Tentative deal with Church fuels unease


In the wake of Tuesday’s announcement by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Archbishop Ieronymos of a tentative deal to change the way clerics are paid and resolve a long-standing property dispute, both sides sought to elaborate on Wednesday, though much remained unclear.

Amid indications of objections within the Church, Ieronymos stressed that a firm deal was still a way off. “We do not have an agreement but an intention to reach an agreement,” he said after a session of the Holy Synod, adding that the country’s 82 bishops will discuss the matter soon, probably before Christmas.

As regards the Church’s assets, the archbishop insisted that references to excessive wealth were a “myth.” An agreement, which foresees a joint fund to manage and exploit the church’s property, would be “for the mutual benefit of the people and the Church,” he said. Any final deal would have to have the backing of clerics, he added. 

However there are already objections. The Association of Greek Clergymen called for a stop to the “shameful” agreement, saying its members felt “betrayed” at not being consulted.

Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios is said to have asked for further details about the plan. The Churches of the Dodecanese islands and Crete fall under his jurisdiction.

The government also elaborated on its intentions, with spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos saying that moving some 10,000 clerics off the state payroll would “free up” space for another 10,000 hirings in the civil service.

The recruitments could include doctors and teachers, he said, conceding however that the new hires could only be done in 2020, when it is quite likely that leftist SYRIZA will no longer be in power following elections next year.

The bid to resolve a longstanding property dispute is a “historic initiative” that has not been undertaken since the creation of the Greek state, Tzanakopoulos said, calling on opposition parties to support it.

Conservative New Democracy accused the government of “clumsy backpedaling” from over-ambitious promises to separate Church and State.