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
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
"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'
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
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
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
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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