Thursday, May 19, 2011

GREECE - The State eyeing on the funds of the Church

The Bank of Greece has a strong interest in the contents of the box parishes, monasteries and religious institutions across the country, even in Crete, the Dodecanese islands and Mount Athos, who have a particular ecclesiastical status [they are spiritually and administratively to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople].

The austerity plan established just last year imposed the tax revenues of the Church. Having cut the salaries of bishops and taxed all their income, the Government via the Bank of Greece, now wants to have liquidity of the Church - or reserves established by individual donations. And not missing a beat, the Bank of Greece wants to withhold tax, that is to say the bank account where the donations are deposited.

Thus, without cash, the Church will be in the inability to establish programs like budget to fund projects and philanthropy. This is the implementation of two laws already in existence, dated 1950 and 1994, which had hitherto been somewhat "forgotten" by the authorities. They allow the Greek state to manage the de facto budget parishes redistributing them only what is necessary to pay salaries and cover basic needs like water, electricity or telephone.

Taking advantage of the austerity measures, they were handed up to date. It all started last fall, when banks began to send notices of information to religious institutions telling them that the National Bank demanded, under austerity plan, to have access to their fund. The prelates have reacted strongly by saying that it's all their philanthropic mission that will be disturbed and they can not even budget for the maintenance of their facilities.

And for good reason. Now, the use of reserves, excluding current expenses and salaries, require specific authorization from the Bank of Greece. The Holy Synod [national council of bishops - called "metropolitans"] sent a letter to the Governor of the Bank of Greece Giorgos Provopoulos, requesting that these measures do not apply to the Church.

In their letter, the religious leaders say their schools receive a status "clearly outstanding" [see cons]. They stress that this is also the conclusion of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), in a previous controversy concerning the ownership of certain monasteries. "These are public entities religious nonprofit, self-financing, acting for charitable, philanthropic and cultural," they said.

"This is the Metropolitan who makes major decisions on managing funds for its region. All events that govern religious life are drawn by it or depend on it, "they conclude. The response of the governor of the central bank has not made wait. He said the church does not escape the application of the austerity plan.

He has just given a few more weeks to the bishops to come into line with that. "They do not even give us a margin for the urgent needs of our institutions. We will even enough to buy a candle, "said a priest." Do they want to push us to illegality? he asks. Because we could open personal accounts in banks to receive donations and continue to do our job ...

"The battle has just begun.

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