Greek Orthodox bishop denounces new taxes on church as hostile

By Reuters Staff
March 17, 2010
greek priests

Greek Orthodox priests in Athens 31 Jan 2008/Yiorgos Karahalis

By Renee Maltezou

ATHENS – A senior cleric has accused Greece’s socialist government of being hostile to the Orthodox Church  for imposing taxes on it as part of a drive to tame a budget crisis that has shaken global markets.

Greece, where about 90 percent of the 11 million-strong population are Christian Orthodox, will tax bequests and revenues from church property as it seeks to tackle a 300 billion euro ($409.9 billion) debt pile.

In a country where a bishop sits on the board of the biggest bank and the top cleric swears in the government, many on the streets of Athens felt the church should do its bit given the sacrifices they are making.

“It was about time the Church paid. It’s fair,” said Christina Alexiadou, 55, an accountant and frequent church-goer. “It can’t be that only ordinary people pay for everything.”

The Church of Greece, one of the country’s biggest owners of prime real estate, has until now been largely exempt from taxes even though the state pays priests’ salaries.

The government, which had announced earlier this month that the church would have to contribute to its budget drive, said late on Monday that church income from real estate holdings would be taxed at 20 percent.

Cash bequests will face a levy of 10 percent and property bequests a 5 percent charge.

“The 20 percent hits us right between the eyes,” Bishop Anthimos of Thessaloniki told public television on Tuesday. “This is a hostile stand, I don’t intend to hide it.”

greek priests and nun

Greek Orthodox priests and nun in Athens, 31 May 2000/Yiorgos Karahalis

Details of the measures come just two weeks before Easter, the Orthodox Church’s biggest festival of the year.

Polls show the majority of Greeks are ready to accept draconian austerity measures that include tax rises, pension freezes and lower pay for public sector workers.

“The church is wealthy and can help the country out of the crisis,” 36-year old bus driver Alexandros Kagris said. “Isn’t this what the church is for, to help people?”

GREEK SALVATION

According to an internal report published by Greek daily Kathimerini last year the Church’s total income reached 20 million euros in 2008, including 12.7 million from renting out church property. Its profit for the year was 7 million euros.

A spokesman for the church, which owns a 150 million euro stake in National Bank of Greece, declined to comment on its income or the new tax bill which is expected to go to parliament on Monday and enter force as soon as it is adopted.

It is not the first time church and state have clashed. In 2000 they fell out over EU rules requiring that religion be dropped from ID cards.

Theodore Couloumbis, deputy head of the ELIAMEP think-tank, said he did not expect the church as an institution to speak out against the taxes, however.

“The fact that we are going through a major crisis will make it easier for the Church to accept this measure, otherwise it will be thought of as not contributing to the salvation of Greece’s economy,” said Couloumbis.

The church’s ruling body issued a statement blessing politicians but making no reference to the new taxes.

2 comments

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There is no “clash between Church and state” on this issue. There is simply no official position of the Synod about it. In contrast to the very controversial Bishop Anthimos of Thessaloniki, other bishops e.g. their Graces Bishop Anthimos of Alexandroupolis and Bishop Nikolaos of Mesogaia have decided to follow the example of Nana Mouskouri and cede their wage as a contribution of the recovery of their nation. See http://www.romfea.gr/index.php?option=co m_content&view=article&id=4501:2010-03-1 6-19-04-20&catid=13&Itemid=123 and http://www.romfea.gr/index.php?option=co m_content&view=article&id=4503:2010-03-1 6-20-32-04&catid=13 (both sites in Greek)

Posted by Bertinos | Report as abusive

[...] a huge amount of land from which it collects rent from. In 2008 the Church made 20 million Euros, according to a Reuters article. That doesn’t sound like much, but when you consider that the state is paying priest salaries, [...]

It is very strange that the issue of Greek Church Tax has not been followed further by either the Greek media or the Greek government. The tax of 20% did not go ahead. Currently the country is looking for an extra 2 to 4 million Euros in order to meet its targets such as new measures are not imposed to the Greek people.

It is very impressive how effectively any claim for taxing the Greek Church seem to be forgotten after a while.

Posted by sdims | Report as abusive

[...] actiuni si are un reprezentant in consiliul de administratie, episcopul de Ioannina, Theoklitos. El s-a opus ferm majorarii impozitelor ecleziastice: “Refuzam sa platim pentru greselile altora”. Doar doi episcopi au propus sa renunte la [...]