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NO 173-174

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INFO   :::  Helsinki Charter - PAGE 1 > Helsinki Charter No. 173-174 > Text


Helsinki Charter No. 173-174

March - April 2013


Serb Orthodox Church

The Life and Adventures of a Porn Gang

The Assembly of the Serb Orthodox Church scheduled for May 29 – June 3, 2013 will discuss the issues of Kosovo and church property. The agenda is not final yet. Some say Kacavenda and Pahomije scandals will also be placed on it, this way or another. So, on this occasion the state of Serbia, which has been ridiculing secularism in tandem with the biggest religious organization, could get new directives, including those for judicial treatment of the cases of pedophiliac bishops.

By Bojan Tončić


While pedophiliac scandals starring Bishop of Zvornik-Tuzla Vasilije (Ljubomir Kacavenda), a.k.a. Devilish Bishop, and Bishop of Vranje Pahomije (Tomislav Gacic) shake the Serb Orthodox Church, baleful details of the lives of these two church dignitaries are leaking despite the once ironclad wall of silence. The two bishops have been accused of years-long sexual abuse against juveniles: a porn video showing Bishop Vasilije in sexual intercourse with four students of the Cetinje Seminary was the biggest attraction of all. Papers quoted people who saw some taped scenes, this clerical artifact found its way to the market, whereas the police clumsily denied its well-organized action against trade of the videotape and its confiscation. “I have asked the Ministry of the Interior of Serbia either to confirm or deny the stories about the alleged arrest of suspects of the crime published in some papers,” said Bishop Vasilije. He also announced a lawsuit against, as he put it, “all those who have been smearing us and publicizing tons of lies.” Interestingly, he refused to answer the question about the existence of the videotape. All he said was that he would speak about it once the police had answered his questions. He was feeling his way for defense, whereas the pronoun “us” could have only referred to the church fathers. Besides, no one but reporters has talked to Bishop Vasilije so far.

As for Bishop Pahomije, he has not been summoned yet by the Basic Court in Vranje, which initiated criminal proceedings, although the second scandal about his sexual abuse of students of the Vranje Seminary broke on March 30. He was also not interrogated by the police, which is rather weird considering police interrogation of several civilians and priests in his eparchy. Obviously, the time is still not ripe for Pahomije, fully protected by the state when the first scandal broke out.


Collective watching of the incriminatory tape

According to the Blic daily (April 16), the highest church dignitaries had the opportunity to see for themselves that many allegations against Bishop Vasilije were justified. All members of the Synod, including the Bishop himself, watched the tape. Allegedly, the Bishop agreed to retire and put it in writing for the attention of the Synod. However, as soon as he left Belgrade he began petitioning against his retirement. Many priests signed the petition out of fear of losing their jobs. The same as the police the Bishop denied that he had been arrested and tried to buy off the movie with him in the leading role. Then he threatened the media. According to some sources – first quoted by the Sarajevo-based Dnevni Avaz and then by the Dani weekly and Blic from Belgrade - father Nikolaj Stamatovic, provost of the monastery in the ethno-village of Stanisici nearby Bijeljina, and one young man tried to sell the porn video to ex-deacon Bojan Jovanovic for 100,000 Euro. Jovanovic reported them to the police. In an interview with the Radio Free Europe he said Stamatovic had been arrested for dissemination of pornography.

“After long consideration father Nikolaj /Stamatovic/ sent me a message that I could get the movie for one hundred thousand Euros. The 90-minute movie has been shot in the Bishop’s house in Bijeljina and in Belgrade, in Bishop Vasilije Kacavenda’s apartment. When I saw it I said it should be double-checked for a possible montage. The two of them agreed that the movie should be inspected by an expert and told us to prepare 100,000 Euro for it. Then I informed my lawyer about everything, we arranged a meeting with them and invited two witnesses.

We met in the “Slavija” hotel. We saw the movie showing Bishop Vasilije engaged in oral sex and other activities with young guys. Then we told the two, ‘Look, guys, even watching this video is a crime. So, you should better turn it over to the police.’ They refused to go to the police, they didn’t want any troubles with them, and stuck to their plan for selling the video for 100,000 Euro. He sent me another message telling me to quit playing games, that too many people have already saw the movie and to immediately prepare the moneys or else they would offer it Bishop Grigorije. I agreed to their terms but also reported everything to the police…At the police station they confessed that they had tried to sell me the video and said they had already delivered it to the Synod. So, deeds, not words, matter most,” said Jovanovic.

As it seems, he is also a crown witness. He claims he himself was Kacavenda’s victim. “He tried to rape me on several occasions and by compromising me include me in his circle. He suggested that I should bring him children under age of ten from the school where I taught religious teaching, which I refused to do. I witnessed provosts of other monasteries bringing seminary students to spend nights with Bishop Vasilije,” said Jovanovic.

The Kacavenda case has been in the limelight for years. In November 2012 the Synod released that the Bishop of Tuzla was ill but asked to perform his duties till the Assembly scheduled for May 2013. The Synod had been faced with many evidence against Kacavenda, his assaults at young men, students of the Cetinje Seminary, his spending freely the church and municipal funds on luxuries, his gold-plated premises…Finally, faced with written documents about students complaining to their spiritual leaders, the Synod realized that the affair could be swept under the carpet no longer.


Years of unpunished crimes

According to Belgrade papers, the Bishop was usually making children have sex with him by recruiting poor seminary students, first winning them over with gifts and then money – meager monthly “stipends” of some 100 Euro. As more and more people were aware of his tendencies he had to bribe them too with the money the Bijeljina municipality was setting aside for the church. The Sarajevo-based Dnevni Avaz, which broke the news in the first place, run a story about the suicide of Milic Blazenovic, 19-year-old seminary student from the village of Porjecina near Petrovo. On May 23, 1999 in the Papraca monastery nearby Zvornik Blazenovic killed himself with a hand grenade. Lawyer Dusko Tomic representing Blazenovic mother told Avaz he had doubts about the official version of the case.

“A hand grenade cannot lacerate a young man’s hand and head, only some modified explosive device could have done that to him. His suicide note was typewritten, which persons intent to kill themselves never do. He fist complained against Bishop Kacavenda to this grandparents and then to his parents who told him to come back home immediately. He did not because he loved the church. And his paid this love with his life. His mother Dragica put everything in black and white. Her testimony is now on the desk of Patriarch Irinej and the Synod will soon discuss the affair,” said Tomic.

Kacavenda’s construction enterprises – as a rule erected on Bosniaks’ expropriated lands – and the luxury he surrounded himself which cost the municipal budget some two million convertible marks each year, reported the paper. Ten years later, after 2003, Bishop Pahomije was once again accused of sexual abuse. Testimonies by the boys attending the Vranje seminary broke the scandal. The Basic Prosecution Office in Vranje initiated criminal investigation against Tomislav Gacic, Bishop Pahomije, when Nemanja S., warehouser of the Vranje eparchy, accused him of sexual abuse. This is what Tomo Zoric, spokesman of the Republican Public Prosecution, and Zorin Zogovic, head of the Higher Prosecution in Vranje, told the Vranjske weekly, the magazine that broke the Pahomije scandal.


Mutual accusations in the Vranje eparchy

Evasive statements the two above-mentioned prosecution officers gave in early April indicate that Bishop Pahomije has not been interrogated yet. Zogovic said the prosecution was checking out the material compiled by the police to make sure whether or not there were “elements for raising an indictment and initiating criminal proceedings.” Nemanja S. accused Pahomije of years-long sexual abuse, saying he was only 16 when he had to spend his first night with the Bishop, on July 6-7, 2004. The Bishop had told Nemanja to wait for him in his premises in the monastery well after midnight to discuss his poor grades in his freshman year at the seminary. Instead of talking to him Pahomije had tried to molest him.

According to Vranjske, the Police Crime Department’s report details many similar assaults against Nemanja S. over years and names the people who should be better informed about everything by the very nature of their offices in the eparchy. On the other hand, the Vranje eparchy pressed criminal charges against Nemanja S., accusing him of under the counter dealings (goods worth some 30,000 RSD ‘disappeared’ from the warehouse) and fabrication of the sexual scandal so as to hush up the theft.

As for Nemanja S., he claimed Pahomije had molested him until he collected courage to go to the police. Once he spilled the beans the Bishop started calling him: he wanted them to meet and discuss the matters, which Nemanja S. refused. The fact that the Bishop has not been interrogated yet and that the prosecution builds the case on testimonies by persons depending on Pahomije for their jobs associates the shameful trial of citizen Tomislav Gacic for sexual abuse of four boys, seminary students from Vranje. A series of arrangements between the church and the state protracted the trial until it turned time-barred under limitation act. When the Supreme Court of Serbia pronounced that the said trial had been “faulty” in many ways to the detriment of the plaintiffs, the four boys were compensated one million RSD each, whereas Pahomije remained in office.


Church dignitaries in governmental business

The public reaction when these scandals broke was that the Church should respond appropriately and get rid of dignitaries as such, although it was about grave crimes that should be in the state’s domain. The manner in which Bishop Vasilije was exposed to ridicule when the information about the video testifying of his deviancy leaked caused additional pain to victims. Be it as it may, there are no guarantees that state institutions are independent – not yet at least, since the Kacavenda case has not been turned to the judiciary. The police would not reveal the information collected, while the Prosecution interrogates not the persons reported for committing crimes against juveniles.

The Assembly of the Serb Orthodox Church scheduled for May 29 – June 3, 2013 will discuss the issues of Kosovo and church property. The agenda is not final yet. Some say Kacavenda and Pahomije scandals will also be placed on it, this way or another. Such expectations might be too optimistic the same as the chances for the state and the church to provide more information about tax free dealings of the church equal science fiction. Namely, in February 2013 the public learned that church treasurer Srba Zikic had stolen 840,000 Euro, 1.9 million RSD, 40,000 Swiss francs and 50,000 US dollars from money-filled church mattresses. And no one wondered how come that the church kept money where it should not be kept, while Zikic was stigmatized in the media for stealing in the era of puritanical Patriarch Pavle. The later would not allow deposits of the church money – as it seems, he preferred opposite transfers that are illegal but profitable.

The May Assembly will be the occasion for the state of Serbia, which has been ridiculing secularism in tandem with the biggest religious organization, to get new directives, including those for judicial treatment of the cases of pedophiliac bishops.


NO 173-174

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