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16 June, 2000
Tensions between the government and the Orthodox Church's hierarchy reached fever pitch on Thursday with the holding of a massive out-door rally to protest the announced exclusion of religious affiliation from new police-issued ID cards.
Several metropolitan bishops of the Autocephalus Orthodox Church of Greece addressed the flag-waving crowd gathered in the northern port city of Thessaloniki's main square, with the Church's outspoken Prelate, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Christodoulos, leading the barrage on the government's decision not to list personal data on the new IDs.
In response, several ministers and the government spokesman on Thursday publicly criticized the rally and questioned whether the Church hierarchy was attempting to assume a political stature.
"The expediency of yesterday's (Wednesday's) rally and mobilization by the Church leadership is obvious, and it's nothing other than to claim a role alien to the Church's tradition and mission," government spokesman Dimitris Reppas said on Thursday during his regular press briefing.
He added, however, that he doesn't consider that a conflict between the Church and state exists, saying such a relationship would be inadmissible.
Reppas specified that the government is "always open to dialogue with the Church, however, it will not create a framework for dialogue or negotiations of a political nature."
In terms of dialogue, the spokesman said the Church should follow such path, without touching on "the issue of IDs", he clarified.
While ruling out a compromise on the ID issue, Reppas noted that the issues for dialogue dealt with canon law, parochial education and development projects for the Orthodox Church. He also stressed that Articles III and XIII of the Constitution referring to Church-state relations are not up for revision by the current Parliament.
Source: Athens News Agency