Non-Greek Greek Orthodox priest alleges racial discrimination from church (Jessica Smith Cross, 2014)

NOTE: This article is taken from Metro News, :

Reverend Father Kurt (Kyriakos) Wegner
Reverend Father Kurt (Kyriakos) Wegner

There will be no Christmas service in Peterborough for Greek Orthodox Christians this year.

Former priest of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church Reverend Father Kurt (Kyriakos) Wegner is fighting his archbishop at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, alleging he’s been discriminated against because he is not Greek.

Wegner is an American, raised Catholic, who converted to the Greek Orthodox Faith in 1998.

In 2001, he moved to Toronto with his (now ex) wife, who is Greek Orthodox, and he was ordained as a priest. He served briefly as the priest of The Three Hierarchs Church in Toronto, before moving to Peterborough where he served for almost a decade.

Wegner alleges that Archbishop Sotirios Athanassoulas hired him only because the church was desperate for a new priests, especially one who would take inferior positions and less money than Greek Greek Orthodox priests. He is asking the tribunal to award him $380,000 based on the wages and benefits he was denied over almost ten years due to his ethnic origin, and $25,000 for emotional distress.

Wegner alleges he was treated poorly, subject to racism and refused a transfer away from the small Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox church in Peterborough, where he was paid $30,000 a year. He claims his Greek peers were given choice churches and salaries of $60,000 a year and more.

His alleges the archbishop “deliberately set him apart due to his ethnic dissimilarity in the hopes that (he) would feel inferior and powerless and would therefore accept any duties and responsibilities thrust upon him just so that he could prove to the Greeks that he was committed to the Greek Orthodox faith, despite being an ‘outsider.’”

His lawyer, lawyer, Jean-Alexandre De Bousquet, argues that in Wegner cannot legally be discriminated against for not being Greek in the Greek Orthodox Church, despite an exemption in the Human Rights Code that allows churches to hire only those within their denomination.

“Since they have made him a priest and waived that requirement (that he be Greek), they can’t now say, ‘You’re a priest but you’re not Greek, so we’re only going to pay you half a salary,’” said De Bousquet.

Wegner claims he faced discrimination from a segment of the Greek community in Peterborough who objected to the fact that he was neither Greek, nor fluent in Greek, and passed around a petition asking for him to be removed from the Church. In response, churchgoers passed around another petition, supporting him, said De Bousquet.

When Wegner spoke with Archbishop Athanassoulas about the racism, the Archbishop relied, “I’m sorry, but Greek’s are racist,” implying that this a fact of life he should accept, said De Bousquet.

Archbishop Sotirios Athanassoulas is seen with politicians at the wreath laying ceremony after the Greek Independence Day parade on Danforth Ave. in Toronto on March 23, 2014.
Archbishop Sotirios Athanassoulas is seen with politicians at the wreath laying ceremony after the Greek Independence Day parade on Danforth Ave. in Toronto on March 23, 2014.

The Archbishop denies saying that and that the church’s treatment of Wegner was based in racism. In a written submission to the Human Rights Tribunal, the church argues that Wegner was never given a better posting because he was never able to become fluent in Greek, and said the level of his pay was due the financial position of the small Greek Orthodox community in Peterborough.

Wegner, on the other hand, has argued that members of Greek Orthodox faith in Canada speak English, and many speak English only, so Greek need not be a requirement.

The two sides disagree on the context of Wegner’s employment, as well as how popular he was among the parishioners in Peterborough.

“If, as you have said, there are only 12-17 people participating in the Divine Liturgy, how do you expect this community to pay a full salary?” Archbishop Athanassoulas wrote to Wegner, in June.

When Wegner and his wife divorced in 2012, his financial position changed. Where he used to receive financial support from his wife, he eventually had to take a minimum job working for a landscaper to make ends meet. After he was refused a request to be paid more money, he filed the human rights complain.

In July, Wegner was let go and told it was due to the financial situation of Holy Trinity and the church was shuttered.

However, the money was later found to reopen and a different priest, who is from Toronto, was hired but he will be unavailable for the Christmas services, according to De Bousquet

“They have decided not to allow (Wegner) to go to the church to perform the services, and no other priest available,” he said. “There will be no Christmas services at the Greek Orthodox Church in Peterborough.”