February 3, 2013
The Greek Orthodox Church is legally considered as a public company from the Greek legal establishment. Which means that like other public-led companies having the monopoly of providing a certain public service or a widely considered “public good”, it has to be taxed under the same rules, processes, and conditions.
The Greek Church, as any other religious establishment globally, is a big organization set for providing a public good, which is namely the civil work and the well-treatment of poor and deprived people, except for the nourishing of faith. Its function is determined by the Greek law and its payroll and human resources’ regulations determined by the Greek state. Therefore, the Greek Church has to be treated as any other public organization in terms of taxing.
Nonetheless, even if the operation management of the Greek Church is determined by the Greek state and the personnel is paid by the Greek citizens, the government cannot effect the positionment and therefore clerics, priests, and bishops are elected by the Holy Conference which is a completely independent, decision-making, body. This special privilege gives Greek Church the power to exert political influence and there are many times that it has played a dividing role in the Greek society, with one of the most-remembered incident the propaganda of the ex-Archbishop Christodoulos in 2000 for the maintainance of the religion reference in the identity cards of Greek citizens after the legislation passed by the government to omit any religion reference in the context of the European legal framework and the protection of civil rights against religious discrimination. The incident ceased down effectively by the government, but the division in the Greek society lasted long and even today the remnants of these days are still alive.
This is only one of the major incidents where the Greek Church endeavored to fiercely intervene to politics. But coming back to our initial standpoint, as long as the Church is inextricably interwoven with the state, the procedures and rules for recruiting the clergy must be defined by the state as described in the legislation. Nonetheless, the clergy is recruited by the Greek Church without any previous consultation of the Greek state, nor there is any other knowledge about a possible criminal record of a priest, or whether the priests fulfill any requirements linked with their education or mental stability. From that perspective, how can it be possible to control the men that exert religious influence to millions of people in case a priest or a bishop is mentally instable? And further, as long as there is a widely perceptive “immunity” regarding a priest’s state of mind, how can people judge the saying and deeds of a person who might be controlled for inconsistency?
What is more, while the Greek society is suffering from austerity cuts, why there is no similar inclusion in wage and benefits cuts for the clergy? And more, what are the conditions and requirement for building a new temple? Is it the proved necessity of a certain society, or is it a maneuver to recruit more priests and gather funds? Especially during this period that the Greek government is insanely trying to convince Greek people for the indispensable necessity for austerity cuts -despite the latest statement/confession of IMF officials that the Greek program has been badly-shaped and designed- by submerging and shutting down hospital units, universities, and public schools, why is the Greek Church completely intouchable of this uncontroleld downturn? Let alone the fact οf Greek Church’s property being inherited since Greek Independence in the 19th century with hundreds of estates along the Greek territory and the incredible amounts of illusive revenue stemming from these sources.
Despite that fact that the social work of the Greek Church is of paramount importance -even if I personally believe that with the amounts and revenues gathered the Greek Churh should have done much more- this cannot justify its provocatively privileged state. At the end of the day, we have to admit that this pending problem is not of the Church to deal with, but is lies on the government and the entire political system to finally address this issue effectively.Dimitris Rapidis