A doctored photograph of the Russian patriarch, left, which has since been removed from his official website to be replaced by the original photo showing his watch, right.
The Russian Orthodox Church apologized on Thursday for doctoring a photograph of Patriarch Kirill to remove what bloggers said was a luxury wristwatch following accusations that he lives a lavish lifestyle.
The church responded after bloggers said a 2009 photo of the Patriarch on its website showed the reflection of a Breguet watch worth about $30,000 in the polished surface of a table where his arms rested during talks.
The Church made no reference to a watch in a statement, but said a "rude violation of our internal ethics" had been made and removed the doctored 2009 photo from its Website, replacing it on Thursday with a version showing a watch on his wrist.
"Employees of the press service's photo-editing desk made a silly mistake while working with the photo archives," the statement said, promising they would be punished.
"We apologize to all the users of the website for the technical mistake," it said. "One of the basic principles of our work is the fundamental rejection of the use of photo editing programs to alter images."
The Church issued a statement on Tuesday saying it was under attack from "anti-Russian forces" that wanted to erode its authority because of its backing for Putin, whose 12-year rule of Russia as prime minister and president was described by the patriarch as a miracle of God.
"They have completely lost their minds in the Russian Orthodox Church," wrote blogger Vadim Petrichenko, a blogger who posted the doctored photo on his Facebook page on Wednesday, according to The Telegraph.
Bloggers have since then stepped up accusations that Kirill leads an opulent lifestyle that is unbecoming of his status as head of the Church, and pro-opposition media outlets have questioned an alleged role in dealings around duty-free alcohol and tobacco imports in the 1990s.
A journalist who met Kirill to discuss the allegations told Vesti FM radio that the Patriarch had acknowledged receiving a luxury watch as a gift but that he had not worn it. Kirill was quoted as saying photos of him wearing it were a "collage."
Reuters contributed to this report.
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