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Greek Churches Feel Pinch
of Economic Collapse

BY JONATHAN LUXMOORE                                                                                 ©2011 Religion News Service

Minority Christian churches in Greece are closing down their charity work and are having trouble paying clergy salaries because of the economic crisis, according to church leaders in Athens.
"Like other Protestant churches, we're financially autonomous here and not supported by anyone but our own members, so our revenue has fallen sharply," said Dimitrios Boukis, general secretary of the Greek Evangelical Church, which has 29 congregations. "We're already unable to pay the pensions of older pastors and their widows, and we've seen a rapid increase in requests for help from local parishioners."
The Orthodox Church of Greece, which covers 97 percent of the population and enjoys state recognition, is also cutting back its social and charitable work. Greek Orthodox clergy must accept a 50 percent reduction in their state-paid salaries.
European Union finance ministers have released emergency funding to shore up the Greek economy, following tough austerity measures passed by lawmakers amid violent street protests and an unemployment rate of nearly 23 percent.
Boukis said his church had taken out a 30,000-euro loan to help retired pastors and their widows who were not eligible for state pensions, and is also cutting back on drug rehabilitation programs in Athens and Thessaloniki.
A Roman Catholic leader said his church would also be unable to pay clergy and staff salaries by the end of the year, and is closing a hospice and cutting aid for refugees and asylum seekers. "We're only a small minority, with few properties and resources, and we've been burdened in recent years by many Catholics coming here from poor countries in search of a better life, using Greece as Europe's eastern gateway," Athens Archbishop Nikolaos Foskolos told ENInews. "We get no help from the state and our faithful simply can't give any more."

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