State, Church make peace after row on religion classes


Emergency talks on Wednesday night between Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and the head of the Church of Greece, Archbishop Ieronymos, appeared to have healed a rift between the government and the Church over the structure and content of religion classes at the country’s school.

“The misunderstandings have been resolved,” said Ieronymos after the two-hour meeting at Tsipras’s office in the Maximos Mansion.

The religious leader added that the Church and the government would continue to discuss the makeup of religion classes but had agreed that for this year the textbooks used so far would not be changed.

Education Minister Nikos Filis, who had spearheaded the effort to make the classes more like religious studies lessons and less dominated by Greek Orthodox teachings, also suggested that a truce had been brokered.

“The government does not have a dogmatic approach,” he said. “We want there to be a discussion, and we will continue having one.”

The meeting was also attended by coalition partner Defense Minister Panos Kammenos. “We covered all the issues and touched on misunderstandings from the past,” said the Independent Greeks leader. “The Church and state will move on united.”

The dispute over the religion classes threatened to boil over after Filis accused the Church of failing to stand up to the 1967-74 military dictatorship, while Ieronymos hit back at the minister and suggested that he was overstepping his authority.

There were also reports that while addressing Church hierarchs on Tuesday, Ieronymos challenged Tsipras to hold a referendum on whether the state and Church should be separated. A Church spokesman denied on Wednesday that the archbishop mentioned such a thing.

Kammenos held talks with Ieronymos last week in an effort to smooth things over, culminating in last night’s talks between the archbishop and the prime minister.

Tsipras did not make any comments after the meeting but sources close to the prime minister suggested that the talks, which were attended by several other bishops, had been fruitful and that discussions between the government and the Church would continue.