Education Minister, Abp. Ieronymos Battle Over Religion Classes

Greek Education Minister Nikos Filis (L) with Archbishop Ieronymos

ATHENS – Archbishop Ieronymos isn’t backing down from his fight with Education Minister Nikos Filis over the Church’s demand only the Greek Orthodox religion be taught in schools.

The two exchanged fiery letters, the newspaper Kathimerini said, over the decision by Filis and the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA and Premier Alexis Tsipras, said to be an Atheist who came to power voting separation of Church and State.

Filis wants religion classes to be taught in a secular manner instead of proselytizing but the Church doesn’t want other religions in the curricula.

This prompted a reaction from the Church, the newspaper said, which then triggered a backlash from Filis, who questioned the Church’s role during the 1967-74 military dictatorship, accused of backing the dictatorial Colonels.

The Archbishop fired back that, “The matter of the Church is one for the people and not for a minister,” also denying the Church was tight with the repressive junta that imprisoned and tortured opponents.

The Archbishop said the Church’s role had been “consistent and irreproachable,” and claimed that any criticism was prompted by the “ideological interpretations” of critics.

Filis said that the debate regarding the Church’s role during the junta was one for “scientific and broader public debates” that should happen “calmly so that we can all learn from our mistakes.”

Deputy Education Minister Sia Anagnostopoulou tried to bring a truce in the feud and said that, “It is a dispute that should end here, for all of our sakes.”

Speaking at a press conference in the western port city of Patra, Anagnostopoulou said “there is no cause for conflict between the Church and the political leadership of the Education Ministry over religion classes,” but said the government, not the Church, decides what’s taught in schools.

Anagnostopoulou said that the curriculum was developed by a committee that included theologians and education experts.

“I don’t understand why the Church feels threatened when the education minister decides to implement the recommendations of theologians themselves,” she said.