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Last Updated: Monday, 21 April, 2003, 16:45 GMT 17:45 UK
Serbian priest charged with sex abuse
Bishop Pahomije
Bishop Pahomije dismisses the accusations as "lies"
A bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church has been charged with the sexually molesting five teenage boys.

Bishop Pahomije is accused of lewd behaviour and attempts to force intimacy with the boys during last year's visit to a monastery in the southern town of Vranje, about 250 kilometres (155 miles) south of the capital Belgrade.

The bishop - whose secular name is Tomislav Gacic - has strenuously denied any wrongdoing, dismissing the accusations as "lies".

The charges are the first of their kind ever brought against a senior dignitary in the Serbian Orthodox Church - if convicted he faces several years in prison.

'Historic importance'

District court prosecutor Zare Dinic read the charges, which followed a three-month investigation launched after local newspaper Novine Vranjske first broke the story.

"The charges have a historic importance because the state has showed a readiness to fight crime and that nobody is protected," Aleksandar Stojkovic, the lawyer for the boys, told the AFP news agency.

Bishop Pahomje denies any wrongdoing and instead accuses the boys of "leading a campaign" against him personally and also the Serbian Orthodox Church.

"I can only say that the statements made by the boys are lies and I am praying for the salvation of their souls," he said during pre-trial hearings earlier this year.

In 1990, Bishop Pahomje was cleared by the Serbian Orthodox Church of similar allegations, following an internal investigation.

Meanwhile, the editor of Novine Vranjske, Vuk Obradovic, claimed to have received death threats after the newspaper had published the boys' testimonies.

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