Friday, October 16, 2009

Romanian Orthodox to seize minority properties

The Orthodox Church of Romania seeks to affirm its claim to properties seized under the communist Ceacescu regime. Catholic bishops concerned over "denial of private property" and seizure of property owned by the Catholic Church.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

By Spero News

All the Catholic bishops, Roman-Catholic and Greek-Catholic, from Romania took a stand against a statement by the Romanian Orthodox Christian Patriarchy, which in a statement was termed "religious hatred and the cultural and religious cleansing". Greek-Catholics, also known as Eastern Rite Catholics are a religious minority in the country. They are Christians who recognize the authority of the pope and who use the Byzantine liturgy and tradition.

The Catholic bishops of Romania “received with concerns the statement released by the Romanian Orthodox Patriarchy on September 29, 2009, which incites religious hatred and supports the process of cultural and religious cleansing that the Greek-Catholic Church is currently facing in Romania,” declared the Romanian Conference of Catholic Bishops in an official release.

The statement was made on October 7 at the end of the three-day fall session of the Romanian Conference of the Catholic Bishops which took place in Satu-Mare (Transylvania). The Conference includes all the Roman-Catholic and Greek-Catholic Bishops from Romania. Also, present at the Conference was His Excellency Archbishop Francisco-Javier Lozano, Apostolic Nuncio to Romania.

The statement signed by all the Catholic Bishops from Romania is backing up the statement made by the Romanian Greek-Catholic Church two days earlier, on October 5, in which the Greek-Catholic Bishops expressed similar concerns about a media release from the Romanian Orthodox Church.

In an official political statement released on September 29, the Romanian Orthodox Church, the majority religious group in the country, reaffirmed its goal to lobby for a law that would grant it permanent ownership over the Greek-Catholic properties seized by the communist regime.

Patriarch Abuna Paulos of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church spoke of need for social work but also addressing spiritual needs of Christians in Africa.The Orthodox Church argues that the Greek-Catholic properties should be split between these two Churches based on the “majority rules” principle: the religious group with most members should take or keep the properties from the one with fewer members.

“This argument has its roots in the communist denial of private property. According to this concept, it is not the person, physical or juridical, but the collective community who owns the property,” says Father Chris Terhes, president of the US-based Romanian Greek-Catholic Association.

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. After the 1989 fall of communism in Romania, the Orthodox Church refuses to restitute these properties arguing that, since it is the religious group with most members, it is entitled to keep them.

“The Catholic Bishops have all the reasons to be concerned. If the number is the criteria to establish the right of property, this is just endorsing the genocide against the Greek-Catholics done by the communists between 1948 to 1989, and supports the process of cultural and religious cleansing that this religious minority is faced with in Romania since 1989,” says Fr. Terhes.

This process is currently ranging from destruction or demolition of the Greek-Catholic churches, to harassment, intimidation, death threats, and physical abuses against Greek-Catholics “in an attempt to eradicate what was left from this religious minority from Romania,” continued Fr. Terhes.

The Orthodox statement comes in the context a political crisis in Romania caused by the collapse of the governing coalition two weeks ago, and two months prior to the presidential election in the country.

“The Romanian Orthodox Church is using the current political instability in the country to trade its interest with the Romanian politicians in exchange for the Orthodox votes at the expense of the Catholic minority’s rights,” says Father Chris Terhes.

“These methods employed by the Orthodox Church are not a threat only to the Catholic religious minority in Romania. If a majority, any majority, in exchange for votes, can lobby and effectively pass laws that violate the human rights or take properties from a minority, then the rights and liberties of every individual person are in jeopardy in Romania,” concluded Fr. Chris Terhes.

The abuses and injustices conducted against the Greek-Catholic minority in Romania are reported yearly in International Religious Freedom Report and Human Rights Report released by US Department of State.

The Romanian Catholic Bishops also analyzed and signed an official declaration about the “alarming situation” of the St. Joseph’s Catholic Cathedral in Bucharest, which is endangered due to a skyscraper illegally built next to it.

The Vatican is concerned about the situation of the Catholic minority in Romania as well. On September 17, the Holy See Press Office announced that, during a meeting between the Romanian Prime-Minister Emil Boc and Cardinal Bertone, “the secretary of State expressed an interest in, among other things, the situation of St. Joseph's Cathedral in Bucharest and of Catholic communities in Romania.”

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