Orthodox Church in talks to help Greece through Crisis

By Agence France-Presse

Greece’s Orthodox Church is in talks with the government about releasing some of its wealth to help the country through its massive debt crisis, the government and church officials said Wednesday.

The Church was ready to contribute to help the country, Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said after a meeting with the head of the Church, Archbishop Ieronymos.

The minister said he was “very optimistic on cooperation prospects with the church over practical measures that could alleviate the plight of those who need help the most.”

Archbishop Ieronymos described the talks as “very constructive” and vowed “the church would continue to fight for the people in these crucial times.”

According to a source in the church, the talks focused on an inventory of a large part of the church’s real estate assets which cannot be used due to legal obstacles.

The church is the country’s second-largest land owner after the state.

The assets could be brought into a fund jointly managed by the church and the state, the source said on condition of anonymity.

The state would lift legal restrictions and the profits would be poured back into the church’s charities and social services.

The Orthodox Church in Greece is part of the state and plays an active role in lay affairs.

It commands much political clout in a country where some 90 percent of the population are baptised into the Orthodox faith, and in the past has used its power to hold off state efforts to increase taxes on its considerable wealth.

The church has come under intense criticism, particularly from the left, since the Greek crisis erupted.

They have focussed on what they say is the lack of accounting transparency, the tax breaks it enjoys and the fact that priests’ salaries are paid by the state.

Greece is expected to carry out an inventory of public real estate as part of an austerity package drawn up by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.