BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — The patriarch of Romania's Orthodox Church apologized to orthodox believers Friday over two sex scandals that have hit the influential church in recent weeks.
In a highly unusual step, Patriarch Daniel asked for forgiveness "with much pain in my heart." Speaking through a message posted on the church website, he apologized "for the turbulence produced by public accusations against clerics" who have shown "deviations from Christian morals."
In recent years, public criticism has mounted against the church and there have been calls to make it more accountable.
Daniel's message came after the church voted hours earlier to defrock a priest who is suspected of trying to sexually corrupt a teenager, which was a rare case of a cleric being disciplined for alleged sexual misdemeanors.
The spokesman for the Alba Iulia bishop's office, Oliviu Botoi, said that Cristian Pomohaci had been suspended for "bringing extraordinary prejudices on the (church's) image." He can appeal the vote by the bishop's office council.
Prosecutors are investigating Pomohaci on charges of attempted sexual corruption of a 17-year-old after a tape emerged in which he apparently tried to persuade the boy to have sex with him and to co-opt other minors.
Pomohaci was temporarily suspended from his duties in June. Church spokesman Vasile Banescu said earlier that the priest had requested a leave for medical reasons.
In another case, the church's Holy Synod is to meet in August to consider what action to take in the case of a bishop who was filmed having sex with a student who is now a priest. The bishop has been suspended pending the investigation.
More than 85 percent of Romanians are Orthodox Christians.
Church website: basilica.ro