Who should we believe? The prime minister, who made a commitment to pass legislation allowing same-sex marriage, or the high-ranking clerics who never miss an opportunity to vent their homophobic vitriol?

The dilemma would never have come up – given that this is a country with a clear separation between Church and state, right? – if certain moves over the past few weeks hadn’t cast doubt over the extent of that separation. 

In a social media post before he stepped down as citizen protection minister on Friday, for example, Notis Mitarakis had written about how “honored” he was to meet with the metropolitan bishop of Piraeus – he even posted a photo of the meeting – and to speak with the bishop of Serres, after they sought clarifications on behalf of the Church of Greece’s Holy Synod with regard to the new national identification cards that the government said it is planning to issue. Mitarakis went on to say that he “assured” the clerics that the new IDs will not contain any data that “jeopardizes the freedom of Greek citizens or offends the Greek Orthodox faith in any way.”

The new IDs, which will be the size of a credit card as opposed to the bigger format used now, are supposed to be an evolutionary leap from those issued in the distant summer of 2000 under the government of Kostas Simitis, who had refused to capitulate to the demands of the Church – and not without paying for it, politically – for the individual’s religious faith to continue being included.

The message in 2023 is a lot more mixed. The center-right government, which was elected to a second term in office in June by an overwhelming majority, does not appear willing to keep the required distance from the Church. There are many channels through which the state could have informed the Church hierarchy of developments and addressed the concerns of a large portion of the population, unofficially. So, what’s with the posts and photographs? What purpose do they serve?

The swearing-in ceremony of the new cabinet was also recent enough that people remember how all the ministers and their deputies (with the exception of Panos Tsakloglou) took the religious oath of office, as did the majority of New Democracy’s MPs. Many also took the additional step of reverence by touching their forehead to the archbishop’s hand, or even kissing it.

And why not? What’s the problem? The government can be technocratic, reformist and conservative. It can be progressive and opposed to some forms of change. What matters at the end of the day is who makes the decisions and in favor of which side. Is this true, though, or does this desire to please everyone also contain certain risks? Such as sincere efforts being confused with hypocritical intentions. A resignation may save some face, but the impression has already been made – and will be remembered. 

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