Deal to loosen cozy church-state ties falls apart

A tentative agreement between Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Archbishop Ieronymos to move Greek clerics off the state payroll, ceasing to characterize them as civil servants, appeared to have all but collapsed on Tuesday following a session of the Holy Synod.

Ieronymos made it clear after the emergency session that the deal, which he and Tsipras announced last November, was not acceptable to the Holy Synod while also condemning clerics who criticized the deal without proposing alternative solutions.

Indeed, he blamed the entire synod for “stifling the right to free discussion” during the sessions of a special panel of church and government officials set up to discuss all aspects of the proposed changes.

Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Messinia commented that the government had originally committed to drafting a bill setting out the proposed changes but had not presented it to clerics, who were therefore unable to accurately assess what repercussions the changes would have.

In an attempt to salvage something of the agreement, Ieronymos proposed further dialogue on aspects of the tentative deal not related to clerics’ salary status. However, he also referred to “aberrations” by the state, particularly as relates to interventions regarding church property.

Commenting after the meeting, Education and Religious Affairs Minister Costas Gavroglou underlined the state’s interest in the continuation of dialogue in a statement that took a clear dig at the church. “We are in favor of consensus,” Gavroglou said, noting however that the Council of State has ruled that clerics are not civil servants. “God help the Holy Synod,” he said.

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