Center for Documentation and Information

on Minorities in Europe - Southeast Europe (CEDIME-SE)
















Catholics of Greece










This report was researched and written by Vasilis Angouras, Researcher of CEDIME-SE. It was edited by Panayote Dimitras, Director of CEDIME-SE; Nafsika Papanikolatos, Coordinator of CEDIME-SE; Mariana Lenkova, English Editor of CEDIME-SE. CEDIME-SE would like to express its deep appreciation to the external reviewers of this report, Krassimir Kanev, Chairman of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Dimitris Levantis, Legal Advisor of the Catholic Community of Greece, and Father Pavlos Buhayer of the Catholic Church in Greece, who, with their critical comments, contributed substantially to its quality. CEDIME-SE would also like to thank all persons who generously provided information and/or documents, and/or gave interviews to its researcher. The responsibility for the report’s content, though, lies only with CEDIME-SE. We welcome all comments sent to:




September 2002








Name (in English, in the dominant language and –if different- in the minority’s language)



Is there any form of recognition of the minority?

Catholics are indirectly recognized as a minority (a community of worshipers whose faith is other than that of the majority) through the acknowledgement of their religion as a “known religion,” something that provides official recognition for freedom of worship.


Category (-ies) (national, ethnic, linguistic or religious) ascribed by the minority and, if different, by the state

Religious minority. Greek legislation does not have any legal definition of the term “minority.” Within the Greek Constitution the rights of minority members are covered within the provisions of the common law, but on an individual basis the liberal expression of a minority identity is usually problematic.


Territory they inhabit

Greek Catholics live mainly in Athens, the Aegean islands of Tinos, and Syros, and the Ionian island of Corfu. Communities with a few Catholic members can also be found in Crete, Rhodes, Patras, Macedonia, Volos and Santorini.



Traditional Greek Catholics number around 50,000. There are some 100,000-150,000 new immigrants. The oldest and biggest Catholic migrant communities are the Poles (approximately 80,000) and the Filipinos (approximately 40,000). There are also 45,000 other catholic immigrants from the Ukraine and Iraq, Africa and Asia. A significant number of foreign Catholics are married to ethnic Greeks.


Name of the language spoken by the minority (in English, in the minority and –if different- in the dominant language)

Greek. Catholic immigrants speak their mother tongue and some attend masses held in their own language.


Is it an officially recognized language?


Is there any form of recognition of the language(s)?


Dominant language of the territory they inhabit


Occasional or daily use of the minority language


Access to education corresponding to the needs of the minority

Catholics in Greece follow the same curriculum as all other students in the Greek public schools. Some schools that belong to the Catholic Church offer extra courses on religious education and French. Polish pupils recently acquired their own school in Athens, where they are taught both in Greek and Polish. (see section 6)


Religion(s) practiced

Most Catholics practice Catholicism of the Latin Rite (Roman Catholicism), but some 3,000 people are followers of Catholicism of the Eastern Rite (Uniate).


Is it an officially recognized religion?

The Catholic religion is recognized as a “known religion” according to the decision of the State Council. The Catholic Church, however, has no legal personality while its bishoprics and foundations (with the exception of the Archbishopric of Athens) are legal entities whose status is not clearly defined as either public or civic. In practice, the state has also recognized the Catholic Church’s power to exercise public administration by accepting the Catholic wedding certificates, baptism certificates, etc. Catholic priests and monks, for example, are exempt from serving in the Greek armed forces.


Is there any form of recognition of the religion(s)?

The notion of “known religion” is the constitutional presupposition for the official recognition and the granting of freedom of religious practice to a religion in Greece. Also, the Catholic Church operated different places of worship, has monasteries and other


Communities having the same characteristics in other territories/countries

There are Catholics all over the world. In the Balkans Catholics can be found in Croatia and Slovenia (where they are the majority of the population), Bosnia and Albania (large minorities in predominantly Muslim countries), Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Yugoslavia and Macedonia (smaller minorities in predominantly Orthodox Christian countries).


Population of these communities in the other countries of Southeast Europe:

Catholics are spread throughout the world, mainly in Western Europe and Latin America. They number around 872 million people (The World Directory on Minorities, 1997).


·      Albania: 10% of the overall population of 3.4 million. Some 4,000 of them follow the Eastern Rite.


·      Romania: 6% of the overall population of 22.7 million. Around 3,000 of them follow the Eastern Rite.


·      F.R.Yugoslavia: In 1990, about 587,000 people registered as Catholics of the Eastern Rite.


·      Macedonia: A very small minority (Roman Catholic and Uniate) comprising just 0.4% of the overall population of 1,935,034.


·      Bulgaria: Around 53,074 Catholics in a population of 8,487,000. Catholics of the Eastern Rite are estimated to be between 6,000-20,000 people.







1.1.      Important historical developments


Foundation of the first communities: The presence of the Catholic Church in Greece, contrary to a widely accepted view, began before the occupation of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204. The so-called East Illyrian region (continental Greece and the Cyclades) was under the Pope’s jurisdiction until 731. In the next three centuries until the schism in 1054 (and the two centuries that followed) the Crusaders prevailed and the Latin communities continued to exist in many parts of the Byzantine Empire. Venetian and Genovese sea traders had settled in the East.


In addition, the schism did not automatically split the Christian communities in Byzantium. Although devotees chose to follow one or the other Church, relations between them continued to be stable and good. Research in the archives of the Catholic bishoprics of the Cyclades showed that churches belonging to both denominations existed for a long time after the schism. It seems that the inhabitants of the Cyclades realized that there was some kind of a problem between Rome and Constantinople only after the first unification efforts began. For them, the call for unification meant that a split had happened.


However, after the Crusaders’ invasion, a number of Latin bishops were appointed in many ecclesiastical provinces in the East, replacing the Eastern ones who refused to accept Papal authority and were expelled. Lower rank clerics and monks carried out pastoral service of the Orthodox community in these areas. Consequently, the Byzantines, who pledged to regain these provinces, began to view the Latin bishops and their church with hostility.


The following bishoprics were taken over by the Catholic clergy after the Crusaders’ invasion in 1204: Athens (1204-1456), Thessaloniki (1204-1224, 1423-1430), Thivon (1205-1450), Corinth (1212-1404), Corfu (1284-still functioning), Crete (1204-1469), Larissa (1208-1374), Lesvos (1204-1461), Nafpaktos (1307-1510), Neon Patron (1323-1390), Palaion Patron (1204-1429), Paros-Naxos (1204-still functioning), Rhodes (1308-1522), Filippon (1212-1224). These bishoprics did not all have the same fate. Some did not get bishops while others did not survive after the Crusaders and their descendants left Greece. The only ones that survived were those that had been ruled for a long time by the Venetians.


The efforts to turn these areas into ‘pure’ Catholic provinces were doomed to fail because the Orthodox community refused to change its beliefs. In other areas, economic, religious and other reasons prompted the local communities to adopt Catholicism voluntarily. In these areas, Catholic communities were founded on a sound local social basis and continue to exist today.


It is useful to know that the national origins of many Catholic communities in Greece have been a matter of contention. There is no reliable historical evidence that would help solve this mystery hence oftentimes positions on the matter are personal interpretations and estimates. The same question applies to many of the Orthodox Christians in those same areas who follow the same customs, have the same surnames as many Catholics, and are members of mixed families.


Historically, the Greek origin of many Catholics in the Cyclades and south Greece is seen in the fact that they speak the Greek language, have Greek place names, and many surnames of Byzantine origin; they have Greek social and religious customs, and did not express religious fanaticism especially before the 10th century. In these areas the Catholic element is widespread and has witnessed high demographic rates. It can therefore be concluded that the Catholic communities in the Cyclades and south Greece have a local origin.


In other areas of Greece like Chios, Naxos and Crete the presence of the local Catholic communities does not follow the above pattern. The origins of Catholics in these gradually diminishing communities can be possibly traced to immigrants from the West.


Another characteristic of the Catholic communities are the foreign-sounding surnames. These surnames usually denote the name of the island where the person’s origin can be traced. If all Greek Catholics have the same origin then these surnames should be scattered around the Cyclades. However, some common Catholic surnames are found on specific islands only, regardless of the fact that there are other islands with Catholic communities. So, the origins of the most common Catholic surnames in the Cyclades can be traced according to the following division. The origins of the Apergis, Armaos, Vidalis, Delatolas, Zalonis, Prelorenzos, Filipoussis, and Foskolos are from the island of Tinos. The origins of the Voutsinos, Dalezios, Maragos, Printezis, Roussos, and Freris - from Syros. The origins of the Dakoronias, and Delarokas - from Santorini.


Venice prohibited marriage and social mixing between its officials posted on today’s Greek islands and the local population. The locals, however, were demanded to adopt a family surname. Hence, it can be deducted that the products of mixed relationships between Venetians and locals were very few and that many Catholics of sound Greek origin adopted the surnames of their local rulers or landowners.


It is notable that differences between the islands can be found among first names as well. In Tinos, common first names with western origin are the Concepta, Rabella, Lavrentios, Allousios, Rokkos, Lucretia and others. In Syros, western names that can be found are Candita, Leonardo, Sevastianos, and others (Foskolos, 1987: 207-212).


Religious history of Syros: The island of Syros, part of the Cyclades complex of islands in the Aegean, is the center of Catholicism in Greece. In the year the Greek revolution against the Ottomans began (1821), Syros had a population of 2,500 inhabitants and almost 800 islanders living in the East. The vast majority of its inhabitants, 95% of the total, were Catholics. The Catholic Church had one bishop, 35 priests, 2 Capuchin monks, 2 Jesuit monks, 45 nuns (Dominican, Franciscan and Ursulines), 5 temples and 150 chapels. The Orthodox Church had one priest, two temples and a following of 150 devotees.


Catholicism spread on the island at the time of the Crusaders, their descendants and the Venetians, a period called “Frankokratia,” i.e. the occupation of the Franks, (1207-1566). Its position as the main religious movement of the island consolidated under Ottoman rule (1566-1821). The relations of the island with the West had been strong prior to the Crusades, because Syros was under Papal authority until 727.


There are reasons for the prevalence of Catholicism on the island. It had been on the margins of the Byzantine Empire for centuries and remained untouched by the religious conflicts and the Great Schism. The Byzantine administration always demanded heavy duties from the islanders and this made them look more favorably to the West. The island saw a lot of mixed marriages, while the presence of a large number of well-educated Catholic clerics and monks, who promised to give the local children education according to the principles of their Church, pushed large numbers of the population to Catholicism. Finally, the absence of an Orthodox Christian bishop until refugees fleeing other islands under Ottoman rule founded the present day capital of the island Ermoupolis in 1823, secured the prevalence of Catholicism. Some extreme nationalists support the argument that Catholicism was brought about by a large number of immigrants from the West and the forceful proselytizing of the locals.


During the Frankokratia, the island belonged to the Duchy of Naxos and was subject to the mild religious policy of the Venetians. The locals’ main occupation was agriculture, while the lower clergy was occupied only with pastoral matters and not with education. With the consolidation of Ottoman rule in the Aegean, it appeared preferable for the locals to be members of the Orthodox Church, which was tolerated by the Ottomans. Regardless of this the island’s population remained Catholic and in 1600 it persuaded the Ottomans to recognize the Catholic Bishopric of Syros. In addition, France officially announced that it had taken the island’s Catholic inhabitants under its protection. As a direct result of this development, the Ottomans ceased to appoint Orthodox bishops on the island and the French sent a Capuchin delegation that opened a convent and began educating the clerics and the inhabitants of the island. In the beginning of the 18th century, the island witnessed substantial economic and social prosperity and development under the high protection of the French. On the verge of the 1821 Greek Revolution, the island was a very important commercial center (GHM/MRGG 2000: 25-6).


Religious history of Tinos: The brothers Andreas and Ieremias Gkyzi lived on the Cycladic island of Tinos in 1207. Until then the island had been under Byzantine rule. For almost two centuries, until 1390, Tinos was the property of this family, which introduced a number of important reforms that determined the future of the island. The most important ones were the feudal system of economy and administration (although similar to the Byzantine one) and the consolidation of the Latin Church with the obligatory subordination of the island’s bishop to the Pope on behalf of both denominations.


After the death of the last of the Gkyzis, the island’s inhabitants filed a motion of subordination to Venice that was accepted. Between 1537 and 1538 the Algerian pirate Barbarossa, who was acting on behalf of the Ottomans, occupied Tinos. A successful uprising of the inhabitants secured Venetian rule until 1715 when the Ottoman Turks finally subordinated it.

By then the island had secured a Catholic majority making it the largest Catholic community in the Cyclades numbering between 6,000 and 18,000 devotees during that period. By the time Tinos fell to the Turks, 60 local clerics served on the island and the Catholics comprised three fifths of the population. The seat of the island’s bishop was in the island’s capital, the Castle, which today is called Exomburgh. The Catholic bishop was responsible for electing the island’s Orthodox Christian head-priest. The Catholic clergy before the arrival of the monastic orders had mediocre education, apart from a few of its rich members who had the opportunity to study in Italy (GHM/MRGG 2000: 26).


Religious history of other areas: The consolidation of the Ottoman rule brought a number of changes that affected the future of the Catholic Church in Greece. In those areas where the Catholic element was not native, the Orthodox Church regained control of religious and ecclesiastical authorities. Wealthy members of the Catholic Church left for safer places and those who stayed turned to Orthodoxy. Catholics remained only in the areas still under Venetian rule (in the Peloponnese, the Aegean and Ionian), Genovese rule (Chios, Lesvos) and Rhodes (under the rule of the Maltese Knights). The Cyclades were the only place with native clergy and devotees.


In Andros there was a Latin bishopric, many mixed Churches of both denominations, and native clergy. In Milos and Kimolos there was a bishopric with a substantial following, native clergy, a Franciscan monastery and a number of mixed churches, denoting the good relations between the Orthodox and Catholic communities.


In Crete there was a large Catholic community (almost 4,000), most of whom were Venetians. There were also Dominican and Franciscan monasteries, a number of parishes and a large number of Uniats.


In the years of Venetian rule many Catholics turned to the Orthodox Church, which had undertaken a struggle against the foreign rulers of the island. When the Venetians abandoned the island, many Catholic bishoprics were taken over by Orthodox Christian bishops. The local Catholic element in Crete gradually decayed and reached near-extinction.


It should be noted that the last Greek Pope was from Crete. Peter Filargos, born in the village of Kares, became a Franciscan monk in 1340, and taught philosophy and divinity in Paris. He was appointed the Archbishop of Milan in 1402, a Cardinal in 1405 and last became Pope Alexander V in 1409. He was the one that led the two conflicting Papal authorities of Rome and Avignon to seat together in the Conference of Piza that led to the re-unification of the Catholic Church.


In Eptanisa --the complex of seven Ionian Sea islands-- under Venetian rule until 1797, the Catholics were mostly foreign administrative officials and soldiers. When the Venetians left, the Catholic community was renewed due to the arrival of other European and Maltese immigrants. The majority of these immigrants lived on the island of Corfu while some went to Kefallonia and Zakynthos (GHM/MRGG 2000: 27-8).    


The Catholic Church in Greece (16th –18th centuries): Under Ottoman rule, the Catholics in Greece were not only “rayahs” (the non-Muslim subjects of the Ottoman Empire) but also suspects of insubordination due to their allegiance to the Pope, who was the Muslims’ greatest adversary. The Pope was suspected of trying to unify the efforts of the Christian subjects of the Empire, who would turn against Ottoman rule. As a result, in reprisal a number of churches and their property were attacked and their treasures confiscated by the Turks. In addition, the Orthodox Christian clergy and local Orthodox Christian authorities were taking advantage of their return to many areas previously under Latin jurisdiction and suppressed the local Catholic communities (Foskolos, 1987: 294-5).


At the same time many Western sovereigns, especially France, decided to intervene in order to protect the Catholic communities in Greece. They were able to sign a number of special agreements with the Ottomans, which secured the free exercise of the Catholic faith in the Empire. These agreements, signed in 1673 and 1740, gave the right to the French and other Catholic priests and monks, irrespective of their national origin, to exercise their religious duties without any restriction. In addition, French clerics were not taxed (GHM/MRGG 2000: 28-9).


With these agreements, France had managed to acquire the status of protector of the Catholic Church within the Ottoman Empire. Hence, while the Pope appointed the local bishops, the French embassy in Istanbul issued special certificates designing the jurisdiction of the new clergy upon a certain province and its inhabitants. In this way the Catholic Church secured its continual existence in Greece (GHM/MRGG 2000: 28-9).


The Reformation in the West affected the Catholic Church in Greece in a positive way. The Catholic counter-Reformation gave much consideration to issues of education and catechism, which used to be a problem for Catholics in Greece because of the low level of education of the local clergy. Many Catholic officials in Greece attended the Synod of Tridente (1545-1563) that decided to re-organize the ecclesiastical provinces, to appoint new bishops, to found schools, to foster cooperation between the clergy and the monastic orders and to publish books. Many of the Synod’s measures were implemented in the Greek bishoprics, especially in the Cyclades. In addition, Rome sent a number of “Apostolic Missions” and the Aegean bishoprics produced special detailed reports, providing the Holy See with information on the progress and following of the Catholic Church in the Cyclades (Foskolos, 1987: 295).                  


The spirit of the Synod reached the Greek Catholic communities only in the 18th century. Around the same time, it became apparent that the islands were not big enough to accommodate and feed their inhabitants. This realization led to internal migration from the islands into the mainland. Catholics and Orthodox Christians alike left the islands and sought better prospects in Istanbul, Smyrna (Izmir), and Thessaloniki. The Catholics founded a number of “brotherhoods” in order to help the parishes and the villagers from their own place of origin, a practice similar to what the Catholics of Athens do today. Many Catholic priests followed the immigrants and helped strengthen the ties between the islanders and Asia Minor (Foskolos, 1987: 354-5).


During the same period the first “franko-chiotika” books appeared. These were Greek language books written in the Latin alphabet and printed in Asia Minor in order to help the “franko-levantines,” the Europeans who had settled and worked in the East. Although there were no European immigrants, there were a number of foreign priests and monks in the Catholic communities of the Aegean. They found the “franko-chiotika” books very helpful and began printing them together with the books written in proper Greek that they had been using until then (Foskolos, 1987: 354-5).


Movements for the unification of the Churches: The pro-unionists were always a minority within the Byzantine Empire. This brought about the failure of the Synod of the two Churches in Florence in 1439. However, a number of prominent political, cultural and religious figures were pro-unionists and some of them went to the West after the fall of Constantinople. They brought with them their love for the Greek language and culture and cultivated it under the auspices of the Catholic Church. Indeed, many Popes favored the foundation of Greek printing houses and schools. While the pro-unionists thought that these actions would help the cause of unification, the Orthodox Church dismissed them as cheap proselytizing tactics designed to subordinate the Eastern Church to the Pope (Foskolos, 1987: 239-40).


In the 18th century when Greece was under Ottoman rule, the remnants of the unionist movement gradually disappeared. The present Greek Catholics of the Eastern Rite, the Uniats, are the descendants of the refugees from the 1922 ‘Asia Minor disaster’ of the Greek army. They are the followers of a unification movement that was started in Istanbul at the end of the 19th century.


Greek Catholics and the foundation of the Modern Greek state: One of the major issues concerning the history of the Greek Catholics --especially of the Catholics in the Cyclades-- is related to their participation in the national liberation struggle of the 1821 Greek revolution. The majority of Greek historians note the Catholics’ skepticism, if not lack of desire (especially in the beginning) to participate in the struggle. A number of important reasons led the Catholics to this position.


Communication in 1821 was not as easy as it is today and the islanders were isolated and slow to see the inevitability of the liberation struggle that was already sweeping southern continental Greece. As a result, they initially thought that this was a desperate local uprising, doomed from the beginning like many other ones in the past. In addition, the islanders lacked the training and the equipment that the liberation fighters had in continental Greece due to their previous participation in the gendarmerie or in organized bands. That made the islanders afraid that they would not be able to withstand any Turkish reprisals.


A brief period of Russian rule over the islands (1771-1774) had left bad memories to the Catholic population because their religious freedom had faced persecution by the Orthodox Christian Russians. In addition, in the last decades prior to the Revolution many Catholics lived in isolation on the islands that had an Orthodox Christian majority unfriendly to them. That meant that before joining the struggle, the Catholics of the islands sought assurances from their Orthodox Christian compatriots that their religious freedom would not be persecuted in a future free Greek state (GHM/MRGG  2000: 35-7).

Syros, in particular, opted for neutrality since it was under French protection. As it was pointed out later by one of the heroes of the Greek Revolution, Admiral Andreas Miaoulis, this neutrality was in favor of the Greek cause. Until 1824, the island paid duties not only to the Ottomans, as it was obliged to, but also to the Greek fleet. In addition, it offered money and ships to the fleets of the Hydra and Spetses islands and helped in their maintenance and support. In the end, it proved to be a safe haven for the refugees who fled other Aegean islands. Thousands of people sought refuge on the island and a lot of them settled there and founded Ermoupolis, the present capital of Syros (GHM/MRGG 2000: 31).


The initial reaction of the Greek Catholics was to opt for neutrality, especially since the European powers had expressed their willingness to protect them. However, when the first Revolutionary Greek Government decided to forward to them its assurances for future religious freedom and equality before the law, Greek Catholics decided to enter the liberation struggle in a more active way (Foskolos, 1987: 357). Many awards of gallantry offered by the independent Greek state prove that the Catholics participated actively in the liberation struggle. From the 2,500 inhabitants of Syros, 83 people were honored (GHM/MRGG 2000: 31). An objective interpretation of the position of the Greek Catholics should take into account the social and psychological conditions under which they lived in the beginning of the 19th century and not underestimate their real and active participation later in the freedom struggle (ibid. 32).


Relations between the Catholic Church and the independent Greek state in the 19th century: The foundation of the modern Greek state was followed by a number of international treaties that normalized some aspects of international and national public law. For the Catholic Church, the important treaty was the Third London Protocol (3/2/1830) signed between Greece and its protective powers Britain, France and Russia. This Protocol, drafted by France, refers to the Catholic community of the Cyclades.


According to the Protocol, the Catholic population of the Cyclades was free to exercise its religious practice freely and publicly. The property of the Greek Catholic Church and the rights and privileges of the Catholic priests were to remain intact, as they had been exercised during the years of the French protection. The property of French missions and foundations was also safeguarded under the Protocol. Finally, the Protocol proclaimed that all citizens in the new state, irrespective of their religious preferences, were to have an equal chance of being appointed to any public office and were to be considered equal.


The London Protocol was accepted by the Greek government and Senate and was ratified by the Fifth National Assembly in Nafplion on 28 February 1832. Another protocol signed in 1830 by the protective powers clarified that the respect of the rights of the Catholics in the Cyclades does not imply undermining the interests of the Orthodox worshipers. It made clear that even though the London Protocol’s principles applied to the followers of any religious faith, the protective powers’ special interest was directed to the followers of the Christian churches.


It should be noted, however, that the spirit of these protocols had already been encompassed in the first Greek Constitutions adopted by the National Assembly meetings during the Revolution. The principle that Orthodox Christianity is the prevailing faith in Greece and that all other Christian denominations should be free and equal before the law has been enshrined in all Greek Constitutions since then.


In 1864, the 1830 Protocol was extended to include the Catholics of the Ionian Islands (Eptanisa), which led to their unification with Greece. A substantial number of Catholics inhabited those islands, especially Corfu, and arrangements for their freedom and protection were made along the lines of the London Protocol.


The Greek Catholic Church and the Holy See understood that the power of the London Protocol had given them enough freedom to act according to their needs as long as they observed Greek law. The Holy See thought that the Protocol gave it the right to appoint the heads of the ecclesiastical provinces in Greece without seeking prior acceptance from the state authorities. This practice brought about a lot of hostility towards the Catholic Church of Greece. The first reactions against the Church’s freedom were recorded during the 1864 National Assembly. The participants in the meeting strongly supported the view that the members of the Catholic hierarchy in Greece should be Greek nationals and that the King should officially endorse their appointment.


In the last quarter of the 19th century, the Catholic Church was presented with an important problem that is still in existence today. As a result of new demographic realities having to do with internal migration, with new land that was incorporated into the Greek state and with population exchanges, the Catholic Church started reestablishing old and founding new ecclesiastical provinces (Foskolos, 1987: 358). Due to internal opposition, supported by the Orthodox Church, the Greek state refused to recognize these new provinces as legal entities (i.e. the Archbishopric of Athens was reestablished in 1875). Despite the fact that these ecclesiastical provinces have functioned for more than a century, they did not have an official legal status until recently (for a detailed look on the legal problems of the Greek Catholic Church see Section 5 on the General Legal Status).


The creation of the Greek Catholic community of the Eastern Rite: Catholic communities following the Eastern rituals, the Byzantine among them, have existed since the Schism. In south Italy, these rituals are followed by the Catholics of Albanian origin, in the Middle East by the Melchites, in the Ukraine and Romania by the Eastern Catholics or Greco-Catholics. In Greece, this tradition ceased to exist in the 18th century.


The origin of today’s Greek Uniates is a late 19th century movement that was started in Istanbul and Greece. A Catholic priest from Syros, father Yakinthos Maragos (1827-1885), was the founder of this movement. Two former metropolitans were among the few Orthodox Christian followers from Istanbul who converted to Catholicism. Despite the low number of conversions, Pope Pious X decided that the Greek Uniats had enough followers and in June 1911, he founded the Exarchate of the Greek Rites in Turkey. The first head of the Exarchate was Bishop Isaias Papadopoulos. He was Greek by origin and later became the chairman of the Eastern Catholic Church in the Holy Synod of the Vatican (Foskolos, 1987: 359-60).


He was succeeded by Bishop Georgios Halavatzis who led his followers to Greece after the 1922 ‘Asia Minor Disaster’ and the exchange of populations that followed the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne (1923). A large number of the Uniats from Istanbul settled in Athens. The agrarian followers settled in the northern town of Yiannitsa where they founded the parish of Petros and Pavlos. The followers that stayed in Istanbul soon disbanded in the face of persecutions.


The Greek Uniat community has never witnessed a substantial rise in its following. In recent years, the number of devotees, clergy and members of monastic orders has been in a constant decline. The few clerics and devotees that remain are descendants of the Uniats who settled after the Exchange of Populations. In fact, some scholars claim that this contradicts the accusations expressed by some that the Uniats are converted Orthodox Christians (GHM/MRGG 2000: 38).


The Greek Catholic Church during the Second World War: The Greek Catholic Church and especially the Greek Catholic Exarchate organized a substantial food program during the German occupation of Greece. Through the “Houses of Divine Care” founded in 1941 by the Exarchate and the “National Organization of Christian Solidarity” founded by the Archbishopric of Athens, in coordination with the Red Cross, the Catholic community managed to provide enough food supplies. This program helped the population of Athens to overcome the famine of the winter of 1942. The “Houses of Divine Care” provided food and health care to some 30,000 people daily. At the time, the Holy See representative to Greece was Josef Ronkalli who later became Pope John XXIII. He provided help in the food programs and in 1942 set up an “Information Office” that carried messages through the Holy See to many Greek prisoners or escapees abroad from their relatives in Greece.  


The Catholics of Greece also played a significant role during the National Resistance against the Nazis. Just like in 1821 and in the First World War, the Catholics of Greece participated in the national struggle against the Nazis. Even though the numerous monuments in the villages of Syros and Tinos acknowledge this participation, some representatives of the Orthodox Church have disputed the Catholics’ participation in the national struggle. In accordance with their opposition to anything Catholic, such people have tried to defame the Greek Catholic community by implying that their role during the war was not patriotic (see Section 2.3.2).


A number of Catholics were actively involved in the Resistance and helped the patriotic cause with their actions. One of the prominent Catholic figures of the Resistance was Antonis Mytilinaios who was the leader of a sabotage group that blew up the building of the Greek Fascist organization ESPO that collaborated with the Nazis in Athens.


The Uniate priest Chrisostomos Vasileiou was executed with 72 other patriots on 8 September 1944 for refusing to give away information about the activities of other Resistance members. Before his capture he had helped many Athenian Jews to escape from the Nazis by hiding them in friendly houses.


The Bishop of Syros Antonios Voutsinos was persecuted by the Nazis and was transferred to a maximum-security penal prison. During the Occupation, the Nazis had harassed him continuously because he refused to censor his sermons. He was arrested because he provided shelter to Italian soldiers after Italy’s armistice.


The Italians exiled the Bishop of Santorini Timotheos Remoundos because he was asking his devotees to refrain from socializing with the occupiers.


The Archbishop of Athens Ioannis Filipoussis and the head of the Greek Exarchate Georgios Halavatzis organized many food programs and were involved in diplomatic efforts seeking to save Athens from bombardment.


Eleni Capari, a Uniate church member, saved many prisoners from the death squad. Many monastic orders provided shelter and saved many Jews (Levantis 1998: 41-2).


Other 20th century developments: After the end of the Second World War, the Catholic population of Greece diminished considerably. The 3,000 strong Armenian Exarchate is now down to 500 due to immigration. The Italians of Rhodes, Corfu and Patras began to leave even before the end of the war. In Eptanisa, the 7,100 Catholics of 1938 were reduced to only 3,800 in 1951. The Dodecanese, where Rhodes is, became part of Greece after the war. The 7,500 Catholics of the region were down to 450. There is no specific data on the Catholic population in Patras, but it is known that today their number is small. The Catholics that remained in Greece after the war were those that felt very strongly about their Greek origin and national conscience.


On the islands of Syros and Tinos, many Catholics died because of the famine. After the war, many Catholics migrated to Athens. That is why the pre-war 20,000 Catholics in Athens --many of whom foreigners-- reached the number of 30,000.


Corfu witnessed another exodus of Catholics after the war. Many members of the island’s Maltese Catholic community went to Cardiff in Wales. The number of Catholics in Corfu was diminished from 3,800 before the war to 2,700 today.


The influx of many Catholics in Athens led to the rise of Catholic organizations in the capital. In the 1950s and 1960s, the activity of the Union of Catholics of Athens was particularly important. The Union developed good relations with prominent politicians who helped in the establishment of good relations between the Greek government and the Catholic Church. Some members of the Greek government visited the Vatican and Catholic priests were exempted from compulsory military service, while Catholic parishes were allowed to perform litanies out in the public.


Branches of the Union of the Catholic Youth of Greece began to organize themselves on a parish basis. In the last two decades of the 20th century, the Union of Youth began to organize conferences and festivals in Athens, Tinos and Syros and became widely known in Greece, while forging good relations with similar organizations abroad.


The “Academic Student Hall” was founded in 1935. After the war, it was transformed into a vibrant organization of Catholic students and scientists. It is now called the “Union of the Catholic Students in Greece” and is very well known for its work even outside the Catholic community. Prominent academics, politicians from all parties, intellectuals and clerics are regular speakers at the weekly meetings of the organization. In 1983 a separate “Union of the Catholic Scientists” was established due to the growing number of educated members of the Catholic community.


A significant development since 1968 was the permission given by the Holy See to Greek Catholics to celebrate Easter at the same time with their Orthodox Christian brothers. For years, the Greek Catholics had been asking for this permission since Easter --which usually falls on different dates for Catholics and for Orthodox Christians-- is the most prominent celebration for the Orthodox Greeks, greater in importance than Christmas. As a consequence, Greek Catholics did not want to differentiate themselves from the rest of the Greek society for whom the Easter celebrations are an occasion for great festivities. The Holy See acknowledged the importance of this national celebration and granted the permission (GHM/MRGG 2000: 42-3).                        


1.2.      Economic and demographic data

Migration has been one of the major factors that have affected the number of Catholics in Greece. As it was described in the previous section, many Greek Catholics from the islands went to Athens after the war. Opportunities and land were scarce in the Cyclades and a better future was sought in the capital. The majority of these internal immigrants were occupied in the construction business that was booming in the 1950s and 1960s (Levantis 2000). From the 1970s onwards, their children were able to pursue higher education and many Catholic university graduates work in Athens today. Some of them work in the Catholic schools that a number of monastic orders have founded in Athens and elsewhere (Gasparakis 2000). The available positions are few, however, and cannot accommodate the approximately 100 qualified teachers that graduate each year (Levantis 2000). Few of those graduates choose to be ordained as priests.


The majority of the Catholic immigrants from abroad take jobs that Greeks would not like for themselves. The 30,000 Filipinos work mainly as house servants and cleaning ladies. The majority of them are women with families back home whose stay in Greece is short (ibid.). There are, however, those who marry Greek citizens and start their families in the country. The 50,000 Poles make up the largest group of Catholic immigrants in Greece. Many of them work in the construction business. The imminent entry of Poland into the European Union has prompted many of the Polish immigrants in Greece to consider the possibility of making Greece their permanent home since they will immediately acquire all rights that European citizens share (ibid.). Their desire to remain in Greece has been exhibited in the opening up of nursery and primary schools where pupils are taught in Polish and Greek.


Other foreign immigrant communities include Ukrainians, Iraqi refugees, and Africans from different countries. It is not known how they see their future in Greece. Finally, a large number of Catholic women live in Greece as the wives of Greek students, workers and sailors.  



1.3.      Defense of identity and/or of language and/or of religion

The official relationship between the Orthodox Church and the Greek state, as defined by Article 3 of the Constitution, has led to many forms of legal and administrative discrimination due to a voluntary misinterpretation of several Civil Code laws that defend this relationship. Frequently, the Catholic Church challenges these violations in the Greek courts, which usually decide in the Catholic Church’s favor. Some cases have been tried and won by the Catholic Church in the European Court of Human Rights (see section 5.2 Present Legal Status). The process towards the abolishment or change of some discriminatory laws is slow and dependent on the willingness of the Greek political leadership (Levantis 2000). In a number of instances, the Catholic Church has tried to influence the outcome of certain discussions through official memorandums to the Greek Parliament issued by the Holy Synod of the Catholic Church.


The Catholic Church has tried to defend itself against false and libelous accusations espoused by some Orthodox Christian clerics, politicians and journalists who adhere to the nationalist ideology of the “Greek-Orthodox Christian Civilization.” Almost exclusively Greek Catholic priests have carried out this defense, although a number of politicians, mainly from the left, journalists and NGOs have also supported their cause (see details in Section 2.3.2. on Relations with the Dominant/Ethnic Group in Society).


There is not any specific organization founded by the Catholic community in order to defend it against accusations and discrimination. The Press Office of the Holy Synod and the priests themselves usually deal with such cases and legal experts take over whenever a case reaches the courts (Gasparakis 2000). Catholic organizations such as the “Union of the Catholics of Greece,” the “Union of the Catholic Students,” the “Union of the Catholic Scientists” and others have a predominantly social orientation. However, they have intervened with defensive statements and the organization of discussions whenever they felt that the occasional offense required wider mobilization and response. A serious impediment against the establishment of an organization that would provide the necessary conditions required for a more sufficient pursuit of religious and civil rights is the lack of adequate financial resources (Levantis 2000).   





2.1. Describing Identity

Greek Catholics have always declared that they have a sound Greek national conscience. Efforts to dispute this have been made by extreme nationalists, who equate the Orthodox Church with the Greek national conscience. The Catholics have always responded to such accusations swiftly reminding others of their participation and suffering during the wars of the nation. They dismiss any allegations that they are utterly dependent on the Vatican and support its ‘schemes’ to confront Greece and the Orthodox Christian religion. 


2.1.1.   Cultural characteristic(s) differentiating it from the dominant group

Greek Catholics are differentiated from the Orthodox Christians only in respect to their Latin tradition. Both communities share the Christian faith and this helps the communication between them. The Latin tradition, however, has given the Catholic community a more pro-European and cosmopolitan orientation, a view that is not shared by many Orthodox Christian Greeks, especially by the Orthodox Christian clergy. They prefer to follow what is considered a conservative interpretation of the Orthodox Christian religion with its ecumenical perspective directed towards the Orient. (Levantis 2000) 


2.1.2.      Development of the minority’s awareness of being different

2.1.3.   Identifying this difference as ethnic or national


2.2. Historical development of an ethnic or a national identity

2.2.1.   The minority’s resistance to or acceptance of assimilation

2.2.2.   The minority’s resistance to or acceptance of integration

2.2.3.   Awareness of having an ethnic or a national identity

2.2.4.   Level of homogeneity in the minority’s identity


2.3. Actual political and social conditions


2.3.1. Relations with the state

Article 3, paragraph 1, of the Constitution states that the “prevailing” religion in Greece is that of the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ. The legal meaning of the term “prevailing” is that the Orthodox faith is the official religion of Greece. This status is particularly evident in the preamble to the Constitution, the religious oath taken by the President of the Republic and members of Parliament and the inviolability of the Holy Scriptures.


The preamble to the Constitution begins with the following invocatory religious declaration: “In the name of the Holy and Consubstantial and Indivisible Trinity.” Article 33, paragraph 2, of the Constitution provides that, before taking up his duties, the President of the Greek Republic must take the following oath before Parliament: “I do swear in the name of the Holy and Consubstantial and Indivisible Trinity to uphold the Constitution and the laws.” Article 59, paragraph 1, of the Constitution requires that members of Parliament, before taking up their duties, must take an oath, at a public meeting in the Parliament Chamber, to the Holy and Consubstantial and Indivisible Trinity. Heterodox members of Parliament who adhere to a different religion take the same oath, adapted to their own dogma or religion. Article 3, paragraph 3, of the Constitution provides that the text of the Holy Scriptures is inalterable. The official translation of the text into another form, without prior approval of the Autocephalous Church of Greece and the Great Church of Christ in Constantinople, is prohibited.


The UN Special Rapporteur in his 1996 report noted that, although a State religion does not in itself run counter to any international instruments, it might ultimately do so to the extent that it justified or introduced discrimination against other religions (Abdulfattah Amor, 1996; GHM/MRGG 1999a). The strict interpretation of these Constitutional Articles by local religious and sometimes state authorities according to whom the interest of the Orthodox Church supersedes the interests of other religious communities has, indeed, led to discriminatory practices against religious minorities in Greece. (GHM/MRGG 2000c).


According to professor Adamantia Pollis: “State-established religions do not necessarily deny or restrict freedom to other religions. In Greece, however, the maintenance of an established Church has had deleterious consequences leading to the suppression of other religions. The very existence of a Ministry of Education and Religon testifies both to the intermeshing of the state and the Church and to religion as a crucially important ingredient of education. Furthermore, this ministry affirms the state’s responsibility to socialize the young into religious faith and hence to preserve and promote Greek Orthodoxy.” (1992: 180)


The Catholic Church of Greece is officially recognized through a number of international treaties and conventions signed by Greece. The Greek Constitution also guarantees religious freedom. However, a number of ecclesiastical provinces were not officially recognized by the state as legal entities. This created problems to the Catholic bishops of those provinces because they were not able to communicate with the state authorities in their normal capacity as bishops. It also created a number of other problems related to the civil performance of these provinces (see details on this and other issues concerning the state’s relations with the Catholic community in 5.2 Present Legal Status).   


2.3.2. Relations with the dominant ethnic/national group in society

Relations between Orthodox and Catholic Christians in Greece are generally good. This is certainly the case on the islands where the two communities have lived side by side for centuries. The numerous mixed marriages, especially in Athens, show that the two communities look at each other with sympathy.


However, a section of the Greek society views the Catholic community with profound animosity. Their view, as it will be explained below, has wider social and political ramifications that have to do with the national ideology, the orientation of Greece within Europe, and the future of the country in general. These views and the response of the Catholic community will be presented here because of their wider political implications.  


The opposition of the Orthodox Church to the legal recognition of the Catholic Archbishopric of Athens: In 1983, the issue of the legal recognition of the Catholic Archbishopric of Athens was intensely discussed. The previous Archbishop of Athens and Greece Serafeim (died 1998) had stated that “the Orthodox Church of Greece that is recognized by the Constitution as the prevailing [religion], has had the sad experience of dealing with a Uniate bishop in the past and it is not willing to accept the recognition of a Catholic archbishop in Athens. It is a fact that successive Greek governments since 1875 have ignored the foundation of the Catholic Archbishopric of Athens. The recognition of the new ecclesiastical provinces of the Catholic Church would allow the uncontrolled activity of the latter among the Orthodox population. This is a danger that the Greek governments have tried to avoid by not recognizing the Catholic Archbishopric of Athens. These efforts for recognition of the Catholic Archbishopric, masterminded by the diplomatic representative of the Vatican, constitute a danger against the Greek Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church is ready to rouse its following in order to tackle by all means the carefully drawn aims of the Catholics against Orthodoxy, which is the basis of the Greek nation. From now on we are prepared to cut off our relations with the Catholic Church” (GHM/MRGG 2000: 37).


Defamation of the Greek Catholics’ in the 1990s: In the last decade of the 20th century, the Greek Catholic community was attacked in the media by a large segment of the Greek Orthodox Christian majority. The cause for these attacks was the supposed intervention of the Vatican in favor of the dismemberment of Yugoslavia.


According to the prevailing national mythology, the Serbs are the Greeks’ kith and kin because they have also suffered under the Ottoman rule, because they are also Orthodox Christians, and have always sided with Greece. Therefore, the Greeks ought to intervene in their favor whenever they suffer “unjust” attacks from the West. The “West” also contains the Vatican whose “participation” in Croatia’s and Slovenia’s strife for independence was strongly condemned. The supporters of the Orthodox Christian nationalist “purity” believed that the West favored the Catholic population of the former Yugoslavia and that this was a part of a widespread conspiracy that sought to deprive the Orthodox Christian population of the Balkans of its cultural identity and national liberation.


Many politicians, journalists, academics and the majority of the Orthodox Christian clergy have rallied around this ideology at different times. They have started a “struggle” of defending Greece’s national and religious ideology against the West (Europe and the USA) and their economic (globalization), cultural (Hollywood, MTV), political (the European Union, NATO), and religious (Catholicism, Judaism, Islam) “weapons.” In this context, verbal and printed “counterattacks” have been masterminded promulgating a spirit of intolerance towards the “other” among the Greek population. The role of the Orthodox Christian clergy in this “struggle of defense” is paramount and its representatives have many times intervened with speeches and articles. (GHM/MRGG 2000: 46-7)


Defamation of the Greek Catholics regarding their role in the Second World War: Orthodox Christian clerical representatives of national and religious “purity” have accused the Greek Catholic community for treacherous behavior during the Second World War. They have presented the Greek Catholics as non-Greeks in an effort to encourage the belief that the Greek Catholic were, are and will be “agents” of foreign powers. Two prominent members of the Orthodox Church have published such attacks on the Greek Catholic community.


First, the Archbishop of Athens and Greece Christodoulos attacked the Greek Catholic community with an article he wrote in the newspaper Thessalia (21/2/1993) when he was still the Metropolitan of Demetrias. He wrote, “the Catholics of the Cyclades were celebrating and praying on 28 October 1940 when Catholic Italy declared war against Greece.” This accusation provoked an intense reaction by the Catholics of these islands, who were still alive and remembered that they had, in fact, reacted differently. Christodoulos later withdrew these remarks (Katholiki 27/7/93) but maintained that they were based on memories of Orthodox Christian Greeks living in the Cyclades at the time.


Second, another higher cleric, Archimandrite Hortatos, wrote in the newspaper To Vima (11/6/95) that during the war, the Greek Catholics shared Mussolini’s ideology. To these remarks an Orthodox Christian doctor of philosophy, Evangellos Roussos, from Syros replied by reminding Mr. Hortatos that the Catholic Bishop of Syros was imprisoned during the Nazi and Fascist Occupation. He also recalled the actions of the Catholic journalist Pios Stefanos who had uncovered the Italian plans before the war and presented the plans to the Catholics of the Cyclades. Then, the Italians closed down his newspaper during occupation as it refused to accept the Italians’ censorship. (GHM/MRGG 2000 42-43)


The dismemberment of Yugoslavia and the anti-Catholic climate: The break-up of Yugoslavia and the ethno-nationalist tendencies resurgent in many former communist countries had a profound effect on the way the Catholic Church and the respective community in Greece were viewed. Journalists, politicians, and priests renowned for their vociferous defense of ‘the pure Greek religious and national identity’ began a defamatory war that gradually gained the sympathetic ear of the Greek public. In particular, the traditional “anti-Catholic syndrome” that characterizes some conservative and older segments of Greek society found opportunities to reemerge.


This “syndrome” is quite old and stems from the Schism and the fall of Constantinople. Some say that legends and historical facts alike confirm that the Orthodox Church preferred to surrender to the Ottoman Turks rather than to the Catholic West and the Pope who “suspiciously” had offered to help the Byzantines to tackle the Muslim danger. Greeks, who believe in the evilness of the Catholic Church, think that even today the Catholic West continues to seek the submission of the Orthodox Christian faithful under the Vatican rule. They see Europe’s stance towards the Orthodox Christian Serbs as proof of that. Reports that the Vatican, through its Uniate Church, is trying to spread around Eastern Europe and exploit the massive return of the Slavic peoples back to religion after decades of communist rule are seen as another proof of that. Finally, the theory of the “Islamic Bow” (i.e. the Muslims in Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Turkey) that some conveniently devised, stated that the Vatican “helped its construction” in order to cut off Greece from its Orthodox Christian neighbors with the “apparent aim of curving it up” became very popular for a brief period. The ‘proof’ for the creation of the “Islamic Bow” was seen in Bosnia’s “religious” war, where the Muslim-Catholic “alliance became apparent.”


Pope John Paul, unknowingly, became the reason for renewed attacks against the Catholic Church. In his 1991 Christmas message, he included wishes towards the people of the Republic of Macedonia. It is known that the use of the taboo word “Macedonia” in reference to Greece’s northwestern neighbor was, and still is, perceived to be an adequate casus belli for the Greek press and a large segment of society. These papal wishes marked the starting point of profound anti-Catholic hysteria that has not completely disappeared today. (GHM/MRGG 2000: 46-7)


1992: On New Year’s Day the attack began with the televised message of the late Archbishop of Athens Serafeim. He stated, “the Pope is playing a very strange role. I don’t want to say more but his role is suspicious.” The government officially complained to the Holy See, as did the Holy Synod of the Catholic Church in Greece. The Holy See replied that the Christmas wishes were only expressed “as a pastoral statement and did not express any other state or political implications.” The Vatican realized that the Greek Catholic Church was in a difficult situation and postponed the official recognition of Macedonia until 1995. In addition, the usual Christmas and Easter wishes in Macedonian are not referred to as being expressed in that language.


Despite all this, the Orthodox Church continued its anti-Catholic attack. Archbishop Serafeim asked for the suspension of diplomatic relations between Greece and the Vatican that had been established only twelve years ago on 5 February 1992. The government and the majority of the Greek press dismissed this idea, even though the Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time and later the founder of a splinter nationalist right-wing party, Mr. Antonis Samaras, showed that he did not agree with the government’s decision (To Vima 24/5/92).


In March 1992, participants in an international Orthodox Christian meeting in Istanbul fiercely criticized the Holy See, but a motion to suspend the dialogue between the two Churches did not pass.  


The center-left daily newspaper Eleftherotypia was one of the few to resist this anti-Catholic attack. A journalist of the paper published a Papal statement that “Macedonia is the home of Philip and Alexander, Cyril and Methodius. Macedonia is Greek” (21 June 1992). The same issue had an interview with Father Duprey, Secretary of the Pontifical Council, in which he emphasized the Vatican’s interest in the unity of the Christian world. Two months later Eleftherotypia published a report on the good relations between the two religious communities of Syros. These publications were welcomed by the Greek Catholic community, which began to find allies within Greece.


At the same time another center-left daily, Ethnos, launched a fierce anti-Catholic campaign. On 26 September 1992 its manager at the time, Hristos Theoharatos, published a very anti-Catholic article. It referred to the efforts to reunite the Archbishopric of Ohrid with that of Thessaloniki, as a means to further the influence of the Church over the Catholics from Albania, Macedonia and Greek Macedonia. This assumption was founded on the fact that Archbishop Antonios Varthalitis from Corfu (near Ohrid) replaced the aged Monsignor Demetrios Roussos according to the Catholic tradition. The small number of Catholic followers in Thessaloniki, however, was not sufficient for the appointment of a special head for that province, hence it was decided that the Archbishop of Corfu would also care for the Catholics of the Apostolic Vicariate of Thessaloniki. This move was viewed with suspicion bythe newspaper Ethnos that “uncovered” the supposed plans for the cross-frontier establishment of an archbishopric, which would mobilize the Catholic followers and exploit the feelings of the Catholics for other purposes.


Other occasions for anti-Catholic attacks in the press were related to the new issue of the Catholic Catechism, Galileo’s rehabilitation and the issue of the compulsory reference to religious belief on personal identity cards (for the latter see below). These attacks prompted the journalist Thanasis Papandropoulos to write in the magazine Economicos Tahydromos that “a belief that Greece is different from the rest of Europe and that Hellenism constitutes a particular cultural case that should be left unspoiled from the Western European miasma and the Vatican is growing. The latter, after the CIA, is hiding behind any Universal or European event and draws all the conspiracies that mingle against Greece” (7/1/93). (GHM/MRGG 2000: 46-48)


1993: The accusations against the Catholic Church for its supposed role in unrest in the Balkans continued in 1993. The theory of the “Orthodox Christian Bow” (i.e. Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Greece) as a bulwark against Catholic expansionism was also gaining ground. The Catholic Church of Greece refrained from replying to any accusations that were expressed in the press and kept a low profile in order to avoid more serious attacks.


On one occasion, however, it replied to the conservative MP from Patras Spilios Spiliotopoulos. In his capacity as Undersecretary of Defense, Mr. Spiliotopoulos implied that the Vatican Bank finances the purchase of weapons by the Bosnians (Apogevmatini 10/5/93). He had made the same allegation for the first time at a Western European Union meeting in December 1992. The Catholic Church reacted by asking him to produce the evidence that corroborated his remarks. Mr. Spiliotopoulos’ allegations led to unrest in Patras where his supporters sprayed the Catholic temple with abusive graffiti.


The MP’s reply showed his complete ignorance of how the Catholic Church works since he sent his letter to the Ambassador of the Holy See in Athens and not to the Catholic Archbishop who had asked for an explanation. In his reply, he stated that he did not want to offend the Pope and that his remarks based on Serb sources were distorted by the newspaper. The only good outcome of this dispute was that Mr. Spiliotopoulos had the opportunity of meeting members of the Catholic community of Greece. Few months later, he spoke to a meeting of the Union of the Catholic Students, who had strongly condemned his remarks. He explained again that his words had been misunderstood, thus establishing better ties with the Catholic community. (GHM/MRGG 2000: 49-50)


The national intelligence service report on the non-Orthodox Christian Greeks: One major issue that emerged in 1993 was the uncovering of a top-secret report of the Greek National Intelligence Service (EYP) by the Eleftherotypia in August. The report bore the title “Contemporary Heresies and Para-Religious Organizations in Greece” and had been written in the beginning of 1993.


In the report, all non-Orthodox Christian citizens were referred to as “non-genuine” Greeks. These “non-genuine” Greeks, according to the report, were of “unsound national conscience that put national security at risk because they take orders from abroad.” In order to tackle this risk, the report proposed a number of “precautionary and restraining” measures like the following: religious purging of the media, strengthening of the laws against proselytism, expulsion of foreigners who are active in non-Orthodox Church organizations even if they are European Union citizens, etc.


The uncovering of this report caused enormous havoc. All political parties condemned the report. Even EYP condemned the report characterizing it as “unrealistic,” since it contained “completely wrong” information. The first results of this revelation were the heavy losses that the conservative New Democracy party suffered in the 1993 parliamentary election in Syros and Tinos. However, despite the socialist take-over of the government and the initial announcement that the report’s writer had been transferred, he appeared as the central speaker in the 28 October celebration (the anniversary of Greece’s entry in Second World War) at EYP.


The truth about the report seems to be that it reflected a widespread belief that exists in the nationalistic segments of Greek society. It is accepted that a large number of public order, military and secret service officials share these beliefs. Hence, allegations that religious minorities are being mistreated by these agencies remind people the measures proposed in the EYP report. (GHM/MRGG 2000: 50-51)


1994: Since 1993, the anti-Catholic hysteria has subsided. This does not mean, however, that the impression the nationalist circles have about the Catholic Church has changed. Even the wife of the late Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou has joined the attacks. Ms. Dimitra Liani in an article published in Ta Nea wrote, “only naïve people, maybe, cannot see the implementation of a religious imperialism in the Balkans, a peculiar religious imperialism that contains the momentary co-habitation of two completely different religions, Islam and Catholicism” (14/5/94).                   


Another instance was a clause included in the 3rd Party Congress (April 1994) resolutions of the New Democracy party. This clause stated that only Orthodox Christian Greeks could become members of the party. This decision was later revoked as wrong after a wave of articles criticizing the statement and the official complaint of two party branches: the one in Ano Syros that has only Catholic members and the other in Katerini Macedonia, with a considerable number of Evangelists.


In the same month, the cries for the defense of pure “Greekness” against western cultural and political imperialism were put in practice by a group of “unknown” defenders who destroyed the statue of Saint Francisco in the eponymous square in Athens. Such attacks on religious monuments have been carried out not only by “unknown” perpetrators, but also by well-known members of the neo-Nazi organization Chrysi Avghi (Golden Dawn) who leave their signature most of the times. The majority of the Greek press condemned the Saint Francisco attack. Almost two years later, on 6 February 1996, somebody beheaded the statue of Christ inside the yard of the Catholic Archbishopric.


In the meantime, the Greek media found another opportunity to stigmatize the “unholy” alliance between Catholicism and Islam. The International Development and Population Conference in Cairo gave it that opportunity in September 1994. The joint position of Islamic and Catholic delegates against birth control was the actual “proof” of the alliance.


Two months later, the Greeks discovered that on some occasions the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church have joint interests as well. This was shown in Albania where it was believed that the two Churches shared a common interest against the Muslim majority. The Catholic Church supported the appointment of a Greek as the Archbishop of Albania and the Greek Foreign Affairs Minister visited the Pope and discussed issues of religious freedom in Albania.


Other manifestations of anti-Catholic ideology were the remarks made in court by the public prosecutor of Naxos, Georgios Talamagas in December 1994. The Press Office of the Catholic Church condemned his contemptuous remarks against the Greek Catholics. The Prosecutor was soon moved to another district and the incident was closed. (GHM/MRGG 2000: 51-54)


1995: In 1995 the Catholic Archbishop of Athens denounced the defamation campaign against his Church. In his Lent pastoral service, he complained that this campaign “aims at exciting religious fanaticism… that subjects many Catholic children in public schools to a bombardment of anti-Catholic slogans by their classmates and by some teachers… while some young men and women are subject to discrimination at the workplace or in their efforts to get a job because of their religious beliefs” (12/3/96).


The Kathimerini daily opted to “defend” the Greek Orthodox Christian “prestige” against the above remarks of the Catholic Archbishop of Athens. The “counter-attack” began with an article by Mr. Grigoris Kalokairinos against Archbishop Nikolaos Foskolos (19/3/95). In his article, the journalist reproduced the EYP report’s statement that “a Greek is not a real Greek if he is not Orthodox Christian.” He accused the Archbishop of lying, and characterized him as “the greatest contemporary example of a Greek that willingly compromised his land.” He also accused the Archbishop of taking orders from the Vatican similar to the Muslims of Thrace who “take their orders” from Ankara. The newspaper refused to publish the Archbishopric’s reply and continued the attack with other anti-Catholic articles written by Mr. Kalokairinos and the paper’s manager Mr. Antonis Karkayiannis. In response, on 29 March 1995, the Catholic Archbishop gave the first in history press conference and condemned the anti-Catholic fervor in the country, while acknowledging the problems facing the Greek Catholic Church.


This did not stop the attacks, which this time appeared in the newspaper “To Vima.” The Easter edition of the paper included an article written by Dimitirs Nikolakopoulos according to which a “religious war” was being waged in Syros where “hatred is cultivated in the heart of the Aegean” (23/4/95). This article instigated many negative comments in Syros. A number of protest letters, noting the good relations between the two religious communities, were sent to the paper. The same edition of the paper also published a letter by the Metropolitan of Nea Smyrni in Athens that was a reply to a letter sent by the Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM). In its letter that To Vima had refused to publish, GHM complained of the Metropolitan’s refusal to concede to the Catholics a Latin chapel in the former NATO base of Ellinikon in Athens. Following the Metropolitan’s publication, GHM replied with another letter that the newspaper refused to publish.


In this context, the reaction of the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church and his representatives is very important. The Patriarch’s seat is in Istanbul and he is a member of a very small minority. He reacts in a completely different manner to any attacks of bigotry and intolerance. When Patriarch Vartholomaios visited Crete on 12 November 1995, he met with the president of the Union of the Catholics of Crete in a very friendly manner. (GHM/MRGG 2000: 51-54)


1996: The recurrent public hostility towards the Catholic community and other religious minorities was brought to the attention of the international community. In his report to the UN, Special Rapporteur Abdelfattah Amor (1996) mentioned hostile acts against the Catholic minority, which have rarely led even to a verbal condemnation by the state: “Posters are occasionally put up on the facades of Catholic churches by extremist Orthodox Christian organizations. These posters include such forms of wording as: ‘Zionism, Papism, Turkey, Free Masonry make war on martyred Serbia. Greece alone offers resistance and sympathizes with the struggling Serbs;’ ‘Communism is vanishing in the Orthodox States, in eastern Europe, the Vampire of Rome (the Pope) is preparing to gorge himself.’ Religious objects are sometimes the targets of vandalism. For example, the statue of Christ in the courtyard of the Cathedral of St. Denis in Athens was decapitated in February 1996” (GHM/MRGG 2000c).


1997: In 1996, relations between the Catholic community and the dominant religious group were calm. This situation continued until June 1997 when the organizers of the Thessaloniki festivities dedicated to the Holy Mount Athos showed how contemptuous they were of the Catholic community by not inviting any representatives of the Catholic Church.


The Greek President Konstantinos Stefanopoulos, however, set a positive precedent in the relations between the state and the Catholic community. For the first time in history, the President received the Holy Synod of the Catholic Church in November 1997. During the meeting, the Catholic officials referred to the legal problems facing the Greek Catholic Church and the heavy taxation that the Ministry of Finance imposed on it.


Regardless of that, the presidential example was not enough to change discriminatory attitudes. The Divinity School of Thessaloniki refused a young Catholic woman from Syros registration in December 1997. The excuse given was that she could not attend classes because she is Catholic. After press reports on the issue and the intervention of the Progressive Left Coalition MP Petros Kounalakis, the student was finally admitted to the faculty because the refusal was unconstitutional (discrimination against people on the basis of their religious beliefs). (GHM/MRGG 2000: 53-4)


1998: The most important event in 1998 was the Orthodox Church’s refusal to invite the Catholic Archbishop of Athens to the funeral of the late Orthodox Archbishop Serafeim.


A strain in the relations between the Orthodox Christian Metroploitan of Chania and the local Catholic community was the charitable activity of Mother Theresa’s sisters. The Metropolitan accused them of proselytism (see section 4.1.2 Religious Freedom Enjoyed).


1999: The main issue between the Catholic community and the dominant religious group in 1999 had to do with the Pope’s wish to visit Greece during his tour of the Holy Lands. From the moment he declared this wish, and despite the positive reply of the Greek government, the Orthodox Church and the followers of the idea of Greek Orthodox Christian ‘purity’ mounted a serious attempt to thwart it.


The Holy Synod’s representative, Theoklitos Koumarianos openly expressed his dislike of Pope John Paul: “In regard to this visit, there are problems and the Church of Greece cannot accept the Pope as a representative of a Christian Church” (Eleftherotypia, 27/8/99). The official position of the Orthodox Church demanded an apology from the Pope for the atrocities that the Crusaders carried out when they conquered Constantinople in 1204. When the apology was finally given during the Pope’s recent visit to the Holy Land, the Orthodox Christian authorities in Greece welcomed it. However, the impediments they had put forward until then led to the cancellation of the visit.


The Archbishop of Athens Nikolaos Foskolos condemned this act that barred the Greek Catholics from receiving their spiritual leader in their homeland. He also criticized the anti-Catholic climate in Greece and the continuing prevalence of the mentality of the Middle Ages that gives the Orthodox Church the opportunity to assume a secular and political role. As a proof of this mentality, Archbishop Foskolos referred to the discrimination against Catholics in the Greek army, who are denied the opportunity to serve as officers because they are not Orthodox Christians. In his comments, published in the Eleftherotypia daily, Archbishop Foskolos said, “Since 1989, a general anti-Catholic and a particular anti-Pope spirit have been growing stronger in Greece. Do not forget the statements of a few years ago by a Minister and by Orthodox bishops that the Pope is a war criminal. These were official statements that were never disclaimed by any government official or Church authorities… There is certainly oppression of the Catholics in Greece. Here the medieval principle of cujus regio ejius religio (i.e. whoever owns the country also owns the religion) still applies. For many people, being Greek means being Orthodox. It is taken as strange if someone is Greek without being Orthodox. Both the state and the Orthodox Church nourish such mentality. When a Catholic goes to register his child in the municipal registry, usually the employee writes Christian Orthodox without even asking. If he is told ‘but I am a Catholic’ he answers ‘what do you mean? We will write Christian Orthodox.’ We usually have to insist …” (31/8/99)


In 1999, the leaders of two minority Christian churches confirmed the general negative climate against minority religions in Greece. “Legally, religious freedom is secure here,” Antonis Koulouris, Secretary-General of the Greek Evangelical (Reformed) Church, told ENI. He added, “However, the attitude persists that citizens have a duty to be Orthodox Christian, and that belonging to other denominations is unpatriotic and heretical”. Furthermore, the Catholic Archbishop of Athens, Nikolaos Foscolos, told ENI that his Church had no “official contacts” with Orthodoxy, even though its members maintained the same national traditions and had contributed significantly to neo-Hellenic culture”. Among areas of “practical discrimination”, the Archbishop listed Greece’s armed forces, where being Orthodox was the “first requirement” for officers. “Orthodox Christianity is the Church of the state, so non-Orthodox are considered incompletely Greek,” Archbishop Foscolos told ENI. “Although the constitution guarantees citizens the same juridical status regardless of creed, religious discrimination exists.” (ENI, 3 March 1999/HRWF 6 March 1999: (GHM/MRGG 2000: 54-56).


Views in favor of Greek Orthodox Christian ‘purity’ were expressed at the Third Meeting of the Council of Greeks Living Abroad (SAE) in December 1999. Despite the position of Patriarch Vartholomaios who attended the meeting, that although Orthodox Christianity is closely related to the Greek national identity, the two should not be equated, many delegates talked in favor of a pure Greek Orthodox Christian Council. A Catholic delegate at the meeting, Yiannis Filippousis, an academic from Canada, reflected on the mixed feelings that these two different positions had caused him in an article in Synhrona Vimata, the review of the Jesuit fathers in Athens (Filippousis 2000). He condemned this ideology of which he was also a victim of exclusion by the Greek community in Canada. He claimed that the Greek diaspora in Canada (for whose establishment he had worked) passed a clause in its constitution that only Orthodox Christian Greeks could become members. He stressed that many Catholics had helped the Greek Orthodox Church abroad to set up local parishes. Mr. Filippousis concluded that others like him felt Greeks and wished that the Council would not exclude them.


2.3.3. Relations with other minorities if any

No such relations are known to exist. Rare exceptions have been some minority seminars organized by NGOs that were attended among other minorities also representatives of JWs, where they had the opportunity to hear the problems of other religious and ethno-national minorities in Greece.


2.3.4. Relations between the regions inhabited by the minority and the central authorities

Catholics are not concentrated in particular areas in such a way as to lead to the identification of those areas as minority regions. There is a higher number of Catholics living on the islands of Tinos and Siros than elsewhere but surely today they do not constitute the majority even on these islands.


3.      LANGUAGE


3.1. Describing the language

3.1.1. Linguistic family

3.1.2. Dialects and unity; linguistic awareness

3.1.3. Instruments of knowledge: description of the language and norms (history of the written form and of its standardization)


3.2. The history of the language

3.2.1.   Origins

3.2.2.   Evolution

3.2.3.   Cultural production in the language (literature, oral tradition)


3.3. Actual sociolinguistic data

3.3.1. Territory in which the language is used

3.3.2. Number of persons using this language (in territory and among emigrants)


3.4. Freedom of expression in the minority language

3.4.1. Level of acceptance or resistance to the minority’s language

3.4.2. Ways in which the state protects or impedes the use of the minority language


4.      RELIGION


4.1. Identifying a religious minority


Traditionally, the Greek Catholics have felt that their dogmatic differences with the Orthodox Christians should not pose any serious problems since they both belonged to the Christian family and were Greek nationals. Before 1990, there were a number of notable instances of discrimination against them but they avoided official protests in order not to be singled out.


In the 1990s, the situation started changing both due to important international developments regarding freedom of religion and also due to the fact that the first organizations dealing with the defense of minority rights appeared in Greece, urging the country to respect minority rights. For example, the former Deputy Foreign Minister, Professor Christos Rozakis, in a study published in 1996, refers to the Catholics as a minority that falls into the category of minorities in Greece that are differentiated from the dominant group through one major distinctive feature, such as language or religion or cultural ties. The other category includes the minorities of a more complex character (Rozakis 1999: 27). In addition, the attack that the Catholic community has suffered led the younger generations to perceive themselves as a minority whose interests should be defended against official and unofficial discrimination. In this context, Catholic organizations have begun to acquire a more important role in the defense of their religious freedom.


The organizational network of the Catholic Church has been developed in Greece to defend the religious freedom of the Catholics and to cover their social and spiritual needs. Bishoprics, parishes, convents, schools, and social organizations operate as venues where people can meet and look after the individual and social needs of the community.


Organization: Since its last reorganization by the Holy Synod in the Vatican in 1870, the Catholic Church of Greece has been divided into 9 ecclesiastical provinces. The Greek state does not recognize the Catholic Bishoprics that were founded after 1830 when the 3 February 1830 London Protocol was signed between Greece and its three protectors France, Britain and Russia. This Protocol gave the Greek Catholics the right to exercise their religious freedom and the full equality of rights before the law in the newly founded Greek state. Since the 1870 restructuring, the Greek Orthodox Church has impeded the legal recognition of the Catholic Bishoprics that were not included in the London Protocol. As a result, in today’s Greece there are a number of Catholic ecclesiastical provinces recognized by the state with only a few devotees and a number of other ecclesiastical provinces with thousands of devotees that are not recognized. The Archbishopric of Athens is one such province that has not been recognized by the state. (GHM/MRRG 2000: 4)


These ecclesiastical provinces and their estimated number of Greek Catholics are the following:


The Catholic Archbishopric of Athens was founded as a diocese of the Latin Rites in 1205 and was re-founded on 23 July 1835. Its authority covers the Peloponese and Sterea Hellas and numbers 27-30,000 devotees. Since 1973, the Arhbishop of Athens has been the Rev. Nikolaos Foskolos from Tinos (born in 1936).


The Archbishopric of Rhodes was founded as an ecclesiastical province in 1797 in union with Malta and was re-founded as an Archbishopric on 28 March 1928. It covers the Dodecanese islands. Twenty years ago there were 432 devotees. Foreign Franciscan monks hold services there. The Archbishop of Athens is the Head of the Archbishopric as an Apostolic Administrator.


The Archbishopric of Naxos-Tinos with Tinos holding the actual seat. It covers the islands of Tinos, Naxos, Paros, Antiparos, Amorgos, Mykonos, Andros and Delos. It also functions as a diocese for the whole Aegean. The first Archbishoprics in Naxos, Tinos and Mykonos date back to the 13th century. Altogether, there are about 3,000 devotees, mainly in Tinos. There are resident pastors in Tinos and Naxos. Regular pastoral services are organized in Andros and Mykonos (by priests from Tinos) and Paros (by the priest of Naxos). Since 1993, the Archbishop is the Rev. Nikolaos Printezis from Syros (born in 1941).


The Bishopric of Chios covers the islands of Chios, Lesvos, Samos, and other islands of the eastern Aegean. Although the Bishopric dates back to the 13th century, it has a tiny following of just 25 devotees in 1974. Recently, there has been an increase in the number of Catholic immigrants and the Bishopric’s Administrator, the Archbishop of Naxos-Tinos has organized regular pastoral services since 1993.


The Archbishopric of Corfu covers all seven of the Ionian Islands, after the unification of the Bishoprics of Corfu (founded in 1310), Zakynthos (1212), and Kefallonia (13th century) on 3 June 1919. Since 18 March 1926, the Archbishopric has covered Epirus as well. It has a following of around 3,000 devotees most of whom are descendants of Maltese immigrants that are now Greek citizens. The Catholics of the Ionian Islands (Eptanisa) have fewer problems with the Orthodox Christian majority than any other Catholic community in Greece. Since 1962, the Archbishop of Corfu has been the Rev. Antonios Varthalitis from Syros (born in 1924), who belongs to the monastic order of the Assumptionists.


The Apostolic Vicariate of Thessaloniki covers northern Greece. It does not have enough following to become a Bishopric and is therefore, headed by an Administrator. It was founded on 18 March 1926 with a following of 2,000 devotees. Since 1993, the Vicariate’s Administrator has been the Archbishop of Corfu.


The Bishoprics of Syros, Santorini (Thira) and Crete, cover the southern Cyclades and Crete. The Bishopric of Syros was founded in 1207 and has a following of 8,000 devotees. The Bishopric of Thira was founded in 1204 and since 1947 it has been under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Syros. It has a following of 150 devotees. The Bishopric of Crete was founded in 1231. It was later abolished in 1669, and was re-founded on 28 July 1874. It has a following of 1,000 devotees. Since 1974, the Rev. Franceskos Papamanolis from Ano Syros (born in 1936) who belongs to the monastic order of the Capuchins has been the Bishop of Syros and the southern Cyclades and the Deputy of Crete.


The Hellenic Catholic Exarchate of the Eastern Rite was also known as Uniates. It was founded in 1911 covering both Greece and Turkey and was subsequently divided in 1932, due to the uncertainties in the relations between the two countries. After the ‘Asia Minor disaster,’ there was a massive influx of Uniates from Turkey into Greece, but today the Exarchate’s following numbers just over 3,000 devotees. Relations with the Orthodox Christian majority are not good because the Uniates accept the Pope’s authority but follow the Byzantine liturgy. Since 1975, the Head of the Exarchate has been the Right Rev. Anargyros Printezis from Syros (born in 1937), who holds the titular title of the Bishop of Gratianoupolis.


The Exarchate of the Armenian Catholics in Greece was founded in 1925, following the 1918 Armenian genocide and the arrival of Armenian refugees into Greece. Since 1991, the Head of the Exarchate, without having a Bishop’s title, is Nisan Karakehayian from Piraeus (born in 1935) who is also the General Prelatic Commissioner of the Catholic Exarchate in Armenia. (GHM/MRGG 2000: 5-6)


The Holy Synod of the Catholic Church in Greece: The aforementioned Archbishops, Bishop, and Heads of Exarchates, all of who are Greek citizens, constitute the Holy Synod of the Catholic Church in Greece. The President of the Synod is elected every three years. Since 1992, the Archbishop of Athens, Rev. Nikolaos Foskolos, has held the title. The Holy See founded the Synod on 10 June 1965. The last revision of the Constitution of the Holy Synod by the Holy See was performed in 1983. The Holy Synod meets every six months and according to Article 10 of its constitution its purpose is to “discuss the common pastoral problems and to find new ways and methods of apostolic action.”


The Heads of the ecclesiastical provinces are chosen by the Holy See from a list of three persons proposed by the Greek Synod. The Vatican’s Apostolic Nuncio in Greece informs the Holy See after researching the preferences of clerics and devotees. The appointment is announced to the public after the new Head of the ecclesiastical province is informed and accepts the position. The members of the Holy Synod can keep their positions until they become 75 years old, when they have to resign and be replaced.


The basic bodies of the Greek Synod, similar to the rest of the world, are the following:


a. Secretariat and Press Office

b. Commissions for the catechism, liturgics, pastoral service of tourists, the youth, social support and aid (the CARITAS organization), and human rights (the commission for “Justice and Peace”)

c. Ecclesiastic Courts of the 1st and 2nd degree, responsible for the annulment of marriages

d. Legal Council


Synod members head all these bodies made up of priests, representatives of the monastic orders and devotees. (GHM/MRGG 2000: 6)


Priesthood and Monastic Orders: Through the structuring of the Catholic Church in Greece, it becomes obvious that the majority of Greek Catholics live in Athens (more than 50% of the total). Large Catholic communities inhabit Tinos and Syros where Catholics comprise two fifths of the population. These areas have the largest number of Catholic priests and monastic orders whose schools and charitable institutions are very active. The insufficient number of Catholic priests is a problem for the Catholic community in Greece since pastors have to resign when they become 75 years old and there is a shortage of Greek Catholic men with pastoral inclinations. As a result, the Greek Catholic Church has to bring priests from abroad or rely on the services offered by brothers of the monastic orders. The last time clerics were ordained was when three men were ordained in Syros in 1995 and two in Athens in 1998 and another two in 2000. The majority of the Greek Catholic clergy comes from Syros. 


Monastic orders are considered by the Catholic Church to be its power internationally. Thousands of foundations, such as universities, schools, hospitals, and kindergartens function under their management. The Catholic Church’s renowned charitable tradition is implemented by the monastic orders, some of which have developed expertise in specific charitable works. Greece has witnessed the influx of hundreds of monastic missions over the centuries, some of which remained permanently. Today, there are 20 active monastic orders in Greece. The majority of the brothers and sisters of these monastic orders are Greek citizens. They are divided into three categories, the male monastic orders with pastoral activities, the male monastic orders and the female monastic orders.


Male monastic orders with pastoral activities are the following:   

1.   The Jesuits who began founding convents in Greece in the 16th century: in Crete (1588-1606), Chios (1594-1773), Paros (1641-8), Santorini (1642-1773), Evoia (1642-84), Macedonia (1633-1773), Naxos (1627-1773), Tinos (1669-1773), and Syros (1744-73). In 1773 the Holy See suspended the function of the order until 1814. Immediately after that, the convent of Syros reopened (until 1997) as well as the one in Tinos that is still functioning. Since 1914, there has been a convent in Athens.

2.   The Capuchins have been present in Greece since the 17th century. They followed continuing activities for centuries in Chios (since 1627), Syros (1633), Naxos (1652), Milos (1661) the Ionian Islands and Crete. There was also a convent in Athens in 1658. The convents of Syros, Athens, Corfu, Chania and Iraklion are still functioning.

3.   The Assumptionists in Athens

4.   The Franciscans in Rhodes

5.   The Dominicans in Athens

6. The Lazarists or Brothers of Mission in Thessaloniki


Male Monastic Orders:

1.   The Marian Brothers who founded and continue to administer the two schools “Leontios Scholi” in Athens. For a brief period between the two world wars, they had opened a similar school in Patras.

2.   The Brothers of the Christian Schools with the schools “Agios Pavlos” in Piraeus, “De La Sal College” in Thessaloniki and “Saint George Primary” in Syros.


Female Monastic Orders:

1.   The Sisters of Mercy are active primarily in the field of health care. They founded the “Agios Pavlos” hospital that has been leased to the Greek state and the “Kalamari” school that has been leased to private entrepreneurs, both in Thessaloniki. They also administer a home for the aged in Syros and hold the management of another home the “Kalos Samaritis” belonging to the Catholic Archbishopric of Athens.

2.   The Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Apparition is the largest order in Greece numbering 35 nuns. They administer the “Saint Joseph” schools in Athens and Piraeus and a primary in Volos. In the past, they had a long presence in Syros, Chios and Chania.

3.   The Ursulines have been in Athens since 1947 where they administer secondary and primary education schools. In the past, they have been present in Naxos, Tinos, Nafplion and Kalamata.

4.   The Sisters of the Pammakaristos in Athens. They belong to the Greek Catholic Exarchate. They managed the “Pammakaristos” hospital until its take over by the Greek state.

5.   The Sisters of the Holy Cross in Athens. It is a Greek order founded in 1939 by the Assumptionist Father Elpidios Stefanou.

6.   The Sisters of the Carmelites in Athens since 1935. It is a closed monastic order where the nuns do not leave the convent and practice prayers. They sell handicrafts in order to support themselves. Half of them, (5 in 10) are Greeks.

7.   The Dominicans in Santorini are another closed monastic order. The nuns of this order are mostly young foreigners who are well-known for their exquisite voices (canto domenicano).

8.   The Franciscans in Corfu (since 1908) where they are responsible for the Catholic home for the aged.

9.   The Sisters of Saint Joseph of Lyon, in Corfu (since 1976). They practice catechism and administer a French language school.

10. The Little Sisters of Jesus in Athens (1955) and Yiannitsa (1985). The nuns of this order live among the population and work in factories, hospitals, etc. bringing the people closer to God with their presence. In addition, they practice catechism and help the ill.

11. The Missionariess of Charity, the order of Mother Theresa, has been present in Athens and Chania since 1986. The nuns of this order are foreign and very young and care for immigrants from the Third World and refugees in Greece.

12. The Fokolarines are not a monastic order but a movement in which priests and devotees participate. They take oaths for a lifetime dedication just like the members of monastic orders do. They have conservative social origins and beliefs and are similar to other Catholic movements like the “Opus Dei” and the “Comunione e Liberazione.” The members of the movement hold regular jobs during the day and live together in their community. They try to bring God closer to the people with their work through a number of activities organized for young couples and children.   (GHM/MRRG 2000: 7-12)  


4.2. Religious freedom enjoyed


Archbishopric of Athens: The Cathedral Church of Athens is the Church of Saint Dionysios built between 1853 and 1865. Since 1976, it and the other Archbishopric buildings located in the same area have been characterized as conservation monuments. In the 1980s renovation work was started but its progress is slow due to financial difficulties.


The majority of foreign Catholics living in Athens, particularly the intensely religious Filipino community, attend masses at this church. The Greek Catholics of Athens favor the Cathedral mainly for marriages and baptisms. This is due to the fact that economic prosperity has led many Catholics of Athens to choose the suburbs for their residence. Many Catholic clubs originating from the Cycladic islands hold their meetings in the Archbishopric’s auxiliary buildings and in the “Saint Dionysios Aeropagites” amphitheater.


There are Catholic parishes in many districts and suburbs of the Greek capital. In these areas Catholics attend masses in churches, chapels and convents. German and Italian Catholics have their own churches while English and French-speaking residents hold their masses in their own chapels. Also, the descendants of 19th century King Otto’s Bavarian soldiers have their own parish church. This parish of German descent is the largest in the capital with some 7,000 devotees.


There are parishes belonging to the Archdiocese of Athens in Patras (1,000 devotees) and Nafplion. Aspra Spitia in Viotia, where the French company “Aluminum of Greece” is located, has many French and Greek Catholic followers.


The Archdiocese of Athens has three primary schools: the “Saint Dionysios,” founded in 1953, administered by the Sisters of Saint Joseph; the “Saint Pavlos,” founded in 1956 and administered by the Archbishop himself until 1997 when it was leased; the “Saint Andreas” in Patras, founded in 1961. It also has the “Kalos Samaritis” home for the aged, managed by the Sisters of Mercy.


Sixteen Greek priests belong to the Archdiocese of Athens. In addition, a number of monastic orders are particularly active in the ecclesiastical province of Athens. These orders are the following:


1.   The Jesuits are responsible for the parish of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in downtown Athens. Apart from the Greek Catholics of the area, a large number of Polish immigrants attend masses there. Until 1997, there was a primary school for Polish children next to the parish church, which is now managed by the Polish embassy. There is still a kindergarten. The Jesuits also serve the English speaking community in a chapel in the suburb of Kifisia, in several convents and in the parish of Aspra Spitia. In 1969 they founded the cultural center “Kentro Ekdiloseon-Omilion – KEO” which functions as a society with Catholic and Orthodox Christian members. This is a rare example of ecumenical cooperation between Greek citizens of different denominations. They also publish the magazines “Synhrona Vimata,” a quarterly review with a Christian and cultural orientation and the monthly “Anihti Orizontes,” a magazine of religious education and information. They also run a student hall that is able to accommodate 40 students from both the Orthodox Christian and the Catholic denomination who come from the countryside and from abroad. The Jesuits also help the organizations of the Catholic youth (EKNE), the Catholic students (EKFE) and the Catholic scientists (KIKEDE), all located in Athens.

2.   The Assumptionists are responsible for the parish in the district of Kipseli. In this parish, the Brotherhood for the Union of the Churches has held its meetings since 1972.

3.   The Capuchins are responsible for the parish in the district of Agioi Anargyroi.

4.   There are two Dominican monks who are responsible for ecumenical seminars and catechism.

5.   The Marian Brothers administer the two “Leontios Sholi” in the district of Patisia and the municipality of Nea Smyrni. They also run the primary school “Chrisostomos Smyrnis” in Nea Smyrni. Their culture is French and they are known for their educational work and ecumenical spirit. Many prominent members of Greek society were educated in their schools most notably the Orthodox Christian Archbishop of Athens and Greece Christodoulos. The Marian Brothers contribute to the Catholic Church’s activities in charity, children’s summer camps and catechism. In addition, a younger brother has dedicated himself to working with young boys and girls who have fallen into theft, prostitution and drugs.

6.   The Brothers of the Christian Schools are another order with French culture. They have run the school “Agios Pavlos” in Piraeus since 1893.

7.   The Sisters of Saint Joseph is the only order with three convents in Athens. The first convent was founded in the center of Athens in 1856. Today the area where it was situated has become a shopping mall that has, nevertheless, incorporated the convent. The Sisters’ primary and secondary schools have been moved to the suburb of Pefki. The second convent was founded in Piraeus in 1859 where the “Ioanna D’ Ark” school is still in operation. The third and largest convent is situated in the suburb of Palaio Iraklio next to the Catholic parish church. Their schools used to accept only female pupils but now they have been turned into mixed schools. The Sisters of Saint Josef apart from their educational duties help the Catholic community in catechism and other activities.

8.   Since 1961, the Ursulines have operated the “Agios Dionysios” primary and nursery school in the suburb of Marousi and the mixed secondary Greek-French School of the Ursulines in the suburb of Psyhikon since 1994.

9.   The Sisters of the Holy Cross are responsible for a home for the aged in the suburb of Aghia Paraskevi and an English language school operating within the grounds of the convent.

  1. The Carmelite Sisters are the order of contemplation.
  2. The Sisters of Mercy operate the Archbishopric’s home for the aged in the suburb of Pefki.

12. Mother Theresa’s Sisters of Love work with immigrants and refugees in Athens. They offer food to homeless people and also work with single or abandoned mothers.


Archbishopric of Rhodes: The head of the ecclesiastical province of Rhodes is the Archbishop of Athens because the number of Catholics in the area is so small that the Holy See has suspended the appointment of a local Ordinary. The number of local priests is insufficient. Due to historical reasons, pastoral care has been taken over by Franciscan monks. Rhodes was and continues to be under the jurisdiction of the Holy Land Franciscans. After the union of the Dodecanese islands with Greece in 1947, the province was naturally incorporated into the Greek Catholic Church but the Franciscans remained.


There are two parishes in Rhodes. The first one was established in 1740 and the other one in 1939. In addition, there are two 19th century chapels. There is also one parish in Kos that was founded in 1924. Today most Catholics in this province are foreigners, mostly women married to Greeks. In the cultural center of the Archbishopric, there is a Scandinavian, a German, an English, a Dutch, a French and even a Vietnamese society. There is also a Greek-German society, a society of the Rhodes’ Catholics, and a French and German library. Since there are no Greek Franciscans on the island, services are held in several languages.


Until recently a convent and a school of the Brothers of the Christian Schools was in operation. The remaining brothers on the island teach French language lessons.


Greek Catholic Exarchate: The Uniate church is the product of a 19th century pro-union movement of the churches in Istanbul and Macedonia. After the 1922 ‘Asia Minor disaster’ of the Greek army, the majority of the church’s followers came to Greece under the agreement between Greece and Turkey to exchange populations. The refugees, who had been involved in agriculture, settled in Yiannitsa in northern Greece, where the parish of Saints Peter and Paul has been in operation since 1859. The rest of the refugees settled in Athens and founded the parish of the Holy Trinity and a students’ hall in 1929.


In the Athens parish, a large number of Eastern Catholics from the Middle East, especially Iraq, attend masses. For their benefit, an Iraqi priest arrived in the summer of 1998. The Exarchate has seven Greek priests. Ukrainian immigrants also attend masses in this parish.


Upon their arrival in Greece, the Catholics of the Eastern Rite founded the hospital “Pammakaristos” which has now been taken over by the state. The sisters of the “Pammakaristos Mother of God” were responsible for the management of the hospital until then. For many years they have also been running a home for children with special needs under the name of their order. They also run a home for the elderly, a female students’ hall, and a house of prayer in the area of Kifisia.


The Exarchate has undertaken a significant publishing project in Greece. It runs the “Office of the Good Press” and publishes the “Katholiki” newspaper every two weeks. It also runs the Catholic bookshop in the center of Athens. It also publishes a religious information newsletter in French.


The Little Sisters of Jesus belong to the Exarchate. Although the congregation was founded in Western Europe, it has followed the eastern tradition when operating in the East in order to become part of the local mentality. This has alienated some Orthodox Christians who think that this is a tactic of proselytism.


Two chapels belong to the Exarchate, one in Syros, the birthplace of the majority of its priests and nuns, and one in Nea Makri where the “Pammakaristos” home is situated. Priests and Nuns of the Exarchate also run a seaside summer camps for adults and children.


Exarchate of the Armenian Catholics in Greece: This is the third Catholic community in Athens after the Roman Catholics and the Catholics of the Eastern Rites. It has a very small following and only one priest. Its seat is in the district of Neos Kosmos. The Exarchate of Armenian Catholics also has a chapel in the municipality of Nikea in Piraeus.


Archbishopric of Naxos-Tinos: This is one of the cradles of Catholicism in Greece, a place from where many of the Catholics living in Athens originate. Today, only eight priests (six Greek and one Polish priests in Tinos and one in Naxos), two Jesuits (in Tinos) and a deacon (in Tinos) cover the pastoral needs of 3,000 permanent residents, tourists and the few Greek Catholics scattered around other islands like Andros, Mykonos, Paros, Lesvos and Chios.


There are a few Catholics in Tinos, the capital Chora and in many villages around it. Half of the islands’ villages have a Catholic population and three villages are mixed, with Orthodox and Catholic residents. In two of the mixed villages, the Catholics are the majority. Many Greeks are ignorant of these statistics and think of Tinos as the holy island of Orthodox Christianity because of the miraculous finding of the Virgin Mary icon in 1824. The two communities coexist without any serious problems. Mixed marriages have become very common in recent years and members of both communities attend each other’s religious masses and festivals without any prejudice.


According to a recent Greek law on the unification of local authorities, all Catholic and a few Orthodox Christian villages were unified under one authority in the new municipality of Exomburgh. The mayor’s seat is in the village of Xynara, which is also the historical seat of the Archbishopric.


On Tinos, there are 30 flourishing parishes with once-a-week masses and hundreds of small chapels scattered around the hills of the island. These chapels are dedicated to a large number of Saints and masses are held on the day that these Saints are celebrated. Each year the island is the scene of two important Catholic pilgrimages. One is held in July in the island’s old castle, the Exomburgh, where the “Holy Heart of Jesus” is honored. The other is held on 1 May in the shrine of Our Lady at Vrigsi.


The island’s parishes publish the monthly newspaper “Tiniaka Minimata” which is a medium of communication between its inhabitants and the Catholics of Athens whose origin is from Tinos. Since 1 January 1997, the Archbishopric’s radio station “Pisti and Politismos” has been broadcasting in the FM band covering the whole Cyclades. A number of Catholic societies have summer camps for children on Tinos.


The Jesuits have been settled on the island since 1679. They help in the running of the parishes, in catechism, and deal with youth problems. They are responsible for the organization of the Sacred Heart Castle pilgrimage. They also publish a quarterly newsletter. In their convent, they have created a museum of old agricultural tools.


The Ursulines have been on the island since 1862. Nowadays there are only very few and relatively old Ursuline sisters, who are active only in catechism and in organizing spiritual gatherings for young women. Their primary school and students’ hall in Tinos, as well as their school in Naxos that was closed down, used to be well-known all over Greece. The Archbishopric’s students’ hall and the Franciscan convent in Naxos have also been closed down but the buildings function as a summer camp for children. The Old Catholic Cathedral in Naxos is used as a cultural center.


In Tinos, apart from the known Catholic youth and charity organizations, a Society of Catholic Farmers is also active. In the late 1980s, the movement of “Neo-Catechism” appeared on the island. The movement was founded in Spain after the Second World War and spread to various parts of the world. It has a conservative social orientation. The movement’s members are priests and devotees who gather together for in-depth studies of the Gospel.


The Catholics of Tinos are mainly farmers and builders. There are very few businessmen although the increase of the number of tourists visiting the island has prompted many inhabitants to invest in tourism and development. The island has failed to retain its younger educated inhabitants because the opportunities for professionals are few. Nevertheless, the emigration of the young is balanced by the return of Catholics pensioners from Athens hence the Catholic population remains stable.


Archbishopric of Corfu: This Archbishopric that covers the islands of the Ionian Sea and Epirus has around 3,000 devotees, many of them of Maltese origin. The majority of the island’s Catholics live in the town of Corfu. The Catholics of Corfu have served in many official posts and are generally accepted by their fellow citizens. The role of the Archbishop of Corfu Rev. Antonios Varthalitis is important in cultivating these relations because he has established friendly ties with the islands religious and official authorities. He heads the Archbishopric’s primary school on the island.


This ecclesiastical province contains six parishes, two in Corfu, and one in Kefallonia, Zakynthos, Preveza, and Ioannina each. Only the first three have permanent ministers. A priest administers the central parish of the island in the city hall square. Two Capuchin monks administer the parish in Kostella in Corfu, the Maltese quarter of the island, and the parish in Kefallonia. For decades, no local Catholics have expressed a wish to be ordained.


Five Franciscan sisters of Maltese origin and three Sisters of Saint Joseph of Lyon (the educational order) work on the island from the Cyclades. The Capuchins are the sole male monastic order present on the island. Their role in the pastoral service of the local Catholic community is imperative. Recently, younger Capuchin brothers from Italy have joined them. They are willing to stay in Greece long term, because they have learned the Greek language and eastern theology.


There is a local office of the Union of Catholic Youth as well as a Society of Greek Catholics of Corfu. Efforts are made to create a local branch of the Movement of Catholic Scientists.


In Zakynthos, a summer camp for young people is in operation.

Apostolic Vicariate of Thessaloniki: There are 2,500 Catholics in northern Greece, in Macedonia, Thrace and Thessaly. They are representatives of internal migrants, Asia Minor refugees, immigrants, and foreign nationals married to Greeks. The Archbishop of Corfu is the head of this ecclesiastical province. The province is defined as a Vicariate because it lacked the necessary elements that constitute a bishopric when it was founded. Members of the Fathers of the Congregation, also known as Lazarists, carry out Pastoral services in Macedonia and Thrace. They have been present in Thessaloniki since 1783.


The main parish is situated in Thessaloniki, while periodical services are held in the churches of Kavala (Macedonia) and Alexandroupolis (Thrace). The churches in Thessaly (Volos and Larissa) that used to be serviced by Jesuit monks now have two priests belonging to the Archbishopric of Corfu. Also active in the province are the following orders:


The Brothers of the Christian Schools have been running the De Lasalle College in Thessaloniki since 1888.


The Sisters of Saint Joseph have been active in Volos since 1904. They run a primary school and a French language school. They pay visits and help the ill in their homes and are active in catechism.


A Jesuit monk acts in cooperation with the Lazarist fathers for the service of the Catholic families living away from the functioning churches in Macedonia and Thrace.


A convent of the Sisters of Mercy was established in 1893 in Kalamaria, Thessaloniki. Currently, it is not operating.


In Thessaloniki, there is a local section of the Union of the Catholic Youth and a section of the Movement of the Catholic Scientists.


Bishopric of Syros: The island of Syros has been, and still is, the main center of Greek Catholicism. The majority of the Catholics of the Cyclades live on the island while a large number of Catholics in Athens originate from Syros. Three quarters of the Greek Catholic clerics, monks and nuns are from Syros.


The Catholic Bishopric is situated in Ano Syros, the “Rock” as the locals call it. Ano Syros used to be the natural capital of the island and the center of the island’s activities until the Greek Revolution against the Ottoman Empire. During the Revolution, a number of Catholic inhabitants from other islands took refuge in the island’s capital in order to escape from Ottoman persecution. They created the present capital of the island -- the town of Ermoupolis. Today many Catholics from Syros live in Ermoupolis and for that reason, the bishopric has relocated many of its offices there.


In 1986 the bishopric founded a Center of Historic Studies in Ano Syros. The most important documents of the island’s history are kept there in microfilms. Many researches have taken advantage of these records.


The bishopric’s organization is considered to be the best in Greece. This is due to the large number of educated local Catholics, the sufficient number of clerics, the small distance that needs to be covered, and the administrative skills of the current Bishop Frankiskos Papamanolis.


The “Agios Pavlos” Pastoral Center in the village of Poseidonia is the place for the island’s gatherings and other events of the Catholic Church. It is also an important catechism center as well as an important summer resort for young people. It has staged a number of important conferences and festivals of the Catholic Youth (1981, 1983, and 1987). The World Meeting of the Catholic Youth took place there in 1994.


The bishopric runs the “Folia” kindergarten in Ano Syros.


The newspaper “Enoriakes Kampanes” serves as a communication medium of the island’s parishes. It is circulated monthly.


Twelve priests serve in the island’s 15 parishes. Apart from Ano Syros, the island’s 10 villages have a predominantly Catholic population. In the large parishes, branches of the Union of the Catholic Youth are operating. Other societies, brotherhoods of the local churches, and local Caritas are also active. Moreover, there are branches of the Union of Greek Catholics, the Movement of Catholic Scientists, and a Neo-Catechist Community like the one in Tinos.


The following orders are active in Syros:


The Capuchins have been in Ano Syros since 1625. There is only one monk left but younger brothers might be coming.


In 1914 the Brothers of the Christian Schools founded their convent and the primary school “Agios Georgios” in Ermoupolis.


The Sisters of Mercy founded their convent in Ermoupolis in 1884. Their mission is to take care of the aged and the ill. Since 1986, they run the “Panagia tis Kalis Elpidas” home for the aged.   


The Jesuits founded their convent in Ano Syros in 1744. Although the Greek Jesuits are predominantly from Syros they decided to leave the convent and move to Athens in 1997 because the pastoral needs there are great.


The bishopric of Syros is responsible for the safekeeping and the renovation of two Catholic churches in Milos and the Catholic cemetery that has been declared a monument in preservation.


A 12 September 1998 publication in the press stated that the Greek Ministry of Culture uses a Catholic church belonging to the Bishopric of Syros, situated on the island of Sifnos, as a storage room.


Recently some young men from the island have expressed their clerical inclinations and the Bishopric of Syros is looking ahead with hope unlike other provinces that face a shortage of young clerics.


Allegedly, relations between Catholics and the minority Orthodox Christian inhabitants of the island are very good despite occasional reports to the contrary. Many Catholics on Syros, as well as on Tinos, do not feel at all comfortable with the Orthodox Christian Metropolitan Dorotheos of Syros-Tinos-Mykonos. They believe that his presence does not favor the development of good relations between the two communities.


Bishopric of Santorini: There are many standing witnesses of the glorious Catholic past of Santorini. The island’s capital, Fira, has a number of important buildings like the old Bishopric, the Cultural Center that now serves as a folklore museum, the old Monastery of the Lazarists that has now been turned into a summer camp and the Dominicans’ convent.


Father Nicolaos Kokkalakis who organizes all the other activities of the Catholic community in Santorini serves the Saint John temple in Fira and the ten chapels scattered around the island. He is also the person responsible for collecting funds on behalf of the Greek Catholics that aid the charity work of the Catholic Church missions around the world.


There are very few Catholics in Santorini now because of internal migration. Santorini stands as proof that wherever the Catholic population was not local, it gradually diminished considerably. The Catholics of the island began to leave soon after the island was taken over by the Ottoman Turks.


The Catholic presence on the island dates back to 1596 with the “closed” convent of the Dominican sisters. The convent is still in operation. These nuns, two from Syros and nine from Spain, do not go out of the convent and their main activities include prayer and handcrafts.


Bishopric of Crete: The presence of the Catholic Church in Crete dates back to the Venetian occupation of the island with the creation of many bishoprics (1213-1669). The Catholic Bishopric of Crete was re-founded in 1874. An important factor for this was the foundation of the Greek-French school of the Sisters of Saint Joseph in Chania (1852-1966).


Capuchin monks maintain the pastoral service of the local Catholic community. They have been present on the island since 1566. In older times, there used to be many Greek Capuchin brothers, who have gradually been replaced by Italian Capuchins who are now the majority. This is evidence that the majority of the Catholic community in Crete is composed of foreign nationals who have settled permanently on the island.


There are Catholic parishes in Chania, where the island’s Catholic Cathedral is situated, in Iraklion and Rethymnon. Capuchin convents, recently renovated, can be found in Chania and Iraklion.


Over the last few years, a conflict between the local Catholic community and the Orthodox Christian Metropolitan Irinaios of Chania has been underway. The reason for this conflict is the charitable work of “foreigners,” as the Metropolitan calls them, belonging to Mother Theresa’s Congregation, who are accused of proselytism. The Union of Catholics in Crete has officially complained to the Patriarch of Constantinople Vartholomaios, who is ultimately responsible for the Orthodox Church of Crete (“Katholiki” 14/5/98).


The Catholic Church of Crete has faced a number of legal problems trying to secure its property. Greek courts decided that the Catholic Church of Crete was not founded legally. The case was brought to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg. In 1997, the ECHR decided in favor of the Catholic Church of Crete (see 5.2 Present Legal Status). (GHM/MRGG 2000:12-23)


4.3. Relations with the dominant religious community and the other communities


As it has already been said, Orthodox Christian and Catholic Greeks have good relations with each other. Extremists in the Orthodox Church’s leadership, as well as some politicians and journalists and their followers, however, have caused some problems. The Catholics do not have official relations with any other religious minorities. There is no network of organizations to represent religious minorities and act in their defense. 


Of course to the extent that the mainstream media constitutes the expression of the dominant religious communities’ attitude, both as producer and product of that attitude, it is clear that the Greek media is characterized by a “nationally” correct journalism on anything that concerns religious minorities. As we read in the report on “Minorities and the Media in Greece”, “stories on the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), on the 50th anniversary of the respective Convention” were characterised by “biased journalism.” “Useful description of the Court was certainly given, as well as statistics about the caseload, but the illustrative examples tended to come mostly from Turkey. The reader of the four-page dossier on the ECHR in the glossy magazine Tachydromos, an insert in the highest circulation daily Ta Nea (6 May 2000), for example, would not find there any information on even one case in which the European Court convicted Greece. A regular reader of Greek newspapers would of course be hardly surprised. For example, “there was not even one newspaper to report that a Cretan court had denied that the Catholic Church, with a half-millenary presence, had a legal personality allowing it to own a church in that island. A few years later Greece was to be convicted by the ECHR on that issue: only then a few newspapers devoted a couple of articles. (…) So, when it comes to minority issues, the Greek press is reminiscent of that of authoritarian regimes where “nationally sensitive issues” are reported only in a “nationally correct” way, if at all.” (GHM & MRGG 2002b) Having seen already how state-church relations in Greece are embedded in a mesh of interdependencies, it is of course clear that the definition of what is nationally correct includes identifying with the appropriate religious identity, that of Christian Orthodox believers.




4.4. Ways in which the state protects or impedes minority religious activities


As professor Pollis remarks in one of her studies on religious freedom in Greece, “The underlying premises of any social order are institutionalized in state structures. Deinstitutionalization and delegalization can facilitate changes in norms and behavior. Greece will not be in conformity with Europe’s norms on religious freedom until the courts (1) abandon their narrow interpretation of “known” religion, (2) remove from the Ministry of Education and Religion the power to issue permits for the establishment of houses of worship, (3) differentiate between education and religion, (4) drop religion from the Ministry of Education and Religion, (5) abolish the Greek Orthodox Church’s supervisory role and power over all religious matters, and (6) inhibit restrictive legislation. Without such reforms, Greece will not only remain subject to charges of violating the Human Rights Convention but, more fundamentally, will have the distinction of being the only member of the European Community and signatory of the Convention of Human Rights to limit religious freedom and to harass religious minorities. Restrictions on religious freedom are symptomatic not only of Greece’s insularity but also of the rigidity of the boundaries that define Greek ethnic identity. Lying ahead is a tortuous path leading from this present state to the emergence of multiple identities that help Greekness to become primarily a cultural and linguistic identity coexisting with the construction of a European identity.”(1992: 184-5)




The legal framework of religious freedom in Greece: The freedom of religious practice is constitutionally guaranteed in Greece. Article 5.2 of the Constitution guarantees the “enjoyment of the full protection of life, honor, and freedom without any discrimination of nationality, race, language and religious or political beliefs” (G.C. 2001). As far as religious freedom is concerned, the Constitution specifies in Article 13.1 that: “religious freedom is inviolable. Enjoyment of individual and political rights is not depended on anyone’s religious belief.” In relation to religious practices, Article 13.2 states that: “every known religion is free and its related worship is practiced unhindered under the protection of the law.” The same Article, however, forbids proselytism.  After a decision by the court, known religion has been defined a “religion or a dogma whose doctrine is open and not secret, is taught publicly and its rites of worship are also open to the public, irrespective of whether its adherents have religious authorities; such a religion or dogma needs not to be recognized or approved by an act of the State or Church.” (Konidaris 1991: 59-60)


Freedom of belief is guaranteed to all, whereas freedom of worship, although protected by the Constitution, may be subject to certain limitations arising in particular from the status of “known religion” and from the manner in which proselytism is viewed. The concept of “known religion” (Article 13, paragraph 2, of the Constitution) provides that freedom of worship is reserved only for the “known” religions. This concept raises a number of questions because, although the concept is not defined in the Constitution, the related provision limits religious freedom. This limitation appears to be inconsistent with Article 1, paragraph 3, of the 1981 Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, which provides that “Freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.” Indeed, Article 13, paragraph 2, of the Constitution explicitly imposes such legal limitations (in respect of public order and morals) and applies them to all “known” religions.


According to Greek legal practice and information supplied by the authorities, a “known” religion must have no secret dogmas and must not involve worship in secret. In the opinion of the Ministry of Justice, it must be a religion to which any person may adhere and it must be sufficiently transparent, in order for the state to guard against religions that pose a threat to the public order, morals and the rule of law. The absence of any constitutional or legislative definition of the concept of “known” religion would appear to contravene the 1981 Declaration and the legal limitations envisaged therein and pose serious practical problems to religious minorities and conscientious objectors. Moreover, it should be noted that Article 14 of the Constitution provides that the seizure of newspapers and other publications before or after circulation is allowed by order of the public prosecutor in case of an offence against the Christian religion or any other “known” religion. Accordingly, religions that are not “known” are not covered by this provision (Abdelfattah Amor, 1996 & GHM/MRGG 1999a).


Regarding religious freedom and the protection of the rights of religious minorities and of persons belonging to those minorities, Greece cooperates with international organizations of which it is a member: the United Nations, the European Union, the Council of Europe, OSCE, ILO, and UNESCO. Greece is a contracting party to several international instruments that should provide favourable conditions for religious freedom and belief. According to Article 28§1 of the Greek Constitution, international law and conventions form an integral part of domestic legislation and take precedence over domestic legislation in any case of conflicting provisions.


·        Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)

·        Geneva Convention (1956)

·        Convention on the Prevention and Repression of the Crime of Genocide (1954)

·        U.N. Convention for the abolition of any racial discrimination (1970)

·        European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1974)

·        Protocol (No1) to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1974)

·        Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1959)

·        Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons (1975)

·        Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination based on Religion or Belief (U.N.) (1981)

·        Convention concerning Discrimination in Respect of Employment and Occupation (No. 111, ILO) (1984)

·        European Social Charter (1984)

·        International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1985)

·        European Convention on Torture and Inhuman and Degrading Treatment (1993)

·        International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1997)

·        Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1997)

·        Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1997)

·        International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1970)

·         Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) (signed 1997 not ratified)

·         U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (1992)

·         Protocol no.12 to the European Convention on Human Rights on the Prohibition of All Forms of Discrimination

·        The European Convention on the Exercise of Children’s Rights (1997)

·        Amsterdam Treaty (1999)

·        Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (1975)

·        Concluding Document of the Madrid Meeting of Representatives of the Participating States held on the basis of the provisions of the Final Act relating to the follow up to the Conference (1983)

·        Document of the Copenhagen Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension (1990)

·        Charter of Paris for a new Europe (1991)


5.1. Past


As it was said in Section 1.1 about the relations of the Catholic Church and the Modern Greek state in the 19th century, the legal status of the Catholic Church in independent Greece was formulated in the 1830 London Protocol signed by the new state and its protective powers France, Russia, and Britain. This protocol acted in accordance with the already existing Greek Constitution. It secured the freedom, equality and property of the Greek Catholics in the Cyclades and the free existence of the Catholic Church in Greece. In 1864, after the unification of Eptanisa with Greece, the London Protocol’s validity was extended to cover the Catholics of the new lands.


A number of rights were secured through this Protocol for the Catholic Church in Greece: freedom of worship, recognized ownership of Catholic property, full equality for the Greek Catholics, administrative autonomy of the Catholic Church. In addition, the Greek state pledged not to intervene in the appointment of the Catholic clergy by the Holy See and to provide them with full freedom and protection in the execution of their duties, in accordance with Greek law.


Despite these safeguards, since 1830 the Catholic Church has faced a number of legal obstacles in the free exercise of its practice. The biggest problem is the legal recognition of the Catholic bishoprics founded after the 1830 Protocol. Since the foundation of the modern Greek state new land was acquired over the course of a century. Migration movements led the Catholics to settle in new areas all over Greece and Greek Catholics from Turkey arrived in Greece after the exchange of populations. The Holy See, having considered the new demographic realities, decided to introduce some organizational changes in the Catholic Church of Greece and to found new bishoprics.


In 1875, the Holy See re-founded the Catholic Bishopric of Athens. After the population exchange the Armenian Exarchate was founded in 1925 and the Apostolic Vicariate of Thessaloniki in 1926. In 1928, the Archbishopric of Rhodes was re-founded and finally the Greek Catholic Exarchate of the Eastern Rite of Asia Minor was made autonomous within the structure of the Greek Catholic Church. These new ecclesiastical provinces were added to the already existing ones. The Archbishopric of Naxos-Tinos-Mykonos, The Archbishopric of Corfu-Zakynthos-Kefallonia, and the Bishoprics of Syros, Santorini and Crete all had a recognized legal status in accordance to the London Protocol.


The London Protocol provided the legal foundation of the relations between the Greek state and the Catholic Church until the end of the First World War. A number of international treaties signed by Greece in the 20th century provided the basis for the protection of all kinds of minorities within Greece. These were the Treaties of Serves (1920) and Lausanne (1923) and the Convention of Rome (1950).


The Treaty of Serves did not abolish the validity of the London Protocol but cancelled the capacity of France, Britain and Russia as protective powers of Greece. The most important clauses of this treaty affecting the Greek Catholic community are the following:


Article 2 reads, “Greece has the obligation to provide to all its citizens full protection of their life and freedoms irrespective of origin, nationality, language, race and religion. All the inhabitants of any faith have the right to practice freely, in private and in public, their religious duties for as long as they do not violate public order and common customs.


Article 7.3 reads: “Difference of religion, dogma or faith should not harm the civil and political rights of any Greek citizen.


Article 8 reads that “Greek citizens belonging to national, religious or linguistic minorities will benefit from the same real and legal protection and guarantees like the rest of the Greek citizens. In particular, they will have equal rights in building, managing, and controlling, at their own expenses, charitable institutions, schools and other educational foundations, and they will have the right of free use of their own language and free exercise of their religion in them.


The above articles give the Catholic Church substantial freedom and the right to define its ecclesiastical provinces and the duties of its clerical servants in them. By refusing to recognize the provinces created after 1830, due to the opposition of the Orthodox Christian leadership, the Greek state nullified the validity of the treaty.


The 1950 European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights states in article 9.2 that the “freedom of religious or ideological expression should not be allowed to be subject of any limitations apart from those measures foreseen by the law as necessary in a democratic society for its public security, defense of public order, health and morality or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.” The Convention, which has been ratified by Greece, further codifies minority rights.


According to Greek governments, irrespective of what international treaties have prescribed, the protection of fundamental human rights has been secured in all Greek constitutions. This is particularly important, because these official declarations have shown Greece’s willingness to align itself with the European countries that followed the liberal tradition of the Enlightenment. Therefore, all Greek Constitutions since the restoration of democracy in 1975 refer to the inviolability of religious conscience, the freedom to enjoy all individual and political rights irrespective of religious beliefs, and the free worship of every “known” religion (see art.5, 2 & art.13, 1-2). However, a series of legal problems have been raised and the Catholic Church and other religious minorities have been discriminated against. (GHM/MRGG 2000: 33-36)


The problem of the legal recognition of the Catholic Archbishopric of Athens: Under Ottoman rule, Athens did not have a Catholic bishop. At the time Athens became the capital of modern Greece shortly after independence, there were only 246 Catholics in the city. However, Bavarian officers and soldiers that King Otto brought with him, diplomats, and immigrants from the Aegean islands quickly raised the number of the Catholic population of Athens. Initially, in order to cover the needs of the Catholics of Athens, the Holy See appointed the Bishop of Syros, Ludoviko Vlagkis as “Apostolic Charge d’Affairs.” The Greek government accepted this appointment with Royal Decree No. 1749 (15/5/1838). For the Catholics, this meant a silent practical extension of the London Protocol to areas that were not specified in it. Later, other royal decrees recognized similar appointments to areas that did not have bishops.


On 13 July 1875, the Holy See decided to reestablish the Catholic Archbishopric of Athens on the basis of the fact that the number of Catholic followers in the capital had risen substantially. The Greek government refused to recognize this new ecclesiastical province, arguing that the 1830 London Protocol recognized only the provinces that had been in existence when the document was signed. Similarly, official legal recognition was denied to every new Catholic ecclesiastical province that was established later.


The Greek state, by holding to this formalistic interpretation of the London Protocol, thus refused to accept the demographic changes that had occurred since 1830. To some observers this attitude was influenced by the increasing political power of the Orthodox Church in Greek society at the end of the 19th century, power that the Orthodox Church lacked when Greece first gained its independence. The influence of the Orthodox Church is manifested in Greek public law, the discourse of the political parties and the media. It is based on the prevailing national ideology that equals the Greek national identity with the Orthodox Christian spirit. As a consequence, Greek law reflects this ideology and becomes the medium for the present manifestation of discriminations.  (GHM/MRGG 2000: 36-38)               


5.2. Present


According to professor M. P. Stathopoulos, former Minister of Justice, the Greek state in many ways “it is religious.” As he explains, the Greek state mingles in the affairs of the Orthodox Church, which accepts this interference because it thus obtains a kind of state institutional status, allowing it, in turn, to carry greater power and influence. The state passes legislative acts that while addressing all citizens they represent the interests of the Christian Orthodox Church; also, it relegates a religious character to events that ought to be strictly secular in character in a modern state, starting from the opening of parliamentary works by the Orthodox Archbishop as far as acts based on religious discrimination against minorities which lead Greece repeatedly to the ECHR. In this ambiguous symbiosis “the religious objectivity of the state is debased while the church looses its autonomy.” (1999: 201-206) Within this contradictory context must be interpreted the legal state of the Catholic Church of Greece presently.


Legal personality and religious law in Greece: The legal personality of the Catholic Church has been a constant matter of debate between the state, the justice system and the Church itself. For the Orthodox Church, the situation is clear. It is a legal entity that exercises public administration. It is also a spiritual organization that issues acts related to its dogma, worshiping, and religious duties. Its actions are not subject to any control by the Council of the State.


In October 1998, Greek Helsinki Monitor welcomed the late Deputy Foreign Minister Yannos Kranidiotis’ statement to the organization that the government finally intended to introduce legislation granting the Catholic Church of Greece a legal status similar to that of the other historical religions: Orthodox Christian, Jewish and Muslim (GHM/MRG-G 1999b). The then Alternate and now Foreign Minister George Papandreou confirmed this intention, during a December 1998 meeting with minorities organized by GHM and MRG-G and hosted by the Foreign Ministry. GHM recommended that such legislation be introduced in agreement with the Catholic Bishops’ Synod.


According to the religious law of the Catholic Church, the Church in its entirety (i.e. the Holy Synod, the Bishoprics and Archbishoprics, the parishes, etc.) is made up of different legal entities. The Greek state recently acknowledged that but did not state what kind of legal personality it attributes to the Catholic Church (on the matter of the recognition see below). At this point it is still unclear whether the Catholic Church will be a public law entity as the Orthodox Church, a private law entity as a society or foundation, or an entity with a special legal status.


There is no doubt that traditionally, the Catholic Church has had a legal personality since the Constitution provides for religious freedom and self-administration. In practice, the state has also recognized the Catholic Church’s power to exercise public administration by accepting the Catholic wedding certificates, baptism certificates, etc. The Greek state has also given special privileges to the Catholic Church, very similar to those of the Orthodox Church. Catholic priests and monks, for example, are exempt from serving in the Greek armed forces.


Be that as it may, the nature and power of this legal personality in relation to the internal religious law of the Catholic Church has not yet been clarified. The Legal Council of the State in its Judgment No. 1229/i.103 (11/11/1955) recognized the Bishops’ right to found charitable institutions according to Catholic religious law. It concluded in another Judgment (113/30/1/68) that international protocols secured the religious freedom of the Catholics but did not recognize the Catholic Bishops’ authority over anything other than spiritual and administrative matters.


In this context, the Greek Catholic Church has not concluded what kind of legal personality it wishes to acquire. The best solution for the Catholic Church would be the state’s acceptance of the applicability of its internal religious law since it is not in conflict with public order regulations, an arrangement like the one that the Orthodox Church has under the Greek Constitution (Article 3.1). (Levandis, 2000)        


The problem of the legal recognition of the Catholic Archbishopric of Athens: Until recently, the main legal problem of the Greek Catholic Church was the official recognition of the ecclesiastical provinces founded after 1830. Some prominent Greek legal experts have repeatedly stated that religious communities have the right to self-governance and that public administration institutions do not have the authorization to approve or disapprove of the establishment of ecclesiastical provinces. The Greek Ministry of National Education and Religions has avoided reaching any solution to the problem. It has effectively avoided a dispute with the Orthodox Church’s leadership, fearing that this would cost important votes.


This attitude has led to the continuation of the confusing situation for more than a century. At present, the refusal to grant legal status to the Catholic Archbishopric of Athens has caused a number of other problems. One of them is the title that the Catholic Archbishop is allowed to use on official occasions or during his communication with public authorities. The Orthodox Church does not allow the use of the title “Archbishop of Athens” by anybody other than the president of the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church who is the spiritual and administrative leader of the Eastern Church in Greece. This refusal holds even if the Latin Archbishop defines his title with the word “Catholic.” In 1983 the state was presented with a different title, which it refused to recognize. After pressure from the Orthodox Christian leadership, the state refused to recognize the title “Archbishop of Agios Dionysios and Metropolitan of Continental Greece” (the Catholic Cathedral of Athens is devoted to Saint Dionysios).


This situation has created other legal problems. The Catholic Archbishopric of Athens lacks the necessary public legal personality, while the Catholic parishes of the capital as well as other religious communities elsewhere have been granted legal status. This situation has created an absurd paradox according to which the pastors of the parishes are legally recognized, but the entity that appoints them and presides over them is not. In this situation the head of the Catholic community in Athens is given the title of “Archbishop of the Catholics of Athens.”


In 1983, the issue of the recognition of the Catholic Archbishopric of Athens led to an intense discussion. The Orthodox Church and the then Archbishop of Greece opposed the efforts for recognition (see more in section 2.3.2.). The special legal counselor of the Church of Greece prepared the legal challenge against the recognition. To this day it presents the official view of the Greek state.


The present Catholic Archbishop of Athens Nikolaos, has repeatedly stated that he is willing to help find a solution to the problem but he is not the one to make the decision. Defiantly, he has stated, “(…) for 3,000 Catholic bishops in the world I am the Catholic Archbishop of Athens, as I am for my following and the diplomatic missions. If the state and the Orthodox Church do not accept that, then the shame is not mine.(GHM/MRGG 2000: 37-8)  


In the mid-1990s, the issue of recognition of the ecclesiastical provinces created after 1830 faced new difficulties. These difficulties came as a result of widespread allegations against the Catholic Church and the Vatican that they were active participants in the dismemberment of Yugoslavia and in the ensuing conflicts. Another negative development was the outcome of the internal struggles within the Orthodox Church of Greece for the succession of Archbishop Serafeim. The newly elected Archbishop of Athens and Greece, Christodoulos has been one of the self-proclaimed leaders of the “struggle against the suspicious role of the Vatican in the Balkans.” (ibid.)


Later developments have led to the de facto recognition of all foundations of the Greek Catholic Church. The cause for these developments was the legal battle of the Catholic Bishopric of Crete against Greece in the European Court of Human Rights that ruled in favor of the former (see the respective paragraph below). The ruling recognized the legal entity of the Bishopric of Crete, a decision which led the Greek government to pass an amendment of the July 1999 Law on Non-Governmental Organizations. This amendment recognized all foundations of the Catholic Church in Greece as legal entities, the Catholic Archbishopric of Athens among them. As it will be discussed below, this amendment still leaves a number of unresolved issues that may subject it to dubious or vague interpretations. In addition, it does not clarify the public or civic status of these legal entities and does not give any specifics about their character. Hence, the issue of the recognition of the Archbishopric of Athens and its physical head remains open.


In 2002, the Holy Synod of the Catholic Church of Greece addressed a memorandum to the Minister of National Education and Religions, Mr. Petros Efthimiou, concerning the legal personality of the Catholic Church. The Synod notes that besides the ECHR which recognized the lack of the legal personality of the Catholic Church of Greece, the President of the Legal Council of the State, Mr. Papidas, in a letter  (no. 10637/286543/4.2.1988) to the competent authorities of the Ministries of National Education and Religions, Justice and Foreign Affairs pointed out also: “In the context of the general measures taken to conform to the decisions of the ECHR it is necessary to make up legally for the existing vacuum concerning the legal personality of the Holy Churches  of the Catholic Church and to provide a procedure through which a religious legal personality will be found either using one of the existing forms of legal personality or as a special religious legal personality with an organization and an administration conforming to the religious community that it represents.”  But, as the Holy Synod points out, nothing has been done until today. It calls upon the Minister that if the Hellenic Republic considers necessary that it respects the decision of the ECHR and therefore equates its policies on religious liberty with those of the other states of the EU (…) it should pass a law with the following general content:

“1. The Catholic Church of Greece, according to the Constitution a known religion, its administrative subdivisions, its ecclesiastic institutions and foundations, are legal ecclesiastic personalities recognized by the lawful order and the conditions of their administration and operation are governed by its Cannon Law, if it is not opposed to the provisions concerning the public order of the Republic.

2. The establishment and the operation of the legal ecclesiastical personalities which will be founded henceforth, are governed by the Canon Law of the Catholic Church and are sanctioned by the Republic.” The Holy Synod concludes with the wish that the Minister of National Education and Religions will take the necessary steps to resolve this issue that reveals a democratic deficit in the Hellenic Republic, which is over a century old. (Katholiki, 9/7/2002)


The European Court of Justice decision in relation to the Catholic Church of Crete: In June 1987, two citizens who live next to the Bishopric’s Cathedral in Chania demolished one of the outside walls of the cathedral. They opened a window on the wall of their building facing the temple. The Church filed a lawsuit in the Chania courts stating that the Church should be recognized as the owner of the property and that the court should demand the repair of the damage.


The defendants filed a written objection of inadmissibility arguing that the Catholic Church lacked legal personality in Greece and that the Catholic Church of Crete could not appear in court as a litigant. The Catholic Church of Crete replied that it had been founded before 1830 and was, therefore, recognized according to the London Protocol. The “court of peace” of Chania recognized that the Church was the owner of the wall and overruled the objection as unfounded.


The defendants appealed to the first-degree court of Chania, which ruled, in their favor, that the time of foundation does not necessarily lead to the acquisition of legal personality (Ruling 212/89). It stated that other Greek laws and regulation should be formally observed before the acquisition of legal personality.


The Catholic Church of Crete appealed to the Greek Supreme Court entreating that a number of international and national regulations had been breached: the London Protocol, the Treaty of Serves (Article 8), the Civil Code (Article 13), the Greek Constitution (Articles 13 & 20), the European Convention of Human Rights (Article 9). Despite the endorsement of the Church’s position by the Supreme Court’s speaker, the appeal was rejected because “the formalities required by Greek law for the acquisition of legal personality had not been met” (Ruling 360/1994). In fact, the Supreme Court ruled that the Catholic temple had not been legally constituted according to the regulations of the 1946 Civil Code. The fact that this was a 16th century temple did not matter. 


The Bishop of Crete, Frangiskos Papamanolis, then turned to the European Commission of Human Rights (No. 25528/94). The Commission remanded the case to the European Court of Human Rights on 26 October 1996. The decision of the ECHR was taken unanimously with the agreement of the Greek judge and ruled as follows (“Canea Catholic Church v. Greece(25528/94), 16 December 1997,


First the court found that there had been a breach of Article 6.1 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which states that “every entity has the right to defend its case in court that will decide upon the disputed civil rights and obligations” in conjunction with Article 14, which states that “the enjoyment of rights and freedoms should be secured without any discrimination based on sex, race, color, language, religion, or other difference.” This conventional violation led to a discriminatory handling of the case in Greek courts where the actual circumstances of it were not discussed.


Second, the Greek government had to pay compensation of up to GDR 5 mill for material damages and GDR 5,908,000 for legal expenses.


Following this decision, the Legal Council of State recommended to the respective ministries that the legislative vacuum must be covered (10637/286543/4/2/1998). In this context, the Greek government proceeded with the recognition of the Catholic foundations as legal entities. Specifically, during the discussion in Parliament of the law on non-governmental organizations, a relevant amendment was added. Article 33 reads: “the institutions of the Catholic Church founded or functioning before the 23rd of February 1946 are included in the acting legal entities” (5/7/1999). This amendment gives the Catholic Church the right to own buildings, functioning or not, and the right to legal representation in courts. The ambiguity, however, still rests on the status of the personality of the Church. The issue of whether or not the Catholic Church functions as a public or private law entity is still open, with all the consequent problems related to taxation, selling and buying of property, and power of religious law. As some legal experts representing the Catholic community believe, the best solution would be the recognition of the Catholic Church, as well as the other Churches, as legal entities under a special law (Levantis, 2000). On the one hand, this would further secure and protect the freedom of the Churches’ existence and activity. On the other hand, it would regulate their public and civil obligations considering, of course, their singular character in a more lucid manner.


The position of the Catholic Church on the Greek constitutional reform: On 25 February 1998, the Legal Council of the Catholic clergy sent a memorandum to the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reform, scheduled for 2000-2001. It was already clear that the Committee would not revise the clauses relevant to the relations between the Catholic Church and the state. Nevertheless, the Legal Council of the Catholic Church grasped the opportunity and presented its positions on religious freedom by proposing the revision of Article 13 of the Constitution. More specifically, the Legal Council asked for the addition of a clause describing religious freedom to allow every known religion to enjoy the right to an autonomous constitutional organization. It also asked for the inclusion of social rights within the spectrum of the rights and freedoms described in the same article.


Taxation issues: In February 1997, Law No. 2459 on the Abolishment of Tax Exemptions was passed. The Catholic and other religious communities did not welcome this law. It obliged all religious institutions in Greece to declare their great immovable property so it could be taxed. However, public law entities, churches, convents and recognized religious communities were exempt from being taxed for the properties they use. The only religious public law entities in Greece belong to the Orthodox Christian community and the Jewish community. This exempts them from taxation even though the majority of the Orthodox Christian bishoprics declared their immovable property.


The legal status of the Catholic Church has not been clarified yet, so it was obliged to declare this property. All Catholic ecclesiastical provinces did so, because if they did not do that, they could not transfer property because the declaration form is a necessary document for the signing of transfer contracts.


Hospitals, homes, schools and other charitable institutions leased or run by the Catholic Church were now subject to taxation. The leasing of these properties has generated enough funds necessary for the medical coverage of the Catholic clergy and the preservation of churches and convents, and taxation would greatly diminish these funds.


As a result, the Catholic Church and social organizations protested to the Ministry of Finances, the Ministry of the Aegean, the Parliament and the Prime Minister complaining of this financial strangulation that the Orthodox Church is exempted. The Catholic Church faced an additional problem on the islands. A number of arable fields have been donated to the local Catholic parishes throughout the years without the signing of contracts or other documents. Since the Catholic Church had to declare everything accurately, this required knowledge of the size and boundaries of these fields, information that was missing from the documentation available.


The Catholic Church then decided not to submit any declarations and demanded equality before the law. Some responsible government officials promised to find a solution to this problem. For a year and a half, all transfers involving the Catholic Church were suspended. Nevertheless, a solution was found in the new taxation Law No. 2579/1998. Article 14 of this law reads: “the exemption does not only include the Orthodox Church but also covers the Roman Catholic Church and the other dogmas as well as the rest known religions according to the Constitution. This exemption is offered for any immovable property whether it is privately used or not and this regulation is passed for reasons of equal constitutional and taxation treatment”. (GHM/MRGG 2000: 65-66)


Construction of churches and other religious buildings: One of the most contested laws in Greece is Law No. 1363/1938 that was introduced during the fascist dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas and has not been adequately modified to date. It reads: the permit of the responsible regional (Orthodox Christian) Metropolitan is required for the construction of a church belonging to any dogma plus the written approval of the Ministry of National Education and Religions.”


The Council of the State has specified that this “permit” has only recommendation power and is not binding to the public administration (1444/1991). Until recently, however, the Ministry of National Education and Religions felt bound by the usually negative opinion of the respective Metropolitan. The religious representatives involved would then turn to the Council of the State, responsible for solving administrative disputes that usually endorsed their opinion. Only the last two Ministers of Education, George Papandreou and Gerasimos Arsenis began to issue permits without taking into consideration the negative opinion of the Metropolitans.


This law has victimized the Catholic Church on a number of occasions. In 1958 and in 1960 it won two different cases on church construction in the Greek courts. In another instance, it constructed a temple without a prior license. The license was subsequently given to the Church. The refusal of the Metropolitan of Nea Smyrni Aghathaggelos impeded the Catholic Church from using the chapel inside the old NATO base of Ellinikon as has been said above (section 2.3.2).


Many legal experts in Greece have declared that this law violated the principle of religious freedom and the free exercise of religious faith. The European Committee of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice condemned Greece in a similar case brought to them by the Christian Jehovah’s Witnesses (Decision No. 59/1995/565/651). The Holy Synod of the Catholic Church and the Union of Greek Catholics continue to call for the abolishment or change of the respective law.


The construction of convents: The holy convents of the Orthodox Church are public law entities and are founded following a presidential decree that endorses the respective proposal submitted by the Minister of National Education and Religions, the local Metropolitan and the recommendation of the Holy Synod.


For the Catholic convents that were founded before the introduction of the 1946 Civil Code, two questions were raised periodically. The first question was whether they are legal entities constituted in conformity with the law and whether they are national or foreign legal entities. The law has clarified their status and the fact that they are present and active in Greece makes them Greek legal entities. The second question is related to those convents founded after 1946 or the ones that will be founded in the future. The Greek state has not yet clarified the issue and supports the view that these convents should function according to the regulations on foundations. The Catholic Church replies to that by saying that convents are not foundations, they are subject to the Church’s internal religious law and special regulations should be introduced. (GHM/MRGG 2000: 66-69)


The right to religious education: According to Greek law, the Greek Ministry of National Education and Religions is responsible for issuance permits for the foundation of religious and clerical schools of any dogma or religion. It is also responsible for monitoring them. The Catholic Church asks for a new regulation that would endorse what is specified for the Orthodox Church. That is, the Catholic Church should be allowed to found special ecclesiastical schools that will cover its needs for clerical staff. Of course, it clarifies that their foundation, organization and function would be in accordance with the internal religious law and the law of the state.


The teaching of divinity to Catholic pupils: Many countries around the world do not offer classes on divinity. In some countries this is an optional course, where either the parents declare their will for their children to attend the course in the lower grades, or the pupils are free to opt for it in the higher grades (e.g. Italy). In Greece, divinity education is compulsory. It is different from the compulsory course that is taught in other countries such as Britain, where the course studies all major religions that exist in the country. In Greece, it has the character of religious catechism.                                    


The issue of the compulsory teaching of divinity to non-Orthodox Christian pupils has been gradually resolved. Now pupils have the right to be exempt. Some problems still face the Christian Jehovah’s Witnesses, although the same regulations officially apply to them. Pupils that have been baptized as Orthodox Christians have the right --with their parents’ consent-- to be exempted as well. A recent decision of the Council of the State ratified the right of exemption from divinity education, from the compulsory participation of masses specially organized for schools, and from the Morning Prayer. Only a simple statement signed by the pupil or his/her parents is required for the exemption (3356/95).


The 1985 Law No. 1566 allows the teaching of divinity to a substantial number of pupils belonging to other religions by teachers who have completed their secondary education in Greece and hold a divinity degree from foreign universities recognized in Greece. This regulation came as a result of the strong pressure put by the Catholic community, especially from Syros. In 1983, some 8,000 Catholic and Orthodox Christian inhabitants of the island echoed the demand that Catholic children should have the right to attend the divinity course just like the Orthodox Christian ones. Catholic teachers of divinity were not appointed in the island’s schools due to another obstacle posed by a local Orthodox Metropolitan. The Ministry of National Education and Religions was suspected of endorsing the Metropolitan’s view. After its initial response to the demand, the Ministry claimed that it was going to look carefully into the matter. The Ministry also stated that due to the lack of relevant legal regulations, other dogmas and religions may ask for the same rights once the precedent is set. In the end, however, Catholic teachers of divinity were appointed in Syros and Tinos.


In the Catholic schools that function under the administration of monastic orders, the divinity course is taught by specialist monks or priests. (GHM/MRGG 2000: 69-70)


The problem on the appointment of Catholic teachers in primary and nursery schools: This problem suddenly arose in the late 1980s when the Ministry of National Education and Religions refused to appoint new teachers belonging to the Catholic community in primary and nursery schools. This was a surprise for the Greek Catholics because they had never before faced discrimination on educational matters (see details below in 6.5.1. Nursery School and Primary Education).


The core of the problem was the apparent conflict that a Catholic teacher would have with the teaching of the Orthodox Christian divinity lesson that is compulsory according to the curriculum. The Ministry of National Education and Religions tried to present this decision as implementation of the respective legal custom. The Council of State issued only one related decision, a 1949 one on the appointment of a Jehovah’s Witness teacher. The Catholic community had never faced a similar problem before. Therefore, the Ministry decided to proceed to a governmental regulation allowing the appointment of Catholic teachers in nursery and multi-seated primary schools where other teachers following the Orthodox Christian religion could teach classes on divinity.


In the meantime, the Catholic teachers that were excluded from the appointment’s list challenged the Ministry’s decision at the Administrative Court of Appeals. The Court issued two different decisions. It accepted that the refusal to appoint Catholics in nursery schools was anti-constitutional (Decision 2703/1987). However, the same Court, with the same judges, endorsed the position of the Ministry of National Education and Religions ruling that Catholic teachers could not be appointed to teach Orthodox Christian divinity (2704/87). The court included in its decision the opinion that arrangements should be made for the appointment of members of other religions in multi-seated schools to undertake the teaching of divinity.


Consequently, the Ministry came up with a solution presented in Article 16 of Law No. 1771/1998. In this law the following are regulated:


1. Nursery school and primary school candidate teachers belonging to religions other than Orthodox Christianity can be appointed to public multi-seated primary schools and two-seated nurseries if they have the necessary qualifications.


2. The teachers appointed according to the above paragraph will not teach divinity to pupils other than the ones who belong to the same religion as their own.


3. The appointment of teachers of other dogmas and religions can go ahead in one-seated public schools when pupils belonging to the same dogma or religion are educated there.


This last paragraph was added after the Catholic youth, student, and scientist organizations filed a motion to the Greek Parliament noting the presence of one-seated schools in Catholic villages of Syros and Tinos.


Multi-seated schools are the ones that have all six grades of primary education with an adequate number of teachers; one-seated, two-seated and so on, are the schools with very few pupils, so all pupils are stacked together in classes holding lessons for different grades simultaneously.


Foundation and housing of Catholic schools: The Catholic Church, through the monastic orders or the ecclesiastical provinces, runs a number of schools in Greece. These schools have developed a very good reputation even among the Orthodox Christian population. Many Orthodox Christian parents send their kids to study in these schools.


The schools were founded in accordance with Article 8 of the Treaty of Serves. They operate in accordance with specific clauses of the Constitution such as Article 13.1 on religious freedom, Article 13.2 on the prohibition of proselytism, Article 16.2 on the purpose of education, and Article 16.8 on the freedom of private schooling.


In general, the state allows the foundation of schools by individuals that are Greek citizens, or legal entities that meet the necessary requirements described by the law. The issue of the lack of legal personality of many Catholic institutions, however, may cause problems regarding the operation of these schools. In addition, Law No. 682/1977 prohibits clerics to own schools. Many Members of Parliament have criticized this regulation. The Catholic Church has asked for the abolition of the regulation in a memorandum sent to the Ministry of National Education and Religions. The Ministry replied that the regulation does not prohibit clerics from getting involved in education but prohibits only their ownership of schools.      


Proselytism is illegal in Greece according to Article 193 of the Penal Code. There has never been any accusation by Orthodox Christian pupils studying in Catholic schools that they were victims of proselytism. In the meantime, the Catholic Church has asked for the abolition of Article 3.2 of Law No. 1784/39. This article, in its effort to tackle proselytism in schools, reads that “the foundation, operation and housing of a Greek private school is prohibited in areas and buildings where foreign schools operate, or schools that belong to non-Greek legal entities or foundations that do not belong to the Greek Orthodox dogma.” The Catholic Church believes that this regulation offends its prestige in Greece and its freedom to own and operate schools.


Foundation of charitable institutions: The Catholic Church has faced a number of problems regarding its right to found charitable institutions. These problems are, of course, related to the bigger problem of the Church’s legal status. The Catholic charitable institutions are governed by the Civil Code regulations regarding the foundation and operation of institutions and the regulations regarding Orthodox Christian foundations. Religious foundations, however, are not exclusively recognized on the basis of their actual property but on the basis of the exercise of rights according to the purpose for which they were founded.


The Catholic Church has demanded the recognition of its foundations as public legal entities just as the Orthodox Christian ones. This would mean that their foundation and operation would not be governed by the Civil Code regulations on foundations.


Problems of the Catholic clergy and the members of monastic orders: Three main legal problems concern the servants of the Catholic Church. First, the issue of securing residence permits for those who are not citizens of the European Union. Second, the issue concerning the habit worn by the Catholic clerics of the Eastern Rite. Third, concerning the payment that the Catholic religious servants should receive for their work.


The first issue is still governed by a 1938 regulation (Article 12/1363/1938). This regulation demands that all foreign clerics should obtain permission for entrance from the Ministry of National Education and Religions. Some prominent legal experts in Greece have noted that this regulation is unconstitutional because it poses restrictions on persons who are on a religious mission, therefore violating their freedom of religion. In addition, Law No. 1975/91 on the entrance and exit of foreign workers and refugees creates problems to the Catholic Church. Many of its servants, especially in the convents, are not European Union citizens, so they have to renew their residence permits as many times as the law allows them to. Two Catholic nuns (from Croatia and Latin America) and a Franciscan monk from Chile who have been living in Greece for a substantial amount of time faced the danger of expulsion.


This problem was resolved in February 1994 due to the outrage that the imminent expulsion of Mother Theresa’s sisters caused. These six nuns from Poland, Switzerland, India, Slovenia and Bangladesh had submitted to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs all the necessary documents plus a certificate from the Catholic Archbishopric that it provides them with food and residence. However, the Ministry asked them to leave the country. Their leader, sister Grace from Switzerland, complained to her embassy after the verbal abuse that she allegedly suffered from policemen at the Police Station for Aliens. The issue reached the French News Agency that gave it international publicity.


The Minister of Public Order at the time, Mr. Stelios Papathemelis, replied that the nuns were simply asked to return to their countries and obtain new visas from the Greek consulate authorities there in order to comply with the requirements of the law. The fact is that nuns do not have any kind of property or enough money to cover their travel expenses. In the end, due to the publicity of the issue the permits were renewed and the nuns stayed in Greece. A final solution to the problem is still pending.


The second issue is related to the regulations that govern the operation of the Orthodox Church. The Constitutional Chart of the Church of Greece reads: “those who do not have or have lost the capacity of the cleric of the Eastern Orthodox Church are not allowed to wear the attire or garments of the cleric of this Church. The non-Orthodox monks are not allowed to wear the attire of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Offenders of these regulations will be prosecuted according to Article 176 of the Penal Code” (Law No. 590/77).


The Catholic Church sent a memorandum to the Parliament when this law was discussed, noting that the same attire had been worn by the Catholic clerics of the Eastern Rite for centuries. This is the practice all over the world, including in Islamic states, and the priests are not prosecuted. The Catholic Church demanded, and still does, the abolition of the above regulation.

It should be noted that this issue was first raised in 1930. The Ministry of National Education and Religions had issued a directive prohibiting the clerics of the Catholic Church of the Eastern Rite from wearing the habit of the Orthodox Christian clergy (No. 55247). Catholic priests turned to the Council of the State that ruled in their favor (195/1931). In the meantime, however, the Ministry of National Education and Religions had sought the assistance of the Ministries of Internal Affairs and Justice in the implementation of the above directive. The result of this action was the arrest of father Petros Ioannou who was charged with contempt and unlawful use of the Orthodox Christian habit in order to achieve illicit benefits. Fortunately, the court acquitted the cleric and saved Greece from an international outrage.


The last issue troubling the Catholic Church is related to the financial compensation for the work of nuns, monks and others. This issue was initially raised in 1970 and the courts got involved. The Orthodox Christian clerics are paid a monthly salary for the pastoral and other services they offer. This does not apply to the priests of other religions or dogmas. Around the world, Catholic clerics are not given salaries on a monthly basis. What happens, however, is that the respective national governments, after considering the financial ability of the local parishes, create common funds that cover the needs of the clerics.


According to the internal religious law of the Catholic Church, the clerics used to be given property belonging to the Church. The financial returns on the property covered the needs of the clerics. Since the Catholic Church does not receive state grants consistently, it asks the Greek government to refrain from intervening in the handling of its property. However, there was such an intervention in Corfu. The Catholic clergy on the island had been the owner of a large agricultural property given to the Church by Venetians centuries ago. Before their unification with mainland Greece, the Senate of the Ionian Islands expropriated this property. The Senate had promised in a legal act to pay the Catholic clerics an annual fee as compensation. This act was included in the extension of the London Protocol after the union of the Eptanisa with Greece.


As time passed, the Greek state considerably diminished this amount. The clerics from Corfu sought redress in the Greek justice system. In 1973, the Supreme Court which ruled in the Church’s favor, accepting the act of the Senate as internal Greek law. (GHM/MRGG 2000: 70-5)


Family law issues: These issues are very important for the survival of any religious community. It has been said above that mixed marriages helped the survival of Catholicism in the Cyclades. Today, the most serious problems are related to mixed marriages, the religious orientation of children and custody over the children in case of divorce.


Since the foundation of the modern Greek state, the issue of mixed marriages has been the object of tense discussions. The first relevant law demanded that the marriage should take place in an Orthodox Christian church and that the children should be baptized accordingly (1861). The second law allowed marriages to be held at any venue, but still recognized the superiority of the Orthodox Christian religious law (1861).


Court cases have shown different attitudes of legal interpretation. Between 1840 and 1860, all marriages administered by Catholic priests were declared void. In 1861, courts began to accept mixed marriages administered by Catholic priests. Sometimes the authorities required the written permission of the local Orthodox Christian bishop, other times they required the performance of an additional Orthodox Christian marriage, while on other occasions they considered the Catholic service good enough. This difference of opinion appeared in Supreme Court rulings as well. Department A had ruled that an Orthodox Christian marriage was obligatory while department B did not require that. The body of the Court solved the dispute in 1932 by endorsing the first opinion.


The 1946 Civil Code included the above ruling and recognized religious marriage as the only legitimate marriage, ruling out the civil one. Before the final introduction of civil marriage in 1982, Article 1367 of the Civil Code demanded that Orthodox Christian priests perform mixed marriages. This regulation led to a practice that is unique to Greece. Mixed couples have two options – an Orthodox Christian ceremony recognized by the Catholic Church, or two different ceremonies at both churches. Mixed couples prefer the latter option. Since 1982, Greeks are not required to marry according to the Orthodox Christian ritual, but the practice has stayed since the vast majority of Greeks still opt for religious marriages. The Catholic Church accepts this practice that was initially necessary due to the Greek peculiarities, although now it can ask for an end to it since a religious mystery cannot be performed twice according to Catholic religious law. It has chosen, however, not to alienate anyone. The only requirement is for the couple to be married first in accordance with the Catholic ritual.


The other major issue in mixed marriages is the religious orientation of the children that will be born. The Orthodox Christian Church of Greece demands that children from mixed marriages be baptized Orthodox Christian and has issued a relevant directive (19/4/1977). This position has not been endorsed by the state but it certainly shows the attitude of the Orthodox Church to something that should stay in the realm of the family.


Greek courts have tried cases where children change their religion after the divorce of their parents. According to the Civil Code the courts are responsible for deciding who will gain custody of the children after divorce. The Catholic Church thinks that whether the parent wants the children to change their religion and whether priests will accept to re-baptize already baptized children should be a religious matter that the courts do not intervene in. (GHM/MRGG 2000: 75-6)


The issue on the appointment of Catholics in the armed forces: As mentioned above, the Catholic Archbishop of Athens complained in 1999 that Catholic Greeks are not accepted to join the army, the police, the Foreign Service and other sensitive areas of the administration. Some Catholics reportedly conceal their faith in order to have access to such posts. The Ministry of the Interior, Administration and Decentralization has stated that entry in the administration was subject, inter alia, on the requirement of Greek citizenship and not on any religious criteria. The Ministry specified that the law precluded any discriminatory treatment and that in practice such behavior was penalized. The Ministry of Defense emphasized, on the one hand, that there was no legal obstacle to the admission of religious minorities, including Catholics, to the army, and, on the other hand, that no distinction on the basis of religion was made within the structures of the army or under military law. (GHM/MRGG 2000: 76-77)


The issue of the compulsory entry of religion on the identity cards: The compulsory entry of an individual’s religion on the identity cards has been a matter of heated debate. It has nothing to do with the official legal status of the Catholic Church and the respective community in Greece. Nevertheless, this affects any religious minority and Orthodox Christian individual who do not want to state their religious beliefs to any public official.      


The compulsory entry of religion was introduced by the Nazis as a way of identifying the Jewish population of Greece, a measure that later proved fatal. However, opting to write “Orthodox Christian” saved some Jews. Nevertheless, its introduction and its later use aimed at identifying the non-Orthodox Christian, hence, the “non-Greek” elements of society that did not fit in the “Hellenic-Orthodox Christian” civilization and its right-wing nationalist statehood. Another measure that helped the “recognition” of an individual in the quasi-police state that followed the end of the Civil War (1944-1949) was to have his/her fingerprints on the document.


Within the European Union, Greece is the only member that demanded till recently (2001) from its citizens to declare their religious beliefs; more so, it obliged them to have it written on their identity cards. The European Parliament has condemned Greece for this practice and asked for its change twice. First, the European Parliament expressed its disappointment with the Greek government’s insistence to maintain this practice since it is an “impediment towards individual liberty” (21/1/1993). Second, it asked Greece to “finally modify the current legal regulations towards the abolishment of any kind of entry, even voluntary, on the new Greek identity cards without succumbing to pressures put forward by the Orthodox Hierarchy and the extreme nationalist zeal that is developing in Greece” (22/4/93).


The debate began in December 1992 and gained much publicity. Many constitutional experts expressed the view that the compulsory entry is against the Constitution. The Minister of Internal Affairs at the time, Mr. Ioannis Kefaloyiannis, tried to pass an amendment in Parliament that would abolish the compulsory entry of religion (6/4/93). However, many MPs from his own party, the conservative New Democracy, and from the socialist PASOK, in joint efforts with the Orthodox Church, opposed the amendment. This opposition was so strong that the amendment was withdrawn without a parliamentary vote.


The compulsory entry remained even after the law on the new identity cards passed by the New Democracy government in November 1991. The issuance of new identity cards, however, was suspended for a whole decade. The man behind this law was the 1991 Minister of the Interior, Mr. Nikolaos Klitos, who, after the withdrawal of the 1993 amendment, declared that he felt justified because the legal and constitutional experts (that found the practice unconstitutional) “were detached from the Greek reality and what is expressed through the deep religious feeling of the people” (8/6/93).


An unexpected solution to this problem was found in May 2000, a month after the latest Greek elections. The new Minister of Justice, Professor Michalis Stathopoulos, a known supporter of civil society and of the formal separation between Church and State, gave an interview to an Athens’ newspaper, upon the resumption of his new duties. In the interview he repeated his belief that the entry of religion on the identity cards should be abolished. This statement was widely covered by the electronic media, which were certain that this matter would provoke a heated debate that would ensure many hours of prime time viewing. Indeed, the Minister’s statement generated a storm of reactions by religious and para-religious circles with well-known views about the Greek national and religious ‘purity,’ and by politicians who continuously fish for votes in these segments of the population. Catholic representatives were asked by the media to state their opinion on the issue and were met with unfriendly and obscurantist remarks by the other side (Gasparakis, 2000).


The Authority on the Protection of Personal Data, established after the 1997 passing of the related law 2472/1997, decided to intervene. Its President, Mr. Konstantinos Dafermos, a Supreme Court judge, decided that the authority should convene and discuss the matter. The members of the Authority, after taking into consideration the clauses of the Greek Constitution, the international treaties and conventions signed by Greece and the 1997 law on the protection of the individual from personal data processing, came up with a landmark decision.


Its members decided that the entry of religion on identity cards as well as of other elements of personal choice (name of spouse, residence, profession) were either illegal (such as the nationality and the fingerprints). After this development, the government, through the Minister of Justice and the Prime Minister Konstantinos Simitis, endorsed the decision. The decision of the Authority was binding to the government and the Prime Minister declared that he would soon proceed with its implementation. The Minister of Public Order with a new decision that was distributed to all the authorities involved in the issuance of identity cards (8200/0-441210, FEK B’ 879/17.7.2000) specified the information to be registered in identity cards would be: first and last name, father’s and mother’s names, birth date, birth place, height, municipal roll, date of issue, issuance authority.


The Orthodox Church declared an unyielding struggle against the decision and many politicians that like to exploit the public’s religious sentiments for political gain have sided with it. Members of the Orthodox Church, and even the Archbishop himself, have condemned the government’s decision as “autarchic” and a “coup.” The Orthodox Christian clergy states that its defense of the decision is an effort to protect the Greek national and religious identity from the encroachment of European and global assimilation. The Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church also ignored the opinion of its own Legal Experts’ Committee who agreed with the ruling of the Authority and advised the Church not to challenge the decision legally (2/6/2000). In response to the Committee’s advice, the Holy Synod announced the organization of mass demonstrations in Athens and Thessaloniki as the next step in its efforts to revoke the government’s decision (6/6/2000).


The government, however, restated that the issue was closed and that it was willing to discuss with the Orthodox Church other issues related to the separation between the Church and the State that are also challenged for their undemocratic character (the compulsory religious naming through baptism, the compulsory religious funeral, the compulsory religious oath, and the compulsory teaching of Orthodox Christian divinity at schools).




As G. Sotirelis remarks in his study on Religion and Education, the most important consequence of the peculiar local ideology of the so-called “Hellenic Christian civilization” is in the interweaving of religion and education.  The way in which religious dogmas influence the pedagogical orientation of the educational system is by definition affiliated to the right of self-determination of one’s conscience. And he explains further, religious education in our country has traditionally a directional character. It is firstly monophonic, because it concentrates mainly on the dogmas, the teachings and the morals of the “prevailing religion”, but also it excludes from the teaching staff – fully or partly – the non-orthodox ones.  Secondly, it indoctrinates since it does not aim in the transmission of religious knowledge but at the dogmatic enforcement of faith in a predetermined system of dogmatic principles. Finally, it is also, obligatory for all students who have not been declared by their parents as heterodox, that is, all students who are presumed – because of baptism- as Christian orthodox. (Sotirelis, italics in the original 1993: 23-4) In other words in Greek public schools the Orthodox Church may practice “proselytism” (this is also done in many other public spaces where one sees church officials along with other public authorities) unhindered, precisely because one is born Greek Orthodox and because one of the functions the Orthodox Church is catechism of its brethren. It should be added that though in theory religious education is not obligatory for heterodox students who can be exempted, even today in many public schools in Greece, students of heterodox families find themselves attending instruction on the orthodox dogma.  This is why in its concluding observations the Committee of the Rights of the Child, in its report on Greece, expressed “its concern at reports of administrative and social pressures being placed on children from religious minorities including, for example, the requirement that a student's secondary school graduation certificate indicates, where this is the case, that the student does not practice the Greek Orthodox religion. (…) The Committee recommends that the State party ensure that a child's religious affiliation, or lack of, in no way hinders respect for the child’s rights, including the right to non-discrimination and to privacy, for example in the context of information included in the school graduation certificate.” (CRC, 2002)


6.1. Brief history of the system of education in relation to the minority


On the subject of religious education within the school system, the private schools of the Catholic Church (12 Catholic schools with some 10,000 pupils, mainly of the Orthodox Christian faith, and fewer than 1,000 Catholic pupils) teach the Catholic religion to pupils of that faith (for the Catholic Schools see section 4.1.1 and 4.1.2). In the state schools on the islands of Siros and Tinos, where 85 per cent of Greek Catholics live, Catholic teaching is provided by priests or lay people. Problems are said to arise sometimes in connection with the creation of posts for Catholic teachers (see Section 5.2).


6.2. Availability of teaching material for the minority


According to the representatives of the Catholic Church, a Greek Orthodox Christian education focusing exclusively on the Orthodox Christian religion and the Greek nation has come into existence to the detriment of all religious minorities in Greece. For that reason, it is generally believed that only Orthodox Christians are true Greeks. Thus, the Catholic Church and its spiritual head, the Pope, are allegedly portrayed in a negative light in school textbooks, particularly in history books. Greek textbooks are seen as being, as it were, permeated by Orthodox thinking. Nevertheless, according to non-governmental observers, appreciable progress has been made recently, in particular through the publication of textbooks on the history of religions and their philosophy, which incorporate fairly satisfactory chapters on religions other than Orthodox Christianity.


6.3. Official position


6.4. Activists’ initiatives


6.5. Present situation in different levels


6.5.1. Nursery school and primary education


The problem with the appointment of teachers in primary and nursery schools: The Catholic community, in contrast to other religious minorities in Greece, has never faced problems in relation to the appointment of teachers to its schools. This excludes divinity teachers because Orthodox theologians do the teaching of divinity in Greek schools. The first time there were problems with teacher appointment was in 1987-1988 when the Ministry of National Education and Religions, under the leadership of the late Antonis Tritsis, refused to appoint Catholic teachers of any subject (history, geography, etc.) in Syros and Athens.


Parliamentary reactions against the decision were very intense, especially from the leftist parties. Even the conservative MP from the Cyclades and the government’s Minister for the Aegean tried to find a solution to this unexpected problem. The pressure from both the Catholic and the Orthodox Christian inhabitants of Syros, the Catholic organizations, the Greek and foreign press was constant.


The Ministry’s decision was challenged in the Greek courts but the outcome did not really satisfy the Catholic community (see section 5.2 Legal Situation Present). According to the decision and the government regulation that followed, members of the Catholic community can be appointed to nursery schools but not to public primary schools. The reason for this discrimination is that the teacher in a primary school has to teach divinity, a compulsory lesson in the curriculum that reproduces the teaching of the Orthodox Christian tradition. Only in multi-seated primary schools (schools with the normal six grades of primary education and a substantial number of teachers) can Catholics be appointed because other Orthodox teachers appointed there can undertake the teaching of Orthodox Christian divinity. If, however, pupils of the same denomination as the candidate teacher comprise the classes, as is the case in Syros, the appointment can go ahead.


This regulation has solved this particular problem for the Catholic teachers but not for the other religious minorities whose members are denied the right to work not only in public schools but also in the private preparatory schools. As for the teachers that initially faced this problem in 1987-1988, they stayed out of the appointment list for two years effectively losing substantial income. (GHM/MRGG 2000: 69-71)


6.5.2. Secondary education


6.5.3. Higher education and research





7.1. Legal situation


7.2. Press


·      “Newsletter (Deltio) of the Holy Synod of the Catholic Hierarchy,” published twice a year by the Secretariat of the Holy Synod


·      Katholiki” a bimonthly newspaper published by the Greek Catholic Exarchate


·      Enoriakes Kampanes” a monthly newspaper of the Catholics of Syros


·      Tiniaka Minimata” a monthly paper of the Catholics of Tinos


·      Anoihtoi Orizontes” a monthly journal published by the Jesuit fathers of Athens


·      Synhrona Vimata” a quarterly review published by the Jesuit fathers of Athens



7.3. Radio


·     Radio “Pisti kai Politismos” transmitting only in Tinos


7.4. Television


7.5. Internet


The Catholic archbishoprics and bishoprics have established channels for online communication.




The Catholic Church comprises one of the largest traditional religious minorities in the country with almost 50,000 members. The Catholic community comprises mainly Greeks from the Cycladic islands in the Aegean, especially from Syros and Tinos. The 1990s have seen an increase in the number of non-Greek Catholics who have come to Greece because of marriage and, more importantly, immigration from Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa. The Holy Synod of the Catholic Church in Greece estimates the number of Catholics living permanently in Greece to over 200,000 people. The majority of them are new immigrants, some of whom lack even residence permits, though this situation is progressively changing with the new process of legalization through the issuance of green cards to all immigrants who have employment in Greece. Caritas and other charitable organizations and monastic orders look after the immigrants and try to cover their many needs including helping them to obtain the necessary documents for legalization and for employment.


According to a widely accepted view, Catholic communities in Greece sprung after the fall of Constantinople to the Crusaders and the arrival of Venetian and Genovese rule. This, however, is not accurate since Catholic communities have lived in today’s Greece long before the arrival of the Franks. Most Catholics have a Greek origin as their language, family line, and participation in the Greek struggle for independence and in the two World Wars indicate. The foreign surnames that some have are attributed to the fact that the Venetians demanded that all their subjects have such surnames. Many Greeks in these parts chose to adopt the surname of their local ruler, whether Orthodox Christian or Catholic, and some freely opted to follow Catholicism. Relations between Catholics and Orthodox Christians have always been good especially on the islands. Mixed marriages are very common.


The Catholic Church was somewhat victimized by the Greek national mythology, turned into an official ideology in the late 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, which equates “Hellenism” with Orthodox Christianity. The official relationship between the state and the Orthodox Church enshrined in the Constitution has provided the ground for the passing of legally-based discriminatory practices against the Catholic community.


Most of the laws against religious freedom were introduced during the years of the fascist regime of Ioannis Metaxas (1936-1941). This regime epitomized the ideology of the “Hellenic-Orthodox Christian civilization.” The numerous civil laws presented throughout this report have not been questioned by any Greek government for fear of enraging the Orthodox Christian leadership and its followers who dominate public opinion. Therefore, despite the official recognition of the Catholic Church in a number of treaties and the recognition of the right to religious freedom in the Greek Constitution, the Catholic community has to defend itself in courts against religious discrimination. In the last decade of the 20th century, the Catholic Church has had to deal with numerous political defamatory attacks from the clerical and political followers of the Hellenic-Orthodox Christian nationalist ideology.


To understand the ambiguous position of the Greek Orthodox Church towards the Catholic Church one must consider the longtime opposition of the Orthodox Church to the Pope’s wish to visit Greece. Following an open invitation from the President of the Hellenic Republic on 7 March 2001 the Church of Greece finally acquiesced to the Pope’s pilgrimage to Athens, “despite any reservations which they justifiably could have to the realization of such a visit…[because the visit] is not contemptuous or disparaging of the historical memory still alive in this land…” Clearly this acquiescence was the result of the fact that the Holy See had accepted almost all terms for the Papal visit that was eventually realized in May of the same year. (Levantis, 2001: 3).


Greece’s participation in the European Union and various other international organizations, as well as the active struggle of civil society organizations have created favorable soil for debate and opposition to intolerance towards other religious communities including the Catholic community. The 2000 governmental initiative to abolish the entry of religion on the Greek identity cards is a sign of changing attitudes. However, further steps towards the complete separation between the state and the Orthodox Church is needed so that the Catholics and other religious minorities in Greece can enjoy religious freedom. As the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) recommended in its 2nd Report on Greece, “important efforts are still required for the full enjoyment from the minority religious groups of religious freedom and for the promotion of a climate of tolerance” (2000).


One important aspect in this process is the attitude of the Orthodox Christian clergy and the large fanatic segment within the Greek society that abhors anything different, non-Greek-speaking and non-Orthodox Christian. The recent mobilization of the Orthodox Christian following led by Archbishop Christodoulos against the abolition of the entry of religion on the identity cards proves the excessive ideological and political influence that the Church has on Greek society. This influence, unfortunately, has created a spirit of intolerance in the erstwhile friendly and entertaining Greek culture. This influence entails the cultivation of a spirit of uneasiness among the population that feels threatened of being consumed by other cultures and identities.


The ECRI report commented that the Greek society is hesitant to recognize its new multicultural reality that has been created through the influx of hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe (2000). Therefore, carefully designated steps are needed on behalf of the government in order to create a climate that would gradually prepare Greek society to accept its position in a multicultural Europe and the world. This is certainly needed because the Church-led reaction to multiculturalism finds breeding ground within the system of public administration.


George Sotirelis notes that relations between the state and the church in Greece have progressively developed, through mutual clientelist dependencies and bondages, into a kind of inextricable state-religious power web that fights against tolerance and religious difference; religious liberty often is brought under a peculiar state of tutelage, sometimes it is even made a hostage, depending on the danger of the “heterodox” opponent. (Sotirelis, 1999:22-3) In this context one can understand why, as the National Committee of Human Rights (NCHR) reports that, out of the 69 rulings on Greece by the ECHR, 16 concern religious issues. (2001: 95)


The consequences of this phenomenon was noted also by the Ombudsman in his annual report in a very critical passage where he reports that: “in matters of religious freedom, the Ombudsman faced a distrustful administration, which, following occasionally respective intolerant trends of the society, was unable to come to terms with the fact some Greek citizens are entitled to hold religious beliefs other than the ones of the majority… the reaction of local elected authorities and religious officials was so absolute and intense that forced the respective authorities in actions or omissions that could compromise  the international prestige of the country…” (1999: 77-78). This critique manifests the gravity of the problem and highlights the need for more urgent measures that have to be taken in order to change the situation. One can only hope that the new millennium and the gradual and more effective participation of Greece in international and multi-cultural organizations will change the climate in favor of tolerance and acceptance of religious, linguistic and ethno-national difference.


The central position held by the Eastern Orthodox religion as a sign of Greekness, the legal foundations of the Greek Orthodox Church and its symbiotic relation with the state, as well as the remaining limitations on religious freedom of religious minorities, testify the exclusion of Greece from the secular powers of the Enlightenment and the fundamental principles of most Western European states. (Pollis 1999: 192)


According to the National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) it is necessary that the legal framework of Greece be changed to correspond with the content of the Manousakis and others judgement (25/09/1996) of the ECHR. It is known, continues the report, that no other West European constitution or legislative text contains provisions forbidding proselytism. Finally, it is clear that the notion of an “heretic” has no legal meaning in the human rights law, given every person’s liberty to believe in any dogma or religion s/he chooses and to be an atheist, equally to change his religious beliefs or to express them as s/he chooses. Therefore it would be imperative that the state abolishes all provisions concerning proselytism and creates a new context for the protection of citizens, which is in conformity with contemporary reality and needs. Finally, on the subject of he construction and operation of places of worship, the report recommends the abolition of article 1§1 and 3 of the Royal Decree 20/2.6.1939, that defines the conditions for issuance by the Minister of National Education and Religions the required permit. The NCHR concludes suggesting that only a permit from the urban planning authorities should be required for the construction and the operation of places of worship, which should be obtained on the basis of respect for the principle of equality in the exercise of religious liberty. (NHRC, 2001: 101)


Similarly the Ombudsman of Greece in his annual 2001 report notes on the issue of freedom of religion and belief that the legal framework regulating the regime of churches and places of worship of religious communities other than of the prevailing religion, contains provisions whose implementation may bring about inequalities that do not conform with the Constitution and the European Convention for Human Rights. In the Legal, Operational and Organizational Recommendations report the Ombudsman recommends that Law no 1363/1938, 1369/1938 and 1672/1939 as well as the Royal Decree of 20.5/2.6.1939, concerning construction and operation of places of worship are revised to remove from the authorities providing permits every possibility of evaluating subjectively the “real need” of these places. The Ombudsman acknowledges that the real cause of the problem is found in the existing legislative framework that regulates the permission of the operation of places of worship with such an obvious suspiciousness against all religions except the prevailing one, confining public administration in the conception that religious belief must go through more and more rigorous control in comparison with other human activities.  The report reminds us that to a similar conclusion has arrived the European Court for Human Rights in its judgment 26.09.1996 (Manoussakis and others vs. Greece). “The Greek state uses the possibilities made available by these provisions in a way to impose strict and prohibitive preconditions to some non-orthodox religions in the exercise of their beliefs.”  Thus, the Ombudsman recommends bringing the construction and operation of places of worship strictly under the control of urban planning and construction authorities. Finally in the same report, concerning religious education, the Ombudsman explains that the state’s obligation to exempt heterodox students from attending the course of religion is not limited in the “administrative” exemption and examination from this course, but it must extend to the full distancing of those students from the classroom.  When these students remain in the classroom, given their malleability due to their youth, this could take even the dimension of state imposed proselytism, since it is de facto impossible the “abstention” of a minor from auditing during instruction that takes place in the same classroom. (Synigoros, 2001)


The relations between the Greek state and the Eastern Orthodox Church of Greece have been of concern, followed by several studies that are critical of their ambiguous symbiosis and interdependence, by an important number of eminent constitutionalists and other academics along with a small number of politicians who have reiterated their criticism publicly. Besides, the high number of convictions of Greece by the ECHR on cases concerning violation of freedom of religion and belief has forced state institutions to reconsider and reevaluate the present legislative order concerning religious freedom and belief. There has been a plethora of discussions, debates, conferences and publications on this issue, which, nevertheless, has failed to produce a public debate that would prepare the public opinion for important constitutional and legislative revisions transforming state-church relations.  Apparently, the pressure posed upon the political world by the spokespersons and representatives of the Orthodox Church have overruled any acknowledgement that Greece ought to found an unambiguously secular modern state.


The constitutional provisions concerning religious freedom, affecting, in particular, the participation of the Greek Orthodox Church in the organization of power and its relationship with minority beliefs and forms of worship do not seem to be the subject of any revision. In 1996, following a meeting with the Greek Orthodox authorities, the representatives of the Commission for the revision of the constitution apparently stated that they had no reason to amend constitutional Articles relating to religious matters. Indeed, neither in the 1998 nor the 2001 constitutional amendments any substantial provisions are made concerning religious freedom (Amor 1996; GHM/MRGG, 1999b).


M. P. Stathopoulos, former minister of Justice, recommends the following revisions in the constitution and in the legislative order to combat violations of freedom of religion and belief:


1)      Removal of the preamble to the Constitution which calls upon the divine “in the name of the Consubstantial and Indivisible Holy Trinity

2)      Removal of article 3 of the Constitution that refers to a “prevailing” religion

3)      Removal of par 2 of article 13 referring “Proselytism is prohibited

4)      Abolition of law no. 1363/1938 and of its modification to law no. 1672/1939, which stipulate penalties for those that proselytize.

5)      Removal of the phrase “development of religious conscience” as the objective of education, in article 16§2 of the Constitution

6)      Removal from article 1§1 of law no 1566/1985 reference to the transmission of “the original facts of the Orthodox Christian tradition” as an objective of the primary and secondary education.

7)      Revision of article 33§2 of the Constitution which anticipates the Christian religious oath for the President of the Republic excluding from this position any Greek citizen who is not an Orthodox Christian.

8)      Addition to article 59 concerning the oath of deputies in Parliament allowing a political oath, thus acknowledging atheists and those believing in religions which forbid a religious oath.

9)      Removal of the obligatory or optional inscription of ones religion on the identity card (article 3§1 of law 1599/1896, as revised by §1 of article 39 of law 1832/1989 and was replaced by article 2 of law 1988/1991 which brought back the obligatory inscription), which indirectly creates discrimination between citizens and, particularly against members of religious minorities.

10)  The abolition of all those laws that allow the state to intervene in matters that are strictly the domain of the Orthodox Church provided this Church autonomy does not lead to the violation human rights.

11)  Revision of those articles concerning civil marriage as to make it obligatory for all citizens, providing all, irrespective of their religious conscience, with the legal rights secured by the state, thus abolishing the exercise of public authority by religious functionaries of any denomination.

12)  Providing the possibility for a civil or secular burial for those who request it.

13)  Providing the possibility of cremation for those who request it.


During the period he was Minister of Justice (2000-2001) he was able impose the removal of ones religion from identity cards following the implementation of a recommendation made to the respective authorities by the Authority on the Protection of Personal Data. (1999, pp. 201-206)








1.      Cultural institutions and/or associations founded by the minority (Holy Synod, 1996)


·      Union of the Greek Catholic Students (Enosi Katholikon Foititon Elladas – EKFE), 9 Omirou str., 10672, Athens


·      Movement of the Catholic Scientists and Intellectuals (Kinisi Katholikon Epistimonon kai Dianooumenon – KIKEDE), 9 Omirou str., 10672, Athens


·      Union of the Greek Catholic Youth (Enosi Katholikis Neolaias Elladas – EKNE), Omirou 9, 10672, Athens 


·     “Dionysios Aeropageitis”, cultural center, 27 Smyrnis str., 10439, Athens



2.  Minority institutions and/or associations concerning education (Ibid)


·      “Agios Dionysios” primary, 2 Rali str., 15121, Pefki, Athens


·      “Agios Pavlos” primary, 5 Polyla str., 11141, Athens


·      “Agios Andreas” primary, 32 Satovriandou str., 26223, Patras


·      “Leonteio Lykeio Neas Smyrnis”, 2 Themistokli Sofouli str., 17122, Nea Smyrni, Athens


·      “Leonteio Lykeio Patission”, 17 Neigy str., 11143 Athens


·      “Chrisostomos Smyrnis” primary, 2 Themistokli Sofouli, 17122, Nea Smyrni, Athens


·      “Agios Pavlos” Greek-French school, 36 Harilaou Trikoupi, 18536 Piraeus


·      “Agios Iosif” Greek-French school, Thessalonikis and Petrou Ralli, 15121, Pefki, Athens


·      “Ioanna D’ Ark” Greek-French school, 12 Eleftheriou Venizelou, 18531, Piraeus


·      “Sholi Oursoulinon”, 10 Psyhari str., 15451, Psyhikon, Athens


·      “Agios Dionysios” primary, 12 Efkalypton str., 15126, Marousi


·      “Agios Georgios” primary, 12 Andrea Karga, Ermoupolis, 84100 Syros


·      “De La Sal College”, synoikismos Pefka, 56710, Neapolis, Thessalonica


·      “Agios Iosif” primary, 130 Spyrou Spyridi, 38221, Volos


3.  Political parties and/or associations founded by the minority


4. Minority media


Radio Stations



·      Newsletter of the Holy Synod of the Catholic Hierarchy in Greece, Secretariat of the Holy Synod of the Catholic Hierarchy in Greece, 842 00, Tinos


·      Katholiki”, 246 Aharnon str., 11253, Athens




·      Synhrona Vimata” (contemporary steps), by the Jesuit Fathers, 27 Smyrnis str., 10439, Athens


·      Anoihtoi Orizontes” (open horizons), by the Jesuit Fathers, 27 Smyrnis str., 10439, Athens


Television Stations

Internet Web Sites

Publishing Houses





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