SYRIZA Church-State Separation Narrowly Backed by Parliament

February 17, 2019

ATHENS – Atheist Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras’ plan to separate the state from the Greek Church was approved in an initial phase in Parliament by a single vote over the majority needed but will face a tougher test after the elections.

The proposal was for a Constitutional change but means that the next Parliament will have to ratify it by at least 180 votes in the 300-member body, not the 151 it received in the first vote. But it won’t even get that far without a second approval by the current body of lawmakers that’s due on March 13.

The proposal by the leftist SYRIZA government is for the article’s wording to be changed to “the Greek State is neutral in terms of religion. The prevailing religion in Greece is the Orthodox Church, which is in integrally united, in dogma, with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, and every Orthodox Church that and adheres to the Apostles’ and Ecumenical Synod’s rules and ecclesiastical tradition.”

Tsipras wants to move 9,000 priests off state payrolls to the Church, but with the salaries subsidized by the state although he said he would then hire 10,000 more civil servants in what critics said was a transparent bid to buy votes in an election year and his fortunes plummeting after reneging on anti-austerity promises.

The deal to pay the clerics as Church employees but not civil servants is “mutually beneficial,” the Education and Religious Affairs Ministry said in a statement following talks between Minister Costas Gavroglou and church officials, said Kathimerini.

But in a concession, the government said the priests’ salaries would be paid using the same provisions as civil servants, leaving unclear what the difference was. The Church, however, is still reviewing the offer with the final decision expected to be taken by the Holy Synod in March at the earliest.

Bishop Hierotheos of Nafpaktos told the paper the Holy Synod was determined that the labor status of priests should not change, noting that the document presented by Gavroglou indicated that the government has not fundamentally changed its stance.

The discussions are on a plan agreed in principle last year between Archbishop Ieronymos and Tsipras to move clerics off the state’s payroll and jointly develop disputed real estate assets.

A joint statement by the Church of Greece following talks with a delegation from the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate said that the two institutions were “in full agreement… on the preservation of the current salary status of the Orthodox clergy.”

They also oppose the proposed revision of the Constitution referring to a “religiously neutral” state.


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