Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem dismisses patriarch

By News Agencies

Haaretz

Nisan 28, 5765

The highest decision-making body of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem fired Patriarch Irineos I on Friday over his suspected involvement in the sale of church land to Jewish investors, a church official said.

Irineos, who has denied the allegation, had no immediate comment. Archimandrite Attallah Hanna said the patriarch left the church after the 18-member Holy Synod made its decision.

"We don't know where he went," he said.

Leaders of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem announced Thursday that they were breaking off all contact with Patriarch Irineos I because of suspicions of corruption, and that they considered him dismissed.

Thirteen bishops and 25 archimandrites of the church made the announcement in a statement faxed to The Associated Press. Their dismissal is not binding, but it ratcheted up internal pressures on Irineos to step down over the reported leasing of prime church property to Jewish groups in Jerusalem's Old City for 198 years.

In their letter Thursday, the rebel clergy accused Irineos of being "incorrigibly caught up in a syndrome of lying, religious distortion, degradation of the patriarchate's role, and irresponsible mishandling of patriarchate property."

They declared him persona non grata, and served notice that they would bring legal proceedings against him and his associates "to revoke all suspect deals and restore all that was sold."

Earlier this week, Irineos described his opponents in the patriarchate as "worms and trash," adding: "Let them cut off my hands if I have stolen anything. The mud they have slung as me is still fresh, but it will dry and fall off."

Dimitri Diliani, head of a coalition of Palestinian Christians, called the clergymen's revolt on Thursday a "historic move of disobedience" that would further isolate Irineos and create more pressure on him to either resign or convene the patriarchate's Holy Synod, which would have the authority to dismiss him.

Palestinians, who consider the alleged land deals a betrayal, have held several protests against Irineos outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, demanding he step down.

Archbishop Aristarchos, the acting chief secretary of the Holy Land patriarchate, urged Irineos last month to step down, and Thursday said the letter was "an act of necessity to take the patriarchate out of the impasse."

An official from the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul said the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, Bartholomew I, was carefully watching developments in Jerusalem but hasn't interceded.

"This is an internal affair of the church of Jerusalem," the cleric said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Bartholomew, he said, "is following the news carefully ... So far he has not intervened."

At a news conference last month, Irineos told reporters he was unaware of the alleged transactions, and said he was not involved in any sale. The church also denied that any long-term lease had been signed, though one church official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a 99-year lease had been signed.

Media have reported that the leases were signed by Irineos confidant Nikos Papadimas, a church financial officer who vanished more than three months ago.

Papadimas is wanted in Greece after Greek Orthodox Church officials in Athens accused him of absconding with $800,000 in church funds. His wife is wanted on separate charges of money-laundering. Separately, a European arrest warrant has been issued against Papadimas, Greek officials said.