Greek priests attack pay deal
Priests from the Greek Orthodox Church have condemned an agreement between Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Archbishop of Athens Ieronymos to remove around 10,000 priests and other staff from the state payroll.
This week’s deal foresees the setup of a special fund to control church assets, and changes to clerical salaries who will no longer be categorised as civil servants but will be paid by the church through annual state subsidies.
In return, the church will not oppose moves to make the Greek state “religion-neutral” and drop any claim to property previously taken over by the authorities.
The property dispute dates back to 1952. Both sides said they would set up a joint fund to manage and develop sites with disputed ownership. Revenues and bills would be split equally, the joint statement said.
Greece has been cutting its public sector after years of international bailouts. In 2015, 18 per cent of the Greek workforce was employed in the state sector.
Church payments will be made through an annual subsidy of around €200 million and that fund will not be affected if the number of priests changes.
The Orthodox church has deep roots in Greece.
Every new Greek government, including the last two headed by left-wing Syriza boss Alexis Tsipras, have invited the clergy to sanctify the cabinet’s swearing-in ceremony.
Clerics’ union spokesman Father Georgios Vamvakidis said the agreement would be opposed by the vast majority of the Greek bishops. He said Ieronymos did not have the authorisation to sign the deal, warning that parliamentarians who voted for the accord would lose the priest vote.
“The reaction is going to be massive and unprecedented in Greece’s history,” Vamvakidis warned.
Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said, “the aim of the agreement is to create a framework for settling historically outstanding issues”.
“For the first time since the establishment of the Greek state, there is an attempt at a resolution, not through unilateral actions but through an agreement between the Church of Greece and the Greek state on an equal basis, following a sincere dialogue conducted in good faith to settle the issue of the church’s assets,” Tzanakopoulos added.
Greek schools still start their day with a prayer and continue to teach religious education throughout the 12-year mandatory education.
Greek courts have a religious icon above the judge and some government forms still require a citizens’ religious denomination to be detailed, despite this being strictly illegal.
The Greek Orthodox Church remains deeply tied to life in the Aegean state. Picture credit: Pexels