The Present Day Situation of Greek-Catholic Church in Romania
Prof. univ. dr. George Cipăianu
On the 1st of December 1948, the Decree 358 of the Communist Government of Romania declared the Greek-Catholic Church non-existent; parish property of the Greek-Catholic Church (churches, gardens, yards, houses, landed properties of parishes) went to the Romanian Orthodox Church. Performing the holy service according to the Greek-Catholic rite became punishable by law. Hundreds of priests and all the bishops where jailed. After the 1st of October 1948, the Orthodox Hierarchy and priests participated in the surveillance by the Romanian Security of Greek-Catholic clerics, latin and former greek-catholics; monks, nuns, wives of priests, believers, the situation of the children of former greek-catholic priests expelled from schools (see Serviciul Județean Maramureș, fond Protopopiatul Ortodox Român Baia Mare; inventar 918, dosar 7/1949, p. 567, dosar 01/1953, p.11, 12), (wives of priests ousted from their posts of school-teachers) dosar 01/1953, p. 11, 12, 15, 18-25, 30, 35, 36, 54-55, 70-71, 107,108, 110, 111, 113.
After the fall of the communist regime, the new Romanian governments refused to abrogate Decree 358.
The newly legalized Greek-Catholic Church could not retrieve its former properties, which the Orthodox Church refused to give back, arguing that given that all the believers had become orthodox, the parish communities are against restoring properties to the Greek-Catholic Church, which had disappeared after the believers adopted Orthodoxy.
Very few churches have been retrieved, many after costly law-suits (the Greek-Catholic Cathedral of Cluj-Napoca). The state restored some immovables, confiscated in 1948 under the 358 decree. A common conciliation commission, Orthodox and Greek-Catholic, has been established, destined to find out ways for solving the problem raised by the former properties of the Greek-Catholic Church. There were no results. The Orthodox prelates accused Vatican and the Greek-Catholic Church, of having converted by force half of the Romanian orthodox population in Transylvania, making them Catholics, impairing the integrity of the Orthodox Church. This was an offensive attitude and a flagrant lie, as the Romanians of Transylvania had adopted Catholicism, at the end of the 17th Century, of their own free will.
The Holy See was criticized for not having apologized for that. Such an apology, which is of course out of the question, would have meant that there was guilt and that, consequently, the result would be that the Greek-Catholic Church had no right to exist. In such a perspective, the destruction of the Greek-Catholic Church, in 1948, with the collaboration of the Orthodox Church appears as being justified. Under such circumstances, there can be no talk about giving back the “spoils” of 1948.
In many villages and towns, the Greek-Catholics had to build new churches, facing enormous financial difficulties.
Relations with the Orthodox Church are not good. Even now, for the Orthodox thinkers, prelates, priests, is not Romanian he who is not Orthodox. The orthodox priests are not allowed to concelebrate with Greek-Catholic priests. Officially, the Orthodox Church maintains that in 1948 the Romanian Greek-Catholics had voluntarily converted to orthodoxy, whereas a whole historical literature shows that this was an operation conceived by the Communist regime and executed by the repressive institutions of the government. Accepting that force had obliged the Romanian Greek-Catholics to become orthodox would mean that their properties were illegally taken from them and that they must be given back. This is precisely what the Orthodox Church does not want to do and will never do, if not obliged by law.
Some prelates (Archbishop Metropolitan of Cluj, Andrei Andreicuț) declared publicly that the Greek-Catholics are not a Church but a sect. Some of the orthodox ideologists maintain that the Greek-Catholics are the stooges of the Pope, of the Western Powers, of the Hungarians and so on and that they have never been a “Church of the people”. An Orthodox archbishop has told his believes that entering a Catholic church is a sin.
In many villages, people dare not affirm publicly their catholic faith for fear of being prevented by the orthodox priest from burying their dead in the church administrated cemetery.
There are villages (Ungheni, near Targu-Mureș) where the Greek-Catholic Church built in solid stone around 1855-1860, has been torn down and a new orthodox church has been built in its place, so that the Greek-Catholic community in the locality can no more reclaim their former church. This case has been brought to the attention of the president of Romania, art historians protested in foreign publications; nothing happened. The documents attesting that the building was the property of the Greek-Catholic Church miraculously disappeared from the land register.
Help cannot be expected from the state institutions, because governments and political parties do not want to antagonize the Orthodox Church, the Church of the majority, whose help is very useful during the electoral campaigns and elections. On the occasion of the last presidential elections, the orthodox priests in Cluj have been instructed by the metropolitan to determine people to vote for the P.S.D. candidate, as shown by letters to this effect discovered by newspapermen. A priest interviewed by the press admitted having been asked by their superiors to guide the believers in that direction.
The Romanian Orthodox Church is squarely hostile, behind some smile shown on official occasions, fearing permanently that one day they would have to give back what they had taken in 1948, although, this will not be the case in a state like present day Romania.
In villages and smaller urban communities, anti-Catholic propaganda is still a fact. In churches the sermons proclaim orthodoxy the “only true faith”. Orthodox newly built churches (example a new orthodox church built in Cluj-Napoca in front of the premises of the Greek-Catholic Bishopric of the town, another at 20 metres from the Greek-Catholic Cathedral) in order to prevent the believers from coming back to the union with Rome.
Orthodox priests do not administer Communion to Greek-Catholics and orthodox believers are prevented from going to Communion in Catholic Churches.
This is a mentality, an attitude characterised by a kind of “religious jingoism” (he is not a Romanian who is not orthodox), the ambition of having as many believers (who pay) as possible, keeping firmly in hand what they had taken from the Greek-Catholic Church (churches, parish houses, parishioners), an anti-Occidental attitude, the ambition of being the sole Church of the nation, a kind of fundamentalism (orthodoxy is the only “true faith”). All these make relations very difficult, good relations impossible.
In the relations of the Greek-Catholic Church with the state there is a problem: in 1948 the state took property from this church and gave it to the Orthodox Church and now it should take from the Orthodox Church and give back to the Greek-Catholics. This did not happen by now. This the state will not do. This situation could provide the explanation of the lack of a law of the retrocession/restoration in Romania. The institutions of the state must produce such a law. Without it the problem will never be solved, because what was done in 1948-1990 was based upon the law of Cults of the 4th of August 1948, which established the principle of the “majority” when believers would change denominations. The communists were paving the way for the destruction of the Greek-Catholic Church and in 1948 (the 1st December) the principle of “majority” has been used to justify the transfer of property to the Orthodox Church: the believers converted to Orthodoxy and the goods of the parishes came with them, because it was considered that church, house, yard, garden etc did not belong to the cult, but to the community.
Although the Law of Cults of 1948 has been abrogated in 1990, what had been done under it still stands. The orthodox have won in court several times on the basis of the “majority” principle. A new retrocession/restoration law is absolutely necessary. Without it nothing will be done.
Such a new law must concern the worship places and the parish houses, because on the 27th of December 1948 another Decree of the Council of Ministers, no. 1719, decided that “Cathedrals, churches, chapels and the buildings serving to the Office, as well as monasteries and hermitages together with their yards and surrounding land will be given to the Romanian Orthodox Church or to its different organizations, on whose territory these goods are situated”.
This decree is still in force. That is why in the absence of a restoration law and as long as this ruling is still valid, there will be no chance for the Greek-Catholic Church to recover its properties.
Prospects are not good: demolishing of Greek-Catholic churches and their subsequent replacement by Orthodox ones, like the aforementioned case in Ungheni, can happen again and again, until there will be no former Greek-Catholic churches in Romania. Many other churches have already been destroyed or transformed: the churches of Valea Largă, Mureș County; Sadu, Sibiu County; Băgău, Alba County; Tritenii de Jos, Alba County; Smig, Sibiu County; Băișoara, Cluj County; Vadu Izei, Maramureș County; Mihai Viteazul, Cluj County; Nicula, Cluj County, etc. (see România Liberă, 9 November 2001, p. 24). This means “damnatio memoriae”.
- Direcția Județeană a Arhivelor Naționale Maramureș, Fond Protopopiatul Ortodox Român Baia Mare
Books and articles:
- George Cipăianu, Catolicism și comunism în România 1948-1955. O perspectivă diplomatică franceză, Argonaut, Cluj-Napoca, 2015.
- Olivier Gillet, Religion et nationalisme, L’idéologie de l’Église orthodoxe roumaine sous le régime communiste, Editions de l’Université de Bruxelles, 1997.
- Cristian Vasile, Între Vatican și Kremlin. Biserica greco-catolică în regimul comunist, Curtea Veche, București, 2004.
- Călin-Morar Vulcu, ,,Catolicismul în discursul oficial al Bisericii Ortodoxe în primii ani postbeliciˮ, în Studia Universitatis Babeș-Bolyai. Theologia Catholica, XLIV, 1999, pp. 3-12.
- Adevărul de Cluj, 03.06.2002.
- Ardealul, 22.10.2001, 12.11.2001, 14.11.2001, 29.01.2022, 10.02.2002, 16.10.2002.
- România Liberă, nos. 18.2001, 04.11.2002, 26.02.2002, 13.02.2003, 01.10.2003, 31.10.2003, 07.11.2003.
- Transilvania Jurnal, 20.11.2001.
- Monitorul Oficial, Partea I-B, 308, 29 Decembrie 1948 (Hotărârea Consiliului de Miniștri nr. 1719 din 27 decembrie 1948).
- Hotărârea Sinodului Mitropoltina al Ardealului, 26 februarie 2004.