Greece’s second-largest landowner is accused of tax evasion. Photo: Matthew Bird
One aspect of the fallout from Greece’s debt crisis has been new pressure on the wealthy Greek Orthodox Church to pay its fair share.
Although the church has assets of at least ?7billion-more than double the country’s national debt-cash-strapped Athens still pays the salaries and pensions of its clerics as public-sector workers. While the country faces drastic EU-imposed austerity measures, the church pays minimal taxes on its vast real estate holdings. As the country’s second-largest landowner after the state, the church holds 500-plus monasteries, 7,945 parishes, 130,000 hectares of land and 1.5% stake in the Bank of Greece.
Protesters have mounted a vociferous “Tax the church” campaign.
Last October, Greece’s former prime minister, George Papandreiou, met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomaios I on Mount Athos to discuss the matter. At that time, the church apparently expressed its willingness to help. The new prime minister, Lucas Papademos, recently announced a program to create 150, 000 new jobs in the first quarter of 2012 and boost welfare programs to ease the effects of the crisis that has led to deep recession and 18% unemployment. The church will be a partner in this.