National Catholic Register


Orthodox Archbishop Rejects Ruling That Greece Violated Religious Rights

BY Jim Cosgrove

March 8-14, 1998 Issue | Posted 3/8/98 at 2:00 PM


WARSAW—A senior figure in the Greek Orthodox Church said Feb. 27 that the European Court of Human Rights had acted “unjustly” by ruling that Greece was guilty of religious discrimination for denying rights to the minority Catholic Church.

However, Archbishop Timoteos of Crete refused any further comment on the ruling, which said that Greece had violated the 1950 European Convention of Human Rights, which laid down human rights standards for 40 states belonging to the Council of Europe.

In its judgment, delivered in December last year, the court said that the refusal of Greece to recognize the Catholic Church as a legal entity had risked invalidating all purchases and transactions by Catholic parishes and dioceses. The court also said Greece was denying Catholics rights guaranteed to Orthodox and Jewish communities.

The Greek Orthodox Church nominally comprises 97% of the Greek population of 9 million. According to Article 3 of the country's constitution, Greek Orthodoxy is the country's “dominant religion.” Article 13 of the constitution promises freedom to “practice any known religion,” and declares “proselytism” prohibited, but fails to define either term.

The ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, which is based in Strasbourg, France, followed complaints by Bishop Frangiskos Papamanolis, the acting Catholic bishop of Crete (which is part of Greece), after a 1987 incident in which two local residents demolished a wall belonging to the 13th-century Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Virgin at Khania (Canea) in Crete.

Although the diocese won a court order for the wall to be rebuilt and damages paid for, an appeal court overturned the verdict and ruled that the Catholic bishops had no legal status.

In 1994, Greece's Supreme Court upheld the appeal court's decision, confirming that the Catholic Church possessed religious freedom, but had no right to bring a legal action.

In his appeal to the European Court, Bishop Papamanolis listed 14 judgments and acts by courts in Athens and the Aegean Islands that he said had implied recognition of his Church's property rights.

The case, which could improve the Catholic Church's legal position in the country, follows three separate European Court judgments in 1996 and 1997, which found that Greece was guilty of violating the religious rights of Jehovah's Witnesses.

In September 1996, the court criticized Greek legislation, stating that there was “a clear tendency on the part of administrative and ecclesiastical authorities to use these provisions to restrict the activities of faiths outside the Orthodox Church.”

The European Convention of Human Rights, signed a year after the Council of Europe's creation in 1949, has been ratified by all member-states except Croatia, and is widely seen as the most effective human rights instrument on the international scene.