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2019

First Semester of 2019: Church-State Relations in Greece
In Greece, many people expected that the agreement between Prime Minister Tsipras and Archbishop Hieronymus on the payroll of the 10,000 (...)

  • First Semester of 2019: Church-State Relations in Greece

In Greece, many people expected that the agreement between Prime Minister Tsipras and Archbishop Hieronymus on the payroll of the 10,000 Orthodox priests would bring an end to the status of the clerics as civil servants, and would also bring changes to the Church-State relations. Moreover, there was a first step was taken for the creation of a fund that would be established by the Orthodox Church of Greece and the Greek State to administer the land property, the ownership status of which has been under dispute between the State and the Church. Overall, this deal is viewed as a first step for the separation of Church and State in Greece, in relation to the constitutional revision currently under discussion. The article 3 of the Greek constitution refers to the Eastern Orthodox Church as the “prevailing religion in Greece”. Syriza administration proposed the reformation of article 3 by establishing the following clause, “The term ‘prevailing religion’ does not recognize an official state religion”. However, the meeting of the entire hierarchy of the Church of Greece rejected the Tsipras-Hieronymus deal and the Holy Synod decided to continue the State-Church dialogue.

Changing the status of the Orthodox priest workers still remains a red line for the Orthodox Church. Moreover, the hierarchy wishes to continue the dialogue on ecclesiastical property in a different manner: namely, the Church believes that it has not been fully compensated for its properties expropriated in the past. The Orthodox Church of Greece also wishes to continue the dialogue on the status of priests as civil servants, as well as to increase the number of clerics.

Finally, the Orthodox Church expresses opposition to the constitutional proposals of the Government on religious neutrality. The Minister of Education did not promise that the government would proceed unilaterally to file a bill. On the other hand, he attacked the Holy clergy association which suggested that the choices of the Syriza government would affect the vote of the clergy in the forthcoming national elections.

Another issue worth mentioning is that of cremation in Greece. Archbishop Hieronymos stated that the Church has a duty to safeguard the Orthodox faith and assured that burials still will be held. Cremation was legalised in Greece in 2006. More than 10 years later, though, not a single cremation has taken place in Greece, because no crematoriums have been built yet. However, despite opposition from the Church of Greece, Thessaloniki’s first crematorium is well under construction at the first municipal cemetery in Thermi (Thessaloniki).

Finally, changes in the penal code created a new conflict between Church and State in Greece, even though the Minister of Justice Michalis Kalogirou insisted that the draft codes are not final texts. The semi-autonomous Church of Crete expressed its strong opposition to the changes, especially to the proposed abolition of articles 198, 199 [200] and 201. Article 198 refers to malicious blasphemy. It stipulates in paragraph 1 that “everyone who publicly and maliciously, by any means, blasphemes God, shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than two years”. Moreover, according to article 199, “one who publicly and maliciously, by any means, blasphemes the Eastern Orthodox Church or any other religion tolerable in Greece, shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than two years”. Article 200 stipulates in paragraph 1 that “one who maliciously attempts to obstruct or intentionally disrupts a religious assembly for service or ceremony permitted […] shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than two years”. Finally, Article 201 on the desecration of corpses says that “one who wilfully removes a corpse, parts of a corpse or the ashes of the dead from those who have lawful custody thereof, or one who commits an offence against a corpse or acts blasphemously and improperly towards a grave shall be punished by imprisonment of not more than two years”.

Sources:
- Hellenic Parliament, Committee on Cultural and Educational Affairs, Proceedings (2019).
- Statements of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece (2019).
- Statements of the Holy Eparchial Synod of the Church of Crete (2019).

Emmanouil Chalkiadakis
  • February 2019: Tsipras - Hieronymus Agreement on the payroll of the Orthodox priests

In case of implementation, the draft agreement between Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Archbishop Hieronymus of the Orthodox Church of Greece (OCG) will bring an end to the status of the clerics as civil servants, and will bring changes to the Church-State relations in Greece. In particular, almost 10,000 Orthodox priests and 100 metropolitans and bishops will not be considered public servants anymore. However, the Greek State will continue to pay indirectly the salary of the clergy, in accord with a 1939 agreement. This is interpreted as stipulating that the Greek State remunerated the Church for expropriating its property. On the other hand, the State will be able to hire the said number of employees in various offices, covering the important needs of the administration in human capital, while reducing the heavy unemployment rates. According to the draft agreement, priests would be paid from a fund of 200 million euros, which the OCG would annually receive from the Greek State. The Church of Greece will be responsible for the distribution of wages. In short, the State will continue subsiding the wages for 10,000 clergyman, but the clergy will not be officially anymore in the state payroll with the status of civil servants. Moreover, a new fund will be established by the OCG and the Greek State to administer the landed property, the ownership status of which has been under dispute between the State and the OCG. This fund was supposed to be governed by a five member board (two appointed by OCG, two by the State and one in consultation).
Overall, this deal is viewed as a first step for the separation of Church and State in Greece, being related to the constitutional revision currently under discussion. The article 3 of the Greek constitution refers to the Eastern Orthodox Church as the “prevailing religion in Greece”. Syriza administration proposed the reformation of article 3via establishing the following clause “the term ‘prevailing religion’ does not recognize an official state religion”.
However, the meeting of the entire hierarchy of the Church of Greece rejected the Tsipras-Hieronymus deal and the Holy Synod decided to continue the State-Church dialogue. In particular, an important segment of the hierarchy put forward its objections, based on the perception that some of the clerics won’t be paid anymore by the state, and reject the participation of the State in the fund which will utilize the alleged Church’s property. It has been suggested that the stance of some of the opposing prelates was politically driven.
The main problem of the Tsipras-Hieronymus agreement is that it ignores the special ecclesiastical status of the Orthodox Church in Greece, because Archbishop Hieronymus is not the only representative of the Orthodox Church in the Greek State. There are several dioceses in Greece, in territories that became part of the Greek State after the Balkan Wars (1912-1913), known as “New Lands”. Most of these dioceses are administered as part of the Church of Greece for practical reasons, but the Ecumenical Patriarchate has ecclesiastical jurisdiction over these “New Lands”. In general, Crete (semi-autonomous Church, since 1900), Dodecanese, Mount Athos and the dioceses of Northern Greece are under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was concerned about the agreement, since he was not informed about it in advance.
Currently, the Syriza administration continues the dialogue with the interested parts, including the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The main issues under discussion are:
1. The inclusion of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Church of Crete in the agreement, i.e. the way of subsiding the wages of the clergy under their jurisdiction.
2. The management of the created fund and the establishment of a regulatory framework that would guarantee the payment of the clergy, while blocking the possibility of maladministration by the upper hierarchy.
3. The management of the property fund, i.e. its regulatory framework, the properties under its supervision, etc.
The accomplishment of a final agreement, at least in the near future, is an open question. This is mainly because the general elections are due for 2019, and it is highly improbable whether the Syriza administration would choose to set the electoral agenda on a question, which is considered to be a ‘signature issue’ of the conservative right-wing party of New Democracy.

Emmanouil Chalkiadakis, Konstantinos Papastathis

D 3 June 2019    AEmmanouil Chalkiadakis AKonstantinos Papastathis

2017

May 2017: Gender Identity Bill
The Greek Parliament voted on legal gender recognition. In particular, the government bill allows people to change their gender identity on all official documents (...)

  • May 2017: Gender Identity Bill

The Greek Parliament voted on legal gender recognition. In particular, the government bill allows people to change their gender identity on all official documents without requiring a psychiatric diagnosis or a medical intervention for its recognition.
Moreover, following many EU member states, the law allows trans individuals to determine their own desired gender from the age of 15.
The Orthodox Church of Greece condemned this law as immoral, considering it a negative development for social cohesion, as it will "destroy human beings". Moreover, the influential monastic community of Mount Athos considered the bill as a "violation of the law of God".
On the other hand, despite the Church’s negative stance, the voting of the new legal framework did not lead neither to a large-scale mobilization of the Church against its implementation, nor to the polarization of the political competition on the basis of the so-called family value system agenda.

Sources :
- Website of the Ministry of Justice (in Greek)
- See also Greek Reporter and Greek City Times.

  • 27 March 2017: The future Constitutional Reform

The Government published its proposals on the Constitutional reform. As regards religion, it proposes the ‘distinctiveness between state and church, in full respect of the Orthodox Church and its historical role.’ Accordingly, it upholds the express protection of the state’s religious neutrality, while recognizing Orthodoxy from a historical perspective as the ‘prevailing’ religion. All other provisions of art. 3, e.g. the unity with the other Orthodox Churches, or the actual synodal system, will no longer be protected by the Constitution. The recognition of the Orthodox Church as ‘prevailing’ historically, will not have a negative effect on other religious groups (art. 3). Moreover, the proposed reform will establish civil oath as mandatory upon assuming public office (art.13).

  • March 2017: Public opinion poll on Church and State relations

A public opinion poll was conducted between 20-23 March 2017 (Palmos Analysis for TVXS website, in Greek) with regard to religion. It reveals that 54% of respondants disagree with the idea of a full separation between church and state, while 42% agree (5% do not answer). 84% agree with the taxation of religious property (13% disagree, 4% do not answer). Meanwhile, 85% are against the abolition of religious education at school (12 disagree, and 2% do not answer).

  • 3 March 2017: Creation of private facilities for cremation

Cremation is legal in Greece since February 2016. However, the strong opposition of Greek Orthodox Church has hindered its implementation for the past two years. The Minister of Interior P. Skourletis announced in Parliament the Government’s decision to establish a legal framework, which will allow the creation of private facilities for cremation (see ert, in Greek). Since the municipalities, which are the competent authorities to establish and run such facilities, have been reluctant to make the necessary arrangements, the proposal of a relevant bill is considered as an obligation for safeguarding the respect of the individual right of free choice.

D 14 November 2017    AKonstantinos Papastathis

2016

November 2016: Religious education at school
The relations between the Government and the Church of Greece have deteriorated during the last few months, mainly because the government plans to (...)

  • November 2016: Religious education at school

The relations between the Government and the Church of Greece have deteriorated during the last few months, mainly because the government plans to transform the religious class given in primary and secondary education, from a course with a clear confessional character into a course in which the pupils will get acquainted with the cultural frames, value systems, and doctrines of all the world religions. This governmental plan has triggered a strong reaction from the Church of Greece, threatening the current modus vivendi. It is interesting to note that archbishop Hieronymus has recently started to approach the hardliners, moving away from his moderate stance into a more conservative and rigorist discourse. The late replacement of the minister of Education and Cults, Nikos Philis (4/11/2016), who was accused by archbishop Hieronymus of anti-clerical tendencies, practically marks the blocking of the neutralization process of the religious education. Syriza party withdrew their pro-secular agenda in front of the threat to social unity at a critical time for the country’s economy. The state’s administration also withdrew, due to the firm reaction of the Independent Greeks party, namely the coalition partner of Syriza.

  • August 2016: Changes for Muslims in Greece

The Parliament issued a legal bill (3/8/2016) regarding the modification of the contour plan, which would allow the erection of the Mosque in Athens (see an article of Efsyn.) This file has been in a state of limbo for decades. This decision was made possible after the decision of the Council of State (7/7/2016), claiming that the construction would not cause any environmental damage, and is compatible with the city planning. The bill was voted by all parties, except for the radical right party of Independent Greeks and the neo-Nazi party of the Golden Dawn. Following the same line of thought, the Government has approved three existing mosques in Athens and one in the town of Thebes (3/7/2016), which had not yet received legal approved. There are also plans to construct a separate cemetery for the Muslim community in Athens, in a property donated by the Church of Greece. Finally, a department of Islamic Studies has been officially established at the School of Theology of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. It has been operating since September 2016.

  • 25 July 2016: The proposals of the Government on the future constitutional reform

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has proposed to enshrine in the constitution the idea of state religious neutrality, at the same time maintaining, for historical and practical reasons, the recognition of Orthodoxy as a state religion. Moreover, he supported the mandatory political oath for the elected governmental officials, the judges, and all public servants. Taking into account the traditional position of the Greek left on the separation between Church and State, this might be considered as a conservative shift, dictated by the power equilibrium within the coalition government as well as by the need to avoid social division in a time of financial crisis. With the exception of the Communist party and the Potami party, all parliamentary groups preferred not to take a clear stance. Thus, the possibility of reaching a consensus remains an open question for the years to come. It goes without saying that the opinion of the Church will be central for the actual outcome of the affair.

D 12 December 2016    AKonstantinos Papastathis

2015

September 2015:
from July 18 the Greek banking system has been under the status of ‘capital controls’. Practically that means that an account holder has limited access to her/his deposits and can (...)

  • September 2015:

from July 18 the Greek banking system has been under the status of ‘capital controls’. Practically that means that an account holder has limited access to her/his deposits and can withdraw up to a certain amount of money, i.e. 420 Euros per week. However, since 25/9/2015 the Orthodox Church has been exempted from this general norm (in Greek). Particularly, each Bishopric can withdraw up to 10.000 Euros, while the Archbishopric of Athens up to 20.000.
This exemption was presented as a measure for facilitating the extensive humanitarian aid provided by the Church, e.g. soup-kitchens. On the other hand, since e-banking transfers are exempted from the capital controls framework, and thus the Church’s relevant transactions could be delivered without restrictions, the reasoning behind this exception seems to be more an excuse for the preferential treatment rather than a necessary and well-grounded decision for the social benefit.

  • June 2015:

the Government published a draft bill (in Greek) introducing a system of registered partnership for same-sex couples, almost two years after the decision of the European Court of Human Rights, which condemned Greece for discriminatory treatment. The Orthodox Church of Greece reacted officially after the publication of the draft bill, though not very dynamically. A possible reason might be that the bill makes no reference whatsoever to the right of adoption by same-sex couples.

  • June 2015:

the Orthodox Church of Greece, contrary to the position of the coalition Government, took a clear stance in favour of the YES vote in the Greek bailout referendum.

  • May-June 2015:

some 600.000 visitors worshipped the relics of Saint Varvara during their exposition (10 May-1 June 2015). A State arrival ceremony (i.e. Head of foreign States official welcome) was organized in Athens airport, causing the reaction of some cabinet members, labelling the exposition as ‘relic’s trade’. On the other hand, this statement was viewed by the archbishop’s port-parole as a sign of anti-clericalism aiming at violating the right of religious freedom.

  • April 2015:

the Ministry for the Productive Reconstruction, Environment and Energy issued a legal amendment for removing the obstacles, i.e. modification of the contour plan, which blocked the State funded erection of the Mosque in Athens. It should be noted that the Orthodox Church of Greece has many times declared its scepticism towards the construction.

  • January 2015:

the process of the exemption of pupils from religious class came to the fore once again. Specifically, encyclical 12773/Δ2-23/01/2015 (in Greek), issued in January 2015 by the previous centre-right Government, provides that non-Orthodox Christians pupils in primary and secondary education may be exempted from religion course, on the condition that the parents sign the relevant consent form. The encyclical also stipulates that the headmasters shall have the responsibility to control the validity of the evidence presented to substantiate the application for exemption. Various voices were raised against the implementation of the encyclical on the grounds that it makes the exemption procedure more difficult by defining stricter criteria and technical impediments. It was even suggested that its practical application might lead to the violation of the religious freedom value frame, because the parents are more or less requested to prove to the head of the school that they are not Orthodox Christians in order to have their child exempted. This has a two-fold effect. First, a third person, i.e. the school’s head, acquires the power to intervene in an absolutely personal matter. Second, the parents’ right not to reveal their personal religious or non-religious affiliation is violated.
Within this context, the new Deputy Minister of Education and Cults, Mrs Sia Anagnostopoulou, stated that the current procedure should be abolished on the grounds of religious freedom. Consequently, the sole criterion for the exemption should be a parental statement, without any indication of the reasons for their decision. This statement, however, triggered the reaction of the Archbishop of the Orthodox Church of Greece Hieronymus, who spoke haughtily about the Deputy Minister. In particular, he stressed that Anagnostopoulou’s statement does not express the Government’s policy, but that of ‘some lady who has certain ideas in mind’. For him, the Constitution, which defines that primary and secondary education should have a ‘Christian’ character, cannot be disputed on this point and ‘the Greeks should become serious and not listen to nonsense’.
The subsequent meeting between the Minister of Education and Cults, Mr Nicos Philis, and the Archbishop made clear that the Government is not actually willing to change the current legal framework. It seems that the coalition Government, despite the pro-secular discourse of the Syriza party, is reluctant to put this issue, or any other controversial questions of religious interest, on the table.

D 30 September 2015    AKonstantinos Papastathis

2014

Two important legal developments regarding questions related directly with religious affairs in Greece have taken place from April 2014 until November 2014: Law 4301 concerning the ‘Organization (...)

  • Two important legal developments regarding questions related directly with religious affairs in Greece have taken place from April 2014 until November 2014:

- Law 4301 concerning the ‘Organization of the legal form of the religious communities and their unions in Greece’. The Law establishes a new legal form, that of ‘religious personality’ under private law, for those religious communities, which do not enjoy legal personality under public law (i.e. the Orthodox Church, the Jewish and Muslim communities). The Law also stipulates the absolute freedom of internal administration for the communities under the legal status of ‘religious personality’, as well as the procedure for acquiring it from the judicial authorities; it regulates the framework for their financial administration and for religious buildings and institutions as well. Last but not least, the Law recognizes the Roman Catholic, the Coptic, the Ethiopian, the Armenian, the Anglican and other Churches as ‘religious personalities under private law’ putting an end to a lasting problem in Greek legislation (For more details see).

- Law 4283 provides important tax, financial and administrative privileges for the Monastic Community of Mount Athos (more details here).

D 28 November 2014    AKonstantinos Papastathis

2013

The properties of the Greek Orthodox Church
In the last decades, the question of administration of the vast real estate property of the Orthodox Church of Greece has been of primary importance. (...)

  • The properties of the Greek Orthodox Church

In the last decades, the question of administration of the vast real estate property of the Orthodox Church of Greece has been of primary importance. Until now the Church, due to its status as a legal person under public law, did not have the absolute control over a part of its properties and could not proceed to their use and development. This state of affairs has changed via the institutionalization and enactment of two legal acts:

a) Law 4146/2013: ‘Generating a Growth Friendly Environment for Strategic and Private Investments’ (18 April 2013).
b) Law 4182/2013 (10 September 2013). Amendment: Establishment of the Church Property and Development Company.

A) According to the new Investment Law, the real estate of the Church of Greece as well as that of its institutions or dependencies, having the status of a legal person under public law, are considered to be ‘private’, not state/public, properties. As such, therefore, the Church has the right to manage and develop them according to its own free will, to sell, lease or rent them without facing any impediment on the part of the State.

Relevant Documents:
1) The Law (in Greek)
2) Supplementary Report (in Greek)

B) The aim of the Church Property and Development Company is to administer, manage and develop the real state of the Church of Greece and its institutions. The capital stock of the company is shared equally by the Church and the State. The share capital of each partner cannot be transferred. The Board of Directors is appointed by the Government (two members) and the Archbishop of the Church of Greece (three members).

Relevant Documents:
1) The Law (in Greek)
2) The Report (in Greek)

D 26 September 2013    AKonstantinos Papastathis

2007

Construction of a mosque in Athens
In contrast to the 300 mosques operating in Western Thrace and despite the large numbers of Muslims living in Athens, the city lacks an official mosque. The (...)

  • Construction of a mosque in Athens

In contrast to the 300 mosques operating in Western Thrace and despite the large numbers of Muslims living in Athens, the city lacks an official mosque. The construction of mosques was authorised in the 1930s by law and after the authorisation of both the local metropolitan and the Ministry for Education and Religious Affairs. Since then, efforts to proceed to the construction of the Athens mosque have been delayed.
With the prospect of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, the socialist government decided to authorise the construction of an Islamic cultural centre and mosque in Peania (located in the proximity of the Athens International Airport). Although the mosque would be financed by Saudi Arabia, Greek officials would oversee it. The Church of Greece approved the plan for the construction of a mosque, as a place of worship, but are opposed to the creation a cultural centre. The construction was also postponed because the conservative mayor of Peania, supported by the local bishop, argued that construction plans had not received proper building licence. The local authorities also cited cultural issues and hold that having a minaret would alter the traditional skyline of the town and, being near the airport, it would give a misleading impression to first-time visitors in Athens. Local residents erected a three metre cross at the highest point of the proposed location. Proposals to erect a mosque elsewhere in Athens are still pending. The Muslim population in Athens is therefore still forced to worship in various unofficial and unauthorised places acting as mosques throughout Athens.
According to new governmental plans, Athens is liable to have a mosque financed by the Greek government by 2010. It would probably be erected in the non-residential area of Eleonas close to Omonia at the centre of Athens. This proposition was submitted to the Greek parliament by the Minister of Education and Religious Affairs end of October 2006. Theoretically, the project has been accepted even though some aspects have been rejected by several political parties. They argue that the government’s request to naming the Imam of the mosque could pose problems as the religious and ethnic background of the Muslims in Athens is diverse (Shiites, Sunnites, Pakistanis, Iranians, Africans, etc.). There are still other pending issues. One relates to the choice of the construction site as no consensus could be reached over it while the other revolves around the setting up of a 7 member committee whose mission would be to run the mosque. This committee will only have 2 representatives from the Muslim community. This matter is presently open and under discussion.

  • Creation of ecclesiastical academic establishments

The Greek Church recently announced that it intends to open primary and secondary schools in Athens and Thessaloniki for the 2008-2009 academic year. This comes after several declarations made by the Archbishop Christodoulos concerning the low academic performance of public schools in Greece and the dechristianisation of the Greek society. Furthermore, the Church had already expressed its disapproval of religious and historical education in Greek public schools. In February 2007, the Greek Church expressed its anger regarding some new history manuals. They only narrate part of the role played by the church during the Greek revolution against the ottoman domination in 1821-1829. Proposed schools will be private. They will be partially financed by the Church and managed by special associations or foundations. According to the Greek legislation, the Church does not have the right to set up academic establishments.

  • Meeting between Pope Bernard XVI and Head of the Greek Church, Archbishop Christodoulos

The Archbishop’s visit to the Vatican in December 2006 was a historical event as it was the first visit of this kind for the head of the Church of Greece. This official visit indicates the desire to collaborate with the Vatican after several tentative dialogues between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Vatican (see the Papal visit to Turkey and to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 2007). In this occasion, the Archbishop and the Pope expressed their worry about the loss of the Christian identity in Europe, the necessity to maintain the Christian roots in the European continent and their scepticism about Turkey’s bid to join the EU.
Historically, the relations between the Orthodox Church and Vatican have been tense since the sack of during the Crusades in 1204. The relations became more relaxed after Pope John Paul’s visit to Athens in 2001 where he expressed his regrets for these historical events. However, some Orthodox ecclesiastics and part of the Greek population still remain strongly sceptical about the Catholic Church and the Vatican.

  • Creation of the first crematorium in Greece

In February 2007, the Greek government announced its plan to construct a crematorium by 2009. It will probably be erected at the first cemetery located at the centre of Athens. The place of construction has been contested as the crematorium should be planted in non-residential areas of the city for environmental reasons.
The Greek Church has long been opposed to cremation and the Archbishop Christodoulos confirms that the Orthodox faith authorises only the burial of the dead. The Orthodox clergy has, on many occasions, refused to celebrate the funeral service of people who chose to be cremated.
However, according to some members of the clergy, the Church of Greece is still to revisit the issue in the spring of 2007, taking into consideration the demographic diversity of the foreign population living in Greece, lack of burial plots in the cemeteries and the practice of cremation in the neighbouring countries.

D 12 December 2007    ALina Molokotos-Liederman

2006

Summer 2006: Ban on Greek school confesionals
In a small step towards disengaging the Church of Greece from public education and in recognizing the increasing multicultural aspect of Greek (...)

  • Summer 2006: Ban on Greek school confesionals

In a small step towards disengaging the Church of Greece from public education and in recognizing the increasing multicultural aspect of Greek society, the Greek Orthodox Church is now prohibited for the first time from hearing students’ confessions on school premises starting with the school year 2006-07.
The decision by the Greek Ministry of Education was prompted by educational motives: the need to reinforce the notion that religious activities must be observed outside schools, in order to preserve them as places for learning, away from putting dogmatism and indirect or potentially discriminatory ideological pressures on students. According to representatives of the Ministry there are also religious motives behind the new regulation: the need to confine the confidentiality of confessions to the church, as the most appropriate place for such a private activity between a priest and a child. The issue dates from a few years ago when parents and teachers protested against the presence of priests in certain schools for the purposes of confession; they also questioned the overall legality of the original circular according to which priests were allowed to be in school premises for student confessions at regular intervals.
This new measure came about after the intervention of the citizens’ Ombudsman and following complaints by parents groups and OLME (the federation of secondary school teachers).
The Archbishop and senior clergy of the Orthodox institution in Greece opposed the new regulation as being hurtful to the children who up until now could have the opportunity to confide in a priest their private problems.

  • 1 March 2006: Greece legalises cremation

On 1 March 2006, the Greek Parliament adopted a new law legalising cremation of the dead in Greece. The bill was introduced by 10 MPs from conservative, socialist and left-wing parties. There is increasing demand in Greece for cremation as cemeteries are often overcrowded. The law is a result of repeated pressure coming primarily from Human rights’ groups, who argue that cremation constitutes an essential component of religious freedom. This is particularly important given the growing number of non-Christian foreigners who presently reside in Greece.
Cremation has therefore become a legal option, basically for people whose religious beliefs allow them to be cremated (Greeks or foreigners). In this case, cremation is allowed, provided there is a written request by the dead person or a family member. This option however poses difficulties for people who, by reason of their religious belonging, can not be cremated (mainly the Orthodox). The difficulty arises from the fact that the law of 1 March 2006 linked permission to be cremated to religious belonging. The Greek Church is historically opposed to cremation and Archbishop Christodolos has firmly reaffirmed that the Orthodox faith provides only for the interment of the dead. It is not uncommon for Orthodox priests to refuse to perform the last rites for persons having chosen cremation (or for that matter, people who opted for a civil wedding without having a religious ceremony).
There are no crematoriums in Greece since cremation has up to this point been illegal. Those who choose to be cremated must therefore make provision for their bodies to be taken abroad (generally to Romania or Bulgaria). Plans are currently underway to construct two crematoriums in Greece (one in Athens and the other in Thessalonica).

D 8 September 2006    ALina Molokotos-Liederman

2005

Automn 2005: University status for Greek Church seminaries
A new controversy has appeared in the news following a series of corruption scandals - many of which are currently under investigation (...)

  • Automn 2005: University status for Greek Church seminaries

A new controversy has appeared in the news following a series of corruption scandals - many of which are currently under investigation - involving the Archbishop and other officials of the Greek Orthodox Church.
The controversy revolves around Greek ecclesiastical schools and the proposal of the Greek Ministry of Education, following pressure by Archbishop Christodoulos, to grant university status to four Church-run seminaries (where priests are trained).
There were several reactions to this proposal, with some questioning in particular, the fact that prospective candidates had to be endorsed by the local Bishop before they could take the entrance examinations. In faculties of theology in the universities, and within several Greek circles, the talk is of "theocratic universities". Others however are in favour of this proposal, arguing that it will lead to the improvement of the quality of priestly training in Greece.

  • March 2005: The crisis in Church-State relations

Since January 2005, the Orthodox Church has been in a deep crisis. Several members of the upper clergy (including the Archbishop of Athens, Christodoulos, who is involved personally) are involved in a series of affairs regarding the bribery of lawyers, financial and sexual (pornography etc.) scandals. Some issues even go beyond Greece, involving the Patriarch of Jerusalem Irinaios.
Archbishop Christodoulos publicly promised to lead a “catharsis” (purification) campaign and even addressed a letter to the Minister of the Economy and Finances asking him to control all church finances in the country. Since the clergy is entirely financed by the State (Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs) the financial affairs of the Church are theoretically subject to State control.
The conservative government, especially the Prime Minister, Costas Caramanlis, has to date underlined his support of the Church’s purification campaign, but this series of scandals has revealed more and more voices in favour of separation between Church and State in Greece. According to several intellectual and liberal circles this would be a great historical opportunity to begin an administrative separation between the Church and State, affirming that it would be an advantage for both sides. For the first time, the main member of the opposition party (Giorgos Papandreou the socialist) virtually committed himself to carry out the separation of Church and State if he were to win the next elections. When the new President was sworn in in March 2005, Greek left-wing parties (Synaspismos) had refused to participate in the ceremony in protest against the traditional presence of the Archbishop.
Based on several public opinion polls from February and March 2005, public opinion seems to be showing the first signs of discontent with Archbishop Christodoulos. In the past, especially following the conflict regarding the removal of religious mention on Greek identity cards back in 2000, they enjoyed a relatively high approval rate. In religious circles there is even talk about the possibility of the Archbishop resigning, even though he categorically affirmed his commitment to purifying the Church institution, but never mentioned his resignation.
Faced with its critics, the Church committed itself to “purification”, but also accused certain circles, including the media and left-wing intellectuals, of wanting to attack the Archbishop personally and marginalise the Church, thereby removing it from the social and national life of the country. The reaction of the Church is quite similar to that of 2000, during the conflict regarding the removal of the religious mention on Greek identity cards, when the socialist government was accused of wanting to erode the role of the Church in Greek society replacing it with western-like secularisation.
Investigations into the affairs involving the archbishop and other members of the clergy are under way. Beyond the affairs themselves, one question that remains is whether this last crisis within the Church of Greece can make Greece’s religious, social and political landscape more receptive to the plans of a government that would in the long term dare to materialise and possibly set up a plan for the administrative separation of the Church and the State, which would have to be easy and adapted to Greece’s historical, social and political realities.

  • The separation between Church and State and Church property

The administrative separation between the Church and the State and the expropriation of Church property proposed by the socialist government in 1981 represented an enormous political risk and the government had to find a compromise. In 1987, the socialist government proposed the expropriation of a large portion of the Church’s property justifying this decision with the argument that the clergy’s salary represented too much of the national budget, thus requiring the appropriation of church goods. Following the protest of the Church, the 1987 proposal was modified a year later. In the end, the State was able to obtain a part of the Church’s land but the Church registered a complaint at the European Court of Human Rights.
The separation between the Church and State is still uncompleted until today and the issue on expropriation of Church property was partially carried out, at a considerable political cost. Currently it is provided for that the Church must use its own means to carry out its social welfare actions.

D 24 November 2005    ALina Molokotos-Liederman

2002

Mention of religious affiliation on identity cards
The mention of religion on Greek identity cards dates back to the law of 1945, according to which identity cards are mandatory and must include (...)

  • Mention of religious affiliation on identity cards

The mention of religion on Greek identity cards dates back to the law of 1945, according to which identity cards are mandatory and must include the holder’s name, their father’s and spouse’s names, place and date of birth, profession, signature, nationality, fingerprints and religion. This policy continued until 1985, when the socialist government introduced law 1599/1986 for the optional mention of religion on identity cards.
The Church, then headed by Archbishop Seraphim, organised an opposition and protest campaign to keep the mention of religion on identity cards.
In 1995, the signing of the Schengen Agreement on the free circulation of people in the European Union eliminated customs controls and passport checks were replaced by identity card checks. Greece signed this agreement in 1997 and had to issue new bilingual identity cards.
Criticized by the European Parliament who disapproved the mandatory mention of religion, the socialist government, and especially a legal commission on the defence of personal information, introduced a law on the protection of personal information in 1997. Greek citizens were no longer required to provide personal information such as profession, religion, fingerprints and marital status on their identity cards. This law was not applied until 2000, when the Minister of Justice announced his intention of issuing new identity cards that do not mention religion.
To force the government into reconsidering its decision, the Archbishop of the Church of Greece, Christodoulos, organised a national protest campaign, as well as a referendum through which he brought together nearly 3 million signatures demanding the voluntary mention of religion.
The President of Greece answered by confirming that it was out of the question to change legislation and the mention of religion was finally eliminated from identity cards.
Each government in power between 1986 and 2002 was able to exercise its own influence on this question and the conflict was, except for a few exceptions, both partisan and political.

  • Other issues

- The conflict between the Church of Greece and the Ecumenical Patriarchate on administrative issues.
- The evolution of religion classes into history of religion classes.
- The political role and political interventions of Archbishop Christodoulos on several political and social issues.
- The normalisation of the legal status of the Catholic Church.
- Suppression or modification of the law on proselytism.

D 4 September 2002    ALina Molokotos-Liederman

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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