July 25, 2012

Letter of the Archbishop of Athens on Taxation and Payroll of Clergy

Letter of the Archbishop of Athens and all Greece Ieronimos, regarding the issues of taxation of the Orthodox Church of Greece and of the payroll of Its clergy to Greek PM and the leaders of the EU

Prompted by repeated publications in a part of the European Press regarding the issues of taxation of the Orthodox Church of Greece and of the payroll of Its clergy, and whose authors, in violation of any notion of ethics, avoid addressing relevant questions to the competent Press Office for their complete information, we are obliged to proceed to the following clarifications in order to restore the truth:

A. Taxation of the Church. The latest tax exemptions in favour of the Orthodox Church as well as in favour of all known religions in Greece with no exception, were repealed on April 23, 2010 by law No. 3842/2010. Henceforth, the legal entities of the Orthodox Church have been disbursing : (1) a tax on their real estate, and indeed at a tax rate three times as high as the one applying to the rest of the public organisations of the country; (2) a tax on the rents they receive each year from their real estate at a tax rate of 20% of their value, namely higher than the one applying to private individuals; (3) a complementary tax on their revenues from edifices and leased lands at a rate of 3%; (4) an advance payment of tax for the following year at a rate of 55% of the value of the aforementioned complementary tax; (5) a tax on inheritance and donations at a rate of 0.5% of their value; (6) a stamp duty fee and Agricultural Insurance Organisation rights at a total rate of 2.40% on each pecuniary contribution from the faithful to the Holy Churches by reason of sacred practices. Moreover, the aforementioned legal entities of the Church withhold and pay to the Greek Government all taxes which private tax payers are also obliged to withhold and pay in their transactions with third parties (tax on salaried services, VAT etc.). In accordance with tax law, only spaces used for worship and public benefit purposes by all religions and denominations with no exception are exempted from the tax on real estate. Thus the Central Service of the Church of Greece, the Holy Metropolises, the Parishes, the Holy Monasteries and the Ecclesiastic Foundations paid for the year 2011 a total amount of 12,584,139.92€ in taxes.

B. The payroll of the clergy. The payroll of the clergy is disbursed by the Government in compliance with a contractual obligation of the latter, assumed by it as of the year 1833 vis-à-vis the Church, since 65% (i.e. two thirds) of the rural and urban real estate property of the Church at the time came to the State. Henceforth and up to this day 96% of the remaining aforementioned property has also come to the State — either unilaterally (through a number of laws passed by the Greek Government) or through donations offered by the Church. The largest mass land concessions by the Church to the State took place in order to assist the refugees of the Asia Minor Disaster (1922) as well as the landless cultivators after 1945. Furthermore, the most significant public edifices of the capital (housing academic institutions, hospitals etc.) have been erected on real estate conceded by the Church free of charge for this purpose.

Today the largest part of Church property consists of forest extents, with regard to which, in accordance with the Greek Constitution, no change of their purpose and use is permitted, and of a few urban estates, upon most of which urban planning compulsory purchase has been imposed by the State so that they may be turned into communal spaces, without, however, the Orthodox Church legal entities’ having been compensated for them, due to the lack of financial resources of the relevant Municipalities. It is worth noting at this point that the salaries of the Deacons and of the Presbyters of the Orthodox Church are stipulated by the same law as those of Public Servants and are subject to the same cuts and tax allowances.

C. The revenues of the Church. The revenues of the Church derive from the rents of Its remaining real estate, the dividends from bank shares and voluntary contributions from the faithful. It should be noted that, as of 2008, paying dividends to bank shareholders has been suspended by law, while the real estate market is also going through a severe crisis. Despite all that, in October 2010 the Church of Greece supported the Greek economy by partaking of the share capital increase of the National Bank of Greece with the amount of 27 million euro, derived from bank borrowing. Today these shares, apart from the fact that they yield no dividend, have almost zero resale value. It should be emphasised that the Church of Greece has no revenues from commercial ventures or business activities in general.

D. The social work of the Church. Ever since the establishment of the Modern Greek State and up to this day, uninterruptedly, and of course these days in particular, when our people is suffering, Holy Metropolises, Holy Parishes, and Ecclesiastic Foundations have developed a large number of actions and charitable initiatives for the relief of those in need. Today the Church of Greece operates: 2,325 funds for the poor (Philoptocha), 10 nursery schools, 10 kindergartens, 19 hospices for the elderly within the Holy Archdiocese of Athens and a further 66 in the Holy Metropolitanates, 13 healthcare clinics for persons with chronic diseases, 8 foundations for persons with special needs, 10 hospitals and medical centres, 7 mental health hospices, 6 hostels for the homeless, 1 hostel for the accommodation of patients’ relatives, 36 boarding schools and orphanages, many foundations dedicated to child protection, over 200 free food distribution centres, with the number of portions of food offered constantly increasing, social supermarkets, free distribution points for clothing and foot ware, and student boarding houses.

The number of persons hosted in all the aforementioned forms of social infrastructure of the Church for the year 2011 (accommodation, boarding, medical and pharmaceutical healthcare) rose to 5,862. Moreover, 54 camping centres are operated, where more than 15,000 children are hosted each year. Furthermore, there is a special service operated by the Holy Synod for the reception of immigrants and for the provision of legal assistance to them, should they wish to submit asylum requests. Finally, it should be taken into account that daily pecuniary aid is provided to the destitute, and academic scholarships are granted to Greek and foreign students. In total, for the year 2010, all agencies of the Orthodox Church of Greece spent on their charitable and social work the amount of 96,234,510.47 euro.

It should be taken into consideration that the aforementioned data do not regard the Monastic Community of the Holy Mount, the Church of Crete or the Holy Metropolitanates of the Dodecanese, which constitute administratively independent ecclesiastic jurisdictions (and distinct from the Church of Greece) in accordance with Greek law.

We deem the dispatch of the present to be appropriate so that things may be put back in their right perspective; so that the irresponsible reproduction of erroneous and stereotypical information as well as the creation of distorted impressions at the expense of the Orthodox Church of Greece may cease, being obviously aimed at serving unfathomable expediencies.