BELGRADE, Serbia – The Serbian priest running a church-backed drug rehab center was removed by his bishop Wednesday following the publication of videos showing him and members of his staff beating patients with a shovel.
Bishop Artemije ordered the removal of Branislav Peranovic but stopped short of closing the Crna Reka center in southern Serbia even though Serbian Orthodox Church elders had demanded it.
Artemije said in a statement that the center will be shut down if the beatings recur. He appointed Father Dejan Jakovljevic to run the facility "in line with Christian principles." Jakovljevic — previously Peranovic's assistant — has publicly approved of the beatings.
There was no immediate reaction from the church. At the weekend the church's Holy Synod ordered Artemije to shut down the center altogether, and his refusal to do so could trigger a clash within the church.
Located on land belonging to the Crna Reka monastery, the rehabilitation center has been known for its strict methods, isolated location and poor living conditions. Earlier media reports have shown rehab patients carrying out daily duties in total isolation from the outside world.
But the video posted on the Web site of the Vreme weekly last week shocked the public with its brutality. It shows a man beating and kicking the victim while the other holds him. The victim falls onto the floor at one point. The room is decorated with Christian icons.
On Tuesday, B92 Television aired another video showing Peranovic himself beating a patient with a shovel.
Crna Reka priests have said beatings are a necessary part of the therapy and are carried out with the consent of patients' parents.
Bishop Artemije said Peranovic will face punishment, but added the center will remain open at the request of the parents. He denied having been aware of the "inadmissible" methods used at the center before seeing the video.
Serbia's Health Ministry last week dispatched an inspection team to the center but has taken no action to close it.