Greek Church rattled by controversy

Author: Giorgios Hatzimanolis
Date Published: 11/04/2004
Publication: Neo Kosmos

Archbishop Stylianos claims allegations are unfounded and are being fuelled by a senior clergyman who no longer belongs to the Archdiocese of Australia.

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia was rocked last week by sex abuse allegations and a public dispute with the leader of the Greek Orthodox Church of New Zealand.

In a letter addressed to the Greek Orthodox faithful, Archbishop Stylianos, the head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia, categorically denied any sex abuse allegations against the Church and condemned newspapers The Adelaide Advertiser and Ellinikos Kirikas for publishing what he described as defamatory reports.

The Advertiser last week claimed the Greek Orthodox Church had been drawn into the sex-abuse storm that has been enveloping the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches, with an Adelaide man alleging he was sexually assaulted by a senior member of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese.

The man, now 20, is taking legal action against the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, over the alleged abuse and treatment that followed it.

He alleges he was subject to inappropriate sexual behaviour by the ordained official. The alleged abuse occurred at a theological college last year.

In his letter, Archbishop Stylianos says the allegations are totally unfounded and while he refuses to name the student at the heart of the controversy, the Archbishop claims his case is well known amongst educators and the student had been expelled by the theological college.

Archbishop Stylianos claims the allegations are being fuelled by a senior clergyman who no longer belongs to the Archdiocese of Australia and says the matter is being closely monitored by the Church and its solicitors.

Lawyer Nicholas Pappas, acting for Archbishop Stylianos, has acknowledged the Church has received a letter of intention from the former student’s Lawyer Susan Litchfield, who said if settlement negotiations were unsuccessful court action would be initiated.

She said her client alleges he had been sexually assaulted, in the form of inappropriate touching and stroking, by the church official on three occasions.

Mr Pappas said any allegations of inappropriate conduct by the official “are strenuously denied”.

“The Archdiocese views these matters very seriously, has a very good record in this area and investigates matters thoroughly internally,” he said. “When it responds publicly it does so after a very thorough internal analysis of the facts.”

In his letter, which was to be publicly read out at all Greek Orthodox Churches across Australia yesterday, Archbishop Stylianos urged anyone with any proof regarding this matter to come forward.

In the second incident involving the Greek Orthodox Church last week, the leader of New Zealand’s Greek Orthodox Church, an Australian citizen who was in Adelaide on a personal visit, was ordered out of the country by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia.

Metropolitan Joseph of New Zealand was issued a letter from the Archdiocese ordering him to leave the country immediately because he had arrived without prior consent.

But Metropolitan Joseph ignored the letter, which was sent to him on behalf of Archbishop Stylianos and was signed by his Assistant Bishop in South Australia, Bishop Nikandros, and left Australia, as planned last Friday.

According to Church rules, a bishop must first get written permission from an Archdiocese before entering its jurisdiction.

The leader of New Zealand’s Greek Orthodox Church said he will return to Australia, despite an unwelcome reception from Australian Greek Orthodox Church leaders.

Metropolitan Joseph, who had served in both Melbourne and Adelaide prior to his post in New Zealand, was farewelled by a crowd of more than 40 well-wishers from the Greek community of Adelaide as he boarded a plane for New Zealand.

“I see that even though I left Adelaide almost four years ago, the love of the people is there,” he said.

“Regardless of any other feelings, the love of the people, my former spiritual children, encourages me to continue my efforts in New Zealand in my capacity as an Archbishop of New Zealand.”

Metropolitan Joseph said he ignored the order because his visit was personal.

“I will come again. Whenever I have the need to visit Adelaide, I will come regardless of any order of deportation by such an authority because I belong to the country,” he said.

Metropolitan Joseph has close ties with South Australia as he was Assistant Bishop to Archbishop Stylianos in Adelaide between 1989 and 2001.

Last year, he was promoted to Metropolitan of New Zealand.

He said he had received much support from members of Adelaide’s Greek Orthodox community during the past week.

“They were very upset when they read the article in The Advertiser and they expressed their support and love in many, many ways,” he said.

Among those offering support was Independent Member of the Legislative Council in South Australia, Nick Xenophon who spoke out against Archbishop Stylianos.

Mr Xenophon, who is a member of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia himself, said news of the letter had caused significant alarm among the Greek Orthodox community.

“For Archbishop Stylianos to have reacted in this way and behave like an immigration minister with unchecked powers in ordering the deportation of Archbishop Joseph . . . has angered and baffled many in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese,” he said.

“Many of us have found Archbishop Stylianos’ letter to be deeply offensive and lacking in Christian charity.

“Archbishop Stylianos has further divided the Greek community at a time when its unity should be a priority.”