ATHENS – Greek priests won’t have to be convicted of a serious crime to be punished – just being charged will be enough for them to lose half their salary under a bill submitted by the Ministry of Education to Parliament.
They wouldn’t be named either as Greek and European Union privacy laws generally forbid revealing identities unless a person is convicted although politicians and celebrities and people in high-profile cases are often named while sometimes even those convicted of crimes aren’t.
Under the measures, priests who are convicted of crimes including a long range of felonies and serious abuses will be removed from the payroll, said Kathimerini, noting this is the first time such penalties would be brought.
Until now, a decision to withhold a priest’s salary could only be taken by the Church’s judicial bodies which allowed the possibility that even someone convicted could keep collecting their pay.
That ranges between 21,822-36,808 euros ($22,011-$37,127) annually, not including fees paid for services in and out of the Church. The average base salary is 25,319 euros ($25,538,) according to the site Salary Expert.
Priests in the powerful Greek Orthodox Church have been treated as civil servants in Greece and their salaries – estimated at about 200 million euros ($201.73 million) annually – have been paid by the state.
Among the offenses described in the bill are theft, embezzlement, fraud, extortion, forgery, bribery, breach of duty, defamation, any crime against sexual freedom or crime of economic exploitation of sexual life, physical harm to a fetus or newborn, offenses related domestic violence, abduction of minors, illegal violence, vigilantism, threats, and disruption of religious gatherings.
If the indicted cleric is acquitted by an irrevocable court decision, they will be paid any amount withheld with interest, upon their request, but only the Church can remove them from their posts.
The former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA, in a belated attempt at separation of Church and State, wanted to take 10,000 clerics off state payrolls but that idea was set aside when it was trounced in July, 2019 snap elections by New Democracy, the Conservatives scrapping any possibility that would happen.
The Education Ministry said it’s a “turning point” because the kind of crimes listed “provoke such a social disapproval that they offend, tarnish the special moral value that the average person demands from a religious official, not only the religion to which he belongs, but also in general from religious ministers of any religion.”
”This is a crucial reform which strengthens social cohesion, consolidates the distinct roles of State and Church,” it also said.
Under the bill, a prosecutor conducting the criminal investigation will have to inform the Diocese and the Directorate of Religious Administration of the Department of Education and Religious Affairs to make the salary cut.
Also, the secretariat of the criminal court that issues the irrevocable court decision will have to inform the same bodies and authorities, to remove the convicted cleric from the payroll, the report also added.