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Greece’s Church says priests should keep state jobs

In this photo released by Greek Prime Minister's office, Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, left, and Church head Archbishop Hieronymos arrive for their meeting at Maximos Mansion in Athens on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. Greece's left-led government and the country's powerful Church say they have struck a tentative deal to end decades of discord over the exploitation of large tracts of real estate both claim as their own. (Andrea Bonetti/Greek Prime Minister's Office via AP)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s powerful Orthodox Church says it wants priests to remain civil servants, rejecting part of a recent government offer to switch a payroll system for clergymen.

The church’s governing Holy Synod said Friday that it had voted unanimously “to retain the existing payroll status of the clergy and laymen of the Church of Greece.”

Earlier this month, left-wing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called on the church to back a series of government proposed reforms aimed at settling decades-old property disputes and moving priests off the state payroll to a separate publicly-funded structure.

Tsipras had met Church leader, Archbishop Hieronymos, and later said the scheme would free up 10,000 new positions in the public sector amid hiring restrictions that remain in place after the country’s international bailouts. Hieronymos had appeared to agree with the proposals at the Nov. 6 meeting.

Currently trailing conservative rivals in polls, Tsipras is facing a general election next year.

The number of salaried employees on the state payroll was reduced by nearly 20 percent during three successive bailouts, dropping to some 560,000. They include military and police personnel, teachers and university staff and public hospital workers and well as state administrative staff.

The Greek Church has frequently been at odds with the Tsipras government which legalized same-sex civil partnerships, and revised the school curriculum to increase references to other major religions.

The government is seeking church support for a proposed constitutional revision that would be finalized by the next parliament and would include provisions to scrap the religious oath for lawmakers, declaring the Greek state “religiously neutral.”

More than 90 percent of Greek citizens are baptized Orthodox Christian, according to official estimates.

In Friday’s Holy Synod decision, the church said it wished to have continued dialogue with the state and announced it would establish a special commission to examine “issues of common interest.”

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