Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, an atheist who recently said he wants to formally introduce the struggling nation to secularism, will lay off 10,000 clergymen and replace them with public servants, including doctors and teachers.
Tsipras announced the plan to remove priests and other employees affiliated with the Orthodox Church as part of a larger effort to officially separate church and state. He said about a week ago that he thought the Church was going to willingly cede control of government positions. I thought he was being naïve.
Well, it turns out that Greece isn’t all that much like the United States, and his efforts seem to be paying off already. In fact, the Church agreed to the deal that included laying off thousands of government-employed clergymen.
Greece and its powerful Orthodox Church tentatively agreed on Tuesday to remove some 10,000 priests and auxiliary staff from the state payroll, in a deal that could pave the way for a clearer distinction between church and state. The Greek Orthodox Church has played a leading role in the life of the country for many centuries and is considered its official religion under the constitution. For many Greeks, their national identity is intricately bound up with their religion.
Under the deal, reached between Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Archbishop Hieronymos of the Church of Greece, the state will in the future transfer an annual state subsidy to a special church fund for the payment of priests’ salaries.
The agreement also foresees a settlement to a decades-old dispute over property between the Greek state and the Church, which is one of the country’s largest real estate owners.
This is huge. Not only is Tsipras convincing the Church to give up some power, but he’s doing it in a country where people are culturally tied to their faith, often putting it before everything else. Yes, the country will have to pay up to get the priests out, but that’s not entirely strange considering these are government employees now out of jobs.
Perhaps even more importantly, this deal will help Greece with something it has been struggling with for years: becoming fiscally stable.
Greece’s creditors have long urged the government to sell assets and reduce the number of public sector employees. Under the current system, priests’ salaries are paid directly from the state budget as are those of all civil servants. The annual cost of the priests on the government’s payroll is estimated at about 200 million euros.
This plan actually makes sense on several levels. For one, separating religion and government helps make better policy that doesn’t leave out minority believers or even non-believers. Secondly, in the case of Greece, it will save them a massive amount of money that they desperately need. In a country that recently declared bankruptcy, the last thing Greece needs is $229 million per year going to religious leaders.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Brian for the link)