16 July 2019, The Tablet

Greek Archbishop highlights tasks facing new government

'The suffering has been underestimated by the international community, especially by the EU, which has been very strict'

Greek Archbishop highlights tasks facing new government

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis signs the protocol during the swearing-in ceremony of the new cabinet at the presidential mansion in Athens, Greece, on July 9, 2019
Panagiotis Moschandreou/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

A Greek archbishop has warned his country is being left angry and disillusioned at its "harsh treatment" by the European Union, as its radical left-wing government was ousted after four years in power in landmark elections. 
"All citizens and institutions are badly affected by the combination of poverty and high taxation - and this is also felt in our parishes and dioceses", said Catholic Archbishop Sevastianos Rossolatos of Athens. "The suffering has been underestimated by the international community, especially by the EU, which has been very strict. Our rulers failed to take our economic problems seriously and the resulting burdens have fallen on the shoulders of the people, who are living with terrible shortages.... Everyone is voicing disappointment with the European Union".  
The 75-year-old archbishop spoke as Greece's new premier, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, took office after his New Democracy party won an absolute majority over the leftist Syriza movement of Alexis Tsipras.
In a Vatican Radio interview, he said key expectations included tax cuts and job creation at a time of 18 percent unemployment. However, he added that New Democracy had also pledged to tackle the "serious problem" of anarchist violence in Athens and other cities, by empowering police to enter university campuses and take tougher action against vandalism and drug dealing.  
"People have waited and looked for change as so many promises were made", said Archbishop Rossolatos, whose Church's six dioceses and archdioceses make up just three per cent of Greece's population of 11 million and have struggled to maintain their social and charitable projects in the face of austerity-driven depression. "Over 600,000 young people, the strongest, most educated and most qualified, have left our country to find work elsewhere in Europe - the key question is now is how to get them back". 
New Democracy took 158 places in Greece's 300-seat parliament on pledges to re-energise Greece's post-bailout economy after a snap ballot was called following Syriza's poor showing in May's European Parliament elections. The new 51-year-old premier, whose father, Konstantinos Mitsotakis, was also head of government in the early 1990s, took the traditional religious oath of office before the head of Greece's predominant Orthodox church, and is widely expected to abandon Syriza's programme for church-state separation, declaring before the election his admiration for Orthodoxy's "great contribution to national cohesion and unity".  
In his Vatican Radio interview, Archbishop Rossolatos said the Catholic Church's Caritas aid organisation was "helping and supporting" Greece's large refugee population, which was being denied admission to other EU countries. However, he added that Catholic priests were losing up 50 percent of their earnings in taxation, without any of the state support offered to Orthodox clergy, while even the Ministry of Finance had fallen behind in rent owed for the use of Catholic buildings.  

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