Greek Church crippled by economic crisis

Pastoral work by the Catholic Church in Greece is being severely hampered by the country’s economic crisis, according the Catholic Archbishop of Athens.

Archbishop Sevastianos Rossolatos said the Church was increasingly unable to maintain its buildings or provide services for migrants and refugees, more of whom have arrived in the beleaguered country this year than anywhere else in Europe, according to the Office of the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees.

Describing how retirees would line up at bank cashpoints in the early hours of the morning, hoping to withdraw money before it ran out, with others appearing “disorientated and confused”, the archbishop said “we simply haven't been able to pay our taxes this year, so we'll face an even heavier burden in future”.

While welcoming assistance from Caritas Italy, Dr Rossolatos said current hardships were being felt equally throughout the Greek Church, as government taxes and duties, consuming half of all church resources, were having a “devastating and debilitating impact”.

Catholic leaders, who were forced to close charitable projects after a tax increase of more than 40 percent in 2013, have been outspoken during the current crisis, blaming corruption among the country's politicians and harsh, unrealistic attitudes among Greece's international creditors, but the Church refused to take a collective position in the recent referendum on a proposed austerity plan.

“We realized the government would maintain the same position, whatever the referendum outcome, so we left people to decide for themselves”, Dr Rossolatos explained.

Accepting that further reforms are necessary in Greece, and arguing that there should be changes in how the European Union manages its affairs, Dr Rossolatos said “for now, people just hope to survive these truly terrible conditions”.

The Catholic Church makes up just 3 percent of Greece's population of 11 million, compared to 97 percent belonging to the Orthodox Church, which the country’s constitution recognises as Greece’s “prevailing religion”. Charitable work by the Churches is vital in a country without a universal health service and where more than 90% of the 1.5 million unemployed received no help from the state.