ATHENS — A 37-year-old Greek priest was to face a prosecutor on Thursday over an acid attack during a disciplinary hearing at an Athens monastery. Seven bishops were injured, as were a police officer, two lawyers and a secretary.
The attack took place at the Petraki Monastery, the de facto headquarters of Greece’s Orthodox Church, where clerics had gathered to rule on whether the priest should be defrocked over accusations of a drug offense dating to 2018, according to local media reports. The priest was arrested at the scene.
On Wednesday evening, as the church tribunal announced its decision to reject his appeal against his defrocking, the suspect, who has not been named by the police, pulled out a bottle from his bag and started splashing liquid from it across the room at the clerics, according to witnesses.
Bishop Kallinikos of Arta, who suffered skin and eye injuries, told Greek television that he initially thought the suspect had planned a symbolic protest.
“My first thought when he pulled out the bottle was that he wanted to insult us and douse us with holy water, that he believed our decision was not enlightened,” Bishop Kallinikos said.
He said he realized it was a caustic substance when his eyes started stinging and he saw the cassock of one of the victims “turn red.” State television broadcast footage of priests splashing water on their hands and faces in the wake of the attack.
Bishop Kallinikos and the other six priests hurt in the assault were “out of danger,” according to another senior bishop, Chrysostomos of Patras. Greek churches held services on Thursday to pray for the victims’ full recovery. Of the 11 victims, 10 were discharged from the hospital by Thursday afternoon, with one still hospitalized for observation.
A Greek police spokeswoman said that the suspect had been transferred from police custody to a psychiatric hospital after saying he felt unwell, and was later being brought before a prosecutor charged with intentional grievous bodily harm.
The attack was condemned by the country’s political leadership with President Katerina Sakellaropoulou expressing “revulsion” and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis saying he was “deeply saddened” in a call on Wednesday night with Archbishop Ieronymos II.
The archbishop convened a session of senior clerics on Thursday to discuss the attack, which he described as “very troubling.” “Efforts are necessary to ensure that it does not upset the social equilibrium,” he said. A police official confirmed local media reports that the suspect was arrested in 2018 for possession of a small amount of cocaine. A trial has yet to take place.
A lawyer for the suspect, Andreas Theodoropoulos, said that his client deserved special treatment.
“It is legally and medically documented that he is not of sound mind,” Mr. Theodoropoulos told Greek television. He added that his client had been on “heavy anti-depressants,” had attempted suicide six weeks ago and was in need of psychiatric evaluation. “His act was atrocious but he didn’t want to harm them all — it was an act of exasperation which ended in injury,” he said.