BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) – A 23-year-old Orthodox nun – said to be possessed by devils because she shouted so much – was chained to a cross, gagged with a towel and left in a dank room at a convent for three days without food, where she died of suffocation and dehydration.

A monk and four nuns were arrested Thursday and have been charged with murder in the case, which has focused attention on the secretive convents and monasteries that dot Romania’s impoverished northeast. Maricica Irina Cornici died last week in the Holy Trinity convent outside the remote village of Tanacu.

Daniel Petre Corogeanu, the red-bearded monk accused of leading the exorcism, has appeared unrepentant. He performed a funeral service for the nun on Sunday and said he was trying to take devils out of her.

Asked whether the nun was mentally ill and in need of medical help instead of exorcism, he responded: “You can’t take the devil out of people with pills. You cure (possession by) the devils with fasting and prayer.”

He said the nun had to be restrained because she was violent, but denied she was starved.

Corogeanu and the nuns were charged late Wednesday with aggravated murder after testifying for 11 hours to prosecutors.

They were taken into custody Thursday, according to prosecutor Ovidiu Berinde, and a court in the northeast city of Vaslui ordered them held for 29 days. Their lawyer appealed the ruling.

There were angry scenes outside the prosecutor’s office Wednesday in Vaslui, in one of Romania’s remotest and poorest regions near the border with Moldova.

Corogeanu was jostled by shrieking residents who called for justice, saying he had brought the Orthodox Church into disrepute. Others crammed against iron railings outside the prosecutor’s office, maintaining the monk and nuns were innocent.

Orthodox monasteries flourished in Romania after the 1989 fall of Nicolae Ceausescu’s brutal communist regime, which suppressed religion. The secretive monasteries have attracted scores of impoverished youths, attracted by their offers of stability. Many, like Cornici, grew up in orphanages.

Cornici’s death and the fact Corogeanu was ordained as a priest without having finished his theological studies have prompted the church to impose stricter rules for entering monasteries.

Amid the heated local passions surrounding the case, Corgeanu’s attorney, Luana Pintilie, called Thursday for moving it to the city of Iasi, but the court there refused to take it.

“Magistrates should not have pressure from the street, locals and the media who are camped outside the prosecutor’s door,” Pintilie said.

On Sunday, the five suspects were indicted in connection with causing the nun’s death but were not detained, pending the results of a second autopsy. Corogeanu has been suspended by the church and the convent has been closed by church authorities.

If found guilty, the monk and nuns could face 25 years in prison.


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