Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece reached “a historic agreement benefitting both sides”, as the premier said, on Tuesday which foresees the setup of a special fund to handle church assets, and changes in the salaries of clerics, who will no longer be civil servants but will be paid by the church through an annual state subsidy.
The agreement was reached at a meeting at the Maximos Mansion headquarters and announced at a joint press conference in the everning.
“Following a long, detailed and sincere dialogue between the State and the Church, which was held in an atmosphere of understanding and respect, we are now able to take consensual and mutually acceptable and beneficial initiatives that relate to the reconfiguring the nature of our relationship,” Tsipras said, reading the joint communique.
The PM mentioned that the agreement set out to resolve historic issues and to “strengthen the Greek Church’s independence in relation to the Greek State, recognizing the Church’s contribution and historic role in the State’s birth and formation of its identity.”
Concerning the key provisions of the 15-point joint statement, details are as follows:
a. The Greek priests are no longer civil servants.
-The Greek State assumed the payroll of clerics as an exchange for the church assets the State acquired up to 1939, at prices below their actual value. From now on, clerics will go off the civil service payroll and will be paid by an annual subsidy from the state, which equals the current payroll cost of active priests. This subsidy will be adjusted in tandem with payroll changes of the Greek State. The subsidy will be paid into a special Church fund earmarked exclusively for priests’ payroll. The Church of Greece will be responsible for its management, and supervised by related State authorities.
– The agreement safeguards the current number of priests and lay personnel in the Church of Greece, but if the Church increases the numbers, the State is not obligated to raise the subsidy.
b. A Church Asset Development Fund will be set up with joint management by the Greek state and the Church of Greece
– The Greek State and the Church of Greece will set up a Church Asset Development Fund, which will be managed by a five-member committee: two Church appointees, two State appointees, and one joint appointee. The assets it will manage include all assets whose ownership has been an issue of contention by the Church and State since 1952, and any asset the Church wants to transfer to the Fund voluntarily. The revenues and obligations of the Fund will be shared equally between the two sides.
The principle of the Greek State’s religious neutrality guarantees the separate roles of State and Church in Greece and their collaboraion on issues of joint interest, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said.
“This principle is not at odds with our people’s long traditions,” he said, neither is there any truth in in the “lies purposely spread lately about a so-called tearing down of historic symbols, like the cross from the Greek flag and from our national symbols.”
During the press conference with Ieronymos Tsipras read a joint agreement to bring Church assets under a jointly managed fund and take priests out of the State payroll.
Everything about the so-called fabulous riches of the Church are a myth, Ieronymos said on his side, and noted that the agreement will make the Church operate better and more effective in serving its flock. He also thanked Tsipras for “leaving the preamble of the Greek Constitution as our fathers wrote it,” referring to the role of the Church in Greece.
“We shall proceed in a spirit of self-sufficiency and collaboration, and make the Church a better servant to the will of the people,” the Archbishop said.