The mother of a 44-year-old monk admitted in court on Thursday that her son never told her he turned to monastic life under duress, nor that he ever claimed to have been confined inside Machairas monastery.
But she insisted that her son, who entered the monastery in 2007, was too afraid to speak his mind.
Maria Theodoulou, the monk’s mother, was being cross-examined in the ongoing trial before the Nicosia district court.
The monk’s family are seeking general damages of up to €2m from Limassol bishop Athanasios, Machairas monastery in Limassol, abbot Epifanios, and the Archbishop in his capacity as the head of the Church.
The plaintiffs claim their son Giorgos Theodoulou was brainwashed and proselytised by Athanasios beginning in 2001.
As a result, they have lost all touch with their son, causing the family emotional distress.
On Thursday, the mother said again that her son was unhappy at the monastery but remained there despite his will – a contention which Athanasios’ lawyer repeatedly challenged.
She also claims the monastery has turned Giorgos against his own family. As an example, she said that when in June 2015 she visited her son there, he threw her out.
But Athanasios’ lawyer countered that Giorgos is angry with his family over the lawsuit and the publicity around it, and that he simply wants to be left alone.
Suggesting that the mother is obsessed with Athanasios, the lawyer pointed out that the Association for Relatives of Cypriot Orthodox monks, numbering some 470 members, has stated they have no problem with the monasteries or with bishop Athanasios.
“What do I care if the others are happy? I care about my own child, who is being destroyed,” the mother responded.
She went on to claim that during the week her daughter started receiving threatening text messages, where the senders accused her family that they are “demons, that we are not of the church.”
Athanasios’ lawyer suggested that these events were figments of her imagination.
He also pointed out that since entering the monastery, Giorgos has conducted scientific research and has had his work published in three leading US periodicals.
During a previous hearing this week, Athanasios’ lawyer claimed that the monk’s family had resorted to underhanded tactics, including a payoff, in order to obtain damaging material against the bishop and use it in the trial.
The material – excerpts of which have since been leaked to local media – consists of recorded audio clips from speeches made by Athanasios to novices in the past. The audio clips purport to demonstrate how the cleric uses language to ensnare impressionable young men.
According to the written sworn statement provided to the court by the monk’s mother, she had personally received a CD containing the audio material from a novice at the same monastery.
The novice – whom she named – has since abandoned monastic life.
But in court on Tuesday, and under questioning by the lawyer, the mother changed her story, saying she did not know the novice in question.
Instead, she claimed, the CD was obtained by her husband. She went on to say she was not acquainted with the novice, had never spoken to him, but that she had seen him a couple of times at her husband’s workplace.
Athanasios’ lawyer put it to the witness that she was being insincere, in that her husband was on friendly terms with the novice’s family.
Seeking to further discredit the witness, the attorney submitted to her that her family had offered the novice money as well as a car – belonging to her husband’s company – in exchange for the CD.
According to the lawyer, the novice – having been approached by the monk’s family – then reached out to Athanasios, asking him for a greater sum of money in order not to release the CD.
Athanasios turned the offer down, the lawyer said.
The next hearing is scheduled for January 23.
The case was filed in 2010. There is no legal precedent for this type of claim, and it’s understood there are dozens of families with similar grievances against the church who are awaiting the outcome of this case.
A second similar case is expected to commence in March, while a third one was filed a month ago.