Church seeks to reclaim property

JERUSALEM – The patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church said in an interview published Sunday that the church intends to repossess land holdings in Israel, including the land under Israel’s Parliament. Newly elected Patriarch Irenaios I said a team of experts is to examine all transfers of church property, particularly during the past seven years, with the aim of repossessing as much land as possible, the Jerusalem Post reported. But Irenaios – elected over two months ago – has not won approval as patriarch from the Israeli government. A law dating back to the sixth-century Byzantine Emperor Justinian requires the patriarch-elect, and even candidates for the post, to obtain government approval. In contrast, Irenaios won quick approval from Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, which also fall within his ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Earlier, the Israeli government had refused to approve Irenaios’s candidacy but backed down when the Church appealed to Israel’s Supreme Court, accusing Israel of interfering in church affairs, a position supported by the judges. A Justice Ministry spokesman said a challenge to the election was pending before the Supreme Court, and that the government cannot grant approval until a ruling. But another official admitted that Irenaios was perceived in some Israeli government circles as being pro-Palestinian, and it was feared that this would affect his attitude toward the sensitive question of church land in Israel, particularly Jerusalem. One petition challenging the election was submitted to Israel’s Supreme Court by supporters of a group of Israeli Jewish families that had moved into a Greek Orthodox hospice in Jerusalem’s predominantly Palestinian old city. In 1990, the group acquired the lease for St. John’s Hospice from the previous tenants, against the Church’s wishes. According to the Jerusalem Post, Irenaios said the Church is aware of the sensitivity of land ownership in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians for control of Jerusalem, and would act pragmatically in its bid to repossess land. He denied reports circulated during the election campaign that he was pro-Palestinian, insisting that he sided with neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis. Tomorrow, in times when the unthinkable is so frequently thinkable, not just because it happens to be Halloween, or All Hallows Eve – a feast that has roots and overtones of Satanism and devil worship – it is rather difficult to have fun with childish, ghostly perils.

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