A tentative deal between Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Archbishop Ieronymos to take Greek priests off the state payroll and resolve a property dispute appeared in doubt on Friday after the Holy Synod rejected any changes to the way clerics are paid and called for more discussion.
The initiative was announced last week in a joint press conference by Tsipras and Ieronymos who hailed it as “historic.”
However, Friday's tense session of the synod underscored the serious objections of a large section of church representatives.
In a statement issued after the meeting, the synod said it had unanimously decided to establish a committee of clerics and legal experts and “continue dialogue” with the state. However, it said that it “insists on the existing pay status of clerics and secular employees of the Church of Greece.” (Priests object to being removed from the state payroll amid fears of losing their status as civil servants.)
In its own statement issued shortly afterward, Tsipras’s office suggested that the government might move unilaterally on the payroll issue. “The payroll status of clerics is, in any case, the responsibility and decision of the state,” the statement said. It also noted that the government would draft a law based on the joint declaration by Tsipras and the archbishop last week and present it to the Holy Synod’s committee before sending it to Parliament for approval.
Ieronymos sought to ease tensions, welcoming the premier’s statement as an indication that the government is prepared to continue dialogue with the church. “Our cooperation is a further step in the establishment of our distinct roles in the framework of serving the interests of our people,” he told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency.
Earlier, during the Holy Synod’s session, Ieronymos had sought to overcome the concerns of clerics at potential changes, promising to stand by them and indicating that the tentative deal marks “the beginning of a free church.”
Many in attendance were unconvinced, however. Bishop Chrysostomos of Messinia, a vocal opponent of the plan, walked out after attempting to interrupt the archbishop and being chastised.