ATHENS – An agreement Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras – an atheist – said he reached with Archbishop Ieronymos for separation of Church and State in return for the government removing clerics from state payrolls – but guaranteeing their wages – has been rejected by clerics.
The Association of Greek Clergymen called for a stop to the “shameful” agreement, saying its members felt “betrayed” at not being consulted, Kathimerini said, with the Archbishop quickly backpedaling to say it’s still being discussed but hasn’t been agreed.
“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.
He also said repeated stories that the Church is wealthy were a “myth,” and said that any agreement including a joint fund to manage and exploit the church’s property, would be “for the mutual benefit of the people and the Church,” he said.
Any final deal would have to have the backing of clerics, he added, without explaining how they could be won over and as the government was trying to explain how taking clerics off state payrolls – but paying them with state funds as a subsidy – would free up 10,000 jobs.
If the deal goes through, the Church will not go against the atheist Tsipras’ scheme of “religious neutrality,” which the Premier promised he would do when taking power in 2015 but waited more than three years before attempting.
Tsipras said that clerics will no longer be considered civil servants paid by the government bute will be paid by the church – guaranteed by the government with an annual subsidy of 189 million euros ($216.09) with no explanation why technically the state still isn’t paying the priests.
The major rival New Democracy and other critics said a desperate Tsipras is trying to buy votes after plunging in polls for reneging on anti-austerity promises and with the Conservatives holding big leads with new elections required by October, 2019.
Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos saying that moving some 10,000 clerics off the state payroll would “free up” space to hire other workers, including doctors and teachers without explaining from where the money would come if the state keeps paying the clergy through a back door subsidy deal.
He acknowledged, however, that if the plan were to proceed that there couldn’t be any new hirings until 2020, when it would be likely SYRIZA would not be in power anymore although it could for now dangle the prospect before voters.
for another 10,000 hirings in the civil service.
New Democracy accused the government of “clumsy backpedaling” from over-ambitious promises to separate Church and State.