Defrocked After 68 Sex Case, Priest Faces New Accusation

Author: Jacob H. Fries
Date Published: 04/19/2002
Pangratios Vrionis was defrocked in 1970 after a sodomy conviction.
Pangratios Vrionis was defrocked in 1970 after a sodomy conviction.

A onetime Greek Orthodox priest who was convicted of sodomy in 1970 but later started his own church in Queens was arrested yesterday on charges of sexually abusing a 14-year-old congregant, law enforcement officials said.

The priest, Pangratios Vrionis, 58, turned himself in yesterday morning at the 108th Precinct station house in Woodside, Queens, where he had founded an independent denomination, Holy Orthodox Archdiocese of Vasiloupolis, after he was defrocked following the 1970 conviction, the authorities said.

In the new charges, Mr. Vrionis has been accused of sexually touching a 14-year-old boy in February 1999 and showing him a pornographic videotape while inside the church, St. Fanourios and Gerasimos Cathedral, at 44-02 48th Avenue, according to the criminal complaint. The boy’s mother reported the incident to the authorities two weeks ago, on April 5, the police said.

Mr. Vrionis was arraigned last night on charges of third-degree sexual abuse and attempted sexual abuse. If convicted, he could face up to three months in jail.

In the earlier case, Mr. Vrionis was accused of sexually abusing two 14-year-old boys at his home in Harrisburg, Pa., in 1968, law enforcement officials said. The arrest led to his pleading guilty in 1970 to two counts of sodomy and two counts of corrupting the morals of a minor. He was sentenced to probation.

Leaders with his current church could not be reached for comment last night. According to the church’s Web site, it has parishes in many states as well as in other countries.

Congregants in Woodside said last night that about 65 people attended last Sunday’s services at St. Fanourios and Gerasimos Cathedral, a two-story blue and white stucco building with a wrought-iron fence and a gold-painted door. The community was once largely Greek, but now has a mix of Greeks, Hispanics, Armenians, Arabs and Russians.

One parishioner, Electra Pagoulatos, 55, said she had known Mr. Vrionis for 32 years and said he had been defrocked because he fought with the Greek Orthodox church.

“I don’t believe any of this,” she said, adding that her two children had attended an afternoon program under Mr. Vrionis’s supervision. “I’ve never seen anything wrong and I’m not a stupid person.”

She added, “I never asked him about his fight with the church and I don’t care.”

The Web site describes the denomination as independent and “observant of the canons and tradition of Holy Orthodoxy.” Its name, Vasiloupolis, means royal city in Greek, it said. According to the site, Mr. Vrionis has “a vision for the future of Orthodoxy in America, and is a missionary minded hierarch.”