January 28, 2008 in Nation/World

Greek Orthodox leader dies of cancer

Derek Gatopoulos Associated Press
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ATHENS, Greece – Greece’s Orthodox Church leader, Archbishop Christodoulos, who eased centuries of tension with the Vatican but angered liberal critics who viewed him as an attention-seeking reactionary, died today of cancer, church officials said. He was 69.

Christodoulos, who headed the church for a decade, was first hospitalized in Athens in June before being diagnosed with cancer of the liver and large intestine.

He spent 10 weeks in a hospital in Miami, but an October liver transplant operation was canceled when doctors discovered the cancer had spread. He refused hospital treatment in the final weeks of his life. He died at his home in the Athens suburb of Psyhico.

Christodoulos was elected in 1998 and is credited with reinvigorating the vast institution that represents 97 percent of Greece’s native born population.

He helped create church Web sites and radio stations and frequently issued detailed checklists on how Orthodox priests should conduct themselves in public.

In 2001, Christodoulos received the late John Paul II – the first pope to visit Greece in nearly 1,300 years. They held the landmark meeting in Athens despite protests from Orthodox zealots.

The archbishop followed up in 2006 with a historic visit to the Vatican, where he and Pope Benedict XVI signed a joint declaration calling for inter-religious dialogue and stating opposition to abortion and euthanasia.

He was regularly named Greece’s most popular public figure in opinion polls, but his abrasive tactics also made him enemies in the church and the media, who openly called for his resignation when several senior clerics were accused of embezzling funds, involvement in sexual scandals and trial-fixing in 2005.

Christodoulos publicly apologized for failing to contain the scandal and defeated a no-confidence motion in the Holy Synod.

It is unclear who will succeed Christodoulos as head of Greece’s Orthodox Church. A meeting of the Holy Synod, the church’s top decision-making body, was called for this afternoon.

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