The Romanian Orthodox Church
Sep 13th 2007 | BUCHAREST
From The Economist print edition
The church elects a new patriarch, but still has to confront a tainted pastIN ROMANIAN politics, smears and scandals are commonplace. This week's vote for a new head of the Romanian Orthodox Church was similar. Though most public institutions are seen as corrupt and ineffective, the church enjoys high public trust. Nearly 90% of Romania's 22m people adhere to it, and its $4 billion fortune makes it the country's sixth-biggest enterprise. Yet the church is controversial. Over-zealous exorcisms have proved dangerous: a nun died in one in eastern Romania in 2005. Some church leaders who are suspicious of ecumenical dialogue with minority religions have links with nationalists. Worse, the church will not look into its communist-era past, when it was a loyal servant of Nicolae Ceausescu.
The only senior cleric to speak publicly on this, Bishop Corneanu, recalls weekly meetings with the Securitate secret police. But the late patriarch, Teoctist, resisted the opening of secret-police files on the clergy. Mircea Dinescu, of the investigative body analysing the Securitate Archives (CNSAS), says 16 files on high-ranking clergymen were burnt in the 1989 revolution. Neither Metropolitan Daniel (who was elected to replace Teoctist on September 12th) nor his rival Bartholomew admits to links with the Securitate. Yet both travelled abroad when this was all but impossible for those who did not co-operate with the regime. Mr Dinescu has said several senior clergy are proven collaborators, but he was holding fire for now. “We decided to let them run, not that they should think we want to undermine their destiny. We will decide after the election.”This highlights how Romania's secret-police files are a political currency. The CNSAS is seen by many as a politicised institution. Metropolitan Bartholomew, an 86-year-old who once belonged to a fascist youth movement and was jailed in 1958-64, calls Mr Dinescu's approach “unpardonable interference in the internal affairs of the church”. Yet some find it puzzling that he was later sent to America for nine years. Metropolitan Daniel, who is 56, studied and taught theology abroad, including at an ecumenical institute in Switzerland.
His ecumenical views were attacked in the campaign. Fly-posters in Bucharest read: “We don't want a patriarch who used to be employed by the Catholics and is backed by the Masons.” Though his liberal stance won the electoral college, Patriarch Daniel will still have much to do to shore up his church against its critics.