Catholic spokesman in Greece: Orthodox leader intolerant, fanatical

OXFORD, England (CNS) — Greece’s Catholic Church accused a leader of the Orthodox Church of “intolerance and fanaticism” after he sued a Catholic archbishop for illegal proselytism.

“I hope the court rejects his petition, which has no legal or juridical basis,” said Nikolaos Gasparakis, spokesman for the Greek bishops’ conference. “It’s a pity he doesn’t say more about the plight of citizens during our grave economic crisis, rather than just attacking Catholics.”

In April, Orthodox Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus filed suit against Athens Archbishop Nikolaos Foskolos, for allegedly violating the Greek constitution by running a Catholic school in Piraeus. The metropolitan cited Article 13 of Greece’s constitution, which prohibits proselytism.

In a May 24 interview with Catholic News Service, Gasparakis said Metropolitan Seraphim’s actions “infringed canonical rules” and “contradicted the Gospel,” but added that he was concerned other Orthodox leaders had not reacted to his actions.

“In the 11 years since Pope John Paul II visited our country, Greek society has become more tolerant and less hostile toward Catholics,” Gasparakis said. However, he said, that was not true of the Orthodox leaders.

In March, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I — considered first among equals of the Orthodox patriarchs — wrote the Orthodox archbishop of Athens about an “unjustified and dangerous” sermon by Metropolitan Seraphim. In that early March sermon, the metropolitan invoked an anathema against Pope Benedict XVI as well as against Protestants, Jews, Muslims and ecumenists.

The 200,000-member Catholic Church has often complained of discrimination in Greece, a European Union and NATO member-state whose constitution declares Orthodoxy the “prevailing religion” and prohibits Bible translations without Orthodox consent.

On May 7, the bishops’ conference said it would take action in the European Court of Human Rights against Greece’s failure to provide equal rights and legal status for the Catholic Church.

The statement, published a day after inconclusive May 6 elections worsened Greece’s economic crisis, said the church would also protest the “unacceptable and offensive aggression” by Orthodox leaders.

— By Jonathan Luxmoore Catholic News Service