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01 June, 2000
The powerful prelate of Greece's Orthodox Church on Wednesday continued his highly publicised campaign against the Greek government's intention to exclude religious affiliation from new state-mandated ID cards, charging that the government "violated a gentlemen's agreement" over the matter.
Just days after declaring over media airwaves an "unrelenting struggle" to force the government to allow the voluntary entry of religious affiliation, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Christodoulos stressed that the government has taken an "amoral decision" that flies in the face of "the vast majority of Greek citizens represented by the Church".
The "ID card" furor erupted in earnest this month throughout the predominately Orthodox nation of 11 million after a state-appointed committee, the Authority for the Protection of Personal Data, gave its opinion to the Simitis government.
Christodoulos, a charismatic speaker who regularly tops opinion polls as the most popular public figure, was the keynote speaker at a luncheon organised by the Foreign Press Association (FPA) at a downtown Athens hotel. The ongoing furor and the government's insistence in pushing ahead with what Greek Prime Minister Simitis has called as imperative to "protect citizens' sensitive personal data" resulted in a packed house for the Archbishop's address.
The question of whether "we are firstly Greek or firstly European is a false and non-existent dilemma," Simitis said on Tuesday during a press conference with his visiting Belgian counterpart, adding: "Greece is Europe because Europe is Greece ... We are Europe because Europe is based on ideals and values that our country has always held," he said.
Simitis' response came in reply to more stinging remarks this week by Christodoulos, including the aforementioned rhetorical question that has been the top story on local TV newscasts and newspaper front pages for several days.
In reply to press questions after his speech, Christodoulos said that although the government has the final word on the matter, "procedures for dialogue and understanding with the Church" were ignored. "The Church was scoffed at ... There's also a trend of trying to marginalise a highly respected institution (the Church of Greece) within the state," he stressed.
As Christodoulos addressed a packed auditorium of journalists, politicians and academics, among others, the government also appeared unwavering in its decision, while again emphasising that the ID issue falls outside the broad confines of Church-State relations.
"We're not dealing with any other issue ... The government has taken its decisions vis-a-vis the implementation of the law concerning sensitive personal data, something that doesn't deal just with identification cards but with every state document. This issue doesn't deal with State-Church relations but exclusively with relations of the state and its services towards citizens," government spokesman Dimitris Reppas stressed.
In his earlier comments, Christodoulos said, among others: "... Europe is going through a deep spiritual crisis, determined by religious comparison or relativism and philosophical fatigue, the absence of new ideologies. Some of the things happening today in the West give rise to melancholy thoughts about the future of western civilisation. When 'Christian' nations forbid public prayer in schools so as not to offend dissenters, when 'Christian' universities teach theology alongside satanism, when one sees the extent of child pornography in our 'Christian' societies, when racism finds room to grow in them, then the need to deal with the situation immediately becomes evident.
"The clergy of the Orthodox Church, during our 2000-year presence at the forefront of history, have never belonged and do not belong to classes, have not become involved in worldly power and have not sought to turn the Church into a worldly institution. We have kept our distance from political goals and shared the fate of our people. Our Church has, over its history, suffered great trials and persecution, especially during the 20th century.
"For Greeks, to be an Orthodox Christian is a defining attribute of their identity. For us Europeans, this is our Christian identity. And it is this that all our friends advise us to keep.
"In our country there is religious freedom, which is expressed through the unhindered worship of every known religion, as decreed by the Constitution and Law. It is forbidden, of course, to proselytise. In other words to compromise conscience using illegal and unethical means, through the use of trickery and methods taking advantage of others' needs. This ban applies to the Orthodox Church as well.
"... Finally, I would like to stress that our Church condemns violence with disgust as being contrary to the will of the God of peace, and converses with all in a spirit of compromise, understanding and humility, is interested in peace, ecology, bioethics, the great problems of our time and has a European orientation, as does our country. "We are useful to Europe not only through our participation in development programmes but also when we can offer something spiritual. And religion for European Greeks is a support that is powerful and unmoving, one which we wish to stay strong and redeeming - not just for the sake of each one of us individually but also for all our sakes, for the sake of society, the people and our nation."
Source: Athens News Agency