Christodoulos in a corner
- 2005.02.25 Athens News:
Christodoulos in a corner
Despite transparency measures, the archbishop remains at the centre of
theraging church crisis, facing calls to step down
Archbishop Christodoulos: ongoing revelations keep him at the centre of a
deepening church crisis
LIKE Chinese water torture, embarrassing revelations, leaked drop by drop,
continued to batter Greece's embattled Archbishop Christodoulos,
immediately overshadowing a series of transparency measures introduced by
the church to overcome its simmering crisis.
Patriarch Eirinaios of Jerusalem on February 23 confirmed allegations
that Christodoulos sent convicted drug dealer and suspected intelligence
agent Apostolos Vavylis as an envoy to help him be elected patriarch in
2001. Eirinaios had earlier denied that Christodoulos had sent Vavylis as
Christodoulos, who has admitted that he wrote a recommendation for
Vavylis before his drug conviction, repeated his denial that he sent
Vavylis to Jerusalem. But the development cast further doubt on his ability
to clean up the church while he is now faced with a wave of calls to resign.
A 1996 Greek intelligence document published by To Vima on February 22
indicated that Vavylis was an Israeli Mossad agent, and his access to the
Greek public order and defence ministries could prove to be a major
Police conducted a nationwide manhunt for Vavylis, who reportedly will
face felony charges of espionage, apart from outstanding drug charges.
Vavylis was found to have rented an Athens apartment under the name of
Father Nikodimos Farmakis, a member of the Chrysopege monastic brotherhood,
of which Christodoulos has been a key member. Farmakis was with Vavylis in
Jerusalem, and his name was on the doorbell of Vavylis' apartment. The
priest admitted to visiting Vavylis' place, but claimed not to have rented
the property. Farmakis admitted on February 23 that Chrysopege had given
cell phones to Vavylis and a retired Greek police officer who also worked
on the campaign to elect Eirinaios.
Just two days earlier, Christodoulos' spokesman and close associate,
Father Epiphanios Economou, admitted to paying a convict hundreds of euros
to buy audio tapes at night in a public square that allegedly implicated
the archbishop's main critic, Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Zakynthos, in a
financial scandal from the days when he served as abbott of the wealthy
Penteli monastery. The information was revealed on February 19 to the full
hierarchy of bishops, which chose not to act on the matter when the
archbishop denied prior knowledge of the transaction.
In an interview with private Mega TV, the convict - who identified
himself only as "Christos" and said he is currently breaking the terms of a
prison furlough - said he had met three times with Epiphanios, the last in
Christodoulos' private office, from which the spokesman allegedly received
the archbishop's personal approval for the deal by telephone.
The spokesman submitted his resignation on February 21, but Christodoulos
did not accept it.
When Metropolitan Chrysostomos lambasted the archbishop at the February
18-19 synod of the full church hierarchy over his choice of associates,
charging that his inner circle "stinks", Christodoulos threatened the
metropolitan. The archbishop produced copies of the ultra-rightwing
newspaper Eleftheri Ora, with reports alleging scandals involving Chrysostomos.
The incident highlighted the prevailing balance of terror within the
Greek hierarchy, with bishops threatening their brethren with compromising
sexual or financial revelations. Many church observers question whether the
transparency pledged by the church hierarchy can go forward under such
Ties to criminals
Another bombshell revelation directly tied Christodoulos with priest
Iakovos Giosakis, who is implicated in a judicial ring that fixed court
cases and helped free convicted drug dealers. an Athens judge, whose name
was not revealed by authorities, told prosecutors that Giosakis twice
arranged for him to meet the archbishop at his private office, and that
Giosakis himself was present at both meetings. The priest is currently in
jail awaiting trial for stealing about 100 antique icons on the island of
Kythera. His friend and fellow priest Kyrillos Stavropoulos was jailed on
similar charges on February 23.
Christodoulos had categorically denied any association with Giosakis. It
is unclear whether the priest was involved in court cases to which the
archdiocese was a party.
The Greek hierarchy on February 18-19 overwhelmingly adopted a set of
Christodoulos' proposals designed to help the church transcend financial
and sexual scandals. They included creating a committee chaired by the
archbishop and involving high court judges, requiring bishops and higher
church officials to file annual financial statements with the supreme court
deputy prosecutor, pledging to enforce church canons strictly (an admission
that this was not the case to date), banning payments to bishops for the
performance of church sacraments and increasing lay participation in church
administration by establishing local clergy-laity councils.
A number of bishops joined the majority of the Greek press in describing
the proposals as inadequate "half-measures". Metropolitan Amvrosios of
Kalavryta who, as a member of Christodoulos' Chrysopege monastic
brotherhood played a key role in organising the archbishop's 1998 election,
dismissed the measures as "populist" and a "communications trick".
Metropolitan Theoklitos of Ioannina said the moves were not "in the spirit
of the church canons".
The Greek government appeared sceptical about the proposal for the
archbishop to chair a committee comprised of high court judges to probe
church improprieties, as Christodoulos would be both proposing measures as
chairman and judging them as president of the synod.
Some bishops, including Ierotheos of Nafpaktos, objected to offering
outside laymen a key role in the administration of church justice.
Government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros said the government will study
the proposal when it is formally received.
Last autumn, the Greek government passed a bill to gradually phase out
all real estate taxes on church property by 2007. But it now appears to be
distancing itself from the church in the face of burgeoning scandals.
At the synod, Christodoulos became the first archbishop in history to
face a no-confidence proposal in the 79-member hierarchy of bishops, put
forth by Metropolitan Germanos of Elea. But by putting the proposal to an
immediate open ballot, Christodoulos was able to turn the demand for his
resignation into a vote of confidence, with 67 bishops of 71 voting
The synod's decision to rally behind Christodoulos was viewed by critics
as an attempt to fend off government intervention in church affairs -
amidst calls for the separation of church and state - while protecting the
bishops' own privileges and vested interests.
In a 25-page address to fellow bishops, Christodoulos admitted that the
church is guilty of covering up "lust and avarice", but he attributed the
avalanche of revelations against clerics to a sinister conspiracy to harm
the church and effect the separation of church and state.
"The scandals are basically the strong pretext, directed at the people,
to dispose them negatively against us and prepare the ground for the
general attack that apparently will follow," he declared on February 18.
Christodoulos asserted that calls for the separation of church and state
are part of a plot to effect "incredible things that are being planned at
the expense of our people".
While accepting the need for reforms, the archbishop ruled out any change
to the church charter, which was passed into law in 1977. Recommendations
by bishops in the hierarchy were neither debated nor put to a vote,
highlighting the fact that reforms will be instituted from above, rather
than as a collective endeavour.
A proposal by Metropolitan Ierotheos to change the manner of electing
bishops fell by the wayside. So, too, did a recommendation by Metropolitan
Nicholas of Fthiotis to force bishops who have major assets to donate these
to their dioceses or to charitable organisations.
ATHENS NEWS , 25/02/2005, page: A04 Article code: C13119A041