ROMANIA: Orthodox Destroy Former Greek Catholic Church.

Romanita Iordache, Keston News Service, 21 December 2001

Despite objections from governmental agencies and public associations, as well as the papal representative in Bucharest, the former Greek Catholic church in the village of Vadu Izei in Maramures county, 10 kms (six miles) from Sighetul Marmatiei, in Transylvania, was almost completely demolished in October, Keston News Service learned from Radu Capan, sub-deacon of the Greek Catholic Bishopric of Cluj-Gherla and webmaster of the sites <www.greek-catholic.ro> and <www.brubor.ro>. The church was removed to make way for a new church for the local Orthodox parish. "The destruction of the church did not have any Christian justification, you can be sure of it," Fr Marius Visovan, of the Greek Catholic community in Vadu Izei, told Keston. "They would rather destroy the churches instead of giving them back."

The massive demolition of the old church started on October 12 and more than 90% of the church has been devastated. Capan told Keston that between 10 and 15 graves were desecrated during the work.

The Greek Catholic Church in Romania was forcibly merged with the Orthodox Church in 1948, and all its churches and other property confiscated. In December 1989, within days of the ousting and execution of Nicolae Ceausescu, one of the first legislative documents was a decree once again recognising the Greek Catholic Church's existence. The Minister of Culture and Cults, Razvan Theodorescu, in a public statement on 18 October, reported on television channels Protv and Antena 1 and in national newspapers, said that the Greek Catholic churches used by the Orthodox Church since 1948 "belong to the spiritual patrimony of both churches", and called for a "common solution" to be reached. He condemned the destruction of the church in Vadu Izei and defined the perpetrators as fundamentalists, calling for the protection of all religious sites. "Even if there was no Greek Catholic community, the church should be preserved because it was a place of worship. Turn it into a museum, but do not destroy it."

The church in Vadu Izei is not the first Greek Catholic church destroyed since 1990 but it is probably the most important so far, Capan told Keston. It was the first stone-built Greek Catholic church in Transylvania, built between 1884 and 1892. (During the Austro-Hungarian Empire the Romanians were only allowed to build wooden places of worship.)

The Ministry of Culture and Cults and National Patrimony, the Ministry of Public Works and the State Secretariat for Cults all refused the request of the Vadu Izei Orthodox church to demolish the old building and replace it with the "expanding" new building of an Orthodox church. An alternative construction site in the centre of the village was offered by the mayor, but the foundations of the new Orthodox church had already been laid in September 1999 - without permission - in the vicinity of the old Greek Catholic church. Fr Visovan told Keston that his protests went unheard.

In April 2000 a building permit was issued (positive resolution no. 47 of 16 March 2000 of the governmental Commission on the approval of places of worship within the State Secretariat for Cults, followed by construction permit 34 of 14 April 2000 issued by Maramures local council). It stipulated that a distance of at least 6 metres should be preserved between the two buildings. Despite this, local Orthodox priest Vasile Hotico and his parish decided to build the new church less than 2 metres from the old church, forcing the demolition of the old church.

The destruction of the Greek Catholic church was endorsed by the local planning agency in Baia Mare and the Maramures local council in its demolition permit 41 of 10 April 2001. The document reads: 'As a result of the request of the Orthodox parish of Vadu Izei, represented by the priest Vasile Hotico, Maramures local Council authorises the activities of destroying the Orthodox church in Vadu Izei." Moreover, the Maramures local council decided on 19 October, to withdraw 1,500 million lei (48,000 USD or 33,000 GBP) from the public library and award them to the Orthodox Diocese of Maramures and Satmar.

In October 2001, the State Secretary in the Ministry of Culture and Cults, Ioan Opris and the director of the local agency for culture Ioan Marchis visited the site, met the authorities and sent a note to the Orthodox parish in Vadu Izei requesting them to put an end to the destruction (note 479 from October 2001 sent by the local agency for culture Maramures to Liviu Bechis, the prefect of Maramures county).

Asked to comment the situation at Vadu Izei, Opris said he was deeply troubled by what he had seen. He emphasized the distinction between the construction permit issued by the Ministry, which stated that no demolition should take place, and the illegal decision issued by Maramures local council allowing the destruction. He concluded that the decisions of the Ministry of Culture and Cults were not complied with and defined the destruction as "a targeted act of aggression".

In defence of the Orthodox approach, Fr Vasile Pop from Sighet, Fr Vasile Hotico from Vadu Izei and Professor Nutu Rosca - a priest and professor of Theology - stated in an open letter, sent on 24 October to various newspapers in response to articles pujblished on the church destruction, that the church was not Greek Catholic but Orthodox, so the demolition was an internal matter for the Orthodox church. Pop declared that "the church was not a monument of history, an architectural monument and did not have any special painting."

The Orthodox community in Vadu Izei numbers 2160, according to Fr Hotico, as opposed to 48 Greek Catholics. The statistics invoked by journalists protesting against the demolition of the church show that before the outlawing of the Greek Catholic Church in 1948, the community in Vadu Izei consisted of 3032 Greek Catholics and 2 Orthodox believers. After trying unsuccessfully for more than a decade to get access to the old church, the Greek Catholics in Vadu Izei use a house for their religious services and have started to build a new church. (END)