Greek bishop who told followers to spit on gays guilty of inciting hatred

Bishop Amvrosios of Kalavryta (C) poses with followers.

A Greek bishop has been given a seven-month suspended jail sentence for inciting homophobic hatred and abusing ecclesiastical office.

Bishop Amvrosios of Kalavryta, whose name is Athanassios Lenis, appeared in front of a three-member misdemeanour court in the town of Aigio on Monday (January 28), reports the English-language version of Greek newspaper Kathimerini.

The case against the 79-year-old Greek bishop dates back to 2015, when the country was in the midst of discussing a civil partnership bill that eventually passed on December 22 that year. 

The Greek Orthodox Church was generally opposed to the bill, but Bishop Amvrosios was particularly vocal about his dissent.

In a written address published on his blog in December 2015, the Greek bishop labeled LGBT+ people “the dregs of society” and called on his followers to “spit on them.”

“Spit on them! Deprecate them! Vote against them! They are not human! They are freaks of nature! Mentally and spiritually sick! They are mentally insane! Don’t hesitate, then! Wherever you see them, spit on them! Don’t leave them in peace! They are dangerous!” read the bishop’s remarks.

Gay rights activists dressed up as Orthodox priests kiss next to the Metropolitan church in Athens on December 22, 2015.

LGBT+ activists dressed up as Orthodox priests demonstrated in front of a church in Athens as the Greek parliament voted on the civil partnership bill Greek bishop Amvrosios had opposed. (Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty)

Bishop Amvrosios has claimed that the remarks were not referring to LGBT people, but to politicians who supported the civil partnership bills.

The conservative bishop has a record of supporting anti-LGBT positions as well as the far-right party Golden Dawn, making appearances alongside the group’s leaders.

Bishop Amvrosios is the first representative of the powerful Greek Orthodox Church to ever be trialed, thanks to a complaint brought forward by nine LGBT+ activists on the basis of Article 196 of the Greek Penal Code on the abuse of ecclesiastical office.

Their lawyer Kleio Papandoleon welcomed Monday’s ruling, saying it set limits to “inflammatory and racist speech,” according to the Associated Press.

Greek bishop was acquitted in March, but faced retrial

The Greek bishop first appeared in court in March 2018, but at the time he was cleared of the charges of public incitement to violence and abuse of ecclesiastical duties.

The Economist reported that during that hearing he said: “Spitting on them is the least of it, if I had a gun and I was permitted by the law, I would use it and we would finish things off.”

He was due for retrial after two appeals were filed against the acquittal, as AFP reported at the time.

The Greek Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis of the left-wing ruling party Syriza had called for the court’s arguments to be examined after declaring himself “surprised” at the decision.