- 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.