CEOL - Serb Church divided over Milosevic

BELGRADE, Dec 8, 1999 -- (Reuters) A Serb bishop on Tuesday criticized the country's Orthodox Patriarch for going to a reception hosted by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and said the step revealed divisions within the church.

"Your going to Milosevic's feet...has astonished many bishops, the clergy and the majority of the Orthodox Serb people," said Bishop Artemije of Kosovo in a letter to Patriarch Pavle published in the Danas daily newspaper.

"You are turning your back to your people by going to the celebration of November 29 and are reinforcing the teetering throne of the destroyer of the Serb people by prolonging his death throes for who knows how long," the letter said.

Artemije was referring to a reception hosted by Milosevic on Republic Day which was attended by Patriarch Pavle and several other bishops.

The Orthodox Church, traditionally aloof from politics, in June called on Milosevic and his leadership to resign for the sake of the people, shortly after NATO ended 78 days of air strikes against Yugoslavia over its policies in Kosovo.

Artemije, the most vocal individual critic of Milosevic within the church, said Pavle's presence at the reception revealed a division in the leadership of the Serbian Orthodox Church "at least regarding the regime of Mr. Milosevic."

"It is obvious that your participation in the 'celebration' is not the stand of the Church. It is your private act, your Holiness, and of those who accompanied you," Artemije said.

The Church had earlier lent its support to opposition rallies organized across Serbia and joined in opposition calls for Milosevic to let others lead the country.

A leader of the Serbian opposition Alliance for Change, Vladan Batic, had been among the first to criticize Pavle for shaking hands with Milosevic, an indicted war criminal, and urged him to avoid future receptions organized by the Yugoslav leader.

Batic reminded the Patriarch that only a few months earlier the Serbian Bishop's Congress and the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church had asked Milosevic to resign from power as "the main generator of evil."

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