Patriarch Maxim, head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, at the July 2011 celebration of the 40th anniversary of his enthronement.
Officials from the National Revenue Agency will begin interviews and checks of financial records in January to follow up allegations that the Bulgarian Orthodox Church owes huge sums in unpaid social security contributions and to clarify what the church has been doing with its state subsidies.
This is among the latest developments as the church is caught up in controversies ranging from questions about its finances to the row about senior clergy being checked by the Dossier Commission for affiliations to communist-era State Security and to Varna Metropolitan Kiril’s new car.
The church is given about 2.5 million leva (about 1.25 million euro) a year in state subsidies.
Finance Minister Simeon Dyankov announced earlier this week that revenue inspectors would check the church’s finances to see how it has been using the money. The investigation is a follow-up to a request by trade unionists who have alleged, among other things, that most of the church’s about 1000 clergy are paid the minimum wage and are working without labour contracts, in violation of the Labour Code.
Bulgarian-language media reports on December 23 2011 said that government agencies had refused to say how much the church owed in unpaid taxes.
Among issues reportedly to be discussed between the National Revenue Agency and the church in January 2012 is whether taxes are due on fees for weddings, baptisms and other rites.
The agency is to check the financial records of churches and monasteries throughout Bulgaria.
Prime Minister Boiko Borissov told journalists on December 22 that he respected the "wonderful work" done by the church but where state money was paid out, there had to be accountability.
The announcement about the National Revenue Agency investigation came after days of contradictory signals from the church about a check by the Dossier Commission into whether its senior clergy – the Patriarch, Holy Synod, bishops and abbots – had been employees, agents or collaborators with Bulgaria’s communist-era State Security and intelligence services of the Bulgarian People’s Army.
Since December 16, there have been a number of contradictory statements by the church, first saying that it would co-operate with the check, then that it would not, and then that it would.
The latest statement, that indeed it would send to the commission the full names and identity numbers of senior clergy serving from December 2006 to the present, followed warnings that failure to co-operate with the commission would mean fines running into thousands of leva – and that in any case the commission is empowered by act of Parliament to conduct such checks.
Those in the higher echelons of the church who have spoken out against such checks, including Metropolitan Kiril, have said that the checks represented a violation of the constitutional provision separating church and state, while the opponents also question whether the church fits the definition in the Dossier Commission law on bodies that should be checked.
Borissov, commenting on the controversy about the church and the Dossier Commission, said that it seemed that some people had a "bad conscience".
Kiril has said that he has nothing to fear from a Dossier Commission check.
He told the media that there was an "immoral" campaign against the church, coming in part from insiders and from powerful people outside the church, that were using the controversies about the Dossier Commission and about the car of which he had been given the use to – among other things – bring down Patriarch Maxim.
Several media reports have suggested that the controversies are likely to be linked to power struggles within the church about who will succeed Maxim, now 97 and who has headed the church since 1971.