Enforcement of an old agreement between the church and the state, dating back to 1971, by which the government would subsidise the salaries of some 700 priests of rural areas in exchange for over 15,000 acres of church-owned land was ratified by the cabinet on Thursday.
According to the 1971 agreement between Church and state – both headed by Archbishop Makarios at the time – the government undertook to subsidise the monthly salary of priests in rural areas with the equivalent of €675, which is half the minimum salary a priest may receive.
In return, it was to be given ownership of 15,564 acres of land.
The government’s subsidy for priests’ salaries in 2014 reached €6,157,194, and was paid directly into each priest’s bank account on a monthly basis.
The agreement was updated in this respect, with the government making a lump-sum transfer to the Holy Synod’s central fund at regular intervals, with the church undertaking to make payment to individual priests.
In the context of the 1971 agreement, ‘rural’ areas were defined as those outside the walled cities – meaning that highly urbanised areas like Strovolos, Aglantzia, Latsia, and Mesa Geitonia, remain classified as such.
Of the land transferred to the state by the church, 73 per cent is in the Turkish-occupied north of the island and has been valued at slightly over €125 million. The remainder, according to the Land Registry department, was valued at over €81 million in 2010 prices.
According to the Church’s central fund director Ioannis Charilaou, the land was granted to the state at the time the original agreement was signed – in February 1971 – and used by the government since, but was never officially transferred.
“We have had some issues over the years concerning this agreement – one government made decisions unilaterally, then another made other decisions,” he told the Cyprus Mail.
“So we thought we’d put pen to paper in order to clarify the agreement’s provisions once and for all.”
The bill was cleared by the Legal Service, following approval by Archbishop Chrysostomos, and is expected to be forwarded to parliament for voting soon.
The updated agreement, which was the result of laborious negotiations between the finance ministry and the Church, formed the backbone of a bill approved by the cabinet on Thursday.