Ousted Greek Orthodox patriarch blasts Greek gov't

Irineos I accuses Greek deputy minister of improper political interference in supporting his successor.

irineos 298 ap  (photo credit: AP [file])
irineos 298 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
In a burgeoning war of words, ousted Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem Irineos I on Thursday blasted the Greek government for urging the State of Israel to recognize the new patriarch of Jerusalem, calling the move improper political interference in the affairs of the church and in Israeli legal issues. The heated response comes just days after Greek Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Theodore Kassimis told The Jerusalem Post that the Greek government is urging the State of Israel to immediately recognize Jerusalem's Greek Orthodox patriarch ahead of an Israeli High Court ruling on the appointment this fall. The interview drew a swift and angry response from the ousted patriarch, who accused the Greek deputy minister charged with patriarch affairs of attempting to pre-judge the much-anticipated decision by Israel's highest court, which is expected in November. "Perhaps he has overdone it as deputy minister of foreign affairs of Greece, and he has become the legal adviser of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Israel? Also perhaps he is a member of the High Court of Israel and knows what the court will decide," former patriarch Irineos wrote in a two-page letter to the Post. The letter, which was sent from the Press Office of the former Patriarch, was signed by Archimandrite Ireneos, Chairman of the Finance Department at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The bickering and the ongoing legal battle have reached new heights nearly two years after the church first appointed Theophilos III to the top church position in the Holy Land, in a move Israel never recognized. The appointment of the new patriarch, whose election has been approved by the Palestinians and the Jordanians, has been held up by Israel, which still backs the ousted former patriarch Irineos I, who was forced out of office in 2005 following a controversial Jerusalem land sale to Jewish groups. The ousted patriarch charged in his letter that the land sale was used as an excuse by his opponents in the clergy, and lambasted "the mistaken political choices" of the Greek government to revolt against his authority. "What transformed the Patriarchate into a real estate office was none other than the political choices of employees of the Greek Government," he wrote. Kassimis had said that he was confident that the State of Israel did not want the High Court of Justice ordering the government to recognize the patriarch, and said that a governmental decision on the matter would be made this summer ahead of the expected November court ruling. An Israeli ministerial committee has also been established to deal with the issue but, amid political uncertainties following the war in Lebanon and bureaucratic delays, has not decided on the matter to date. It was not immediately clear whether the governmental committee would decide on the issue ahead of the High Court, or the court decision would come first. Irineos I was ousted by the church's Holy Synod amid allegations of leasing church property in Jerusalem's Old City to an Israeli company, in a move that would further strengthen the Jewish presence in the area. But, with Israel's support, Irineos has refused to accept his dismissal, saying a former aide signed the leases without his knowledge, thus creating a schism in the Church. The aide, who has fled the country and is wanted by Interpol on an international warrant amid allegations that he usurped millions of dollars from the Patriarchate's coffers, remains at large; he is thought to be in South America. By church law, any new patriarch must be approved by the three governments - Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan - in the area. The Palestinian Authority and Jordan have recognized Irineos's dismissal and Theophilos's election but Israel has not. In his letter, Irineos also called into question assurances by the Greek deputy minister that the new patriarch will "never refuse" to extend long-term leases on properties of the Patriarchate in the State of Israel, saying he was not in position to give such guarantees. The dispute over the patriarch's appointment could have ramifications for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because of the church's extensive property holdings throughout the Holy Land, especially in Jerusalem. Reports of the east Jerusalem property sale to Jews have aroused the furor of the Palestinians who make up most of the 100,000 Greek Orthodox flock in the Holy Land. The properties allegedly sold include the Imperial and Petra hotels inside Jaffa Gate.