Unholy row over Church deal


Just days before the Holy Synod’s emergency meeting to discuss a tentative deal between Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Archbishop Ieronymos on relations between Church and state, bishops have been lining up to denounce and reject it.

The agreement, which also seeks to resolve a long-standing property dispute, stipulates that the Church would recognize the state’s “religious neutrality” and, in exchange, the state will guarantee the wages of some 10,000 priests, even though they will be removed from the state payroll.

Church officials however view the changes in the way clerics will be paid and to their labor rights as the agreement’s biggest thorns.

“The agreement cannot pass, such an act would be national suicide,” outspoken Bishop Anthimos of Thessaloniki told Skai Television Monday, adding that he was “certain” it won’t be approved by the Holy Synod, which convenes on Friday.

But objections have also come from the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate, which is opposed to any changes that will impact clerics under its jurisdiction – namely those of the Church of Crete.

Education Minister Costas Gavroglou met with Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios in Istanbul on Saturday in a bid to iron out the differences, but to no avail.

In a statement, the Church of Crete, which has some 900 clerics, said that there is no “national, social or legal need” to make any changes to the relationship between the Church and state. Moreover, it said that changes to the way priests are paid are not called for.

The deal, the statement said, does not secure the labor rights of clerics, while it added that the deal has “gaps” and places the future of hundreds of clerics’ families on Crete in limbo.

Speaking to Kathimerini, a government official bemoaned the fact that the Church of Crete is showing no willingness to engage in dialogue on the issue of Church and state.

No reference was made in the agreement between Tsipras and Ieronymos to the patriarchates of Jerusalem, Alexandria and Sinai, which are also under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.