Deadlock in Greece's bid to reform Church salaries

FRENCH PRESS AGENCY - AFP
ATHENS
Published 23.03.2019 00:17

Efforts by Greece's leftist government to overhaul historically close links between the state and the powerful Orthodox Church has ended in deadlock, the head of the Church of Greece said Friday.

Archbishop Ieronymos said the Holy Synod, governing body of the Church of Greece, had this week "unanimously" decided against a state proposal to change the way clerical salaries are paid.

Speaking to Ethnos daily, Ieronymos said the church was still open to talks "but the discussion does not just concern salaries. There is room for discussion on many other issues."

The government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had for months been seeking a deal on clerical salaries, until now paid by the government, and a significant amount of land, its exact worth still under evaluation to end the decades-long dispute with the church.

In turn, the church wants to reduce tax on its real estate, and seeks compensation for church land donated in the 19th century to the state for schools, public squares and other infrastructure. To break the deadlock, Tsipras and Ieronymos announced in November that a state-church fund would be created to jointly develop disputed lands.

The PM also announced that Greece's 10,000 clerics would be effectively stripped of their status as civil servants, though their salary would still be paid out of a different state account.

With his Syriza party trailing in polls ahead of elections scheduled for October, analysts said Tsipras may have been trying to win over his disillusioned left-wing base. But the church spat provoked swift criticism across the board. Tsipras earlier this month also introduced changes to the constitution enabling state officials to take non-religious oaths, and officially defining the Greek state as "religion-neutral." Parliament must approve the amendments after the election.

The Orthodox Church is one of the most powerful institutions in the country, with influence in politics and justice. In 2000, backed by massive rallies, it unsuccessfully tried to force the then socialist government to keep religion on Greeks' identity cards.

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