Pressure on archbishop

The head of the Church of Greece came under increasing pressure to step down yesterday after the emergence of claims linking him closer than ever before to a fugitive drug dealer and a priest alleged to be at the center of a trial-fixing ring, but the government refused to join in the calls for his resignation. Archbishop Christodoulos’s press office issued a statement late Wednesday denying claims by Kyriakos, Bishop of Nazareth, a spokesman for the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, that Christodoulos had sent Apostolos Vavilis, a convicted drug smuggler wanted by Interpol, there in 2001 to help with the election of Patriarch Irenaios. Wednesday’s accusations came just a day after a senior member of the judiciary reportedly said that Archimandrite Iakovos Yiossakis – who is in jail pending trial for antiquities theft and is allegedly implicated in a trial-fixing ring – had helped him meet Christodoulos twice. The archbishop subsequently acknowledged the priest’s presence at the meeting, having previously denied knowing him. Following Kyriakos’s claims, Chrysostomos, Bishop of Zakynthos, yesterday called for the archbishop to resign. He was backed by Efstathios Kollas, the head of a priests’ union. Chrysostomos is the second bishop in less than a week to publicly display a lack of support for Christodoulos. On Saturday, at a plenary meeting of the Church of Greece’s bishops, Germanos, Bishop of Ileia, proposed an unprecedented no-confidence vote. The archbishop won the ballot comfortably but it appears the door has since opened to his critics. Sources close to Christodoulos yesterday indicated that he had no intention of standing down and is determined to change the tide of public opinion that seems to have turned against him in recent weeks. The government continued to resist being publicly drawn into the crisis. «The government is not raising the subject of the archbishop’s resignation,» said Education and Religion Minister Marietta Giannakou, who also rejected the idea of a separation between the Church and State. Alternate Government Spokesman Evangelos Antonaros said that the government did not have the authority to intervene in the matter. Meanwhile, Vavilis’s brother, Dionysios, was questioned by police yesterday. He told officers that the last time he saw his brother was just before Christmas and that he had no knowledge of his current whereabouts.

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