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Georgian prosecutors silent on Church paedophilia allegations

22 September 2021
A celebration of Family Purity Day at Sameba Trinity Cathedral in Tbilisi. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.

The Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia has refused to say if they are investigating allegations of sexual abuse of children against at least 12 priests which were found in secret documents allegedly leaked from the security services.

A spokesperson for the Prosecutor’s Office repeatedly refused to clarify if they were investigating the matter, instead referring to a statement issued on Saturday that made no mention of the shocking allegations levelled against the Georgian Orthodox Church. 

The statement referred only to an investigation of the authenticity of the leak, who leaked it, and how.

Last week, a cache of over 100,000 files and surveillance records purportedly from the State Security Service (SSG) were leaked to several major Georgian media outlets. The dossiers focussed on religious leaders, including high-ranking members of the Georgian Orthodox Church and included details of alleged corruption, links with Russian security services, drug abuse, murder, and details of the sex lives of clergy, including same-sex relationships.

Several people whose private conversations, including encrypted WhatsApp messages, appear in the files have confirmed their authenticity.

[Read on OC Media: Leaked ‘kompromat’ against the clergy rocks Georgia]

OC Media found allegations of sexual abuse of boys and girls in the files by at least 12 priests who were ostensibly being monitored by the SSG.  No criminal cases have been filed against any of the priests mentioned.

Despite the seriousness of the allegations in the files, one of the priests accused of child abuse told OC Media that no one from the authorities had contacted him to investigate them, either before or after the leak.

‘A penchant for sadism and masochism’

If they are genuine, the files indicate that the Georgian State Security Service actively monitored abuse of children by priests throughout the country for years and did nothing to prevent it from continuing. 

One file dated 22 January 2016 said that a deacon working in a church in Tbilisi had been ‘observed in one-time intimate relationships with underage boys, characterised by a penchant for sadism and masochism’. According to leaked information, ‘the priest was a [Soviet] KGB agent. He still has relations with the authorities of the Russian Federation’.

Another file dated 19 August 2018 spoke of a high-ranking priest ‘who is a completely immoral person. He pays less attention to his ex-wife […] and their children. Constantly trying to find new partners for sex’. 

‘He has intimate relationships with everyone, regardless of gender and age. He has sexual intercourse with both underage girls and boys (he is bisexual, he mentioned in private conversations: “my head Atanase said to me — don’t spare anyone, fuck everybody, regardless of if they are a man or a woman, and I do it”)’, the file says.

Another file dated 22 August 2018 is a short dossier on a clergyman who it said had a ‘non-traditional sexual orientation’ and ‘sexual partners’, and that he had a ‘relationship with an altar boy’. 

‘[The priest] had a relationship with the now-deceased […] who was an altar boy and was a minor at that time. During his [the altar boy’s] disappearance [the priest] together with [the altar boy’s] family members, actively participated in the search for the deceased. [After the altar boy’s body was found] the priest was depressed for a long time. The cleric said in a private conversation that he had also attempted suicide’, the file reads.

OC Media contacted the members of the clergy mentioned in the files, but only three responded, all of whom categorically denied any inappropriate contact with minors.

‘What nonsense, do not call me because of such nonsense. It’s a lie’, one of the accused priests told OC Media.

Another of the priests said that he had never heard about cases of paedophilia in the Georgian Orthodox Church.

He added that he believed the allegations were a plot against him by his enemies within the Church.

A lack of investigation

According to the files, none of the priests mentioned were prosecuted for having sexual contact with minors, but several were suspended from the priesthood or simply transferred to serve in other posts.

Instead of notifying law enforcement agencies about the alleged abuse, the files indicate that the SSG continued to gather information for years.

Several files state that the State Security Service considered it expedient to ‘conduct operative examination of [minors having sexual contact with clergy…] to be used for their own benefit’.

Ana Arganashvili, the Executive Director of the Partnership for Human Rights, told OC Media that the SSG, or anyone else with knowledge of such serious crimes, is obligated to report it to investigative agencies.

Arganashvili said that whether the files were genuine or not, the cases revealed in the files should be investigated immediately.

‘It is unacceptable to first try to find out who and why distributed these files. The priority is the safety of children and, of course, the Prosecutor’s Office should be alerted to these facts’, Arganashvili said. 

‘Even a suspicion of violence against a minor that may not be proven should be investigated. Although unfortunately, we do not see such an approach from the prosecution’, Arganashvili added.

While the scale of the allegations against the Georgian Orthodox Church is unprecedented, this is not the first time priests have been accused of sexually abusing children.

In 2017, a scandal emerged in Borjomi after the parish’s former Bishop, Serapime Jojua, was accused of sending sexually explicit messages and attempting to have sex with a 15-year-old girl. Jojua was not prosecuted.

The incident, as well as another similar case that allegedly took place in 2014, are included in the leaked files.

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