2 September 1998

ORTHODOX IN TRANSYLVANIA CONDEMN GREEK CATHOLIC OCCUPATION OF CHURCH IN CLUJ by Janice Broun, Keston News Service Orthodox bishops in Transylvania have condemned the Greek Catholic occupation of the Church of the Transfiguration in Cluj on 13 March 1998, accusing Catholics of employing violence and profaning the sanctuary, according to Service Orthodoxe de Presse (SOP) 228 (May 1998 pp 5-7). On 20 March 2400 Orthodox including several bishops and many priests made a silent procession of protest, ending up in front of the church, where prayer was offered for the end of hatred. In a brief address the Orthodox Archbishop of Cluj, BARTHOLOMEW, stressed that Transylvanian Orthodox must combine dignity with humility and firmness in defence of their rights with readiness for reconciliation, while being prepared for genuine dialogue with the Greek Catholic Church. One SOP correspondent in Romania estimated that the forcible reoccupation of the church had caused 'irreparable damage' to relations between the two churches and 'rendered andy rapprochement extremely unlikely within the foreseeable future'. According to the Orthodox archbishop, on 13 March his auxiliary IRENEI had just finished celebrating the liturgy and was about to start the anointing of the sick, as was customary each Friday, when a justice official appeared to enforce the decision of the court reviewing the case to return the property to the Catholics. When the Orthodox refused to obey, a gang of about fifty 'Uniates' as (SOP calls them) led by the Uniate Senator and priest MATHEW BOILA took possession of the church, chasing out the clergy and congregation. They were then joined by about fifty more Uniates who had been waiting outside. 'The sanctuary was profaned, the altar turned round and the Sacrament trodden under the feet of the aggressors', reported the Orthodox communique. When they heard what had happened Orthodox seminarians attempted to reoccupy the church. There were violent clashes between members of the two communities which were calmed down by police intervention, but the church remained in the hands of the Greek Catholics, under police protection. Archbishop Bartholemew wrote to the Romanian government denouncing what he called 'a typical act of aggression meticulously prepared...with the active complicity and support of the police and the prefect, who is himself a Greek Catholic'. The Greek Catholic Archbishop of Cluj, GEORGHE GUTIU,  contested this version of the events. According to him there was no sacrilege at the time his members intervened; the only violence came from the Orthodox seminarians. Although he acknowledged that the church had had to e occupied 'by force' he 'profoundly regretted it had had to come to that,' but said that there cold be 'no solution as long as all the injustices suffered by Greek Catholics had not been redressed and put right.' 'The Greek Catholics do a thorough propaganda job, but they only tell half the story', BISHOP ANDRE OF ALBA IULIA told SOP. The Orthodox, he claimed, had already given them a church in Cluj. (Keston comments: he did not specify that this was not until 1995, when the Orthodox returned one of the eight churches the Greek Catholics had possessed until all their churches were handed to the Orthodox in 1948; nor that the one returned held only 150 people out of the several thousand greek Catholics who live in Cluj).Over a hundred churches throughout Transylvania had been returned, the bishop claimed, while the Catholics had built many themselves including a large new cathedral in Cluj. (Keston comments that this glosses over the point that in 1948 the Greek Catholics had had over 1800 churches; they were forced to build new ones because the Orthodox carried on using most of them or kept those they did not need locked. People had been forced to worship in the open air or in halls, private houses, r even cemeteries.). 'In Transylvania there has been drama on a spiritual plane', Bishop Andre complained. 'The Greek Catholics emerged from communism with an aura of martyrdom which they broadcast everywhere, including the western media. The Orthodox, although in the majority, are traditionally less combative and more passive, and so are misunderstood and cannot get help and sympathy from anyone. But they too were humiliated and persecuted under the communist regime and today they are being calumnied again.' Andre himself comes from an old Greek Catholic family from Maramures, the northern frontier of Romania, which is a traditional bulwark of Greek Catholicism. The church which all the fuss is about was built in the eighteenth century by the Franciscans and presented in 1930 to the Greek Catholic community so that they, like the Roman Catholics, most of whose members belonged to the Hungarian or German minority, could have a cathedral of their own in the centre of Cluj. After waiting years for its return the Greek Catholics went to court, claiming not only the church but all its parish buildings. When they won their action the Orthodox appealed against it and continued meanwhile to occupy the church. The incidents in Cluj show how passionate relations are between Romania's Orthodox and Greek Catholics and how deep are the wounds left by the machinations of the communist regime. Greek Catholics regard themselves as victims of injustice because of continuing Orthodox occupation of churches which belonged to them in the past, while Orthodox maintain that the allocation of churches must take account of the fact that during those forty years many Catholics switched to the Orthodox Church. Today, they claim, Greek Catholics constitute no more than two per cent of Transylvania's population. From the theological angle, Orthodox insist that Uniatism was historically, and still is, a tool of proselytism founded on an alien ecclesiology. According to a statement made to SOP last year by Bishop Andre, Greek Catholics are no longer at a disadvantage. He challenged the long public apology made at the enthronement of the Greek Catholic bishop of Jugoj in 1996 by Orthodox METROPOLITAN NICOLAE OF BANAT in which the metropolitan said that Greek Catholics were still isolated and discriminated against. Andre argued that Nicolae was a lone voice in the Orthodox Church. However, ION PATRESCU, and Orthodox University teacher from Timisoara and a member of Nicolae's diocese, told Keston that his apology was widely welcomed among Orthodox as well as Catholics in the area. An elderly Romanian emigre lady from Cluj, now resident in London and just returned from a visit to Cluj, has been told by friends that the two churches which have been returned are packed. She says that she herself had to stand at the back of the tiny church returned in 1995. She tells Keston that Greek Catholics suspect that at lest some of the Orthodox priests in the protest were former Securitate agents. The general feeling among her friends is that the local government has substantially improved its image by permitting the legal restitution of the Greek Catholic cathedral because the presence of hundreds of worshippers in the central square, however appalling the weather, was an embarrassment in the eyes of foreign visitors.