Papandreou Wants Church to Pay More

Andy Dabilis

ATHENS – Stung by criticism it is exempt from a new property tax being imposed on Greek citizens and has largely escaped the austerity measures imposed on the people, the Greek Orthodox Church is reportedly considering ways to help – but apparently only because Prime Minister George Papandreou is set to put the squeeze on its leaders. The Premier will visit Mt. Athos on Oct. 8 to talk about the Church making a bigger contribution. Patriarch Vartholomaios, the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians, will be visiting the semi-autonomous monastic enclave to celebrate the 20th anniversary of assuming his role.

The newspaper Kathimerini reported that Papandreou is expected to want to discuss the issue of the Church of Greece’s contribution to the country’s effort to improve its public finances. The head of the Church, Archbishop Ieronymos has so far resisted calls for his institution to pay more in taxes, especially on its vast property holdings, and for its clerics, who are paid from the state coffers, to endure the same pay cuts as civil servants, the newspaper noted.

On Oct. 7, the Holy Synod issued a statement arguing that there had been many “myths” about the Church’s contribution, calling on the government to spread the burden of the crisis evenly. “Enough burdens on our brothers on low wages and pensions. Enough of the taxes and cuts to low wages. Enough of the armies of the unemployed. Go after the tax dodgers and make checks on capital.”
The Synod went on to suggest that it would make use of its real estate to help the government. “The Church will give whatever it has left but it will do so when it sees fit and in a manner that it is accustomed to,” the statement said without going into further detail.

Earlier last month, The Greek Church said that it had paid around $3.34 million in taxes after howls of protest among the public at its exemption from a surprise property tax. That is about 1,000 times less than what the new tax is expected to raise from other property owners, although many Greeks suspect rich tax evaders will avoid paying it.

In a post on its website, the Church said that it had paid a little more than one million in property tax last year and more than $1.87 million in other taxes, including an advance for the following tax year. ”While some people are trying to spread doubts about the Church’s commitment in the common effort to overcome the crisis that we are facing … ecclesiastical entities regularly pay their taxes,” the post said. The Finance Ministry said the new tax would not apply to state offices, embassies, religious buildings, monasteries, non-profit organizations, charities and amateur sports clubs.