The religious tensions are on the rise in Romania in the context of a political crisis in the country caused by the collapse of the governing coalition two months prior to the presidential election.
by Fr. Chris Terhes | Source: Catholic.net
Using the “majority rules” communist principle, the Romanian Orthodox Church is trying to gain permanent ownership of the properties seized from the Catholic minority by the communist regime in 1948. The Catholic minority threatened is the Romanian Greek-Catholic Church, one of the Eastern Rite Churches in communion with the Pope.
The Romanian Orthodox Church, the majority religious group in the country, released a political statement on September 29 reaffirming its commitment to lobby for a law that would unjustly resolve property disputes with the Romanian Greek-Catholic Church. The Orthodox Patriarchy proposed that Greek-Catholic properties should be split between the two Churches “based on the current number of believers that each Church has within the local community.”
In response, the Romanian Greek-Catholic Church said, on October 5, that the Orthodox Patriarchy’s statement “incites religious hatred and supports the process of cultural and religious cleansing that the Greek-Catholic minority is facing in Romania.”
“The current number of believers, to which the Orthodox Patriarchy is referring in the statement, is the result of 40 years of communist persecution against the Romanian Greek-Catholic Church.” These were “followed by 20 years in which the Greek-Catholic community is faced with a process of cultural and religious cleansing in Romania,” explained the Greek-Catholic Church.
In 1948, the Romanian communist regime declared the Greek-Catholic Church outlawed and confiscated all of its properties, handing most of them over to the Orthodox Church. The communist regime then forced 1.5 million Greek-Catholics to join the Orthodox Church, and the Greek-Catholics who refused were arrested and persecuted. The Greek-Catholic Church was the only Church outlawed by the communism regime in Romania.
Since the 1989 fall of communism in Romania, the Greek-Catholic Church has tried to regain its properties through dialog, but the Orthodox Church refuses to restitute them. In many cases, the Orthodox Patriarchy is destroying or demolishing these churches, rather than returning them to the Greek-Catholics.
Over the last 20 years, the Orthodox Church has harassed and intimidated Greek-Catholics with defamatory speeches, death threats and physical abuses in an attempt to eradicate what was left from this religious minority from Romania.
Even though the Greek-Catholic Church wants its properties back, since 1989 it has been open to a practical solution which would allow the Orthodox communities use of its restituted churches if the Orthodox have no place to worship. Around the world, and especially in Western Europe, the Catholic Church offers many of its churches to the Romanian Orthodox communities if they don’t have a place to worship. However, the Orthodox Patriarchy rejects this Christian proposal in Romania.
In other words, Romanian Orthodox minorities around the world receive help from the Catholic Church, but the Orthodox majority in Romania refuses to return the confiscated properties to the Greek-Catholics, even if the Greek-Catholic Church declared that the Orthodox communities can continue having their religious services in the Greek-Catholic churches.
Because the Orthodox Church refuses to return the Greek-Catholic properties, the Greek-Catholic Church had resorted to filing lawsuits to regain its churches. To this day, Greek-Catholics must conduct their religious services (liturgies, baptisms, weddings, etc) either outdoors in the streets or in garages, private homes and other improper places.
In the context of joining the European Union in 2007, Romania had to reform its judiciary system and provide equal access to justice for all.
The Greek-Catholic Church started winning back some of its properties in the courts, which was a sign that Romania was heading towards a functional judiciary system. The Romanian Greek-Catholic Church, as promised, offered these few restituted churches to the Orthodox communities to conduct their religious services if they haven’t had a place to worship.
Despite this, the Romanian Orthodox Church reacted with “big concern” over the cases won in court by the Greek-Catholic Church, fearing that, if the situation continues, it would lose the other Greek-Catholic properties received from the communist regime as well.
In 2007, a bill (PL 368/2007) was entered in the Romanian Parliament which would grant the Greek-Catholic properties to the Orthodox Church based on the “majority rules” principle. This is the argument used by the Orthodox Church over the last 20 years for refusing the return the Greek-Catholic properties to their rightful owner.
In its position, the Romanian Orthodox Church argues with the communist principle that it is not the person, physical or juridical, but the collective community who owns a property. As a result, in order to exist, the community with most members, in this case a religious community, is entitled to take and keep the properties from a community with fewer members.
Despite national and international protests from the Catholic community, and the meeting between the Pope and the Romanian prime minister on September 16, the bill to grant Greek-Catholic properties to the Orthodox Church was not withdrawn from the Romanian Parliament.
Rather, instead of being withdrawn, the “majority rules” principle of the bill was endorsed by the Romanian Orthodox Church in its statement from September 29.
With less than two months to the presidential election in Romania on November 22, and in the context of a political crisis in the country, the Orthodox Church found the proper time to trade with the politicians the support for its interest in exchange for the Orthodox votes.
On the same day with the Orthodox release, a Senator and a Deputy made defamatory speeches against the Catholic Church and the Greek-Catholic minority from the pulpit of the Romanian Parliament.
In its official statement, the Greek-Catholic Church pleaded with “the Romanian politicians not to make the violation of the right of property and the violation of religious freedom a platform during the presidential election.”
However, the Orthodox Church’s official position is apparently winning over many Romanian politicians. Due to the Orthodox statement, the anti-Catholic sentiments are on the rise prior to the presidential election. It remains to be seen which presidential candidate will take advantage of it.
On the Net:
Romanian Greek-Catholic Association