Greek PM claims breakthrough in tangled church-state relations

Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, left, and Church head Archbishop Hieronymos arrive for their meeting at Maximos Mansion in Athens. (AP Photo)
Updated 07 November 2018
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Greek PM claims breakthrough in tangled church-state relations

  • Alexis Tsipras: We stand on the verge of framework for a deal... resolving issues going back many decades
  • The agreement is to end the long-running designation of clerics as civil servants

ATHENS: Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has announced a tentative breakthrough in talks to soften ties between Greece and its powerful Orthodox Church, a decades-old debate affecting valuable church lands and clerical salaries.
“We stand on the verge of framework for a deal... resolving issues going back many decades,” Tsipras said late Tuesday after a meeting with Archbishop Ieronymos, head of the Orthodox Church of Greece.
The agreement is to end the long-running designation of clerics as civil servants, in theory freeing up some 10,000 jobs on the state payroll.
The state will continue to pay church salaries under a different account, but under the proposed deal it stands to acquire an equal share in valuable church lands whose ownership has been a matter of dispute since the 1950s.
A joint state-church fund will also be created to develop this property, whose full value is still being evaluated.
After the announcement drew criticism from some senior Greek clerics on Wednesday, Ieronymos said that the proposals would not be applied without the consent of the church hierarchy.
Tsipras’ political opponents have lambasted the suggestion that 10,000 state jobs will be freed up, at a time when his party is struggling in opinion polls a year before national elections.
The move also comes ahead of a Tsipras initiative to overhaul the Greek constitution.
Government plans to revise the constitution’s Article 3, which states that Orthodoxy is the country’s “dominant” religion — to the consternation of rights groups — have unnerved church circles.
A leftist and self-avowed atheist, Tsipras had announced his intention in 2016 to make the Greek state “religion-neutral.”
One of the most powerful institutions in the country with influence in politics and justice, the Orthodox Church lays claim to extensive holdings around the country, many of which cannot be developed owing to court disputes.
Church officials have consistently bemoaned the level of tax levied on clerical real estate, pointing to church donations in the 19th century for the creation of schools, public squares and other state infrastructure during the early history of the modern Greek state.
Earlier this week a Greek monastery lost a court case in which it argued that church property on lease should be exempted from land tax.


Duterte foes cry foul as Philippine police push sedition charges

Updated 13 min 56 sec ago
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Duterte foes cry foul as Philippine police push sedition charges

  • Thirty-six opposition figures are accused of cyber libel and sedition
  • A series of online videos ahead of May’s mid-term elections alleged that Duterte and his family members were involved in the illegal drugs trade

MANILA: Opponents of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte expressed shock and outrage on Friday at police moves to charge dozens of them with sedition, calling it persecution aimed at stamping out scrutiny of his increasingly powerful rule.
Thirty-six opposition figures are accused of cyber libel and sedition for orchestrating a series of online videos ahead of May’s mid-term elections. The videos feature a hooded man alleging that Duterte and his family members were involved in the illegal drugs trade, which they deny.
The man, who had said he was a witness, later surrendered and appeared with police on television to say his claims were false and that he was cajoled into making the videos by opposition members. They included the vice president, lawyers, Catholic priests, a former attorney general, and incumbent and former lawmakers, the man said.
The justice department is looking into the complaint, which is the latest move against Duterte’s detractors who say the aim is to create a power monopoly for a president who already enjoys a legislative super-majority and a public approval rating of about 80 percent.
Duterte insists he is open to challenges but has shown no qualms about threatening high-profile critics, several of whom he said last month he would jail if they tried to impeach him.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Duterte had no involvement in the police sedition complaint.
“We have nothing to do with this case, not at all, absolutely nothing,” he told news channel ANC. “Let the judicial process do its work.”
Antonio Trillanes, a former senator and Duterte’s strongest critic, described the complaint as “political persecution and harassment” intended to stifle democratic dissent.
A spokesman for Vice President Leni Robredo, who was not Duterte’s running mate and was elected separately, called the complaint “completely baseless.” Her party ally Senator Francis Pangilinan said it was part of a series of moves toward removing her from office.
Leila de Lima, an anti-Duterte senator detained on drugs charges, said it was “hogwash, pure hogwash,” and Samira Gutoc, a candidate in recent Senate elections, urged the police not to become partisan.
“I really am baffled,” Gutoc said of being accused of involvement.