Holy Synod censures convicted cleric

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Former Larnaca Bishop Chrysostomos has been suspended from his duties by the Holy Synod following his 12-month jail term after being found guilty of sexually assaulting a minor in a historic case.

On Tuesday, the Cyprus Church’s decision-making body decided to censure the 85-year-old senior cleric until his appeal to the Supreme Court is examined.

Until then, the cleric will have no right to participate in any church function, with the Synod retaining the right to alter its decision after the Supreme Court delivers its ruling.

The Synod also instructed the incumbent Larnaca Bishop Nectarios to evict the cleric from the premises of the Larnaca Bishopric, where he resides.

Demonstrators gathered outside the Archbishopric in Nicosia, demanding the former bishop be defrocked.

A demonstration had been called by the Fighting Violence Against Women Network, AKEL’s women’s organisation (POGO) and the Cyprus Animal Party.

In comments to AKEL-affiliated Astra Radio, former MP and head of POGO Skevi Koukouma said the decision leaves room for speculation that the bishop will escape punishment for his actions.

Koukouma complained about how the police handled the demonstration, arguing there were more officers than protesters.

She said the police kept demonstrators confined to the pavement opposite the archbishopric, not allowing them to cross the street.

Reportedly, the Synod hesitated to defrock Chrysostomos, fearing the Supreme Court could overturn the court’s conviction.

The appeal cites that the defendant did not receive a fair trial, as it argues he could not call essential witnesses because some died or had health issues due to the passage of time.

Earlier this month, the former bishop was handed a 12-month suspended sentence, the first time a senior Cyprus Church cleric was convicted of a sex crime.

He was found guilty after a year-long trial, which ended with the Larnaca District Court finding the testimony of the now 58-year-old victim and the defence witnesses credible.

The woman pressed charges in 2021, 40 years after the alleged incident when she had visited the bishop seeking financial help after losing her father in 1981.

In its decision, the court said the time that had passed until the complaint was made does not override its severity.

It argued that the defendant “was a senior cleric, subject to the rules of the high priesthood.

“How was it possible for a 16-year-old to denounce a high priest? Even today, it is a scandal, let alone then.”

This was the second time Chrysostomos has appeared before a court on sexual assault charges.

In a separate rape case, another woman alleged that Chrysostomos offered her an alcoholic beverage before proceeding to rape her.

The Larnaca Criminal Court acquitted him of rape in October 2021 after accusing the victim of making contradictory statements.

At least six more women have come forward with complaints of sexual misconduct against the cleric.