March 18, 2005

Scandal reaches highest echelon of Greek Orthodox church

The Globe and Mail


Friday, March 18, 2005 Page A12

ATHENS -- In the shadow of the Acropolis, Greeks are witnessing a scandal-plagued showdown -- involving allegations of drug-dealing bishops, bribe-taking judges and a mysterious fugitive -- that could permanently sever the ancient bonds of church and state.

A series of stunning revelations has uncovered what seems to be a powerful criminal element within the leadership of the Greek Orthodox church. Run by bishops accused of serious crimes, the ring is reported to exert control over Greek politicians and judges, and to have used the church's almost unlimited powers to build a mafia-like hierarchy of wealth and corruption.

This week, the scandal threatened to reach the very top of this secretive church. Archbishop Christodoulos, the 66-year-old leader of the church, has been accused of working with a convicted drug smuggler named Apostolos Vavilis, who is wanted by Interpol and believed to be hiding in Italy. The archbishop said this week that the relationship is innocent, but police want to question Mr. Vavilis about his role in the church, where he allegedly acted as an envoy at the highest levels.

The church, which for decades has seemed immune to criticism, has begun to be shaken. During the ceremonial inauguration of a new Greek president on Saturday, half a dozen members of parliament stormed out of the legislature, and dozens more refused to stand, when the archbishop entered the chamber in his ceremonial headdress and carrying his sceptre.

Posted by kshaw at March 18, 2005 08:12 AM