IT WAS difficult not to be amused by the Church decision to excommunicate theologian Andreas Pitsillides.
The former DISY deputy and MEP, was not an atheist campaigning against the Church or a heretic trying to start a new Orthodox sect, but a well-read theologian who may have interpreted the scriptures in a less conventional way. Could this justify excommunication, in these pluralist times in which everyone has a public opinion and everything is being questioned, challenged, re-interpreted and mocked?
Excommunication seems a Church punishment from another era. The last time the bishops imposed this punishment, which is meant to shame and exclude someone from society, was under the colonial government in 1931, the victims being poet Tefkros Anthias, who wrote a collection of irreverent poems, the publisher of the book and a man that wrote supportive articles in the press. Nobody has suffered this sanction since and it was thought it had been consigned to the dustbin of history.
In its defence, the Church claimed it had repeatedly advised Pitsillides to be less outspoken and forceful, especially when discussing matters on which it had a clear line, but he refused to listen. The bishops saw this as contempt for the Church and Orthodox dogma and decided it had to be punished. They had behaved more like religious fundamentalists that do not tolerate any dissent or deviation from dogma; and the punishment was far too harsh for the ‘crime’ of having a different interpretation of the holy books.
It was not a very clever move, exposing the Church hierarchy’s complete lack of touch with the times. People cannot be punished in this day and age for having unconventional views or challenging Church dogma. Such decisions would come under intense public scrutiny and would inevitably reinforce the perception that the bishops were backward, obscurantist, arrogant and vindictive. Was this how they hoped to make more young people embrace the Church – by excommunicating a relatively young theologian who appealed to the young?
This is not to say that Pitsillides – a publicity-seeking, television personality – is a paragon of virtue and humility, but the Church could have dealt with him much more sensibly, avoiding the publicity that something unheard of in this day and age like excommunication would bring. Did the bishops not consider that Pitsillides would refuse to accept his punishment with grace and would be in the media every day slamming their backwardness and narrow-mindedness, thus winning the support of many believers? With their short-sighted decision, the narrow-minded bishops may have helped turn Pitsillides into a modern-day martyr, a title he certainly does not deserve.