FaithWorld

Athens debt crisis taxes cosy ties between state and Greek Orthodox Church

(Greek orthodox priests hold a Greek flag in a protest in front of the parliament house during a rally in Athens, February 6, 2011/John Kolesidis )

The Greek Orthodox Church owns more land than anyone except the state, employs thousands on the public payroll, has a stake in the nation’s biggest bank, but campaigners say its tax payments are derisory. The Church vehemently denies accusations it is one of Greece’s biggest tax dodgers and says it is playing a vital social, economic and spiritual role in this time of hardship.

With the third year of recession tormenting Greece’s 11 million people, the Church has provided solace, comfort and nourishment but activists say it’s now time to dig deep into its coffers to help with the bailout.

The Greek Orthodox Church has long enjoyed a privileged, some would say cosy, status when it comes to taxes in a country where it is responsible for the sole official religion, with one critic calling its complex finances at best opaque. But the sovereign debt crisis that has rocked the Greek state, thrown hundreds of thousands of people out of work, and forced painful cuts in salaries, pensions and benefits, has raised fresh questions about the Church’s tax position.

More than 100,000 people have joined a Greek Facebook page “Tax The Church”, and 29,000 have so far signed an online petition urging the state to harness “the huge fortune of churches” to reduce Greece’s crushing budget deficit. “The Church must pay its share of the tax burden,” said former finance minister Yannos Papantoniou. “It is totally unreasonable in this situation that they contribute so little.”

Christian-Muslim crisis response group to defuse religious tensions

wcc 1 (Photo: Christian and Muslim leaders at Nov 1-4, 2010 Geneva conference/WCC – Mark Beach)

Christian and Muslim leaders agreed on Thursday to set up “rapid deployment teams” to try to defuse tensions when their faiths are invoked by conflicting parties in flashpoints such as Nigeria, Iraq, Egypt or the Philippines. Meeting this week in Geneva, they agreed the world’s two biggest religions must take concrete steps to foster interfaith peace rather than let themselves be dragged into conflicts caused by political rivalries, oppression or injustice.

Among the organisations backing the plan were the World Council of Churches (WCC), which groups 349 different Christian churches around the world, and the Libyan-based World Islamic Call Society (WICS), a network with about 600 affiliated Muslim bodies. They would send Christian and Muslim experts to intervene on both sides in a religious conflict to calm tensions and clear up misunderstandings about the role of faith in the dispute.

“We call for the formation of a joint working group which can be mobilised whenever a crisis threatens to arise in which Christians and Muslims find themselves in conflict,” the leaders said in a statement after their four-day meeting.  “Religion is often invoked in conflict creation, even when other factors, such as unfair resource allocation, oppression, occupation and injustice, are the real roots of conflict. We must find ways to disengage religion from such roles and reengage it towards conflict resolution and compassionate justice,” said the statement issued in Geneva.

Top Belgian Catholic vows silence after uproar

leonardBelgium’s Roman Catholic leader has sworn off public remarks until Christmas after outraging public opinion twice this month with jarring comments about AIDS and a call for mercy for retired paedophile priests.

Brussels Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, already under fire because of the scandal of sexual abuse of minors by priests, caused a storm two weeks ago when he said in a new book that AIDS was “a sort of inherent justice.” Politicians, abuse victims and some leading lay Catholics rounded on him again this week after he said that prosecuting retired priests for abuse they committed long ago was “a kind of vengeance” that they should be spared. (Photo: Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, October 15, 2010/Thierry Roge)

“We’re in a very serious crisis and the last thing we need is more commotion,” Leonard’s spokesman, Jürgen Mettepenningen, told Belgium’s VTM television on Thursday evening. “I’ve agreed with Archbishop Léonard that there should now be as much radio silence as possible until Christmas” so that the Church can concentrate on overcoming the crisis and carrying out its main task of preaching the Gospel, he said.

Maltese alleged abuse victims ask to meet Pope

grech

Lawrence Grech, a victim of church child abuse, at a news conference with other victims near Valletta, April 12, 2010/Darrin Zammit Lupi

Ten Maltese men, who have taken three priests to court for alleged child abuse, on Monday requested a private meeting with Pope Benedict XVI when he visits Malta during the coming weekend.

So far, the pope has not spoken out directly on the new wave of sexual abuse allegations that is hounding the Church in a number of coutries, including the United Satates, Italy and his native Germany.

Catholic Church at crossroads in Milwaukee over abuse charges

milwaukee

Sexual abuse victims meet journalists outside the Cousin's Center, owned by the Milwaukee Archdiocese in St. Francis, Wisconsin March 25, 2010/Allen Fredrickson

Stung by fresh charges of priestly sexual abuse and allegations of a cover-up that reach the Vatican, the Roman Catholic Church in the United States faces a crisis of empty pews and empty coffers.

Attendance was down noticeably at some Easter Sunday services in Milwaukee, reflecting the litany of troubles facing the U.S. Church and a torrent of criticism over its handling of abuse cases.

Greek Orthodox bishop denounces new taxes on church as hostile

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.

Venezuelans turn to God over power crisis

Power-rationing has failed. The rains have still not come. So Venezuelan electricity workers are seeking divine help to solve the nation’s power crisis.

State oil company Edelca has summoned all its workers to an hourlong prayer meeting scheduled for Friday and titled: “Clamor to God for the National Electricity Sector.”

VENEZUELA-ELECTRICITY/

Let us support this summons with our presence, united in our commitment to lift up our great company,” Edelca President Igor Gavidia Leon wrote in a note to staff, under a quote from the Bible saying God will hear the prayers of humble people.