w w w . h a a r e t z . c o m
Last update - 01:03 31/05/2005
Unclear whether Israel will cooperate with new Greek Orthodox patriarch
By Arnon Regular, Haaretz Correspondent, and The Associated Press
Leaders of the Greek Orthodox Church met in the Old City of Jerusalem
Monday to select a temporary replacement for its embattled patriarch.
Fourteen out of 17 members of the Holy Synod in Jerusalem named Archbishop
Cornelios, the head of the church's ecclesiastical court, to take the place
of Irineos I until a permanent replacement is found.
Cornelios also served as temporary patriarch before Irineos' appointment
nearly four years ago. It is still unclear whether Israel will decide to
cooperate with Cornelios.
For the past two months, Irineos has been embroiled in a controversy over
the long-term leasing of choice church property to Jews. Reports of the
leases have aroused the furor of the Palestinians who make up most of the
The church has said its land deals were conducted by its former financial
officer, Niko Papadimas, who vanished several months ago, and has European
arrest warrants against him. Irineos has insisted he didn't know about the
The Greek government, meanwhile, turned up the already fierce pressure on
Irineos to resign, issuing him a new passport that changed his title to
"former patriarch," Greek Foreign Ministry officials said.
In its first official step, the Israeli government set up a team headed by
a cabinet minister to "examine all the circumstances of the subject and
recommend steps to be taken," according to a statement from the Prime
Irineos has repeatedly declared he would not step aside and is trying to
recruit support from Palestinians and Israelis, even though the controversy
has prevented him from wielding the powers of a patriarch. Legally, though,
church leaders cannot dismiss him: Only the governments in areas where his
flock lives - Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority - have the power
to do that, by withdrawing recognition from him.
Jordan did so last week. For now, Israel says it won't support anyone who
opposes, in principle, the sale of property to Jews in East Jerusalem.
A Palestinian official said Monday that the Palestinians' main objective is
to cancel the property deals, and that it matters little to the Palestinian
government who serves as patriarch.