Church of Greece split over role of neofascist Golden Dawn party

Archbishop Ieronymos faces a serious challenge as the leadership of the Church of Greece appears deeply split on a range of significant issues including the role of the ultranationalist Golden Dawn party and the debt-wracked country?s bailout agreement.

Some of Ieronymos?s decisions appear to have been influenced by pressure from other senior clerics, a number of whom like to portray him as an apologist for the so-called New World Order.

Sources close to Ieronymos say that some of his recent comments ? such as his recent criticism of the memorandum when he said that Greeks are ?victims of all-out usury? ? have been the result of outside pressure.

Meanwhile, other leading clerics, spearheaded by Bishop Amvrosios of Kalavryta and Bishop Seraphim of Piraeus, have made no secret of their support for Golden Dawn.

Seraphim has often spoken out in public against Jews and homosexuals. For his part, Amvrosios recently called on Golden Dawn officials to change their style so as to boost their ratings.

In the opposite corner are Bishop Pavlos of Siatista and Bishop Chrysostomos of Messinia, along with a number of other clerics. Pavlos was the main rapporteur of a Holy Synod circular that criticized the memorandum. He recently made the headlines by attacking Greece?s neofascist party in a speech where he stressed that the ideas of Golden Dawn and the teachings of the Gospel are ?in direct contradiction and mutually exclusive.? Several bishops followed his example.

Observers say the mild-mannered Ieronymos will find it hard to find any middle ground between the two sides and at the same time administer Church finances which have been seriously dented by the declining value of National Bank shares and other assets.

?The archbishop has had to grapple with the beasts, which is out of character,? said an unnamed source, who added that many people wished he possessed the communication skills of the late Archbishop Christodoulos ? if not his political ambitions.

?He knows that the more conservative albeit charismatic Bishop Nikolaos of Mesogaia is lurking around the corner. He wants to distance himself from the extremists, without engaging in direct confrontation with them. He is a low-key individual who despises conflict.?

Nevertheless, a section of Greece?s religious leaders want to stop Golden Dawn from using the Orthodox religion and popular religious sentiment as a means of extracting political capital from the electorate. Several are making steps to reinforce the Church?s social mission while a number of issues ? such as ending state control over Church property that could be used to create a fund for weaker social groups ? still remain unresolved.

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