State salaries for the clergy are back in the news as a House finance committee is looking for ways to amend an outdated agreement with the Church dating back to 1971.
Following long-drawn consultations between the Government and the Church, an agreement emerged to pass legislation that would amend the area of ecclesiastical land transferred over to the state. But the process has not gone forward as amendments were drafted and then withdrawn during previous government administrations.
According to a 1971 agreement, the Church of Cyprus had agreed to transfer land to the state in exchange for the government to keep paying salaries for priests in rural areas. The deal, which involved 15,564 acres of ecclesiastical fief, never fully materialized while 73% of that land was located in the north.
In the south, in areas under the control of the Republic of Cyprus, a total of 220 rural plots have been transferred to the state according to the Land Registry, while another 80 such plots are still pending over procedural delays according to the Cyprus News Agency.
Lawmakers spotted another issue in the 1971 agreement, where the definition of rural areas at the time included any area outside city walls
Other media sources said the total value of ecclesiastical land in the north was estimated at 81 million, while church land in the south is estimated to be slightly over 125 million.
But lawmakers also spotted another issue in the 1971 agreement, where the definition of rural areas at the time included any area outside city limits. This included essentially any area outside city walls, meaning that urban districts in Nicosia such as Strovolos, Aglandjia, Latchia, Lakatamia, as well as Yermasogia and Mesa Geitonia in Limassol, were considered rural territory.
The agreement, which was ratified in a Cabinet meeting presided by then-president and head of church Archbishop Makarios, provided for state monthly salaries to all Orthodox priests in rural areas along with a Christmas bonus. Salaries were also to be paid to Armenian, Maronite and Catholic priests.
The church’s head accountant, Yiannis Charilaou, has recently said the institution was open to resolving all pending issues.
According to CNA, state comptroller Rea Georegiou says the government pays €6.5 million in salaries for 722 members of the clergy.
Lack of trust
Media pundits said land transfer attempts in the past were attributed to a lack of trust between the church and previous government administrations, citing no amended legislation that would protect the 1971 agreement or secure state salaries for priests.
Current legislation proposals on land transfer would also include state subsidies for priest salaries, while the Church would also contribute.
A new finance committee hearing is set to take place on September 16.