Thursday, November 13, 2008

Serbia: Church leaders reject patriarch's request for retirement

Belgrade, 12 Nov. (AKI) - The leaders of the Serbian Orthodox Church have rejected a request by the church's Patriarch Pavle to retire because of his advanced age and illness. The issue has been the subject of recent speculation on the possible political motives behind the move, church officials and analysts said on Wednesday.

The Holy Sabor (Assembly), comprising 45 bishops worldwide, discussed the patriarch’s request at a meeting in the capital Belgrade on Tuesday, but decided that the 94 year-old Pavle (Photo) should remain the spiritual leader for life.

The Sabor, which continued the session on Wednesday, made no official statement, but church officials who asked not to be identified, confirmed that the request was rejected.

The patriarch, who was elected for life 18 years ago, and has been hospitalised for the past year, asked to be relieved of his duties last month. But the Serbian media has questioned whether he was the author of the request and whether there is an ongoing struggle among his potential successors.

Montenegro's Archbishop Amfilohije and his Kosovo colleague Artemije have been mentioned as Pavle's potential successors. Both are strong opponents of Kosovo's independence.

But Serbian media said on Wednesday that 41 year-old Bosnian Archbishop Grigorije has gained strong support among bishops who insist on church reforms and closer ties with the West.

Grigorije is a close friend of Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik who, in turn, is a close ally of Serbian president Boris Tadic.

Serbian media has speculated that Tadic was keen to eliminate 'hardliners' from the church leadership, as the only authoritative opposition to his policies and install Grigorije at the Church helm.

“It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Tadic himself was behind the move to replace patriarch Pavle and to install his own man,” said analyst Dragan Milosavljevic, who is familiar with church affairs in an interview with Adnkronos International (AKI).

“He practically controls everything, so why not the church too,” Milosavljevic said.

But the Holy Sabor seemed to have prevented such a move, by deciding to keep Pavle in place and at the same time expanding powers of Pavle’s first deputy Amfilohije.

“Since the patriarch’s alleged resignation has sparked a vivid debate in the church and the public, occasionally unpleasant, the Sabor decision represents a way out from this situation,” said another church analyst Zivica Tucic.

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