Show of support for priest suspected of sexual abuse

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Supporters of a Catholic priest suspected of participation in human trafficking and sexual abuse turned out in Rezekne, eastern Latvia September 9.

As previously reported by LSM, priest Pāvels Zeila is being held in custody by police as part of what they believe was a three-person sexual abuse ring involving abuse of a mentally disabled man.

On Sunday several hundred parishoners and supporters of the priest staged a protest and prayer meeting, calling for his release from custody and a fair trial.

Banners from the picket clearly expressed the opinion that he is innocent, with one declaring the scandal is "a provocation against Latgale," Latvia's easternmost region. Another railed against "political games" without specifying which politicians might hope to gain from a police investigation of serious sexual crimes while a third demanded "Free the priest, apologize to Latgale".

The organist at the priest's church, Bernadete Eversa, told Latvian Radio that current events represented "a very great injustice" and that Zeila was a respected citizen of the city "and nobody doubts his honesty."

Zeila has protested his innocence via his lawyer.

Rīga archbishop Zbigņevs Stankevičs separately commented that if found guilty in a fair trial, the priest should face punishment, but if the charges against him were fabricated then those responsible for doing so should face punishment.

The scandal casts a shadow over the brief visit of Pope Francis to Latvia on September 24 and follows in the wake of numerous other sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic church in recent years, which the pontiff has vowed to address in an open and robust manner.

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