A scandal over a timepiece on the Patriarch’s wrist rocked the Russian blogosphere after a watch “miraculously” vanished from one of his photos. The embarrassed Patriarch’s press service has already said it was “a ridiculous mistake.”
On Wednesday watchful online observers noticed a photo on the Church’s official website, in which Kirill was shown sitting at a table with a shiny polished surface. There was a reflection of a watch in the surface while no timepiece was visible on Kirill.
Bloggers were quick to find a cached version of the same image with the Patriarch’s watch intact. The conclusion they drew was that they had either found a documented miracle or the Patriarchy was not honest, stating that every image on its website was original and unedited.
Further data mining produced a few more photos with Kirill’s watch disappearing in transition between an older and a more recent version of the website. The incident naturally brought plenty of sarcastic comments from Church critics, who accuse the clergy of enjoying luxury lifestyles and preferential treatment from the Russian government.
On Thursday the Patriarchy came up with an explanation, saying the disappearance was “a ridiculous mistake” made by a secular employee responsible for the website’s content. The 24-year-old woman “acted out of stupid unjustifiable and unauthorized initiative” in editing the controversial images, they said.
Intense public interest over what model of watch Patriarch Kirill wears was first sparked in July 2009 during his visit to Ukraine. At the time the senior Russian Orthodox cleric preached austerity and honest labor as key features needed to resolve the ongoing economic crisis.
But in a sharp contrast to his words, some media published a photo of the Patriarch showing a luxury Breguet watch with an estimated price tag between 28,000 and 36,000 euro.
Commenting on the scandal, Church officials said the watch was either a gift – the high value of which was not known to the Patriarch – or a hoax.
The brand of the timepiece, which was described by some journalists for only showing in a reflection as having “reverse vampiric qualities” was not identified.
Patriarch Kirill’s name has been marred by another scandal recently. His cousin, living in an apartment owned by the head of the Church, sued their neighbor for damaging the property.
The conflict was reportedly over a collection of rare books stored in the Patriarch’s library. The cousin, who supervises the household, said the renovation works the neighbor did to his own apartment caused damage to the collection, after large amounts of dust was sucked into air vents and covered everything in the library.
The cousin demanded that the neighbor foot a nearly-$700,000 bill for restoration work, and the court sided with the plaintiff. But the defendant apparently has too little cash at the moment and may have to part with his expensive apartment to cover the damages.
The neighbor’s lawyer says the judicial process in the case was not due. He said no evidence was presented that the dust that allegedly damaged the books was produced by the renovations.
He further claims that his client was not properly informed about the lawsuit and was basically given an eviction order without the chance to defend his rights. Some media reports alleged that Patriarch Kirill may have exerted undue leverage on the court to ensure that his relative won the case.
The Patriarch himself believes that he and the Russian Orthodox Church have been targeted by a smear campaign orchestrated by anti-clerical forces in the country.
Earlier, Patriarch Kirill and the Church were criticized for a number of things, including alleged ownership of a large pool of luxury cars and other property, profiting from alcohol and tobacco trade, and wrestling real estate which used to belong to the Church before the Bolshevik Revolution back into its possession.
Critics say the clergy pays too much attention to material goods and too little to spiritual matters.