Despite Archbishop Chrysostomos II tough stance on vaccination, almost half of Cyprus’ priests have yet to get a COVID-19 jab, while their superiors are not taking action against them.
On Tuesday, Archbishop Chrysostomos II sent a dozen unvaccinated priests on mandatory leave, warning of tougher measures if they continue to defy church rules on COVID-19.
Priests sent home have refused to be vaccinated while also advocating against the jab.
The Archbishop said that 27 of 123 priests in his diocese remained unvaccinated, 15 were exempted for medical reasons.
He said if the priests continue to defy him, the suspension would be extended to six months, and they could be defrocked.
He said it was unprecedented to have priests and even theologians disobey their chief bishop.
The 12 priests sent home are under the Archbishopric’s jurisdiction, while anti-vax priests in other diocese have been left unchecked.
Chrysostomos said some priests defied him, taking advantage of his frail health – he is a cancer survivor.
He was hinting at a succession race, with candidates not wanting to upset priests, from whom they will rely on support during an election for Archbishop.
Some bishops are anti-vaxxers themselves, such as Morphou Bishop Neophytos, known for his anti-vax stance.
So, it is not expected these bishops would punish priests under their jurisdiction for not getting vaccinated.
Morphou’s Neophytos openly campaigned against vaccines but kept quiet following a meeting held between President Nicos Anastasiades and the Holy Synod in September.
The Holy Synod had then agreed that bishops would not voice public dissent whenever they disagreed with a decision by the majority.
Phileleftheros said the complaints about unvaccinated priests came from churchgoers who were either urged not to take the vaccine or witnessed priests violating COVID-19 protocols.
Despite vaccination remaining optional in the country, the Archbishop had issued strong guidelines to priests and theologians to get vaccinated.
The Archbishop has backed the government’s campaign to vaccinate the population from the start, being one of the first people to receive a jab in December 2020.
In July, Chrysostomos warned he would not tolerate employees who refuse to get vaccinated and priests who don’t wear masks and incite their flock to reject the jab.
According to the Health Ministry, 74.7% of the population have received the first jab, 71.1% are fully vaccinated, and 84.1% of adults are fully jabbed.