Discontent festers over church-state initiative

Discontent festers over church-state initiative

Amid simmering resentment within the Church of Greece over a tentative deal between Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Archbishop Ieronymos to take clerics off the state payroll, a delegation from the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate is expected to visit Athens in the coming days to discuss the contentious proposal. 

The talks follow a visit earlier this month to Istanbul by Education and Religious Affairs Minister Costas Gavroglou, who promised to “pass on” the skepticism of Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios, under whose jurisdiction several Greek churches fall. 

Meanwhile, the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate is to convene from tomorrow to Thursday to discuss the matter. 

Another significant issue on the agenda, however, is the possible resignation of Archbishop Demetrios of America, which the patriarch has been seeking for some time. Demetrios, 90, will most likely be replaced temporarily by Metropolitan Sotirios of Toronto, 82, Kathimerini understands. 

Meanwhile, Ieronymos is attempting to keep a lid on the upheaval that has been triggered with the Church of Greece’s Holy Synod over his agreement with Tsipras to begin a gradual separation of church and state. 

According to sources, Ieronymos is dissatisfied with the way that the government has handled the matter.

Tsipras’s administration, for its part, is seeking to strike a tricky balance between showing decisiveness in a bid to attract voters from across the political spectrum ahead of elections next year and allaying the concerns of priests who fear losing their job security.

The government has pledged 10,000 hirings to replace the priests, who would continue to be paid via a state subsidy to be deposited in a state fund.

Even if clerics’ objections are overcome, the plan might also provoke the displeasure of the European Commission, which frequently takes issue with EU governments paying out state subsidies.

According to sources, the government has been taken aback by the vehement response by some clerics to the proposed deal. Officials close to Tsipras are closely monitoring public opinion on the issue.

If polls show the majority of the public to be behind Tsipras, it is possible that the government might act unilaterally. If most appear to oppose the prospect of a deal, the authorities might shelve the initiative.

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