by Notis Papadopoulos
The allegations of sexual abuse reported at the homes of the children’s charity Ark of the World (Kivotos tou Kosmou) have caused a huge shock to public opinion. Not only because hundreds of children have grown up in the six accommodation facilities of this NGO throughout Greece in recent decades, but mainly because the image people had of the charity’s founder, Father Antonios Papanikolaou, was completely different, starting from 2007, when he created the first home in the Athenian district of Kolonos.
The image was essentially that of a saint who lives among us. A selfless priest who has dedicated his whole life to saving children who found themselves abused and neglected. The charity welcomed children from broken homes, addicted to drugs, separated from abusive parents and looking to find their way. So how does a man with a “halo” suddenly turn into a monster who beats and sexually abuses the children he was supposed to be protecting? How did we let a wolf guard the sheep? This is the question that should concern all of us if the allegations prove to be true.
Obviously, the primary responsibility lies with the state and its inadequate social welfare facilities. While its job is to protect the most vulnerable and to be able to identify the dangers, it proved to be incompetent, allowing – without evaluation, checks, or accountability – a small structure of 30 people in Kolonos to become a “chain” with branches in Athens, Piraeus, Epirus, Chios, Volos and Kalamata within 15 years. But then again, how can any reasonable person accept that during the 15 years that the Ark was operating with huge exposure on television and in newspapers, there were no whispers from children – even those who came of age – to sound the alarm about the abominations being denounced today?
How is it possible that there was never an external partner of the charity, a volunteer, a psychologist, a social worker, a doctor, or anyone who noticed that something suspicious and criminal was happening behind closed doors? The latest complaints filed to the Ombudsman are the exception.
We need a thorough investigation by judicial authorities to find out exactly what has happened. These serious complaints have severely harmed the trust that people have shown in recent years toward charities involved in solidarity and welfare that have indeed done very serious and good work in Greek society.