Bishop proposes aid in exchange for land

Thessaloniki?s outspoken Bishop, Anthimos, told Skai television on Friday that he would not be averse to the Orthodox Church assuming some of the cost of clerics? salaries ? currently covered by the state as clerics are civil servants ? as long as the government promises to return to the Church all assets taken since 1854.

Speaking to Skai?s Proti Grammi (Front Line) program, Anthimos said the Church would not able to cover the full cost of thousands? of clerics salaries but was willing to contribute in view of the current burdens of the cash-strapped government. However, in exchange, the state should return plots of land formerly belonging to the Church that were seized by the state in the 19th century, Anthimos said.

The bishop was responding to a proposal made on the same program by Stefanos Manos, a former finance minister who currently heads a small centrist party called Drasi (Action).

The bishop said the issue of Church assets was a very sensitive one, referring to an ?unholy war.? ?The Church?s assets have been given to the State but have not been utilized,? he said. Anthimos said the Church now only owned 4 percent of its original assets and claimed that even this small portion was bound to the state.

Manos said an initiative should be undertaken to finally determine what properties belong to the Church. ?The extent of the Church?s assets must be revealed,? Manos said. ?If efforts to find a way of covering clerics? salaries fail, then another solution must be found,? he said without elaborating.

On Wednesday Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said the Church?s considerable assets should not be included in a State Property Fund to be set up once the government concludes an inventory of public real estate. Further, the wages of clerics will not be cut further, Venizelos said after talks with Archbishop Ieronymos who pledged to help ease the impact of the debt crisis but did not specify how.