- 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).