Last Updated: 2018-11-08
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ATHENS, Nov 8 (NNN-AGENCIES) -- A landmark agreement has been reached in Athens that will end the status of priests and bishops as civil servants and bring Greece a step closer to separation of Church and state.

Some 10,000 Church employees will come off the payroll, although their wages will still be paid as a state subsidy.

The Orthodox Church plays a significant role in public life in Greece.

Some priests and politicians criticised the deal between Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Archbishop Ieronymos.

The two leaders say the state will continue to pay the clergy's salaries but no longer as civil servants. Greece has been trying to scale back its public sector after years of international bailouts. In 2015, 18% of the workforce was employed by the government.

Payment will be made through an annual subsidy of around 200m (175m; $230m), and that fund will not be affected if the Church increases or reduces the number of priests.

In return, the Church will not oppose moves to make the state "religion neutral" and would drop any claim to property once taken over by the state.

This property dispute dates back to 1952, and in their agreement the two sides said they would set up a joint fund to manage and develop sites claimed by both Church and state. Revenues and bills would be split 50-50.

It will have to be approved by Church leaders as well as the government and MPs.

Not everyone is happy. A former education minister in the prime minister's party complained that the salaries of 10,000 priests were being guaranteed when the number of hospital doctors during the bailout years was even smaller.

The association of Greek clerics complained that losing the status of civil servants could deny them existing rights and said priests felt betrayed that they had not been consulted about the deal. -- NNN-AGENCIES