Greece takes Church priests off government payroll, ends their ‘civil-servant’ status

Greece spends 200 million Euros annually on the salaries of priests and church staff. Creditors of the debt-ridden country have been insisting on a reduction of people under government payroll.

According to reports, the government of Greece, in a decision taken on Tuesday has caused a remarkable shift in the status of the clergies, thereby creating a separation between the Church and the State.

The Greek Orthodox Church is considered as the official religion of the State under the constitution. The importance of the church can be understood from the fact that the leaders who took oath as ministers first used to go to church and take a traditional oath.

The decision will take around 10,000 priests and the auxiliary staff off the payroll. According to the deal made between the Prime Minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras and the Archbishop Ieronymos of the Church of Greece, the state will in the future transfer an annual state subsidy to a special church fund for the payment of priests’ salaries. The fund will be managed by a five-member board. Two members of the Fund will be appointed by the Church of Greece, two members appointed by the Greek Government and one member appointed jointly.

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According to the government spokesman Dimitris Janakopolos, posts of 10 thousand civil Servants will be vacated as a result of the decision. Pastors are not bureaucrats, they are given only this status. But they are treated as civil servants and they get a lot of facilities.

The decision was taken by a mutual agreement between the Church and the government. PM Alexis Tsipras announced the decision on Tuesday saying that the aim of these decisions was to make the Church self-reliant and to deal with the historic disagreements that have long hindered the functioning. “It solves many decades of outstanding issues that have arisen since the 1920s, but mainly because it is an Agreement for the benefit of both sides,” he said.

“The Greek State undertakes to pay annually to the Church in the form of a subsidy an amount corresponding to the current salary cost of the active priests, which will be adjusted according to the salary changes of the Greek State”, he added.

As per reports, this move is aimed at making the Europian nation religion-neutral, which has been supported by the ruling Syriza party.

The Church is one of the country’s largest real estate owners. The annual cost of the priests on the government’s payroll is estimated at about 200 million euros. Greece’s creditors have reportedly long insisted the government sell assets and reduce the number of public sector employees. Under the current system, priests’ salaries are paid directly from the state budget like all civil servants.

However, the agreement is yet to be approved by the cabinet, parliament and church leaders. Meanwhile, a group representing the priests has shown resistance towards the decision.”We will struggle to ensure the present status is maintained,” Father Georgios Sellis, head of the association of Greek priests, reportedly told the Greek media.


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