Romania Table of Contents

Church-State Relations

Although officially atheistic, the state in 1989 recognized and financially supported sixteen different religious groups. These groups and the scope of their activity were controlled by the Department of Cults and were subject to strict regulations. Churches could not engage in any religious activity outside officially designated religious buildings. This restriction prohibited open-air services, community work, pilgrimages, and evangelization. Religious education for young people was expressly forbidden, and religious classes in general were prohibited. Severe restrictions limited the printing and import of bibles and other religious books and materials, and their distribution was treated as a criminal offense. The state recognized no religious holidays and often asked for "voluntary labor" on important holidays in an apparent effort to reduce church attendance and erode religious influence.

After 1984, under the guise of urban renewal, many churches of all denominations in and around Bucharest, including churches with unique spiritual and historical importance, were demolished by government orders. By 1988 approximately twenty-five had been razed, and sixty or seventy more were scheduled for destruction. Some of the buildings leveled were more than 300 years old, and many were classified as architectural monuments. Along with them, valuable icons and works of art were destroyed. Protests by congregation members, leading intellectuals, and Western governments failed to halt the demolition.

The Romanian Orthodox Church

In the late 1980s, the Romanian Orthodox Church, by far the largest denomination, claimed some 16 million members--roughly 70 percent of the total population. The church had some 12,000 places of worship and 9,000 priests and was the most generously supported of all denominations. The most important positions in the Orthodox hierarchy were filled by party nominees, and the church remained patently submissive to the regime, even in the face of repeated attacks on the most basic religious values and continued violations of church rights. Church leaders lauded the "conditions of religious freedom" that the state had guaranteed them and were known to collaborate with the Securitate in silencing clergymen who spoke out against the demolition of churches, interference in church affairs, and atheistic propaganda in the media.

The Roman Catholic Church

The next largest denomination, the Catholic Church in the late 1980s had about 3 million members, who belonged to two groups--the Eastern Rite Church, or Uniates, and the Latin Rite Church, or Roman Catholics. After 1948 the Department of Cults took the official position that "no religious community and none of its officials may have relations with religious communities abroad" and that "foreign religious cults may not exercise jurisdiction on Romanian territory." These regulations were designed to abolish papal authority over Catholics in Romania, and the Roman Catholic Church, although it was one of the sixteen recognized religions, lacked legal standing, as its organizational charter was never approved by the Department of Cults. The fact that most members of the Roman Catholic community were ethnic Hungarians probably contributed to the church's tenuous position. In 1948 Roman Catholics were deprived of three of five sees, leaving only two bishops to attend to the spiritual needs of the large membership. Subsequently all Catholic seminaries and charitable institutions were closed and newspapers and other publications affiliated with the church were suppressed. A few seminaries were reopened in 1952, but they were generally provided little support by the state. Although the priest-to-members ratio remained quite high in the 1980s, more than 60 percent of the active clergy were over 60 years of age, and owing to restrictions on enrollment in seminaries and theological colleges, their numbers were likely to decline.

After 1982 the church was allowed only fifteen junior and thirty senior seminarians per year. Moreover priests received minimal salaries and had no pension plans nor retirement homes. The state controlled all clerical appointments, which meant that many vacancies went unfilled, and effective priests were transferred from parish to parish, whereas those who proved most loyal to the regime received the highest salaries and key appointments. Seminaries, priests, and congregations were closely watched and infiltrated by the Securitate. Even in the 1980s, the danger of being interrogated, beaten, imprisoned, or even murdered was apparently very real, as most foreign visitors found priests and lay people alike too frightened to communicate with them. The government also restricted the amount of work that could be done to repair or enlarge church buildings.

In the early 1980s, there were indications that tensions between the Vatican and the regime over bishopric appointments were easing. Pope John Paul II successfully appointed an apostolic administrator for the Bucharest archbishopric. As of 1989, however, the Romanian government had not officially recognized the appointment, and the issues of inadequate church facilities, restrictions on the training of priests, and insufficient printing of religious materials remained unresolved.

The Uniate Church

Although its members are primarily Romanian, the Uniate Church has received even more severe treatment. By the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the Uniates, or Eastern or Byzantine Rite Catholics, had broken away from the Orthodox Church and accepted papal authority while retaining the Orthodox ritual, canon, and calendar, and conducting the worship service in Romanian. In 1948, in an obvious attempt to use religion to foster political unity, the country's 1.7 million Uniates were forcibly reattached to the Romanian Orthodox Church. Some 14,000 recalcitrant priests and 5,000 adherents were arrested, at least 200 believers were murdered during incarceration, and many others died from disease and hunger. The suppression of the Uniate Church required collaboration between the regime and the Romanian Orthodox Church hierarchy, which maintained that the Uniates had been forcibly subjugated to Rome and were simply being reintegrated into the church where they properly belonged.

That the Uniate Church survived, albeit precariously and underground, long after it officially had ceased to exist was an embarrassment to the regime and the Orthodox leadership. Even in the mid-1980s, there were still some 1.5 million believers, and about twenty "Orthodox" parishes that were universally regarded as Uniate. Besides 300 priests who were not converted, another 450 priests were secretly trained. The church had three underground bishops. After 1977 some Uniate clergymen led a movement demanding the reinstatement of their church and full restoration of rights in accordance with constitutional provisions for freedom of worship. In 1982 the Vatican publicly expressed concern for the fate of the Uniates and supported their demands. The Romanian authorities protested this act as interference in the internal affairs of the Romanian Orthodox Church.

Other Religions

Romania's Jewish community in the late 1980s numbered between 20,000 and 25,000, of whom half were more than sixty-five years old. Jews enjoyed considerably more autonomy than any other religious denomination. In 1983 there were 120 synagogues, all of which had been relatively recently restored. For twenty-five years the Jewish Federation in Romania had been allowed to publish a biweekly magazine in four languages. There were three ordained rabbis, and religious education was widely available to Jewish children. In addition the government permitted the Jewish Federation to operate old-age homes and kosher restaurants. On the other hand, there were repeated anti-Semitic outbursts in the official press and elsewhere that were condoned by the regime.

Romania also has a Moslem community, which in the late 1980s numbered about 41,000. Two ethnic groups--Turks and Tatars-- concentrated in the Dobruja region make up this religious community.

In the 1980s there were a number of Protestant and neoProtestant denominations that were formally recognized and ostensibly protected by the Constitution. The Reformed (Calvinist) Church, an entirely Hungarian congregation, had a membership of between 700,000 and 800,000. The Unitarian Church, also largely Hungarian, had between 50,000 and 75,000 members. The Lutheran Church had a membership of about 166,000--mainly Transylvanian Saxons. Most of the neo-Protestant followers were converts from the Romanian Orthodox Church. Of these, the Baptists were the largest denomination with 200,000 members, followed by the Pentacostalists (75,000 members), Seventh Day Adventists (70,000 members), and a few other smaller groups.

The neo-Protestant religions attracted an increasing number of followers in later years. The rapid growth, especially among Baptists and Pentacostalists, continued throughout the 1970s, and many young converts from the established churches were gained. This trend was troublesome to the regime, because many neo-Protestants-- especially Baptist clergymen--called on churches to resist state interference in their affairs and suggested that the state should respect Christians' rights and renounce atheism. In the late 1970s and in the 1980s, the regime responded to this quasi-political movement with a press campaign attacking the credibility of the denominations and with police repression. Many congregations were fined heavily, and their most effective leaders and activists were arrested or forced to emigrate, whereas others were threatened with dismissal from their jobs and the loss of social benefits. Propaganda, media attacks, and police repression against Jehovah's Witnesses were especially harsh. Because the sect remained unregistered, its mere existence was illegal. The regime claimed that the religious beliefs espoused by the sect were "dangerous, antihumanistic, antidemocratic, and antiprogressive."

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress