By Ana Maria Touma
In an echo of the sex scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church, the Romanian Orthodox Church is considering unfrocking a bishop for alleged involvement in a sexual relationship with a seminarian.
Romania’s powerful Orthodox Church faces a credibility crisis, as its Synod sat for a two-day meeting on Thursday and Friday to discuss several cases of clerics recently accused of involvement in sexual scandals.
The most prominent case concerns Corneliu Birladenau, the Bishop of Husi, in eastern Romania, who was videotaped having intimate relations with a former seminarian who is currently a priest.
The video footage surfaced in June when anti-graft prosecutors arrested three priests subordinated to the bishop who had tried to blackmail him in exchange for money or positions in the Church.
The Metropolitan of Moldova and Bucovina had already barred the bishop from all clerical and administrative duties, but the Synod still needs to make the final decision.
Romanian Orthodox Patriarchate spokesman Vasile Banescu said the bishop was informed he risked removal from office if he was not able to come up with proof to dismiss the serious accusations.
The bishop attended the meeting on Friday to present evidence supporting his claim that the videos were fake. The session was confidential, however, and all members were asked to leave their mobile phones and all recording devices at the entrance.
“This is the first time in the history of the Romanian Orthodox Church that a senior cleric is on trial in the Synod for such a moral and disciplinary transgression,” Banescu noted on Thursday.
He also said that he had advised the bishop to resign, so the scandal would not damage the image of the entire Church, but the prelate had refused.
In another case, Cristian Pomohaci, a priest in a village in Mures County, in Transylvania, was recorded trying to convince a 17-year-old boy to have sexual intercourse. The priest is under investigation by the Prosecutor’s office. He has been unfrocked already despite having denied the accusations.
The same priest was involved in 2013 in an exorcism, a practice the Romanian Orthodox Church bans. Then, a Church discipline commission sent him to a monastery to pray and repent.
The abbot of a monastery in the northern region of Maramures has meanwhile been accused by a theology student of trying to seduce him. The student published a recording of the conversation of the internet, but the abbot has denied the accusation and said he would prove his innocence in a secular court.
Patriarch Daniel of the Romanian Orthodox Church publicly apologized on July 28 for the “discomfort” created by the scandals to Orthodox believers in Romania.