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.


Identifying wildfire dead: DNA, and likely older methods too

A search and rescue volunteer takes notes while combing through areas destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, US, November 13, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 22 min 1 sec ago
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Identifying wildfire dead: DNA, and likely older methods too

  • It is sometimes impossible to extract DNA from incinerated remains, and trying to identify remains through DNA requires having a sample from the person when alive or building a profile by sampling close relatives

NEW YORK: Authorities doing the somber work of identifying the victims of California’s deadliest wildfire are drawing on leading-edge DNA technology, but older scientific techniques and deduction could also come into play, experts say.
With the death toll from the Northern California blaze topping 40 and expected to rise, officials said they were setting up a rapid DNA-analysis system, among other steps.
Rapid DNA is a term for portable devices that can identify someone’s genetic material in hours, rather than days or weeks and more extensive equipment it can take to test samples in labs. A 2017 federal law provided a framework for police to use rapid DNA technology when booking suspects in criminal investigations, and some medical examiners have started using it to identify the dead or are weighing deploying it in disasters.
“In many circumstances, without rapid DNA technology, it’s just such a lengthy process,” says Frank DePaolo, a deputy commissioner of the New York City medical examiners’ office, which has been at the forefront of the science of identifying human remains since 9/11 and is exploring how it might use a rapid DNA device.
The technology, and DNA itself, has limits. It is sometimes impossible to extract DNA from incinerated remains, and trying to identify remains through DNA requires having a sample from the person when alive or building a profile by sampling close relatives.
But that doesn’t mean there’s no hope of identifying the dead without DNA.
“There’s two ways to approach it: You could do a DNA-led identification effort ... (or) more traditionally, the medical examiner and their team of people will try to establish the biological profiles of the unidentified and try to identify them through more traditional methods,” says Dr. Anthony Falsetti, a George Mason University forensic science professor and forensic anthropologist and a specialist in evaluating human remains.
In fact, more traditional methods, such as examining dental records, are often a first step. Partially, that’s because victims might have dental X-rays but not personal DNA profiles. Other medical records — of bone fractures, prosthetics or implants, for instance — also can be helpful.
And after a disaster, a crucial part of identifying victims is developing a manifest of the missing people, studying the site for clues as to who might have been there and meticulously searching for remains, sometimes by having a forensic anthropologist sift carefully through the debris, DePaolo said.
“Ultimately, you may be able to identify that you have a female, a male, a child” from studying the remains, but science won’t give them a name, he said. In such cases, authorities may have to rely on reasoning to match what’s known about the remains to who is known to be missing.
“That manifest may ultimately be the only thing you have to potentially identify that the victims that were recovered from that location could be those victims,” he said.
New York medical examiners have worked to match nearly 22,000 fragments of human remains to the 2,753 people killed at the World Trade Center. More than 17 years later, 40 percent of the dead have never had any of their remains identified. But the painstaking process still yields results: The remains of one victim, 26-year-old Scott Michael Johnson, were identified in July for the first time.
Whatever the process proves to be for California authorities, DePaolo said, “it’s a tough and complex job that they have ahead of them, and our condolences go out to them.”