Following the release of a graphic video, the Serbian Orthodox Church accepted the resignation of the bishop of Tuzla and Zvornik in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Bishop Vasilije Kacavenda had already left behind his clerical duties as allegations emerged that he had used his office to engage in sexual orgies involving young girls and boys. The acceptance by the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church on April 22 has been reported to be the first acknowledgement by the church of its disapproval with behaviour that locals have compared to the bacchanals of the infamous Emperor Caligula rather than a Christian atmosphere. The Serbian Orthodox Church claims the allegiance of the majority of the people of Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
According to VOA news, Bojan Jovanovic said he witnessed numerous sexual orgies provided by the 74-year-old Bishop Kacavenda that were attended by fellow priests, along with prominent businessmen. Jovanic is a former theological student in Bijeljina, the seat of Kacavenda’s diocese. According to Jovanovic, Bishop Kacavenda personally asked him to provide young children for perverted sexual pleasure, while also calling on church officials to organize sexual liaisons with young theological students.
"They tried on many occasions to put me in a compromising situation myself or to pull me into their circle," Jovanovic said. "[The bishop] also suggested that I should use the school where I was teaching science to bring him children up to the age of 10, but of course I refused. I was also a witness when abbots from other monasteries would bring theology students who would spend the night with the bishop.
"One morning, one of them called me and asked me to unlock the bishop's room so he could get his things. I said, 'What are your things doing in the bishop's room?' He said, 'Come on, it's not like you don't know. Don't pretend to be stupid.'"
Rumors had been rife about Bishop Kacavenda
, who maintained close ties to Radovan Karadzic
and Ratko Mladic
, the leader of Bosnia Serbs and military chief, respectively, during the genocidal war in the 1980s
that ended with the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.
Witnesses had already provided testimony about the bishop's perversions. One of them, a Bosnian Muslim girl, claimed that Kacavenda forced her to convert to the Orthodox Church, but also raped her when she was 16 years old. Later, in 2010, rumors about the bishop were given more currency when a photograph emerged showing the bishop posing informally with a celebrity male stripper, Dejan Nestorvic. The latter has admitted to having a personal relationship with the disgraced cleric. Also, Blic, a Serbian daily, reported that there are pornographic videos in which Kacavenda is engaged in oral sex and other sexual activities with young men.
Bishop Kacavenda has been laicized by his church, and may face charges in civil court. A lawyer in Bijielina, Dusko Tomic, has collected evidence from victims who claim to have been abused by the former bishop. Among them are two priests as well as the mother and grandparents of Milic Blazanovic, a theology student who as a 16-year-old rebuffed sexual advances from Kacavenda. Blazanovic later died under mysterious circumstances at an isolated monastery.
According to VOA, Tomic said the April 22 motion by the Orthodox Church should be a warning that members of the government and church elite are not beyond the arm of the law. “When I read all the information and all the reports from different people that he abused, from people to whom he did much harm, I’m shocked as an Orthodox believer and as a human being that this kind of person is still present in public life," Tomic said. "Kacavenda became a politician. And let’s not forget that he is a general of the Serbian Army. Let’s not forget that he’s a close friend of [Serb Republic President Milorad] Dodik and a lot of influential businessmen and entrepreneurs. All of them are in big trouble now.”
Kacavenda has denied any wrongdoing and on April 22 threatened to sue those who had “smeared and slandered him.” The church, however, even while it accepted his resignation, has avoided mentioning Kacavenda's alleged wrongdoing but announced that he was stepping down for health reasons.
The Serbian Orthodox Church has stifled a number of other scandals and sex-abuse allegations, for example, against Bishop Pahomije, who was accused of sexually abusing four minors between 1999 and 2002.
Bishop Grigorije of Zahumlje and Herzegovina, a member of the five-member Holy Synod, has called on the faithful to reserve judgement while saying that the church's investigation will take time. “My suggestion to believers is not to judge anyone until the truth has come out," Grigorije says. "When we learn what the truth is, then according to our faith – and this is the paradox of our religion – we shouldn’t hate a man but love him and pray for him. But the court will do its job."
Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.