A Black Prince of the Church

Author: Garry Clifford
Date Published: 09/28/1987
Publication: People Magazine

Scorning his vows, Bishop Anthimos Draconakis, says Despina Gallas, seduced her and left her emotionally ravaged

Bishop Anthimos Draconakis was 43 and a fast-rising prince of the Greek Orthodox Church when he first laid his unsettling gaze on Despina Gallas. The dark-haired, intense Anthimos was presiding at a banquet honoring his enthronement as Bishop of Pittsburgh, yet his admiration for the young girl seated at another table was unconcealed. A woman sitting next to Despi found it curious that a high priest pledged to celibacy should look so provocatively at a 17-year-old in braces. But Despi Gallas, the innocent and sexually naive daughter of a priest, says she did not even suspect the meaning of that look.

Today, 10 years later, Despi is a pitiably thin anorexic whose eating disorder, her doctors say, threatens her life. In this first public disclosure of her decade-long ordeal, she says she is the victim of a tormented love affair with Bishop Anthimos. She says the hierarch seduced her into sexual servitude when she was 18 years old and pursued the affair for three years. The relationship ended in 1982, she claims, when he threatened her with a loaded gun. The scandal, while being kept from public view, has shaken the hierarchy of the Greek Orthodox Church, which claims close to 3 million American members. Anthimos denies Despi’s allegations, but in 1983 he was transferred from his prestigious post as Bishop of Boston and installed as Bishop of Denver, where he presides over relatively few Greek Orthodox faithful. Yet despite the apparent demotion, Anthimos is said still to be a leading candidate for one of his church’s highest posts, Primate of North and South America, when the incumbent Archbishop Iakovos, 76, steps down.

Anthimos’ punishment, says Father George Gallas, Despi’s father, ”was just a slap on the wrist, and the hypocrisy and double standard of the church just sicken me. They provided him with sanctuary and a graceful exit so he could go somewhere else and do the same thing all over again. We are the victims.”

For his attempts to win justice for his daughter, Father George has suffered financial hardships and rejection by his church. Despina, who was a 5 ft.6 in., 130-lb. classic Greek beauty with dark brown eyes and jet black hair before the alleged affair with Anthimos, has dwindled to a mere 80 lbs. Her self-starvation has left her emaciated and bent, her face pinched to a gaunt mask. Bishop Anthimos and the Orthodox Church hierarchy have been repeatedly asked to comment on the Gallas family’s allegations. Anthimos has not done so, but his secretary says, ”The girl is a kook. She fantasized this and it’s a hallucination.” Peter Kourides, attorney for the archdiocese, responds that the evidence presented in April 1983 ”did not justify charges against Bishop Anthimos before an ecclesiastical court . . . since that time no appeal has been taken. . . .” What follows is based largely on accounts by Despi and those who believe her. ”The doctors tell me I need to tell this story, to get it out,” she says. ”The doctors say I am like an accident victim who has to go around with the injuries.”

In 1977, when Anthimos began a seemingly innocent friendship with Despi Gallas, her father was dean of the Pittsburgh cathedral, seat of Anthimos’ bishopric. An impressionable and sheltered teenager, Despi was flattered by the attentions of a powerful bishop, and neither she nor her parents sensed anything inappropriate in the prelate’s conduct. When her father was transferred to Longmeadow, Mass., the following June, says Despi, her relationship with Anthimos began to change.

The bishop invited her to Pittsburgh for a feast-day celebration, and while saying goodbye, says Despi, he kissed her on the lips. ”I had never been kissed before,” she says. ”We were taught bishops were up there with God, and I was confused because I didn’t know what that meant, that kind of kiss.”

After his enthronement as Bishop of Boston in 1979, says Despi, Anthimos stepped up his courtship. She says he created situations that would allow the two of them to be alone and began making open sexual advances, though it still seemed impossible to her that Anthimos actually wanted to have intercourse. Priests are permitted to be married in the Greek Orthodox Church only if they wed before ordination. If they are unmarried at that time, they must take a vow of celibacy, which Anthimos had done in 1956. Yet, says Despi, here was Anthimos demanding she go to bed with him.

Despi resisted, but continued to meet with him. ”I guess you could say he had won me over,” she admits. ”From the very first he was an interesting man. He had a certain type of charisma and a mesmerizing type of appeal.” Finally, she says, one night in May 1979 while her parents were away, Anthimos persuaded Despi to let him come to her parents’ house. Once there, she says, he stripped off his clothes and demanded she have sex with him. ”I had fallen in love with him,” she says, and so she gave in.

”I never liked the sex,” Despi insists. ”The kisses and hugs, yes, but after the first day he knew he had me hooked and he got me into sex that I never knew existed. It became a game of ‘You’ll do what I want or I won’t see you.’ ” Among other things, Anthimos enjoyed anal intercourse, which Despi says he forced on her, once even beating her when she protested. Anthimos was salaciously sacrilegious, she says, and tended to choose church holy days for his most outrageous liaisons with her. Once, she reports, during the 1981 Easter holidays, while his mother was in the kitchen, Anthimos took Despi into his room and threw her down on top of his freshly ironed bishop’s vestments. ”Inside of all bishop’s vestments are bells that jingle,” says Despi. ”They are put there to announce the bishop’s arrival and ward off evil spirits. The bells were jingling and I started to laugh. He was angry and afraid his mother would hear. ‘Tell her the devil made you do it,’ I told him.”

The Anthimos Despi came to know was quite different from his pious public persona. She says he enjoyed tormenting his mother, who did not speak English, in small ways. ”Once,” says Despi, ”we were driving her to get new eyeglasses and he turned to her and said in English, ‘Do you know that we’re doing it together?’ ” The bishop, says Despi, came up with ingenious justifications for their affair. ”First he told me that he had a dream that he talked to God and the Good Lord said it was okay,” says Despi. ”Another time, he said to me, ‘There is no God.’ I said, ‘Then why are you a bishop?’ He said, ‘It’s a job and I get to tell people what to do and I have power.’ He liked that. He would go around telling people, ‘You are not kissing the hand of Bishop Anthimos, you are kissing the hand of Jesus Christ.’ ”

After their affair had been underway for nine months, says Despi, Anthimos maneuvered her within easier reach by appointing Father Gallas as his chancellor in Boston. The move was costly, forcing Gallas to take a second job as a weekend parish priest while Despi’s mother, Mersene, became a secretary in Anthimos’ office. Mother and father worked in the diocesan residence for the next three years, never suspecting that their daughter, who was working at a hospital, was spending evenings upstairs in the bishop’s bedroom.

Despi’s sister, Sia, however, noticed the fine jewelry that Anthimos brought to Despi, and began to wonder about the friendship. When Sia confronted her sister, Despi accused her of jealousy. She insisted that, despite church law, Anthimos would marry her as she said he had promised. ”I tried to tell her repeatedly that he was using her, that he was not going to do what he said,” says Sia. ”He was a bastard. I’d watch her sitting there, waiting for his call. Sometimes he would call, other times not. It was her first love and I couldn’t dissuade her.”

Despi now says she allowed herself to be deceived because she had grown to crave Anthimos’ attentions, however callous or casual. But his spell over her was finally broken, she says, when he made a suggestion that revealed his contempt for her. On Holy Wednesday in April 1982, while her father was leading services in the cathedral, Despi and Anthimos were lying in bed together when he broached the subject of a sexual threesome. He mentioned a friend of his, an archbishop who lives outside the U.S. ”Anthimos said, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to be in bed with an archbishop on one side of you and a bishop on the other?’ ” says Despi. Outraged, she refused, and his behavior that day further disillusioned her. ”It finally struck me. It came all at once,” she says. ”He got what he wanted from me, then he said something like, ‘Okay, time’s up. You have to go.’ I blew. I felt like a whore. A piece of scum.” The ensuing fight, Despi believes, led three months later to the bizarre and frightening events of her last tryst with Anthimos.

She and Anthimos visited a sick parishioner, then drove back to his house, where he downed four glasses of raki, a Greek liquor. Anthimos was angry that day, demanding frequent sex of all varieties, says Despi, and the drink made him rougher. Afterward, she recalls, he went over to his nightstand, opened a blue box and took out some metal objects, which she assumed were some of the Greek coins he used as slugs to cheat the highway tollbooths. But they were bullets. ”All of a sudden he was in front of me holding a gun,” says Despi. ”He was nude, and laughing like a psycho. ‘Your money or your life,’ he said to me. I thought it was a joke. When he saw I wasn’t doing anything, he came around and put the gun right up to my forehead and repeated, ‘Your money or your life.’ ”

Despi says she fled to the bathroom, wondering with each passing second whether she would be shot. Finally, she pulled her clothes on and started to run down the stairs. ”He came after me and I said, ‘What were you going to do, kill me?’ There was no answer. He kept following me, and as I ran to my car he said, ‘I love you.’ ”

Terrified, Despi tore through the streets of Boston in her car, arriving home in a hysterical state. Sia was there, and after much pleading, Despi told her what had happened. ”When she told me, I just couldn’t stomach it anymore,” says Sia. ”I insisted she tell my parents.” Father George and Mersene could hardly comprehend what they heard. ”I was horror-stricken,” says Gallas. ”We got numb as all the sordid details came out.” The priest says he wanted to grab his hunting rifle and go after Anthimos. ”It took a while to get hold of myself,” he says. ”I tried to be moral, religious. I felt that the church would uphold me and my family.”

At first, it seemed as if the church would indeed side with Despi and Father George. Archbishop Iakovos came home from vacation as soon as he learned of the brewing scandal and interviewed Despi and her father. ”He believed Despi’s story and he told us so,” says Father George. But Iakovos persuaded Gallas that for the good of the church he should keep the affair quiet and resign from his position with Anthimos. In return, he would be given a major post elsewhere.

Three days after Father George resigned, Bishop Anthimos was summoned to New York, where Iakovos confronted him with the accusations. Says Despi: ”My friend who was the secretary said all the color drained out of (Anthimos’) face. He asked the archbishop for 15 minutes so he could collect himself, and then when he came back he accused me of being crazy and making up the entire episode.” (The secretary has since died.) As word of the confrontation spread through the ecclesiastical grapevine, supporters of Anthimos planted counter-rumors suggesting that Despi and her father had an incestuous relationship. The promised post was repeatedly delayed, so Gallas accepted a lesser job as chancellor to Bishop Kallistos in Astoria, N.Y.

Despi, meanwhile, had been seeing a psychiatrist, and the family’s medical bills were mounting. She had suffered a mild bout of anorexia at age 14, triggered when her family criticized her for being overweight, and the renewed stress of the Anthimos affair apparently plunged her back into the syndrome. Those familiar with Despi’s psychiatric profile say they have no reason to believe she is lying or delusional. Steven Levenkron, an authority on eating disorders who is treating Despi’s anorexia, believes it would have been beyond her powers of imagination to make up the things that she says were done to her. At her father’s insistence, with the aim of establishing her innocence, Despi submitted to a lie detector test administered by private detective Leighton Hammond. ”I spent two or three hours with her going over this in detail and I don’t believe she fantasized any of this,” he says.

In February 1983 Iakovos invited Father George and Despi to his home. Despi refused to go, fearing Anthimos would be present. He was, and Iakovos tried to get the two men to patch up their dispute. Anthimos said he would withdraw his accusations of incest if Father George would withdraw the family’s charges. Gallas refused and demanded that Anthimos be made to take a lie detector test. Iakovos subsequently, on two occasions, ordered the bishop to submit to a test. Anthimos, who has sworn on the Bible that it is Despi who is lying, has steadfastly refused. Later, Iakovos urged Father George to sue Anthimos, then reneged by laying down a new church law forbidding clergy to bring civil suits. The Gallas family can only speculate as to the reason for Iakovos’s about-face. ”Anthimos,” says Despi, ”has something on everyone.”

On April 21, 1983, nine months after charges were first lodged against Anthimos, the 10 bishops of the American Greek Orthodox synod met to consider the case. During a five-hour secret session that Anthimos attended, the girl and her father waited in vain to be called to testify. The synod ordered Anthimos to take a six-month leave of absence pending reassignment. He defied the order and went to Istanbul to appeal to Patriarch Dimitrios I, who upheld the synod. On Dec. 4, 1983, Anthimos was enthroned as Bishop of Denver, a position specially created for him, which has authority over 14 western states but only 20,000 church families.

By April 1985 Despi’s condition, which had already required one hospitalization, began to deteriorate once more and she became an outpatient at the Albany Medical College Eating Disorders Clinic. Father George took a three-month leave of absence from his Astoria parish to be with his daughter. The church, which had stopped paying Despi’s medical bills, agreed to keep paying his salary for that period, but when Father George requested a transfer to the Albany area so that Despi could undergo treatment for one to two years, there was no reply and the checks stopped. When Father George asked the archdiocese what he was supposed to do, he says, ”I was told to go out and get a job. I took off my collar, put on a shirt and tie and went out.”

At 61, after 34 years as a priest, the only work he could find was managing a McDonald’s restaurant. ”There I was on the Connecticut Turnpike, flipping burgers, cleaning toilets, mopping floors,” he says. ”There were times that I really blasphemed from here to Timbuktu.” When he could no longer make his mortagage payments on his slender income, Father George had his lawyer write to the archdiocese with the implicit threat of a court case. Within three days the archdiocese made Gallas pastor of St. Athanasios Church in Paramus, N.J.

Despi is now living with her grandmother in Connecticut while she struggles to recover from her anorexia. She recently lost more weight and has been unable to shake an infection, raising fears that she may have to be hospitalized again. ”I don’t know why I can’t eat,” she says. ”Maybe it is my way of fighting back. It is the wrong way, but everything else is upside down.” Perhaps what she needs is something her therapists cannot provide, something that echoes in her father’s plea: ”I want truth and justice to prevail.”