Greek churches face financial disaster in economic crisis

July 26, 2011

WARSAW

Minority Christian denominations in Greece are closing down their charity work and having trouble paying clergy salaries because of the economic crisis, according to church leaders in Athens.

“Like other Protestant churches, we’re financially autonomous here and not supported by anyone but our own members, so our revenue has fallen sharply,” said Dimitrios Boukis, general secretary of the Greek Evangelical Church, which has 29 congregations in two regional synods in Greece, and another in North America.

“We’re already unable to pay the pensions of older pastors and their widows, and we’ve seen a rapid increase in requests for help from local parishioners. Although our church has been present in Greece since 1858, the state hasn’t granted us the rights of a legal body, so our situation is highly fragile,” he said.

He was speaking after European Union finance ministers released emergency funding for the Greek economy, following approval by Greek parliamentarians of tough austerity measures by the center-left government of premier George Papandreou amid violent street protests as unemployment neared 23 percent.

In an ENInews interview on July 11, Boukis said his church had taken out a 30,000-euro ($42,100) loan to help retired pastors and their widows who were not eligible for state pensions and is also cutting back on drug rehabilitation programs in Athens and Thessaloniki.

Meanwhile, a Roman Catholic leader said his church would also be unable to pay clergy and staff salaries by the end of the year and is also closing a hospice and cutting aid for refugees and asylum-seekers administered by its Caritas organization and Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity.

“We’re only a small minority, with few properties and resources, and we’ve been burdened in recent years by many Catholics coming here from poor countries in search of a better life, using Greece as Europe’s eastern gateway,” Archbishop Nikolaos Foskolos, the Catholic archbishop of Athens, told ENInews.

“We get no help from the state and our faithful simply can’t give any more. Since Greece joined the EU in 1981, we haven’t received any help from Western churches either, since we’re considered a rich country ourselves and they can only aid the Third World. But we have parts of the Third World here in Greece, and it’s creating great pastoral and social hardships,” he added.

The EU and International Monetary Fund agreed last year to give 110 billion euros ($154 billion) in emergency loans to help Greece pay its debts of 350 billion euros ($491 billion) by the end of 2014, after the country faced bankruptcy and possible withdrawal from the European Union single currency.

On June 30, the Athens parliament approved government plans to allow more revenue to be raised through spending cuts and tax rises, as well as a “solidarity levy” on households, sweeping privatization, school closures and sharp state sector staff and wage reductions.

The Orthodox Church of Greece, which includes 97 percent of the population of 10.4 million and enjoys state recognition, is also cutting back its social and charitable work, after being told its clergy must accept a 50 percent reduction in their state-paid salaries.

However, Boukis told ENInews, Orthodox priests were better able to cope, thanks to earnings from baptisms, weddings, funerals and other regular church ceremonies. The Greek constitution deems Orthodoxy the “dominant religion” and requires public office-holders to take an oath before an Orthodox priest.

“If things get even worse for us here, we’ll have to ask our fellow Protestants around the world for help, while also finding more creative ways of generating income,” Boukis said.

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