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Cypriot Clergy in Sex Scandal

Published: October 17, 2000 (Issue # 612)


NICOSIA, Cyprus - Greek Cypriots are watching in horror as an ugly power struggle plays itself out in their scandal-tainted Church.

Already suffering from the fallout of earlier financial scandals, the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus is now having to deal with allegations of sexual misconduct by some of its highest-ranking clerics.

Perhaps more damagingly, the crisis has revealed an institution where relations between its bishops - they call themselves saints - are tinged with venom, and where some have gone to great lengths to smear their adversaries.

In one such case, a man maintained he had sexual relations with a senior male cleric and told a local radio station that he could describe every inch of his lover's body beneath its black vestments. Another has been accused of fathering two children with a devout parishioner.

The accusations, which have been appearing in the media for months, have rattled a society which is conservative by nature and in which sex is a hush-hush subject and homosexuality is definitely taboo.

"People don't want to see the leaders of their church falling to such depths. We don't even see this sort of behavior even during a political election campaign," said theologist Kostis Kyriakides.

Widely credited with preserving the island's Greek Cypriot community during the dominance of numerous conquerors over the centuries, the church, an independent branch of the Eastern Orthodox Church, is now the butt of crude jokes.

Barnabas, one of Christ's first companions and founder of the Church of Cyprus almost 2000 years ago, would be turning in his grave.

The main feud pits Athanassios, the Bishop of the Limassol district, against his "brother" Bishop Chrysostomos, of the neighboring Paphos district.

Athanassios swept to victory in elections for the bishopric of the sprawling southern port city two years ago, pulling through a campaign tainted with allegations that his mentor was an old man with a particular fondness for young nuns.

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