Following allegations of widespread physical, mental and sexual abuse at the Ark of the World (Kivotos tou Kosmou) charity in Greece a new administration was appointed by the government on Tuesday (Greece time).
The new board of directors comprises seven members with significant expertise in the areas of social services, children’s rights and child health. It is headed by Alexandra Martinou, who is the director of the Mazi gia to Paidi (Together for the Child) charity, and also includes a former Supreme Court prosecutor, Ioannis Tentes.
The Social Affairs Ministry’s ability to step in and appoint a new board was made possible by legislation passed in April allowing the government to intervene when private organisations offering social services fail or violate or abuse their mandate.
The charity, offering support to displaced children and mothers runs a network of shelters in different parts of Greece, has been hit with two separate yet parallel sets of accusations since the case was made public last week.
According to Kathimerini one set pertains to allegations of systematic physical and mental abuse, including beating and locking children up in their rooms for days on end. These claims triggered the initial investigation conducted by the Greek Ombudsman after it received complaints from two of the charity’s wards.
The second part concerns allegations of rape and sexual abuse, which emerged after the Ombudsman shared its findings with the public prosecutor’s office, with a recommendation for a further inquiry.
The probe into the first set of allegations is being carried out by the office of the special prosecutor for minors, which will be summoning dozens of volunteers and educators who offered their services to the charity over the years.
Several witnesses have provided testimonies on the “consequences” of rule-breaking that applied at the shelters, pointing to a deliberate system of harsh punishments rather than a few isolated incidents.
The witness list includes staff and individuals from within the charity claiming that the Ark of the World includes a clear hierarchy, tactics of segregation, “favourites”, unpaid work, isolation and exploitation under the guise of religion and “God’s divine will”.
A separate investigation is currently underway over sexual abuse claims requiring experts to question the children currently staying at the charity’s shelters.
“The case is in the hands of justice. Everyone’s attention must be focused on the safety of the children living at Ark of the World. They must be protected, regardless of how the case turns out,” government spokesman Yiannis Oikonomou said.
On Sunday, Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens, the leader of the Greek Orthodox Church, said that he has launched an investigation into Father Antonios Papanikolaou, the priest who founded Ark of the World and who is also accused of sexual abuse of minors.
The church has banned Fr Antonios from his priestly duties making clear that it has no connection to the charity.
“The church and I, personally, will serve the earthly ecclesiastical justice to the highest degree,” Ieronymos said in his statement.