By George Gilson

Titular Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Dodoni shocked the Greek public and caused an ecclesiastical and political uproar over his preposterous remark in an interview that touched on abortion and rape that a woman must have “participated” and essentially consented to rape if she remains pregnant from a rapist.

“A woman does not sit back and get raped without wanting it. Let’s not go insane now. She does not become pregnant in this way, she must have participated…both must act for a child to be conceived,” said Chrysostomos, who in 2011 resigned from his position as Metropolitan bishop of Zakynthos.

In the past, he has unleashed virulent attacks against the late Archbishop Christodoulos and the current Archbishop Ieronymos.

He stuck to his position even as a panel of journalists, including two men and two women, criticised him by stressing that rape is by definition an act of violence and pressed him to clarify if he actually meant what he said in his unconscionable remarks.

Chrysostomos declared that abortion should be banned even when a child has been conceived due to a rape, and that the Church must offer its blessing to a pregnant woman to have an abortion even if it has been medically determined that the child will have a severe birth defect, but “not if the doctor has been paid off”.

The Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Greece swiftly issued a statement denouncing the bishop’s remarks, noting that he was representing only himself and not the official Church, which as it asserted has stood by abused women and in no way espouses his position.

Uproar leads to apology, anti-abortion encyclical to be read in all churches on Sunday

After the general uproar Chrysostomos said his comments were misconstrued and apologised.

«I want to apologise to any woman who felt slighted by my remarks and to every woman or man who has been the victim of rape,» he said.

The Holy Synod itself recently came under severe fire from a large segment of the public when it decided that for the first time ever that on 8 September, the feast day of the Birth of the Virgin Mary, an encyclical condemning abortion will be read in all churches nationwide.

That decision comes less than three months after the US Supreme Court after half a century overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that guaranteed a woman’s right to abortion in America, and it is unclear if that indirectly served as an impetus for the synod’s decision, as the ruling has kindled a worldwide debate on a woman’s right to abortion.

Certainly, the ruling has buoyed anti-abortion groups in Europe, many of which reportedly receive funding from US groups.

In July, the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Greece for the first time established the “Day of the Unborn Child”.

In January, 2020, there was an uproar when large posters (featuring a large photo of an embryo in the middle surrounded information on the stages of its development) sponsored by the pro-life group “Let me live!”, which collaborates with the Panhellenic Association for the Protection of the Unborn Child, were installed in many Athens Metro stations.

The transport ministry issued a statement that abortion is a guaranteed right of women and strongly urged Urban Rail Transport (STASY) to take down the posters, which it promptly did.

Seven women file lawsuit against Chrysostomos

Pursuant to his statements, seven women filed a lawsuit against Chrysostomos in a Thessaloniki lower court charging him with violation of the anti-racist [anti-discriminatory] law.

In a statement they said: “It is barbaric to be abused twice. We are women and mothers nd some of us have been subjected to physical and verbal violence and have experienced terror and racism. Today we felt the same terror watching television from a person dresses in black who is pretending to be a clergyman and whom the Church in which we so much believe tolerates him pretending to be a clergyman.”

“YOU have abused us DOUBLY, as your words are worse than the rape itself,” they declared.

Chrysostomos and Penthouse magazine

Over two decades ago, in 1998, Chrysostomos raised eyebrows when as Metropolitan bishop of Zakynthos, his home island, he granted an interview to the Greek edition of the sexually explicit Penthouse men’s magazine, in which he expressed views that were certainly more progressive than those of the official church.

He said he approved of pre-marital sex, but that young people should not switch partners frequently.

At the time, a Church lower court tried him on grounds of heresy and “scandalising the faithful”. The former charge was thrown out, but the court’s decision found him guilty of the latter, as well as of granting an interview to a magazine not befitting a bishop “due to negligence”, and of insisting on his position. No punishment was imposed.

Support for anti-abortion encyclical

Chrysostomos staunchly defended the anti-abortion encyclical on the grounds that the majority of Greek society supposedly opposes abortion and that the Church “listens closely to Greek society”.

However, in a 2020 QED poll, 63 percent of respondents recognised a woman’s right to abortion and 37 percent were opposed.

“It is impermissible to permit the destruction of an embryo, a child that once conceived has already begun to become a human life,” the bishop said.

Top ruling party ministers condemn bishop’s position

Though the ruling conservative New Democracy party has always maintained very close relations with the Orthodox Church of Greece – with ministers often standing in the front row at services to be recorded on television cameras on major religious or national holidays – top ministers swiftly condemned the bishop’s remarks after the Synod had clearly denounced them.

Education and Religious Affairs Minister Niki Kerameus, whose remit includes the government’s relations with the Orthodox Church of Greece, lambasted Chrysostomos.

“The statement of the Metropolitan of Dodoni regarding rape are inconceivable and to be condemned. It brutally offends society and is not in line with the stance of the Church, which palpably supports women that are victims of abuse and rape,” she wrote in a tweet.

Tourism Minister Vasilis Kikilias also slammed the Metropolitan bishop.

“The statement of the Metropolitan of Dodoni regarding women who are rape victims is shameful for all of us and slanderous for the Orthodox Christian faith and for our Church, which always offers care to rape victims he said.

Development Minister Adonis Georgiadis, who has close ties to the Church, said that the statement is “entirely unacceptable” and that Chrysostomos “should retract and apologise”.

Holy Synod denounces Chrystostomos’ views

“Today’s statements on the television show “Simera” (SKAI) of the retired Metropolitan of Dodoni Chrysostomos regarding the [supposed] psychological and physical participation of victims in the crime of rape are unacceptable, all the more so for an Orthodox clergyman, and are entirely insulting to the human person, and in particular to women who are victims of rape,” the Synod’s statement read, stressing that Chrysostomos expressed his personal views and not those of the Holy Synod.

“Moreover, his statements regarding rape besmirch and do a grave injustice to the substantial initiatives and the discreet work of the Church of Greece, both on a synodal level and through its Holy Metropolitanates [bishoprics] and their charitable organisations, which daily and palpably stand by abused women through support actions and living spaces, always in collaboration with social services and police authorities,” it underlined.

“The treatment of women without exception as equal to men, and their protection from all manner of abuse, is the official position and stance of the Church of Greece.

“Any divergence from the aforementioned positions of the Holy Synod by a clergyman, regardless of rank, in no way represents the views of the Church of Greece,” the statement concluded.