Greece: Scandals within the Church and the Judiciary are shaking the foundations of society

The Greek Orthodox Church and the Judiciary have been involved in major corruption scandals, involving embezzlement, drug running and bribing of judges to fix trials. Two “pillars” of the Greek state have thus been exposed in the eyes of the masses, something which will have profound consequences in the coming years of class struggle. We publish an introduction by Fred Weston and the Editorial statement of the new Greek Marxist journal, Marxistiki Phoni, on these developments.

Below we publish the editorial of the first issue of a new Marxist journal that was launched in February by the Greek Marxists, Marxistiki Phoni. It is a comment on the spate of scandals that have hit the Greek Orthodox Church and the Judiciary.

Greek society has in fact been shaken by a major institutional crisis, involving what were considered two “pillars” of society, the Greek Orthodox Church and the Judiciary. This crisis is causing big headaches for the Greek ruling class, as it is exposing the real nature of two important wings of the state.

How worried the Greek ruling class is can be seen in the following quote from one of the main bourgeois journals in Greece, Ekathimerini, in an article under the title “Abolition of the state”:

“The most shocking revelation of all is that the concept of the state itself has suddenly been destroyed... Transparency is badly needed and all negative elements in public and social life must be purged. But this needs to be carried out systematically by the responsible institutions, the government or Parliament. Otherwise, Greece will regress into anarchy and the citizen’s democratic right to know will become a vehicle for the dissolution of state institutions.”

On February 18, the heads of the Greek Orthodox Church met in an emergency session to try and salvage this once highly respected institution from the most serious crisis in its history. The heads of the Church have been accused of sexual improprieties. Newspapers have published photographs of one 91-year-old bishop naked in bed with a young woman. Other priests have been involved in homosexuality. This in itself is not a surprise, and to any progressive minded person is not a problem, but the point is that the Church hierarchy condemns homosexuality as “an abomination”. Furthermore, while ordinary Greek priests are allowed to marry, those at the top are supposed to stay celibate!

The scandals go beyond this, however. The Church leaders have been accused of rigging trials by bribing judges, drug running, smuggling antiquities and so on. The extent of the corruption is revealed by the fact that Metropolitan Theoklitos of Thessaly, was arrested on suspicion of dealing in drugs in a notorious nightclub in Athens. Another example is that of the behaviour of Metropolitan Panteleimon of Attica. He was head of Greece’s richest diocese and has been accused of “lewd exchanges with young men” and of embezzling around €4.4m (£3m) supposedly for “his old age.” Panteleimon is among a group of high-ranking priests involved in trial-fixing and corruption involving at least 20 judges who are currently under investigation. Thus the crisis has also spread from the Church to the Judiciary.

What has compounded the crisis is the arrogant reaction of the Church leaders. When Panteleimon was asked to resign, his reaction was to announce that, “If I speak, there will be an earthquake. I'll take many with me to my grave.”

Greek TV has been dominated by this major crisis, with each day revealing more and more scandals, while ordinary Greeks have watched all this dumfounded.

An attempt has been made to present the situation as being one where a “few rotten apples” were involved, while the bulk of the Church hierarchy is supposed to be clean. But Archbishop Christodoulos, the top man in the Greek Church, has been directly involved in these accusations. He has tried to cover up the extent of the corruption by saying such things as, “There is a lot that must be done to put our house in order.” He followed this by proposing a series of “reforms”.

But people don’t believe that this would go anywhere near to cleaning up these institutions. They have lost confidence in what were once considered stable, upright institutions. For many years people had lost confidence in their politicians, but the myth was upheld that the Church and Judiciary were impartial, trusted bodies. This has now all collapsed.

The Judiciary and the Church were institutions which a great majority of people trusted. Even when there were questions about the reliability of the politicians and the political system in general, the polls showed that (especially) the Church was very powerful. Archbishop Christodoulos was the most popular personality and the people who dared oppose him (as regards his role in domestic politics) were in the minority. His speeches from the pulpit were for long periods main items in the news. Now more and more people say that it is time for him to resign!

Irenaios, patriarch
of Jerusalem

The arrogance of the Church leaders has particularly struck the masses in Greece. Archbishop Christodoulos has refused to accept any responsibility for the scandals. However, he definitely is involved! He has been accused of using a convicted drug smuggler, Apostolos Vavylis, to get his favoured candidate, Irenaios, elected as patriarch of Jerusalem. It has also been revealed that the Archbishop wrote a letter of recommendation for Vavylis just a few months before he was arrested for smuggling heroin! If you look up the official International Police Cooperation Division’s website, under “International Wanted Persons by the Hellenic Authorities” you will find that this worthy individual was wanted for “Violation of legislation on narcotic drugs.”

In spite of all this growing evidence, the leader of the Church, Christodoulos, is still remaining defiant. During a service this Sunday he said, “If those that are attacking me think I will resign or that I will stop talking, they are deeply misguided.” His friend Irenaios, the patriarch of Jerusalem, added, “These days the gates of hell have opened and the darkness of lies, defamation and war against the mother of churches has emerged. Demons are circling the walls of the holy city and trying to crush those who support the Jerusalem patriarchate and the brotherhood of the Holy Land.”

This is the arrogance of these supposedly pious and humble representatives of “God on Earth”! They never imagined they would be caught in their corrupt and criminal activities. These Church leaders preached to the masses how they should behave, condemning drug running, theft and so on, while they themselves were involved directly in these activities.

Archbishop Christodoulos

It is not surprising therefore that opinion polls this week have revealed that for the first time ever in Greek history the majority of people support the call for the full separation of the Church from the State.

As one political scientist, Thanos Dokas, has commented, “For the last 150 years, the church has had a leading role... now it is fighting a rearguard battle to maintain its grip on Greek society.”

The rottenness of the priesthood and the judiciary is merely a reflection of the deep crisis affecting Greek capitalism, and the very heart of the Greek state. These scandals are not just a detail. They reflect a deeper process. It is part of the general reawakening of the Greek working class and youth. They will note these events and they will remain embedded in their consciousness. Next time they are asked to tighten their belts in the cause of “national unity” they will remember that the people at the top have no intention of tightening their belts. It is only the workers who are called on to make “sacrifices”. They will not tolerate this for long. The day will come when the workers and youth of Greece will move decisively and sweep away all this muck, and build a society that is genuinely just, a socialist society without privileged elites at the top.

The new journal, “Marxistiki Phoni” (Marxist Voice), we believe is destined to play a key role in building a genuine Marxist alternative within the Greek labour movement and we wish the comrades every success in this new period that has opened up in Greek society.

March 1, 2005


Editorial of the first issue of “Marxistiki Phoni” (Marxist Voice), the new paper of the Marxist Tendency in Greece

Marxistiki Phoni

Every day we are witnessing a new episode in the ongoing saga of corruption. All these people who until yesterday were preaching patriotism, morality and justice, are the same that embezzle billions, cover up for drug dealers and promote gangsterism...

The Judiciary and the Orthodox Church were two institutions that traditionally were seen in the opinion polls as the most reliable. They were institutions – “pillars” of society. However, just a few days of exposure of their spurious nature were enough to expose them in the eyes of the whole of Greek society. Ordinary working people will no longer utter the well-known saying that “I trust Greek Justice”. Furthermore it is very difficult now for thousands of people – the downtrodden of this society – to rush to participate in demonstrations organised by the Church, following the commands of the Church hierarchy. The saintliness and holiness of these institutions were destroyed within only a few days. What remains carved into the social consciousness are the scandals, the immense wealth, the hypocrisy and the authoritarianism.

“But there are bad people everywhere” the moralists of the ruling class rush to remind us. These people are worried because they have lost their mouthpiece after their arrogance and vicious “manoeuvrings” have been exposed. That is why they are now singing the well-known song about “measures to be taken” and “purges”.

Naturally nobody believes them and this is their major problem now. “We are disgusted by all these people... We don’t believe anybody...” are phrases that we hear everyday in the working places, the schools and the universities, in the neighbourhoods, the cafes and the people’s markets. This “general scorn for the institutions” has already become a major headache for the bourgeoisie. Having already indirectly declared a general offensive against the national insurance system and working conditions, more than ever before they needed to have unshakable and reliable institutions: the judiciary to provide decisions that declare strikes as “illegitimate and excessive”, and the Church to praise the ruling class’s moves and poison the minds of the people with nationalistic or fatalistic preaching.

Now their moralising, and their argument that these are merely isolated cases – the smokescreen behind which the bourgeoisie is trying to hide – is proving to be weak and full of holes. The real cause of the crisis of the institutions is becoming clear. This crisis is not a crisis of the institutions, of ethics and values in general. It is a crisis of the bourgeois institutions, of bourgeois ethics and of bourgeois values. It is not a result of the immorality and the corruption of this or that priest or judge. It is the reflection within the institutional superstructure of the crisis that exists within the very foundations of Greek capitalism. This in turn is the result of its inability to develop the productive forces that could provide prosperity and progress for the whole of Greek society. The lies and the arrogant behaviour of the judges and the priests are merely a reflection of the predatory morals and the inhuman practices of their big-bourgeois masters, the “institutional” heads of the “market”. Of course all this cannot be removed with “special measures” or “purges”. The level of corruption will escalate as the future of this system becomes more and more unstable and uncertain.

The workers and youth of course do not have to fear anything from the collapse of the moral authority of these institutions, such as the Church and the bourgeois judiciary. They have genuine and, from a historical perspective, victorious ideas, values and moral principles which they can firmly base themselves on: class solidarity, moral rigour and faith in what advances the unity of the workers and their struggle for a society without all this capitalist hypocrisy and inhumanity.

Join us

If you want more information about joining the IMT, fill in this form. We will get back to you as soon as possible.