Wed, but not married
Richmond weddings not registered, unknown number of couples unmarried
An unknown number of married Victorian couples are legally and religiously unmarried, due to the alleged actions of a priest. It is claimed that potentially hundreds of couples married by Rev George Athanasiadis at the Holy Trinity (Agia Triada) Greek Orthodox Church in Richmond, Victoria, were not registered religiously or legally by the priest. Rev Athanasiadis has been accused of not following due process, resulting in couples not being properly registered with the Archdiocese or the state.
Richard and Lina Athanasiadis, who were wed by Rev Athanasiadis in 1985, recently discovered that according to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Melbourne, they are not married. They also discovered that their daughter, whose baptism was officiated by Rev Athanasiadis, is also not registered with the Archdiocese. The Athanasiadis' were baffled by the news, given Mr Athanasiadis is Rev Athanasiadis' nephew.
"I think it's hilarious personally," Mr Athanasiadis said. However, the Athanasiadis' were among the lucky ones who were registered legally with the Department of Births Deaths and Marriages. Others, according to Bishop Ezekiel of Dervis, were not. "He [Rev Athanasiadis] was taking the Archdiocese's money and not reporting the weddings to the Archdiocese so that the marriage certificate could be issued, as it is to every couple," Bishop Ezekiel told Neos Kosmos.
"Furthermore, he would not send the papers to the registry so that the wedding could be registered as legal," the Bishop said. This means that an unknown number of couples may not be registered neither with the church, nor the state.
"This is not a unique case, there are many cases," the Bishop alleged. "We learn of them as they come forward seeking certificates that we don't have," he said.
Bishop Ezekiel said Rev Athanasiadis was dismissed by the Archdiocese for his alleged actions, though there was no criminal investigation. The Bishop said that any weddings Rev Athanasiadis officiated before his dismissal can only be verified by the Archdiocese if a couple is able to provide photographic evidence of their wedding and a legal marriage certificate.
The issue is complicated, however, by the possibility that the marriage was also not registered with the state. "In those cases we help as much as possible to have a legal certificate issued," Bishop Ezekiel said, though he added that in some cases it might be necessary for the couple to be re-married. Kate Mitchell, family lawyer and partner at Melbourne firm Septimus Jones and Lee, said that despite not being legally married, couples would have the same legal rights as de facto couples. However Greek legal expert John Tripidakis said that while couples may be viewed as de facto in Australia, their marriage would have to be proven in order to make legal or citizenship claims in Greece.
"If it is impossible to issue a certificate from the state due to the fact that the marriage was not registered, then the marriage cannot be registered in Greece and the Greek authorities will not recognize the marriage," he said. This situation could result in the children or grandchildren of couples being unable to claim Greek inheritance or citizenship. The number of couples within the Melbourne Greek community affected cannot be checked, because the church registries cannot be located by the Archdiocese.
When contacted by Neos Kosmos, Rev Athanasiadis denied knowledge of the allegations. "I have no records, no access to books. I can't answer your questions," he said.
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