Greek Orthodox church on defensive after acid attack on bishops

The Greek Orthodox church has been put on the defensive after a priest was accused of an acid attack that injured 10 people, including seven senior bishops.

Three bishops remained in hospital on Thursday, with one reportedly undergoing plastic surgery, while the suspect was due to appear before a public prosecutor. Two lawyers and a police officer were also injured in Wednesday’s attack. Most had burns on their face and hands.

There was embarrassment over how the incident could have occurred inside the building in central Athens where the church’s governing body meets. “In future there should be a policeman, someone who guards the entrance to the Holy Synod,” said the bishop of Glyfada, Antonios, who was among the injured.

The suspect, identified as a 37-year-old hieromon, or teaching monk, had been attending a disciplinary hearing called to formalise his removal from the church. “He was defrocked in 2019,” Antonios told the state-run broadcaster ERT, saying the session was conducted to rubber stamp the decision.

In June 2018 the cleric appeared in court accused of drugs possession after 1.8 grams of cocaine was found hidden under his cassock “in the area of his genitals”, the Greek daily Ta Nea reported. He allegedly said the class A drug was for personal use.

A community leader in the village of Ayia Varvara, where the cleric previously lived, said the cleric had frequently borrowed money from residents that he never repaid. “When he left the village and we cleaned the house, syringes and substances were found,” Spyros Kotsiadis told Skai TV.

Speaking to Acou 996, a local radio station, the bishop of Veria, Panteleimon, described the cleric as having longstanding disciplinary problems, and said he had heard he had no remorse over the attack.

Asked why the priest had been defrocked, the bishop alleged he had faced multiple charges including drug use. “There was a list with everything on it … including criminal [acts].”

He said the attack had made clear the need to improve security at the premises where the church’s governing body of bishops meet in session. “When we have such court meetings we do alert the police … but that is the issue. Measures have to be taken to ensure that not just anyone can walk into the Holy Synod if they don’t go through a [security] machine. They could, after all, be carrying a weapon.”

Greece’s spiritual leader, Ieronymos II, the archbishop of Athens, rushed to the hospital along with the health minister, Vassilis Kikilias. President Katerina Sakellaropoulou condemned the attack.

Greek police said the priest would undergo a psychological assessment and had been transferred to a psychiatric hospital in Athens where he was being detained under police guard. Once the assessment is made, and if he is deemed fit, he will testify before a prosecutor who is expected to formally announce charges.

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