Dissidents ditch Irenaios

In the strongest display, so far, of opposition to the scandal-mired Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem, over three dozen Patriarchate officials yesterday said they were severing all ties with Irenaios over his alleged role in covert land deals, adding that they no longer considered him head of the Church. The move by 13 bishops and 25 archimandrites to declare Irenaios persona non grata also led to a further deterioration of the patriarch’s frosty relations with Foreign Ministry officials in Athens, who at the end of March stopped just short of summoning Irenaios to resign. Deputy Foreign Minister Panayiotis Skandalakis said the dissidents’ decision, made public in a signed statement, «increases even further our deep concern regarding the serious issues involving the Patriarchate of Jerusalem.» «It is obvious that this is a particularly serious and weighty development,» Skandalakis added. «The Greek government… has taken a clear position on the matter, some time ago.» This prompted a sharp response from the Patriarchate, which voiced «regret» at Skandalakis’s remarks, adding that he had paid no attention to a previous letter of support for Irenaios, signed by 55 churchmen, to Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis. «Nobody has the right to ignore that,» a release from the Patriarchate said. Irenaios, who was elected in 2001 amid considerable controversy – and with the aid of a convicted drug dealer who, the patriarch claims, was sent to help his election by the head of the Church of Greece, Archbishop Christodoulos – has been under intense pressure to resign since mid-March, when an Israeli newspaper published claims that he secretly sold Church land in the Arab sector of Jerusalem to Jews. This infuriated Palestinian politicians and members of the Patriarchate’s flock – although only two of the churchmen who signed yesterday’s statement were Palestinians, the others being Greek. Irenaios denied the claims, while labeling his detractors «worms and pieces of rubbish.» Yesterday’s statement by the 38 dissidents, many of whom in the past have urged the patriarch to step down, said he was «incorrigibly caught up in a syndrome of lying, religious distortion, degradation of the Patriarchate’s role and irresponsible mishandling of Patriarchate property.» The patriarch retorted that the statement had «automatically placed [its authors] outside the brotherhood,» and accused the dissidents of having chosen «the path of treason, canonical irregularity and illegality.»