Tentative deal with Church fuels unease
Archbishop says agreement depends on clerics amid protests as gov’t heralds 10,000 civil service hires
In the wake of Tuesday’s announcement by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Archbishop Ieronymos of a tentative deal to change the way clerics are paid and resolve a long-standing property dispute, both sides elaborated yesterday, though much remained unclear.
Amid indications of objections within the Church, Ieronymos said a firm deal was still a way off. “We do not have an agreement but an intention to reach an agreement,” he said after a session of the Holy Synod, adding that the country’s 82 bishops will discuss the matter soon, probably before Christmas.
As regards the Church’s assets, he said references to excessive wealth were a “myth.” An agreement, which foresees a joint fund to manage the church’s property, would be “for the mutual benefit of the people and the Church.” Any deal would have to have the backing of clerics, he added.
However there are objections. The Association of Greek Clergymen called for a stop to the “shameful” agreement. Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios is said to have asked for further details about the plan. (The Churches of the Dodecanese islands and Crete fall under his jurisdiction.)
The government also elaborated on its intentions, with spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos saying that moving some 10,000 clerics off the state payroll would “free up” space for another 10,000 public hirings. The hires could include doctors and teachers, he said, conceding that they could only be done from 2020 (when it is likely SYRIZA will no longer be in power following elections next year).
The bid to resolve a longstanding property dispute is a “historic initiative” that has not been undertaken since the creation of the Greek state, Tzanakopoulos said, calling for opposition support. Conservative New Democracy accused the government of “clumsy backpedaling” from over-ambitious promises to separate Church and State.