Friday 24 December 1999

STALEMATE ON ROMANIAN ORTHODOX-GREEK CATHOLIC COMMISSION by Janice Broun, Keston News Service High hopes raised of reconciliation between Romanian Catholics and Orthodox by the charisma of POPE JOHN PAUL II’s visit last May have been dashed by continuing Orthodox obstruction. The fourth session of the Commission for Dialogue between the Orthodox and Greek Catholic Churches, which was formed in October 1998, met in Oradea on 4 November. According to ‘Service Orthodoxe de Presse’ no. 243, the meetings were led by METROPOLITAN ANTHONY PLAMADEALA of Transylvania and MGR LUCIAN MURESAN, in the presence of Vatican envoy MGR PIO TAMBURINO. Although the joint communique issued at the end of the session spoke of ‘a continuing spirit of ecumenism’ and each party’s commitment to pursue dialogue ‘on the basis of truth, justice, sincerity and charity,’ it admitted that progress had been ‘modest’ and that ‘bitterness and misunderstandings still persist’. On the basic problem, the return to the Greek Catholics of property they owned before 1948, no significant progress has been made. The Orthodox delegation has again declared itself ready, as far as possible, to subsidise the construction of new churches for Greek Catholics where pastoral needs justify them, while the Catholics state their willingness to help Orthodox build new churches where they restore contested buildings. VIORICA LASCU, President of the Greek Catholic Lay Association, told Keston, ‘Dialogue with the Orthodox is at a standstill. They lack the universal dimension, think in terms of the frontiers of the state, which they consider as mono-ethnic and mono-confessional. They haven’t given us back a single church [as a result of the conversations - Ed.] and they have no intention of doing so. Because our bishops renounced our right to reclaim our property in entirety, in the hope of reaching an amiable settlement, they took it for a sign of weakness and refused to hand back even a token number of cathedrals and churches. Furthermore, they claim that the Orthodox Church should be recognised as the “National Church”.’ Lascu reports that a further meeting has been arranged. So far the Catholics have regained only 137 of over 2000 churches and three of their six Cathedrals still remain in Orthodox hands. During the discussions their bishops have renounced recourse to lawsuits to regain property, though in some cases, as in Cluj Cathedral in 1987, these were successful. The fact that the proposed new Law on Religion (see KNS 22 November) does not specifically deal with restitution of property confiscated from a religious group during the communist period and now in the hands of another religious group can only confirm the Orthodox Church’s stance. Article 48 states that ‘religious cults have the right of ownership over (property) already existing or acquired with their own means, state contributions of private donations.’ Most of the church buildings the Orthodox now retains were transferred to it by the state in return for its cooperation in absorbing Greek Catholics. Article 49 affirms that a cult’s right of ownership over places of worship, monasteries and cemeteries is ‘inalienable’. Article 57 concedes that, if at least half plus one of the members of one cult transfer to another cult, the cult’s property becomes that of the cult they have left, although they are entitled to compensation. This could be relevant in a number of instances where parts or in some cases entire Orthodox parishes have reverted to or transferred to the Greek Catholic Church. (END) All Keston News Service material is protected by copyright: (c) Keston Institute 1999 Reproduction for personal use only. 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