Greek Orthodox Church accused of adding to nation's debt crisis
Church representatives say they are pulling their weight
As the nation of Greece's second largest landowner, second only to the government, the Greek Orthodox Church is coming under fire for being part of Greece's widespread economic woes. While church officials say they're doing their fair share, public resentment is running high. A Facebook page entitled "Tax the Church" has 100,000 supporters.
The exact value of the Church of Greece, including land, property, artifacts, commercial revenue and shares in government companies is not known. Experts estimate the 500-plus monasteries, 7,945 parishes, 130,000 hectares of land and 1.5pc stake in the Bank of Greece is worth 7 billion to 15 billion
"They simply don't pay. They are so rich, and yet their contribution is minimal," Theodora, one of the protesters says.
The Greek Orthodox Church's assets detail the nation's cause of resentment. The exact value of the Church of Greece, including land, property, artifacts, commercial revenue and shares in government companies is not known. Experts estimate the 500-plus monasteries, 7,945 parishes, 130,000 hectares of land and 1.5pc stake in the Bank of Greece is worth 7 billion to 15 billion.
Church representatives say that upwards of 2.5 million was paid to the Greek taxman in 2010. Figures that have been published show that the taxes paid by only one of the 6,500 government companies classed under "church," that of the effective head office.
Critics believe this obfuscates how much the national church has in assets. The church pays 20pc of its commercial revenue to the government and 5pc to 10pc on declared donations following new, crisis-related, legislation. Prior to this, the church enjoyed full tax exemption.
Greek priests and church employees are public sector workers and their salaries come out of the annual government budget. Many argue the logic of the government paying church salaries, when the church as a financial entity is wealthy enough to cover its own costs.
Elizabeth Zachariadou, retired Professor and Honorary Fellow of Turkish History at the University of Crete, says the problem is centuries old.
"The benefits of power within government the church enjoys today were bestowed by the Byzantine Empire. They should no longer be valid because the government that bestowed the privileges no longer exists.
"When the Greeks revolted, all religious assets or property owned by Turkish religious officials was automatically given to the Orthodox church, as opposed to being distributed evenly among Greeks," Zachariadou says. "As a result, the church's wealth is so vast, it's scandalous."
Is the Greek Orthodox Church truly wealthy? "Any guess is as good as the next," Yanis Varoufakis, Professor of Economics at the university of Athens says. "The real worth of the church is impossible to calculate because its assets are not liquid."
© 2011, Catholic Online. Distributed by NEWS CONSORTIUM.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
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Keywords: Greece, Greek Orthodox Church, debt issues, liquid assets
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