22 February 2001, Volume 3, Number 4THE ROMANIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH AND POST-COMMUNIST DEMOCRATIZATION (A)
Ten years of post-communism have made evident that the kind of democracy Romania will have will be determined by the Orthodox Church, the country's largest religious denomination --claiming the allegiance of four out of every five citizens. Since 1989, the Romanian Orthodox Church (BOR) has tried to become one of the dominant forces in transition by imposing its views on democracy through direct and indirect political engagement. This article surveys the BOR's pre-1989 position and considers its relationship with the Romanian state in the democratization process. We assess the BOR's efforts to carve a new role for itself in the new democracy, its political representation, influence on new educational curricula, and homosexual rights, as well as the issue of restitution of property to the Greek Catholic Church (BGC).
Church-State Relations Before 1989
Since its early days, the Orthodox Church in Romania has been known for its policy of accommodation with the rulers of the day and silent submission to them. For a long time, the Church was in no position to do anything better. Until the middle of the 19th century, it was subordinate to a foreign patriarch, had most of its wealth and revenues obtained from its vast lands directed to the Constantinople Patriarchate and Mount Athos, and a hierarchy filled by poorly-educated clergy. During the 16th and 17th centuries, half of the Moldovan and Wallachian metropolitans were removed from office by the country's political rulers or the Constantinople patriarch, a pattern continued after the two principalities came under Russian influence in 1812 (Pacurariu, 1981).
Half a century later, church-state relations experienced a sharp intensification when Alexandru Ioan Cuza, the united principalities' first ruler, brought in radical changes. Following a clearer delimitation of the roles and responsibilities of both the Church and the state, and the creation of a national organizational church structure, the Church eventually emerged as a self-governing patriarchate in the Orthodox world. Cuza nationalized the land controlled by foreign monasteries, stopped the transfer of funds abroad, improved the educational standards of the clergy, made Romanian the liturgical language, and pledged state financial support for church activities and clergy salaries. At the same time, the BOR was brought under regular government control, thus succumbing to the politics of the day and losing any autonomous decision-making power in areas ranging from control over monastic revenues to the nomination of its head (Pacurariu, 1981; Ursul, 1982).
When national consciousness emerged in Eastern Europe, the Church joined the bandwagon by positioning itself as pivotal for the very definition of "Romanianism," a shared identity supposedly superseding Moldovan, Wallachian, and Transylvanian regional allegiances. In doing so, the Church borrowed, and eventually monopolized, the Transylvanian Greek Catholics' nationalist discourse centered on the Latin character of the Romanian language and descent. This discourse appropriation gave the BOR growing moral and political legitimacy in the eyes of the Romanians, and more recognition from the state. Before communism took over the country, the constitutional arrangements of the modern Romanian state recognized the BOR as the national church, a privileged position which still fell short of full autonomy from the secular power.
After Romania became part of the communist bloc, the Romanian Communist Party (PCR) regarded religion as a capitalist remnant expected to wither away as its social basis disappeared, but recognized that a Church respected by the bulk of the population could be useful for furthering the party's socioeconomic and political goals (Durandin, 1995; Roberson, 1996; Webster, 1995). Under communism, Church and state established a modus vivendi which allowed the Church to be enlisted as an unconditional supporter of communist policies in return for government toleration of a certain level of ecclesiastical activity. Until 1965, the communist state made considerable efforts to weaken the Church's role in the society and to bring its hierarchy under control by legally depriving the BOR of its privileged position among churches and its right to pursue educational and charitable activities. In 1948, the PCR also appointed as patriarch Justinian Marina, a former parish priest with socialist political views and a personal friend of PCR First Secretary Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej. Throughout his reign, Patriarch Justinian remained a staunch supporter of the communist regime, though his cooperation did not spare the Church several waves of persecution.
A skilled player in the Romanian political arena, Patriarch Justinian did obtain some concessions for his Church. From 1965 to 1977 the state no longer saw a need to close monasteries, agreed to rehabilitate formerly imprisoned clergy, and financially supported the restoration of churches of historical importance. Yet the relative thaw in Church-state relations was more the result of President Nicolae Ceausescu's shrewd calculations of using the BOR to gain independence from Moscow in order to ingratiate the West, whose financial support he badly needed for his megalomaniacal industrialization projects. At the same time, he sought to strengthen his position domestically by appealing to the traditional Romanian nationalism, which the BOR considered its turf. In 1968, the PCR secretary-general acknowledged the BOR's role in the development of modern Romania, and in April 1972 he allowed his father's funeral to be broadcast live on radio and conducted according to Orthodox ritual. Ceausescu also tacitly tolerated the use of baptism, marriage, and burial services by communist officials who considered themselves Orthodox Christians. Patriarch Justinian, in turn, brought the Church in May 1974 into the Socialist Unity and Democracy Front, a national advisory organization totally controlled by the PCR.
The thaw in Church-state relations did not outlast Patriarch Justinian, whose death in 1977 coincided with the revival of an East European civil society and the onset of a new anti-church campaign in Romania. The communists again hand-picked subsequent patriarchs. Shortly after his appointment, Patriarch Justin Moisescu, a foremost activist-theologian and ecumenical spokesman of the Church, rendered homage to Ceausescu on the occasion of the latter's 45-year-long activity "devoted to the progress of the Romanian people and fatherland" (Webster, 1995, p. 111). Moisescu also praised Ceausescu for "securing complete freedom to all religious cults in our country to carry out their activity among the faithful." His successor, Teoctist Arapasu, was a political activist long before assuming the position of patriarch. As a bishop, he served as a deputy in the Grand National Assembly, was a participant in the Front congresses, and a key member of the Ceausescu-sponsored National Peace Committee.
By 1979, religious persecution in Romania was on the rise again, and the Ceausescu regime continued its anti-religious policies unabated until December 1989. In contrast to the pre-1965 crackdown on the Church, this time several voices stood up against Ceausescu's blatant infringements on religious freedom. The most well-known dissenter was Father Gheorghe Calciu Dumitreasa, sentenced in 1979 to prison and later banished into exile for preaching sermons in which he described atheism as a philosophy of despair. Moisescu allowed the BOR's ruling council, the Holy Synod, to defrock Dumitreasa and other priests later arrested for anticommunist opposition ("Romania libera," 10 March 1997). Between 1977 and 1989, 22 churches and monasteries were demolished, and 14 others were closed down or moved to disadvantageous sites (Rompres, 4 January 1990). Arapasu also had to struggle with Ceausescu's desire to demolish the Bucharest patriarchal complex and transfer the see to the northeastern town of Iasi. This did not prevent him from sending the dictator a telegram of support days after the first popular anticommunist uprising started in Timisoara on 15 December 1989.
After the fall of Ceausescu, the Church and Patriarch Teoctist in particular have been strongly criticized for supporting the communist regime to its very end. On 10 January 1990, the synod apologized for those "who did not always have the courage of the martyrs," and expressed regret that it had been "necessary to pay the tribute of obligatory and artificial praises addressed to the dictator" to ensure certain liberties (Rompres, 12 January 1990). It also annulled the ecclesiastical sanctions previously imposed on some clergymen for political reasons. Faced with increasing criticism, Patriarch Teoctist resigned his office on 18 January 1990, only to return three months later at the synod's insistence. Some 136 religious and cultural leaders protested against this "defiance of the no-confidence vote of the faithful that made [Teoctist] step down" (Rompres, 10 April 1990), but the Synod opted for continuity in the face of political change and acknowledged the views of the other Orthodox Churches, which went on recognizing Teoctist as patriarch.
Since 1989, the BOR as an institution avoided any moral self-examination and never openly admitted to willingly collaborating with the communist authorities or the dreaded Securitate. Nicolae Corneanu, Metropolitan of Banat, in a 1981 letter sent to Patriarch Justin, was the only Orthodox clergyman to acknowledge his efforts on behalf of the communist authorities to infiltrate Romanian communities of Western Europe and North America and to defrock five priests who denounced "the Church's prostitution with the communist power, and its hierarchy's involvement with Ceausescu's politics" ("Romania libera," 10 March 1997). In 1997, Corneanu revealed the extent of the Church's collaboration, and named Metropolitan Plamadeala among the most active promoters of Ceausescu's anti-religious and anti-Orthodox policies. In 1986, Plamadeala defended Ceausescu's massive church demolition program by contending that "city urbanization and modernization is a general and inevitable phenomenon [which] unfortunately requires, as everywhere, sacrifices" (Webster 1995, p. 114).
So far, Orthodox clergy accused of having served the communist regime kept silent on the subject. But Orthodox theologians justified collaboration by resorting to the Byzantine concept of SYMPHONIA, a cooperation between Church and state in the fulfillment of their goals, each supporting the other and none being subordinated to the other (Webster, 1995, p. 27). The concept binds the state and the Church so closely together that the latter becomes a state Church, while other Christian denominations and non-Christian religions enjoy considerably fewer rights. This view is obviously in sharp contrast to the Western notion of a separation between Church and state, which implies the independence and sufficiency of the ecclesiastical and political hierarchies. To accommodate a hostile atheistic state, the Romanian version of SYMPHONIA entailed some theoretical ingenuity and considerable compromises on the part of the Church. Compared to other religious denominations the BOR indeed had a privileged position, but continued to be only a privileged servant of the state.
Did collaboration with the Communists really help the BOR? Orthodox leaders have repeatedly claimed that their political submission helped avoid a more dreadful alternative: obliteration. The BOR, they said, not only admirably evaded the fate of the local Roman and Greek Catholic Churches, which were subjected to vicious persecution and suppression, but by 1985 managed to become the most vigorous Church in the European communist bloc. For its anticipated loyalty and services to the communists, it was allowed to take possession of Greek Catholic property, and to keep open its seminaries and theological institutes. Yet collaboration with communist authorities failed to prevent church persecution entirely and, more importantly, entailed a Church-state partnership which was no contract between equals, but a state-dominated marriage in which Church leaders could seldom negotiate where the boundaries of religious activities and freedom were to be drawn. The BOR became morally compromised in the eyes of many Romanian Orthodox faithful and intellectuals, international church and ecumenical circles, and Western governments by its refusal to serve as a center of opposition to the communist regime. Its support for the communist encroachment on human rights was strongly condemned by the Western world, a view shared by influential Bucharest intellectuals who deny the BOR a positive role in Romania's democratization.
The Church In Post-Communist Times
After the Ceausescu regime was toppled, the Church shared in the wave of enthusiasm which swept across the country, conducting prayers nationwide for the success of the new Romanian leaders, organizing religious processions in the main cities, and commemorating those killed in the uprising with memorial services. The end of communism allowed the Church to function freely for the first time in decades, although its post-1989 presence was initially marred by the controversy surrounding the patriarchal office and its ambiguous relationship with the former communist regime. Shortly thereafter, however, the BOR emerged as a powerful political actor and an uncontested source of moral strength, with opinion polls constantly ranking it the most popular institution in the country and a vast majority of Romanians stating their full confidence in it. Exactly how this transformation occurred remains subject to debate, though several explanations can be advanced. For many Orthodox Romanians, Patriarch Teoctist's retreat to a monastery and the synod's partial apology amounted to a long-overdue mea culpa for the Church's role under communism. With a handful of exceptions, each and every Romanian was more or less open to criticism regarding her or his compliance with the communist regime; as such, the average Romanian was willing to overlook the BOR's past political conformism without demanding further explanations. Its spectacular comeback was facilitated by a host of Orthodox radio and television programs in which prominent theologians and clergy glossed over the Church's dubious past performance to present it in a favorable light. The BOR also capitalized on the other political actors' loss of capital in the face of the hardships of transition. Both of the institutions ranking highest in popularity polls, the Church and the army, are non-elected, strictly hierarchical bodies which have neither been involved directly in the economic life of Romanians nor required to propose concrete programs of socioeconomic rehabilitation.
The Church's popularity in the eyes of the average Romanian does not seem to have been shattered even by a more recent revelation alleging that Patriarch Teoctist himself was a member of the fascist Legionnaire Movement in his youth. A document found in the archives of the former political police Securitate, dated 30 January 1950, shows that Patriarch Teoctist took part in a rebellion staged by the Iron Guard against General Ion Antonescu in January 1941 and destroyed a Jewish synagogue together with other Orthodox priests and Iron Guard supporters. The document was described variously by defenders of Teoctist as a concoction and an attempt by the Securitate to frame him ("SEIA Newsletter," 24 January 2001), but the information contained in one archive has been confirmed by documents found in other archives. This seems to confirm that, even if one document is a fabrication, the information itself may be true.
No analysis can ignore the Church's skillful use of nationalism for restoring its prestige and striking a chord with the Romanian public. Its post-1989 discourse has underscored the link between Orthodoxy and "Romanianism," and the importance of preserving the Romanian nation and identity in the face of growing modernization, globalization, secularization, and religious proselytism. Part of the nationalist drive was the June 1992 synod decision to canonize 19 Romanian saints and to declare the second Sunday after Pentecost as the "Sunday of the Romanian Saints." The inclusion of historical political figures fostered confusion between saints and national heroes, the more so since some canonized rulers were known more for their intrigues and cruelty than their saintly and Christian life. Half a year later, the Church unilaterally re-established two jurisdictions in Bessarabia and Bukovina, two areas which belonged to Greater Romania in the interwar period but are now part of the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine, respectively. A bitter, still unresolved dispute ensued with the Russian Orthodox Church to which the Orthodox dioceses in those regions have belonged since World War II.
The uneasy Church-state cooperation continued after 1989, with both Church and state drawing hefty advantages from a partnership increasingly standing on a more equal footing. The Church obtained key concessions from the country's political leaders, including some autonomy from the state doubled by state financial support, the introduction of religious education in public schools, and a regular presence on the state-controlled national television and radio. Politicians have called for the BOR to gain additional legitimacy, consolidate its power, rebuke accusations of communist nostalgia, and define the limits of permissible Westernization.
Post-communist elections and party politics have best illustrated the politicians' readiness to take advantage of Church-state issues, and the BOR's eagerness to reassert its prominent role in the country and shape Romanian democracy according to its vision. During electoral campaigns, candidates of all political persuasions wooed the BOR to gain the votes of the country's sizable Orthodox community. By 1996, religion had moved to the forefront of electoral debates, compelling all contenders to define their position vis-a-vis the BOR. The 1996 presidential candidates were careful to include visits to Orthodox churches in their electoral itineraries, show up for religious services on major Orthodox feast days, and to be photographed amid Orthodox icons and symbols. Some made substantial donations for church enlargement and reconstruction, others godfathered orphans and witnessed marriages in widely publicized ceremonies, and one candidate chose "He Who Votes for Me, Votes for God" as his electoral slogan. The highlight of the presidential race in that year was the televised debate in which Christian-Democrat Emil Constantinescu surprised the incumbent Ion Iliescu, a self-declared atheist, by asking him whether he believed in God. In the end Constantinescu won the office, and in a token of gratitude, he became the first post-communist Romanian president to take his solemn oath, hands on the Bible, in the presence of the Orthodox patriarch. Religion also played a role in the 2000 presidential elections. In the second round Corneliu Vadim Tudor, the Greater Romania Party (PRM) leader, challenged Iliescu. Wary that Romania's prospects for joining the European Community would be shattered if an extreme nationalist ascended to the presidency, the local press mounted a sustained anti-Tudor attack. The campaign prominently sought to discredit Tudor not so much for his populist promises as for, among other things, a letter he had written to then U.S. Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush, in which he revealed that his (Tudor's) late parents had been Baptists. Tudor, of course, had always made a great fuss about his devotion to the BOR. When Iliescu was proclaimed victor, the PRM leader cried "fraud" and added that the falsified electoral contest has "ushered in the Anti-Christ"(Radio Romania, 12 December 2000).
Candidates for the 1996 local and parliamentary elections also sought the BOR's support. Much discussed was a written request by Transylvanian leaders of the then ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) asking the Church to urge believers to vote for PDSR candidates. The letter reminded the BOR that "the PDSR government was the first in Romania's history to grant priests bonuses," and claimed that Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic priests actively encouraged believers to vote for the major opposition coalition, the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) (Radio Romania, 10 October 1996). Religion maintained its saliency in 1998, when contenders for the Bucharest mayoral office went on record for attending Orthodox religious services and giving alms, and receiving the unusual honor of being invited inside the altar sanctuary, where only clergy and the king have been traditionally allowed to enter.
The Church, in turn, rushed to follow the pattern of subservience to the state with which it was historically accustomed. Days after Teoctist's infamous letter hit the press and Ceausescu was deposed, the synod denounced the former "dictatorship" and reiterated its support for the new leaders. Church leaders advised clergymen to refrain from political involvement and from joining political parties and influencing their parishioners' political options (Rompres, 11 January and 4 May 1990). The same stance was officially adopted during subsequent elections, but clergymen did not live up to the commitment of political non-involvement and actively took part in political life. Metropolitan Nestor Vornicescu of Oltenia, and Bishop Calinic Argatu of Arges were among the sympathizers of the leftist National Salvation Front (FSN), the PDSR's first incarnation. Vornicescu, known for his steadfast support for Ceausescu, agreed to be included on the FSN electoral lists, only to withdraw his candidacy at the last minute. Metropolitan Nicolae Corneanu of Banat joined the pro-democratic Civic Alliance in December 1990. Though not all the BOR leaders have become party members, most have been rather open about their political loyalties. Archbishop Pimen of Suceava is an avowed monarchist, and Vornicescu and Plamadeala voiced support for the PRM.
While clergy have taken sides in the continuous battle between the leftist and the pro-democratic political forces active on the Romanian post-communist political scene, the patriarchate showed willingness to endorse any of the two, as long as they were in power. A decade after the downfall of communism and several political regimes down the road, there is no easy answer to the question of whether it was the PDSR or the CDR that helped the Church the most. The PDSR, whose rank and file is dominated by former communists, has feared the BOR's ascendancy in society. While party leaders cautiously maintained good relations with the Orthodox hierarchy, they ignored Church demands for parliamentary representation, refused to take sides in the property dispute between Orthodox and Greek Catholics, and kept financial support for church renovation and construction to a minimum. Apparently the BOR's relation with the major partner of the 1996-2000 ruling coalition, the National Peasant Party Christian Democrat (PNTCD), was no better. For the Orthodox clergy, the PNTCD is Christian Democrat only in name, since apart from electoral rhetoric and small contributions to church building projects, only the enforcement of religious instruction in school curricula showed the party's Christian dedication. The heir to the historical National Peasant Party, the PNTCD acquired a Christian Democrat touch only after 1989 and its identity as a Christian party remained ill-defined and poorly integrated into its general, rightist, and Western-oriented political doctrine. Moreover, prominent PNTCD leaders are Greek Catholics vigorously supporting restitution of Greek Catholic property by the Orthodox.
Defining The Church's Official Status In The New Democracy
An understanding of the Church's problematic engagement in post-communist politics and public affairs calls for an examination of the handful of new and old legislative acts that together regulate church-state relations and establish the functioning of the religious institution. The most important is undoubtedly the November 1991 constitution, which, as the product of a largely secular society and self-declared atheistic politicians, fails to mention the BOR but includes several provisions relevant to its activity. References to religion and religious life are made in Article 29, which guarantees the freedom of thought, opinion, and religious beliefs when manifested in a spirit of tolerance and mutual respect, allows religions to be "free and organized in accordance with their own statutes," and prohibits "any forms, means, acts, or actions of religious enmity." The article further upholds the religious denominations' autonomy from the state and pledges state support for religious assistance in the army, in hospitals, prisons, special-care homes, and orphanages. To steer the Church away from pernicious political influences, the legislators stipulated that statutory rules of religious denominations are organic laws passed by a majority vote of each of the two chambers of parliament (Article 72).
Generally, the 1991 constitution is more permissible than its 1948 and 1965 communist predecessors, which abolished church autonomy and allowed state-church relations to be supervised officially by the Department of Cults and unofficially by the secret police. But the three documents share the same spirit both in what they explicitly say and in what they choose to leave out. They all provide for freedom of consciousness for citizens and a right for Churches to administer themselves. As before 1989, the BOR is denied control in schools, and all churches must secure state approval before being allowed to function. More importantly, the BOR's pre-communist privileged position was not restored, an option showing that post-1989 leaders were prepared to use the BOR whenever they wished, but were less enthusiastic about granting it an actual privileged status.
For this reluctance, the 1991 constitution came under heavy criticism. During ensuing parliamentary debates, Orthodox sympathizers made several attempts to gain more leverage for their Church in such key institutions as the army and schools, and more recognition for what they saw as the Church's unique position as the spiritual and moral mentor of Romanians. Critics were disappointed that the democratic 1923 constitution, which proclaimed vaguely that Orthodoxy was the "prevailing Romanian" religion in relation to other religions, was not used as a blueprint for the new basic law. Aware that its calls fell on deaf ears, and encouraged by its increased hold over the Romanian population and politicians alike, in 1994 the BOR declared itself the "National Church," a move criticized by the Roman and Greek Catholic Churches. Trying to allay fears that the BOR's self-granted new status placed other denominations on a lesser footing, Professor Dumitru Popescu of the Bucharest University's Orthodox Theology Faculty insisted that other registered Christian churches would still enjoy equal rights. In September 1999, the Church moved one step closer to being officially recognized as the "national church," when Christian-Democrat Premier Radu Vasile amended the new draft law on religious denominations in favor of the BOR. When the cabinet turned down the proposal, Patriarch Teoctist went on "strike," and relations between the PNTCD and the Church cooled considerably. The bill is yet to be discussed by parliament.
Romanians only recently learned that during the early 1990s constitutional debates, the BOR called on state authorities to recognize all synod members as de jure senators. Bold as it seemed, the idea was not completely new to Romania, but, in fact, part and parcel of all pre-communist constitutions. (The 1923 constitution granted the same right to Greek Catholic leaders as well.) As local mass-media revealed, in mid-July 1990, the Orthodox patriarch and metropolitans met with President Iliescu to discuss what was laconically described at the time as "the BOR's representation in parliament" ("Biserica Ortodoxa Romana," 1990). When Iliescu rejected the proposal, the patriarchate presented the synod with a report on amendments "improving" the draft constitution. The changes regarded Article 58.1, which the Church wanted to read: "The Orthodox patriarch, metropolitans, and archbishops or their representatives, together with the leaders of the other Churches recognized in Romania, are senators de jure" ("Biserica Ortodoxa Romana," 1991). The drafters of the 1991 constitution disregarded the suggestions, but the BOR did not consider this the end of the story.
The new constitutional arrangements are complemented by several older legislative acts pertaining to religious affairs. Parliament has yet to pass a new law on religious denominations, and until then, decree no. 177/1948 on the general regime of religious cults and the August 1948 Law on Cults remain effective but hardly appropriate for the new times, since they both define the Church's relations with a repressive state. Eager to improve its relationship with the BOR, the Romanian post-communist state did not avail of some of its legislative prerogatives, such as the rights to appoint the patriarch, to control church property, its pastoral letters and public statements, and its relations with Churches from abroad. But while allowing the BOR's emancipation from state appointments and reviews, the state continues to confirm nominations to the high positions of the hierarchy, and state representatives still attend the synod sessions and the National Church Congress meetings. The traditional subordination of the Church to the state underwent little change, as Church-state relations continue to be supervised by the State Secretariat for Religious Affairs, heir of the governmental agency which, in one way or another, has survived since 1872. The Secretariat remains the manager of the budget, and state contributions are still the main source for the wages of the priests and theology teaching staff. The Church's historical dependence on state funds has made the priesthood a salaried bureaucracy subservient to the state and political interests. Note that the post-communist state's supervision of Romanian religious affairs has not always been detrimental to the Church, since the secretariat apparently adopted some obstructionist tactics favoring the BOR over other religious groups ("SEIA Newsletter," 2 March 1999).
Lavinia Stan is a professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto, and Lucian Turcescu a professor of Religious Studies at St. Francis Xavier University, Canada.
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An earlier version of this article was published in "Europe-Asia Studies," Vol. 52, no. 8 (December 2000), pp. 1467-1488. It is reprinted here with permission.