Woman claims she was denied committee membership because of her gender
Helen Velissaris Reporting
25 Feb 2014 – Neos Kosmos English Edition
A Greek woman in the Victorian town of Mildura has taken the local Orthodox Church committee to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), arguing her application to join the committee was rejected because of her gender.
Maria Bakopoulos says her application to join the 30 plus member committee was unfairly dismissed and internal pleas to review the decision fell on deaf ears.
She says the lack of communication and wiggle room from the community on the matter pushed her to eventually get a hearing heard by VCAT last Thursday.
Based on the church’s constitution, everyone is free to apply to become a financial member but approval rests at the committee’s discretion.
Bill Stamation, a financial committee member who fronted the tribunal, told Neos Kosmos the decision to reject Ms Bakopoulos’ application was “unanimous by the committee” and was not “based on gender”.
He declined a number of times to say what exactly contributed to the application’s rejection to Neos Kosmos. The committee took the same stance at the tribunal, saying they do not need to disclose the reasoning behind the decision.
Out of the 30 plus financial committee members currently elected, not one is female.
Mr Stamation says he hasn’t received an application from a female member of the Greek community because he believes they are happy being a part of the philoptochos women’s society of Mildura.
The women’s society has no say in how the committee spends its funds or what they do with their property.
Ms Bakopoulos was compelled to become a financial committee member after she was denied access to the church for her father’s memorial, which she had booked months in advance.
She says they argued there was no one available to open the church and hall because the committee was too busy preparing for a paniyri at the time.
“Let me become a member of the committee and I will open it if it’s just a technicality,” Ms Bakopoulos remembers telling Bill Stamation when the incident happened.
She says he said to her “No, no, no way, you can’t open it and I’ll let you know about it.”
“It was just the usual round the bush,” she tells Neos Kosmos.
Ms Bakopoulos had to travel more than 100km to the nearest Orthodox Church in South Australia to have her late father’s six month memorial.
She was told by family not to take the matter further lest the committee choose to close the church again at the year anniversary of her father’s death.
“If they’ve done this then they will not let us have a funeral or something,” she says.
Despite the church in Mildura not having a permanent parish priest, it gets by from a roster of travelling nearby priests who fill big dates and when they’re needed for baptisms, weddings and funerals.
Ms Bakopoulos says she had a priest organised and ready for her father’s memorial dates, but the committee wouldn’t budge in opening the church.
For anyone trying to get in contact with the church, its number listed on the Greek Orthodox parish directory is not connected and the phone number listed for its hall rings out.
Ms Bakopoulos was told the committee would be in touch but that never happened.
“It’s a closed shop… [they] never advertised about meetings,” she says.
“I feel like they’ve locked us out for too long.
“Enough is enough, it’s about time that we progressed with the times.”
At the tribunal last week, Ms Bakopoulos says many members of the Greek community of Mildura packed the room to support her.
The tribunal will release a final ruling in the coming months.