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But four years later, following a lengthy transfer of the trial from the Vranje court to another in Ni, Bishop Pahomije was found not guilty.The verdict was subsequently upheld by a higher court – the Ni District Court.Two other high-ranking clergymen were also appointed to serve alongside Patriarch Irinej on the commission.

At the time of writing, and despite several follow-up telephone requests, church officials have yet to respond.

The church’s continued silence on the issue - and the failure of criminal trials involving alleged clerical pedophiles - have left victims, legal experts and child welfare professionals convinced that powerful political elites and members of the judiciary colluded with the clergy to effectively cover up the scandals.

Fr Arsi says the church commission was formed in early 2003 to examine accusations against Bishop Pahomije, who was then - and still is - head of the Vranje diocese.

Fr Arsi had been waiting anxiously to find out how the church would handle the scandal.

“It became clear that everyone in the church already knew [of child abuse] but was keeping quiet.

Only we were naïve as sheep, believing in the purity of our church leaders.” The identity of the three clergymen selected to serve on the commission had not, until now, been disclosed.Following a four-month police investigation, Bishop Pahomije was eventually charged with sex offenses relating to four underage boys. Subsequent court proceedings lasted almost five years before the bishop was cleared, on March 6, 2007, of all charges in a first-instance decision passed by Judge Katarina Ranelovi.Two charges were declared inadmissible because the court proceedings had dragged on for so long, the time limit within which the court decision must be reached had expired.In 2003, Bishop Pahomije was charged with sex abuse offenses and was summoned to appear before a closed court in Vranje.The charges were brought on behalf of four teenagers, one as young as 13.Fr Ilarion says he was, however, forced to retire by the church.

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