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Fury as ex-bishop given suspended sentence for assault (Update 2)

Former Bishop Chrysostomos of Kition (left)

Former Kiti bishop Chrysostomos was handed a 12-month suspended prison sentence for three years on Thursday, after he was found guilty of assaulting a teenage girl in 1981, when he was still in his post.

The courtroom at Larnaca criminal court erupted into chants of “filthy rapist” as a loud protest took place outside. The bishop was escorted out surrounded by police officers, as demonstrators tried to attack his car while screaming at him.

“First you tell us to break the silence, then you whitewash a rapist,” demonstrators, including women’s groups chanted.

The plaintiff now aged 58 – was 16 at the time he assaulted her and told reporters she had expected to hear a symbolic sentence – not a suspended one, charging the state had been wholly absent throughout.

“We don’t deserve partial justice. Over the past few years, I noticed a glaring absence of justice. It’s time to bring it back to life,” she said.

Judge Evi Efthymiou said she took into account the former bishop Chrysostomos’ advanced age, now 85, and his health issues, as well as the time that has elapsed since the case began. The plaintiff pressed charges in 2021 – 40 years after the incident.

Nonetheless, she expressed disappointment over the former bishop’s attitude that was at times “arrogant and sarcastic”.

Efthymiou expressed she fully accepted the plaintiff’s testimony, recognising there were no other motives behind her decision to come forward.

The 58-year-old woman told reporters: “I understand the reasons the judge put forward and I respect them. Now all that remains is to hear the position of the Holy Synod. I expect the appropriate action to be taken from here on out.”

protest
Some of the protesters outside court on Thursday

Demonstrators held placards reading “hands off our bodies” and “filthy Kiti rapist” while police officers surrounded the former bishop’s vehicle as he left the court.

Policemen physically held back angry demonstrators who repeatedly called him a child rapist, while seeking to hit out at the former bishop’s car.

The plaintiff added: “The state has been absent throughout the entirety of the trial. In essence, you’re just fighting on your own and this is wrong. They tell you to speak out but then you have no one to support you. You need to be strong on your own to succeed.

“Thankfully I endured a lot of hits in my life and it made me strong.”

She said any woman that wanted to reach out to her could do so at any time, as she was ready to do anything she could to help.

The plaintiff claimed that during her first visit to Chrysostomos’ office at the Kiti bishopric in 1981, the bishop sat down beside her on a sofa and began touching her hands.

He assaulted her on her fifth visit when the cleric shoved her, pressed himself on top of her and kissed her on the lips. She began repeatedly screaming “let me out,” at which point she claimed the bishop got off her and opened the door.

She was 16 years old and eight months at the time.

When his lawyer Michalis Pikis sought to mitigate his sentence, he called for the former bishop to have a suspended sentence. Pikis also stressed it was highly likely the Holy Synod may move to defrock the former bishop.

The judge rejected the latter argument, charging Chrysostomos “did not respect the position entrusted to him by the faithful and the Church of Cyprus.”

Efthymiou also said another aggravating factor against the former bishop is the fact that he lured the 16-year-old girl at the time with the promise of helping her financially after the loss of her father.

“Instead of supporting the young woman, who was beaten by life, offering her help, he chose to indecently attack her.”

Not only did he take advantage of her vulnerable situation but he also abused his position of power within the church, where he is supposed to reflect Christian teachings.

Also weighing against the former bishop is the fact that the woman was in a state of hysteria by the time she got home and needed medical intervention to help her recover from the experience. To this day, she still takes medication.

Women’s movement Pogo said it was not at all satisfied with the sentence, particularly after the “historic conviction the court announced a few weeks ago,” when it found Chrysostomou guilty.

“It is the first time that a person in a position of power has been convicted of such a crime, at the expense of a girl who was in a particularly disadvantaged position due to her and her family’s economic and social circumstances.”

The decision is important “because it shakes the view that institutions like the Church are above the law and shakes patriarchal notions that develop in this context,” Pogo concluded.

The judge also adopted mitigating points put forth by Pikis earlier in the trial, that the former Kiti bishop helped to create a number of humanitarian organisations in the district, including an association to fight hunger, an association to battle drug addiction, and he aided in bringing the Kenthea association for this purpose to Larnaca.

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