A Vatican guilty verdict against a pedophile priest is being blamed for a split in an eastern Slovenian parish.

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Andrej Zrim, former priest of the Ljutomer parish in the Murska Sobota diocese, has been “found guilty in an out-of-court criminal procedure of sexual violence against minors and adults in accordance with the instructions of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith”, the diocese announced December 15, according to STA.

Zrim has been ordered by the Vatican body “to take certain measures, including apologising to the victims and the parish community”, local Church authorities said in a notice published in a diocesan bulletin.

“He is prohibited from returning to parish service without the bishop’s explicit approval, and banned from giving mass in public until the appropriate therapy is successfully concluded”, the diocese explained.

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Citing local media, STA reported that the cases of abuse against Zrim had been brought to the Church by three families.

The police have reportedly yet to take up the matter, but public prosecutors aren’t ruling out litigation as a matter of course.

As a result of internal Slovenian Church anti-abuse taskforce investigations, Zrim was deposed as Ljutomer parish priest in April 2018, from which ruling the case was sent to Rome.

Why it matters

Zrim was convicted of assault on a minor 15 years ago and is reportedly feared in the local community for allegedly employing corporeal punishment in Sunday school.

But despite that abusive history, a numerous and vocal camp of Ljutomer parishioners are supporting the priest by means of anonymous and open letters defending his innocence and insisting that he is a victim of revenge by Murska Sobota Bishop Peter Štumf.

The upshot of what STA described as that “huge rift” in the parish over priest Zrim is that even with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith guilty ruling against him, the matter seems far from over.

There’s also the question of exactly what the “appropriate therapy” the Vatican has announced for the pedophile priest will consist of, though Bishop Štumf indicated in a statement that it likely will involve psychotherapy.

The case of Zrim – with a history of abuse stretching back at least 15 years – also raises the same doubts that have surfaced in Churches all over the world over whether pedophile priests can ever be truly rehabilitated.

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