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Kristine Aghalaryan

Vatican to Investigate Sexual Abuse Allegations Against Catholic Priest in Javakhk Armenian Village

By Kristine Aghalaryan and Edik Baghdasaryan  

The Vatican says it will investigate long standing rumors that a Catholic priest serving in the Samtskhe-Javakhk village of Tzghaltbila has sexually abused boys serving in the church.

The priest in question is Reverend Father Anatoly Ivanyuk, who has served as pastor in the Armenian-populated village, where most are Catholic, for the past 25 years.

The boys who allege to have been sexually abused by the priest haven’t raised the issue, either to local police or to the Vatican hierarchy. It’s a traditional and religious community and any such charges of pedophilia and homosexuality wouldn’t be taken seriously for starters. The boys are also fearful of being ridiculed by friends and family. They also are fearful of Father Anatoly.

Tzghaltbila  Village Church

Hetq has obtained testimony from some of the boys claiming to be sexually molested by the clergyman.   They describe, in detail, what Father Anatoly did to them between 2001 and 2007 when serving as church acolytes.

The boys claim that Father Anatoly invited them to bathe in his house and that the incidents took place afterwards. (Naturally, we will not publish the names of these boys.)

One of the boys told Hetq that he was molested by Father Anatoly on several occasions. The boy says that he’s afraid to speak out given what Father Anatoly is capable of doing.

Archbishop Minassian, Father Anatoly

Archbishop Raphael Minassian, who heads the Armenian Catholic community in Armenia, Georgia and Eastern Europe, wasn’t taken aback when he heard about the matter. It appears that he was already informed.

Hetq’s conversation with Archbishop Minassian was short. The church official said that the boys never confided to him about what had supposedly happened and that he couldn’t take action based on hearsay.

“There is no evidence. Evidence is when a person comes forward and presents a complaint; demands his rights,” Archbishop Minassian said. “Without evidence I can neither judge or accuse, nor defend.”

When asked if he has nevertheless investigated the allegations, Archbishop Minassian responded that no such steps have been taken given the absence of a formal complaint.

The archbishop denied having ever received any complaints or testimony on the matter to date. Hetq, however, has correspondence addressed to him by one of the Tzghaltbila villagers and letters, including testimony from the boys, sent to the Congregation for the Oriental Churches based in Rome.

This means that the matter had already reached high church officials at the Vatican. Despite this, no steps to investigate the charges against Father Anatoly have been taken.

In response to a letter sent by Hetq to Archbishop Cyril Vasili, Secretary to Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches in the Roman Curia, as to what steps would be taken to verify the claims of the boys and, if found credible, what measures would be enacted against Father Anatoly, we received the following:

The Congregation for the Oriental Churches communicates that the matter in question was immediately transmitted to the competent authority, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, according to  ecclesial norms.

It would thus appear that the Congregation has no knowledge of the matter.

Hetq also sent a similar inquiry to Marek Chmielewski, an inspector for the Silesian Order of Russia, Poland and Georgia. In response, we received the following: 

In response to questions put to Fr. Inspector Marek Chmielewski I kindly inform you as follows:

After obtaining information regarding the charges against Father A.I., the explanatory investigation has been conducted, also involving alleged victims of these acts, which in no way led to an objective and unambiguous attribution of these acts to that person. The proceedings therefore gave no grounds for meeting the demands of appealing of the above-mentioned person from the present place of his ministry.

Fr. Jaroslaw Pizoń SDB, a spokesman

As to how an “explanatory” investigation was conducted without speaking to the boys or reviewing their testimony remains a mystery. 

Top photo: Father Anatoly Ivanyuk