Woodside priest faces sex charges

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A Greek priest defrocked more than three decades ago after pleading guilty in a sex abuse case was arrested last Thursday on charges he fondled a 14-year-old boy at his Woodside church, the Queens district attorney said.

Reaction from neighbors and parishioners to his arrest has been mixed.

Pangratios Vrionis, 60, was charged with sexual abuse and attempted sexual abuse and released on $1,500 bail, a spokeswoman for Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said. He faces up to three months in jail if convicted.

Vrionis is accused of fondling a 14-year-old boy inside his church while he played a gay male pornographic video in February 1999, according to the criminal complaint.

Although the boy soon made him stop, Vrionis allegedly then exposed himself, the complaint said.

No one answered the door at the church Monday night or answered the phone Tuesday.

Although Vrionis runs an independent Orthodox church at the Sts. Fanourios and Gerasimos Cathedral at 44-02 48th Ave. in Woodside, he was defrocked by the Greek Orthodox Church in December 1970 after pleading guilty to sex abuse charges.

“Since that time he has had no relationship, direct or otherwise, with us,” said Father Michael Kontogiorgis, the assistant chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. “We have no relationship with that church.”

Vrionis was accused of sodomizing two 14-year-old boys when he served as a priest with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America in Harrisburg, Pa., in the 1960s, according to court records posted on an Internet web site and confirmed by church officials.

Vrionis pleaded guilty in 1970 to two counts of sodomy and two counts of corrupting the morals of a minor and was sentenced to probation, the records show.

According to published reports, relatives of the now 17-year-old Woodside boy said they did not originally filed charges because they wanted to protect the child. But they finally came forward after reading about Vrionis’ earlier sex abuse conviction in Pennsylvania.

In addition to conducting Friday and Sunday services at the church, Vrionis also teaches Greek language classes for children.

Although many parishioners of the small church stood by their longtime pastor, others who live in the neighborhood said they were appalled by the charges against him.

“He’s a wonderful person,” said a 16-year-old parishioner who lives a block away from the church. “It’s not for us to judge. It should be left in God’s hands. I wouldn’t think he would do anything like that.”

Diane Manuel, 43, a longtime parishioner who moved last year from Astoria to Long Island, said she refuses to believe the charges of abuse.

“I’ll stand by him 100 percent,” she said Monday night while standing in front of the church, which sits across the street from her 4-year-old daughter’s baby-sitter.

“The services are just so wonderful,” she said. “He’s always been upheld in the community.”

She plans to enroll her daughter in Vrionis’ Greek language classes as soon as she is old enough.

Manuel said many people came to services on Friday and Sunday to show their support for Vrionis, who she said has denied the charges against him.

The small church with white stucco walls and blue trim sticks out in a neighborhood of apartment buildings and small stores. Although it shares half the building with Happy Supermarket on 48th Avenue, the church area has been adorned to look distinctly Greek, even down to the front doors painted gold with blue Plexiglas crosses in the center.

Despite Vrionis’ popularity in the parish, other people expressed shock and disgust at the allegations.

“You don’t do that to kids,” said a 29-year-old neighbor named Christine, who said she has often seen Vrionis walking around the block with children. “How can you run a church and call yourself a bishop when you’re not even affiliated with the Greek Orthodox Church?”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

Updated 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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