15 July 2015, The Tablet

Archbishops accuse Tsipras of 'mishandling' crisis

The head of Greece’s Catholic Church has accused the Socialist-led Government of Alexis Tsipras of mishandling the current crisis, as European Union ministers announced a new rescue plan in return for far-reaching reforms.

“The harsh reality we cannot ignore is that Greece cannot get anywhere without the European Union,” said the Bishops’ Conference president, Archbishop Frangiskos Papamanolis of Syros and Santorini. “But I have to say with regret that the past six months have been a waste of time, since our Government hasn’t understood the situation. Tsipras inherited a very bad situation. But he also won the election with promises he could not keep.”

The archbishop spoke as EU leaders announced a new 86- billion-euro (£60bn) bailout to save Greece’s faltering economy in return for new spending cuts and higher taxes, despite the rejection of further austerity in a 5 July national referendum. He told Italy’s Servizio Informazione Religiosa news service that Greece needed to “regain confidence”, adding that a government of national unity could be helpful if political parties “put aside their special interests”. Meanwhile, another archbishop told The Tablet the worsening crisis had “severely hampered” the Catholic Church’s pastoral work, making it unable to pay taxes, maintain its buildings or provide services for migrants and refugees, adding that Greece's predominant Orthodox Church was still shunning minority denominations.

“As a formation of the left, Tsipras’s governing Syriza party is less tied to the Orthodox Church than its right-wing predecessor - but its stance towards Churches has been ambivalent and we haven't seen any concrete improvements,” Archbishop Sevastianos Rossolatos of Athens said in a Tablet interview. “Although it promised to be more objective towards minorities when it won power last January, it’s since been too preoccupied with the economic crisis to take steps to ensure equality. Meanwhile, Orthodox clergy are all paid by the state, whereas Catholic priests and bishops get nothing, and the Orthodox maintain a hostile attitude and view any ecumenism as a danger.”

The Catholic Church makes up just three per cent of Greece's population of 11 million, compared to 97 per cent belonging to the Orthodox Church. In a separate appeal last weekend, Greek Orthodox theologians thanked Pope Francis and other Christian leaders for showing solidarity with their country, and urged Churches to work together to protect Europe’s “cultural, religious and humanist inheritance” against “forces seeking to impose a deification of the markets”.

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