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News 20 May 15

Move to Axe Bishops Splits Serbian Church

Attempts by the Serbian Orthodox Church Synod to axe misbehaving bishops have divided Church leaders - and point to a growing split between reformers and hardliners.

Sasa Dragojlo
BIRN
Belgrade
SPC highest officials gather in Belgrade for the annual meeting of the Holy Assembly. | Photo by Beta

The annual Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church on Wednesday said it was relieving from duty its Canadian Bishop, Georgije Djokic, following complaints of misconduct and corruption.

Serbia's daily Blic newspaper reported that the Bishop has denied the charges, claiming that he turned round one of the Church's most neglected dioceses.

The Church Assembly must now also decide on whether to support or overrule a March 12 decision of Holy Synod, chaired by the Patriarch, to dismiss another bishop, Bishop Filaret of Mileseva in western Serbia.

Filaret is also facing dismissal, following accusations by some of his clergy of financial abuses. Criticism of the Bishop mounted in January after Filaret gave an award to Vojislav Seselj, the leader of the ultra-nationalistic Serbian Radical Party and a war-crimes defendant. Filaret presented him with the Church’s Order of the White Angel.

The issue of disciplining the two bishops has divided the Church - by far the most powerful religious organisation in Serbia.

One group of bishops, led by Irinej of Vojvodina, has signed a petition urging the Synod to review its decisions about both Georgije and Filaret.

The petition was signed by 21 of the 37 active bishops. They say that the Synod has made decisions contrary to the Church's own regulations.

Nikola Knezevic, an expert on church matters, told BIRN that the Church was at a turning point, with serious conflicts emerging between the bishops about corruption and nationalistic acts and statements.

He says one faction in the Church wants major changes and to break away from nationalistic ideology. Others view the Church through the prism of the old national and political programme.

“I hope that the bishops will find a solution that preserves the unity of the Church, but also suspend the responsable bishops because it is about time the Church made the necessary reforms in order to save its face and address its numerous internal problems,” Knezevic said.

This is the fifth time in five years that the Holy Synod has suspended senior clerics.

The Synod consists of the Patriarch and four other bishops and is elected by the Church Assembly for a term of two years.

However, only the Church Assembly can make a final decision on the dismissal of bishops since this is the body that elects and appoints new bishops.

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