CYPRUS: Morphou bishop cleared of gay hate speech

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Bishop of Morphou Neophytos did not commit a criminal offence with his anti-gay comments that caused public outrage, the attorney-general has ruled.

Cyprus Attorney General Costas Clerides agreed with police findings that the bishop did not commit an offence under the hate speech law in his controversial comments on homosexuals and how they are 'created'.

Clerides ordered a police probe into highly inflammatory comments by the bishop Neophytos about homosexuals, after the LGBTI Accept movement reported him for hate speech.

In a statement, Clerides said the investigation file was sent back to the police with the instruction of no further action as no criminal offence appears to have been committed.

“Although the Bishop’s individual references are worthy of criticism and possibly disagreement, the whole context of his statements and the explanations he gave on the actual meaning of words and phrases, which he used to refer to the positions of the Church,” said Clerides

“They do not equate with an attempt to incite violence or hatred because of sexual orientation or gender identity, nor can they be described as hate speech within the meaning of the law,” his statement added.

Clerides said the remarks were made in the context of an open dialogue on spirituality where questions were asked from the public on all subjects and answers were provided from the podium.

However, the island’s top law officer said spiritual leaders like the Greek Orthodox Bishop “should avoid clumsy and unintelligible expressions”.

A criminal investigation was launched in August, into comments made by the bishop who claimed that “homosexuality is usually a problem transferred to a foetus, when a pregnant woman has anal sex and enjoys it”.

The probe was ordered after LGTBI Accept movement's president Costas Gavrielides, also an adviser to the Cyprus president on acceptance and diversity, requested the attorney general look into the matter of homophobic speech.

He said that in four years since adoption of the law on hate speech, police have not investigated a complaint nor launched legal proceedings for homophobic or transphobic  hate speech.

Bishop Neophytos made his derogatory comments during a public debate on ‘spiritual dialogue’ at a school premises in Akaki, where he also said that “gays have a different smell”.

His comments were widely condemned, while the Church distanced itself from the bishop’s comments.

LGTBI Accept said it was “disappointed” by the outcome which proved the law was ineffective.

The Morphou Bishop was also accused of insulting the memory of the children who fell victims to convicted serial killer Nicos Metaxas.

Neophytos said that it was hypocritical to be saddened by the death of two children killed by Metaxas when Cyprus carries out so many abortions.

The Cypriot bishop caused a furore after excerpts of his June comments went viral.

Cyprus decriminalised homosexuality in 1998 and has rolled back previous conservative attitudes to same sex relationships.

It outlawed discriminating against gay people in 2004 and brought in civil unions in 2015.