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Sun Aug 4, 2019, 07:44 PM

Cypriot bishop faces hate speech inquiry over homophobic remarks

Police in Cyprus have opened an investigation into homophobic remarks made by a controversial bishop. At the request of the island’s attorney general, investigators will examine whether the Greek Cypriot Orthodox prelate, Bishop Neophytos of Morphou, violated hate speech laws after he claimed that homosexuality could be passed on when pregnant women had anal sex.

“It is, they say, a problem that is usually transferred to the child from the parents,” the bishop of Morphou said in one of a series of talks billed as “spiritual meetings of dialogue”. “And, they say, it happens … when the parents [indulge] in erotic acts that are unnatural.” Relating the story of a saint and a “beautiful young boy”, he said gay men were instantly recognisable because they gave off a “particular odour”.

The government denounced the comments as “insulting the dignity and equality of Cypriots.” Campaigners with Accept LGBTI, a gay rights group, called for Neophytos to face disciplinary action. “We want to see him recant and we want to see him defrocked,” said Zacharias Theophanous, a software engineer who has said he will run for Nicosia mayor in 2021. “The church is very powerful in this country and its views often have a traumatising effect on young people struggling to find their way.”

Cyprus was among the last EU member states to decriminalise homosexuality, doing so in 1998 under pressure from Brussels as it prepared to join the bloc. In the four years since legislation came into force outlawing hate speech, there have been no legal proceedings in response to homophobic and transphobic comments. Despite the innate social conservatism of Cypriot society, attitudes toward homosexuality have changed significantly in recent years, according to opinion polls.

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