The head of Greece's minority Catholic Church has accused the European Union of abandoning his country in its efforts to cope with a mass influx of migrants and urged Europe's Church leaders to demand more effective action by their governments.
"The EU has helped us in the face of certain political crises, but on the migrant issue it's shown great inconsistency," said Archbishop Sevastianos Rossolatos of Athens, the Bishops Conference president. "European churches should raise their voices more clearly, and show how these human inflows result from conflicts caused or sustained by the West – from the arms trade of the great powers, the exploitation of resources and Western support for governments which oppress their citizens".
The 75-year-old archbishop, who is also apostolic administrator of Greece's Rhodes archdiocese, spoke as the centre-right government of premier Kyriakos Mitsotakis, in power since July, announced tougher measures to control migration following a fresh upsurge in arrivals last September, including the opening of detention centres on outlying Aegean Sea islands such as Lesbos, Chios and Samos.
In an Italian magazine interview, he said the arrival of foreign Catholics had quadrupled his Church's membership to 200,000, spread over six dioceses and archdioceses. However, he added that the Church, making up just three percent of Greece's population of 11 million, lacked sufficient priests and funds to provide adequate pastoral care, and called on Western church leaders to "tell the truth and share commitments" in addition to appealing for peace.
"The ongoing economic and financial situation remains very serious here, with hundreds of thousands of unemployed, and young people emigrating to the West in huge numbers," Archbishop Rossolatos said. "We're concentrating on forming a new generation of faithful more rooted and at home in the country, fluent in its culture and language. Our Catholic schools have gained an enviable reputation in Greece in trying to serve the human needs of citizens as best they can. But our goal of creating a truly Catholic Church, without national barriers, isn't a simple one, since pastoral needs are so diverse."
The Catholic Church and other religious minorities have long complained of discrimination in Greece, a NATO and European Union member-state, where the Orthodox church claims the nominal loyalty of 95 per cent of the population of 11 million and has fiercely resisted any change to its predominant position. Archbishop Rossolatos said Christian refugees were often "discriminated against by other refugees because of their faith", while ties remained tense with Orthodox leaders, who viewed Catholics "as simply heretics with invalid sacraments". He called for refugees and migrants to be the main focus of a planned Catholic Church conference, to be attended by the Pope at Bari in late February.