perspective, it is enough.”

      “It is not the church’s job to incriminate a religious figure, so it is
      adequate within a certain judgment using all methods and means,” Haber
      added.

      Pope Francis had recently vowed to take allegations of abuse more
      seriously than the Catholic Church has in the past, and has created a
      commission aimed at protecting children from sexually abusive priests.
      But there is a lack of transparency surrounding cases of sexual
      harassment. Unlike cases filed with the Supreme Court or the Court of
      Cassation, where records are kept and there is some degree of
      transparency, such procedures in the Vatican are coded by secret.

      As for the pope’s reforms to the Vatican legal system which saw the
      criminalization of sexual violence and child pornography, such measures
      only apply to Vatican City, and not to all Catholics, Marco Ventura, an
      expert on the Vatican legal system, told The Daily Star last year.

      The rising number of abuse cases is not limited to Lebanon alone;
      disturbing stories of sexual abuse by notable priests have recently
      emerged globally, with the Catholic Church publicizing several files to
      the public in a bid to be more transparent. But in most cases, clergymen
      found guilty are sent away for treatment and assigned to different
      parishes when they return, with very few actually serving time in prison.

      Kayyal’s lawyer Joelle Shaker recently released a statement to LBCI,
      also denying statements that Kayyal had molested the 10-year-old, and
      confirming claims that the accusations stemmed from a personal dispute
      involving money.

      “We will not go into debates around the subject as long as it is still
      in the hands of the judiciary, in which we have complete trust, and in
      its integrity and transparency, especially because issues relating to
      the file are running normally, knowing that the case was a result of a
      monetary dispute,” the statement said.

      It added that the father first responded by claiming fraud and sexual
      harassment, which he later retracted, and then made the claim that his
      son was sexually harassed.

      The statement said that the sessions were proceeding as normal, and
      psychologists as well as doctors involved in the case also denied the
      harassment claims.

      Secretary for the Clerical Court Father Melhem Hourani, who is involved
      in the case, told The Daily Star he was not at liberty to divulge any
      information regarding either the boy’s father or Kayyal, but said the
      case was being followed up.


      A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily
      Star on January 27, 2014, on page 4.