Greek Church offers up property to help Athens raise funds for debt

The head of Greece’s Orthodox Church said on Saturday it was willing to put property it owns up for development to help raise money to repay the country’s debt.

The Orthodox Church is a powerful institution in Greece and owns more land than anyone except the state, including prime real estate in Athens.

“Come, let’s develop (the property) for Greece,” Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens told Greek TV in an interview during the Greek Orthodox Easter holiday. “If needed by the state to cooperate, we’re here.”

Asked if the Church would consider selling off property, he said: “No, I would say let’s work together and (the state can) use the revenues to repay all its debts … but the plots of land will remain Greek, in Greek hands.”

He did not say what kinds of business developments he had in mind.

It is unclear how much property the Church owns as its structure is decentralized and Greece has no central land registry.

Greece has teetered on the verge of bankruptcy since its debt crisis broke out in 2009 and has depended on rescue loans totaling 240 billion euros from the European Union and International Monetary Fund to stay afloat.

It has not received any loans since last August and risks running out of cash within weeks while Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s new leftist government seeks to strike a deal with creditors on reforms.

While an integral part of Greek society, critics say the Church owns too many assets, pays too little in taxes and has failed to contribute its fair share as ordinary Greeks’ bills have soared during the economic crisis.

The Church has called such accusations “a myth”