J'lem Court Stays Out of Move to Replace Embattled Greek Patriarch Irineos I

The Greek Orthodox Synod will convene in Jerusalem today to begin procedures for electing a new patriarch in place of Irineos I, who was deposed by church authorities over a scandal involving church real estate.

The Jerusalem District Court yesterday rejected Irineos' petition for a temporary injunction voiding the election several weeks ago of Metropolitan Cornelius as acting patriarch in his place. He also asked the court to prevent the synod meeting, on the grounds that he had been illegally deposed.

Many of the 17 senior bishops who make up this council are expected to present their candidacies for the permanent post, a step that will likely put an end to Irineos' attempts to remain as patriarch. Cornelius, as acting patriarch, is expected to submit the list of candidates for approval by the governments of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan. Once approval has been obtained, a new patriarch will be chosen through an internal procedure.

Judge Michaela Shidlowsky Or accepted the argument put forward by Mazen Kopti, lawyer for Cornelius and the clerics who decided on Irineos' ouster, and ruled that "deciding on a matter relating to a religious sect in Israel is not within the court's jurisdiction."

Shidlowsky Or said that Irineos "concealed from the court" that he had submitted a similar petition to the Haifa District Court, which was rejected. She also ordered Irineos to pay Kopti's legal fees.

That judicial approach is diametrically opposed to that of the Israeli government, which is holding off on removing its recognition of Irineos, thereby intervening in practice in the affairs of the Greek Orthodox Church. There could shortly be a situation in which there is one patriarch who is recognized by Israel, and another elected patriarch in need of Israel's approval.

In an effort to maintain good relations with Israel, Archbishop Aristarchos, one of Irineos' rivals and a candidate to replace him, told Haaretz that the opening of procedures to elect a new patriarch does not contradict Israel's position, since these are preliminary steps that are expected to continue for awhile, during which time Israel's official stance on the matter will likely be clarified.

After the church removed Irineos from his post, Jordan and the PA ceased recognizing his authority. At this point, only Israel recognizes Irineos as Patriarch of Jerusalem.