|Elemér Illyés : National Minorities in Romania|
THE CHURCHES OF THE NATIONAL
MINORITIES IN ROMANIA
Historical Background and the Period Between the Two World Wars
For centuries Transylvania was outstanding as a land of religious freedom, tolerance and diversity. At a time when religious wars were wreaking havoc elsewhere in Europe, Transylvania became the first land to proclaim freedom of religion. Between 1544 and 1575 no fewer than twenty-two laws guaranteeing freedom of conscience were enacted. In 1557, for example, the first Diet of Torda (Turda) granted Lutherans the right to free religious observance; the same freedom was accorded the Calvinists in 1564. In 1568, four "received" religions were recognized: the Roman Catholic, the Calvinist, the Lutheran, and the Unitarian.
By contrast, before the First World War, the Orthodox Church was the predominant and official religion in Romania. Almost 95 percent of the population of the Old Kingdom belonged to the Orthodox faith;1 Jews, Catholics (the archbishopric of Bucharest and the bishopric of Iasi), Protestants, and Unitarians accounted for the rest.
Tensions between the churches and the Romanian state arose as a result of the annexation of new territories after the First World War. The religious homogeneity of the Old Romanian Kingdom was lost with the incorporation of Transylvania and regions of the Banat, Bessarabia, and Bucovina. This development had profound political and social implications.
A vital condition for the political consolidation of the new multinational Romanian now became the development of close ties between the state and the various churches in the new territories. This was particularly so in light of the fact that the geographical boundaries between the different denominations coincided almost exactly with the boundaries between the various nationalities. Generally, membership in a given faith also meant membership in a given nationality.
Moreover, the churches saw the cultivation of national consciousness as one of their major responsibilities and their historic role in this process made them a force to be reckoned with. The newly-established (1918) Romanian state could therefore not rely exclusively on the traditional guardian of Romanian nationhood, Orthodoxy, in the consolidation of Greater Romania: peaceful coexistence with the national minorities assumed a certain degree of tolerance on the part of the state toward the non-Orthodox churches as well. And, in fact, the churches of the nationalities became, during the period of oppression of the minorities between the two world wars, an even more important factor, not only in the area of religion, but also in the cultural, social and political spheres.
The confessional situation was made even more complex by the presence of one-million-and-one-half Transylvanian Romanians of the Uniate faith.2 The awakening of Romanian national consciousness had begun among the Transylvanian Uniate clergy, the so-called Scoala Ardeleana (Transylvanian School), in the 18th century.3
The Transylvanian Roman Catholic Church presented as great a problem for the post-war Romanian state as did the Uniates. The Roman Catholics, who numbered approximately 1.3 million, mainly of Hungarian nationality, had the oldest traditions. On several occasions this Church had played a decisive role in the internal and external politics of the state; this made the confrontation between the Catholic Church and Romanian Orthodoxy, the official state religion, all the more serious. Like the Uniate Church, the Roman Catholic Church aimed at securing religious equality. With the support of international Catholicism and its own political weight, it proved capable, on the whole, of defending the cultural and political interests of the Hungarian, Banat Swabian and other Catholic national minorities in Romania between the two world wars.
The two main Protestant churches, the Reformed (Calvinist) Church and the Lutheran Church were also a significant factor in Romania between the wars. The adherents of the Calvinist Church numbered over 700,000, almost all of them Hungarian, while the number of Lutherans in the whole of Romania amounted to approximately 400,000, most of them Germans but also including a group of Hungarians. However, from a political point of view, neither the Calvinist nor the Lutheran Church was a factor of great significance; their importance was manifested primarily in the cultural and social spheres. The Lutheran Church did take on political importance from the 1930s onward, as a result of Romania's German orientation.
The historical development, status, and membership of the minority churches and the Romanian Uniate Church during the interwar period will be analyzed more closely in the section that follows. In determining the membership of each, non-Romanian sources as well as Romanian census data will be taken into consideration.
The Roman Catholic Church in Transylvania, as stated, had the oldest traditions. The Bishopric of Gyulafehérvár/ Alba Iulia was founded in 1010 and the Bishopric of Nagyvárad/ Oradea in 1077. (The oldest data concerning the Catholic population of Transylvania comes from papal taxation lists of 1332-37). Between the two world wars the Roman Catholic Church consisted of one archbishopric in Bucharest and the seven dioceses: Alba Iulia of Transylvania, Oradea, Csanád, Satu Mare/ Szatmár, Timisoara/ Temesvár, Iasi and in Tiraspol; Satu Mare and Oradea were merged into a single bishopric. It had 177 churches, 669 parishes, 21 chapels, 116 monasteries and convents, several welfare and charitable institutions and religious societies, 8 periodical publications, and 6 theological colleges. The number of adherents in the whole of Romania was approximately 1,234,000, of whom 850,000 were Hungarian; the rest was made up of a large number of Germans and some Slovaks, Armenians, Czechs, Poles, and Croats. Hungarian Catholics were concentrated most densely in northwestern Transylvania, along the Hungarian-Romanian border, in the Székler region, and in Bacau and Roman counties of Moldavia (the CsángóHungarians). The majority of German Catholics lived in the Banat (Swabians of the Banat), around Satu Mare, in the area of the Regat, and in Bessarabia, Bucovina, and various towns.
The traditions of the Transylvanian Lutheran Church dated back to 1542-43, when at the prompting of Johannes Honterus, the Transylvanian reformer (1489-1549), the Catholic Saxons of Kronstadt and Burzenland, adopted the Protestant religion; the rest of the Saxons in Transylvania followed suit in 1547.4 The oldest body of the Church in Transylvania was the Evangelische Landeskirche Augsburgisher Bekenntnisses in Siebenbü rgen (Transylvanian Evangelical National Church of the Augsburg Confession).
The organization encompassing all German adherents of the Lutheran Church in Romania, the Evangelische Landeskirche A. B. in Rumä nien (The Evangelical National Church A.B. of Romania), was founded in 1926-27. Altogether approximately 350,000 Germans belonged to it, distributed among the different territories as follows: in Transylvania, 240,000; in Bessarabia, 66,000; in Bucovina, 20,000; in the various cities and towns of the Regat and in Dobrugea 16,000; and in the Banat, 8,000. Before the Second World War the Lutheran Church had one bishop in Sibiu/ Hermannstadt, 14 deaconries, 332 parishes, and one theological college. The number of adherents in the whole of Romania amounted to approximately 400,000-450,000, almost all of them of the German nationality, but also including a group of Hungarians (12,000), approximately 2,700 Gypsies and about 1,000 Slavs.
The Transylvanian Reformed (Calvinist) Church before the First World War had two episcopal dioceses, whose seats were in Cluj and Oradea, 26 church-districts, 780 churches and parishes. The Church also had one theological college with nine departments, and five periodical publications.5 Adherents numbered approximately 700,000-750,000, all of them Hungarian.
The Transylvanian Unitarian Church had one bishop, whose seat was in Cluj, eight dioceses, and 113 parishes, with approximately 70,000 adherents, all of them Hungarian. It published two ecclesiastical journals, the Kereszté ny Magvetö (Christian Sower) and the Unitá rius Kö zlö ny (Unitarian Information).
The Jewish faith had no central organization: the 922 synagogues, with 731 rabbis, were dispersed all over the country. The members of the Jewish community numbered approximately 750,000. The Greek Catholic (Uniate) Church consisted almost exclusively of persons of Romanian nationality, with a small number of Hungarians, Greeks, Serbs, and Bulgarians. It comprised one archbishopric and four dioceses with episcopal rank. There were 1,725 churches with 1,594 priests, 34 canons, and 75 prelates. Three theological seminaries were available for the training of the clergy. The number of adherents in the whole of Romania amounted to approximately 1,400,000. In addition, there were a number of smaller religious communities.6
After the annexation of Transylvania, the Alba Iulia Resolutions of December 1, 1918 guaranteed in paragraph 2 of Section 3, "equal rights and full ecclesiastical autonomy for all the religions in the state"; the same guarantees were made in Article 2 of the Minorities Treaty of December 9, 1919, according to which "every inhabitant of Romania is entitled to practice freely any faith, religion, or persuasion, publicly or at home, insofar as these practices are not contrary to public order and morality." Article 137 of the Romanian Constitution of 1923 also guaranteed all the rights of the churches, but Article 22 declared the Romanian Orthodox Church to be the dominant, privileged church. The Constitution also gave preference to the predominantly Romanian Greek Catholic (Uniate) Church over the other churches; the Uniate Church, together with the Orthodox Church, formed the "national Church," whereby the privileged position of the two Romanian Churches implied a certain discrimination against the others. A law published on May 6, 1925, relating to the organization of the Orthodox Church, confirmed the status of Orthodoxy as the dominant faith of Romania.
The Law on Cults (No. 1,093), issued on April 22, 1928, regulated relations between the state and the churches, as well as the legal position of the churches in Romania, and relations between the different denominations. With the exception of the small communities -- designated by the law as sects -- all religious organizations enjoyed equal freedom in the spiritual sphere at this time, but, with the exception of the Roman Catholic Church, the state was to exercise administrative supervision: its permission was required for the establishment of new parishes, and it had control over church educational institutions. Similarly, the state had to approve all ecclesiastical measures and determined the number of senators nominated by the churches.
The 1928 Law on Cults also affirmed the dominant position of Orthodoxy and the privileged position accorded to the Greek Catholic (Uniate) Church; the Roman Catholic, Reformed (Calvinist), Lutheran, Unitarian, Armeno-Gregorian, Jewish, and Mohammedan faiths were referred to as "historic churches." The state exerted stricter control over the non-Romanian churches, particularly over their political activities. Thus, Article 6 of the Law prohibited ecclesiastical corporations and institutions from dealing with political issues.
Relations between the Romanian state and the Roman Catholic Church were regulated by the Concordat concluded on May 10, 1927 and ratified after the adoption of the Law on Cults, on July 9, 1929. Although this agreement between the Holy See and the Romanian government guaranteed full freedom for the Roman Catholic Church and seemingly secured its rights vis-à -vis the dominant Orthodox Church, it also limited the almost thousand year-old autonomy of the Church in Transylvania by subordinating the Hungarian bishoprics of the annexed territories to the Romanian archbishopric of Bucharest, which had only a small number of members. Although the state did not extend its direct control over the Catholic educational institutions, it reserved the right to approve the selection of teaching staff and the composition of the syllabus. Charitable and welfare institutions, such as Catholic hospitals, dispensaries, orphanages, homes for the elderly, and nurseries did not come under state supervision. On the other hand, with only a few exceptions, the Roman Catholic Church was not given financial support by the state. It is also worth noting that this Concordat was reached in the face of strong opposition from the Orthodox Church.
At the end of the First World War the national-minority churches in Romania were supported largely by incomes from church property. However, the Romanian agrarian reform of 1921 expropriated a large percentage of these landholdings, thus destroying a large part of the churches' financial base. A total of 277,645 yokes of land were taken from the Roman Catholic bishoprics in Transylvania, leaving them with only 13,104 yokes; 36,686 yokes of land were taken away from the Calvinist bishoprics, leaving them with 44,420.7 At the same time an additional 58,000 yokes of land were expropriated from the Transylvanian Lutheran Church. According to the Agrarian Reform Act, each parish could keep 32 yokes of land, but of the 240 Saxon parishes, for example, only 42 received their full quota.8 Among the Roman Catholic parishes, 119 were left without any land.9
According to the data of the December 29, 1930 Romanian census -- to offer a final bit of statistical data on religious confessions -- the population of the whole of Romania and Transylvania was divided among the various denominations as shown in Table VI-1.
|Greek Catholic (Uniate)||1,427,000||7.9||1,385,445||24.9|
Source: Recensamantul populatiei Romaniei din 29 decemvrie 1930 [The Romanian Census of December 29, 1930] (Bucharest: 1939), pp. 70-73. The data relating to Transylvania also include data for the Banat, Crisana and Maramures.
The Legal Position After the Second World War
The churches in Romania found themselves in very different circumstances after the Second World War. In general, during the immediate post-war period, the various religious communities were able to retain their prewar administrative status. For the time being, it was in the interest of the Romanian state to maintain and cultivate the churches of the national minorities; the fundamental aim of its nationality policy at that time was to convince the victorious Powers and world public opinion of its tolerance. This policy was also necessary for the preservation of the territorial integrity of the country.
The Romanian Orthodox Church continued to be the "dominant Church." It was in an advantageous position vis-à -vis the other churches because it had not actively opposed the socialist revolution; in fact, some of the clergy had even participated in the anti-fascist movements. Furthermore, the Romanian Orthodox Church was viewed as a guardian of national culture. Nonetheless, perhaps because, as the state religion, the Orthodox Church had had close ties with the autocratic war-time regime, an ideological campaign was launched against it by the new regime -- just as was the case with the other Orthodox churches of Eastern Europe -- using the full armory of weapons available to the party and state. The main goal of this campaign was to exclude the influence of Orthodoxy from public life.
The legal status of the minority churches until 1948 was determined by the Nationality Statute of February 6, 1945 and by the Paris Peace Treaty of February 10, 1947. Both guaranteed full religious freedom to every inhabitant of Romania. Likewise, the first communist Constitution of April 13, 1948 guaranteed freedom of religion and the right of churches to organize, as long as this did not "threaten public security and order." Similarly, according to Article 84 of the 1952 Constitution, "the citizens of the Romanian People's Republic can freely determine their religious allegiance and the religious denominations are free to organize and function." The above article also stipulated that no denomination, congregation, or religious community could establish or maintain institutions other than special schools for training clerics. The Constitution of August 21, 1965 of the Romanian Socialist Republic also guaranteed in Article 30 "freedom of conscience for all. Everyone is free to determine his own religious affiliation or whether to have a religious affiliation at all. The free practice of religion is guaranteed. . . church and school are to be separate."
As a result of territorial changes, resettlements, and deportations in post-war Romania, the number of adherents of the various denominations changed significantly. Due to a lack of complete ecclesiastical statistics it is difficult to determine the exact extent of these changes. However, it can be said that the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church of the Transylvanian Saxons (due to the sharp decline in the German population), and the Jewish community suffered particularly serious losses.
The remainder of this chapter will be an attempt to provide a general picture of the status of the churches of the national minorities in Romania between 1945 and 1980. The year 1945 is important, since it marked the first intervention by the state in the life of the churches, an act which ultimately led to profound transformations.
The land-reform decree issued by the Groza government on March 23, 1945, had grave consequences for the national minorities -- especially the Germans and Hungarians -- in Romania. The expropriations eliminated the wealth of the minority churches, including, for example, the property of the Transylvanian "Roman Catholic Status."10
The first effort by the state to gain political control over the churches was made by the People's Front Government of Groza in October 1945, which sought to win the ecclesiastical leaders over to the cause of socialism, but the experiment failed. The next step taken was aimed at the ideological transformation of the dominant Orthodox Church. The purges carried out in the administration and in every sphere of public life also affected the Orthodox clergy, and a subsequent decree of May 1947 established a mandatory retirement age for Orthodox clergy.
Thus, the old guard was more easily dismissed, to be replaced by young clerics who could perhaps be won over more easily to the cause of socialism. The purges, however, were carried out more gradually and carefully in the church than in other institutions, since the state still hoped to use the church as an ideological instrument. A "Union of Democratic Priests" was founded for this purpose; the state's agents were active in this organization from the very beginning. However, various experiments with re-education met everywhere with stubborn resistance from the clergy and, consequently, it proved necessary to seek formal legitimacy for radical change. The first Constitution of the People's Democracy, enacted on April 13, 1948, provided the point of departure for making state control over the churches permanent. The Constitution continued to describe the Romanian Orthodox Church as the "dominant Church" but it did not refer to the Uniate Church as a "national Church." The Constitution abolished the confessional general schools and monastic orders and extended state control over all cultural institutions in the country.
The assertion of state control over the churches was manifested most strikingly in stripping the Roman Catholic Church (which the state viewed as the greatest threat) of its rights. Because of its foreign connections, the great number of its adherents (almost three million Roman Catholics and Uniates), as well as its high degree of organization, the Catholic Church had great strength. Consequently, the government perceived it to be a most dangerous institution, likely to oppose communism and to hinder the creation of a unified national state.
The initial attack on the Catholic Church was still formulated in general terms. The Church was still one of the legally recognized religious bodies of Romania; it was, nonetheless, branded as "reactionary" by the press, the party, and the state. Along with the press campaign, a campaign of intimidation was begun within the hierarchy of the Church, working upwards from the lower ranks. Between May 1947 and March 1948, 92 Catholic priests were arrested.11 Intimidation, imprisonment, and deportations continued in August and September 1948, in hopes of weakening resistance.12 At the same time all the Catholic newspapers and publications were abolished. However, further legal action soon proved necessary.
On the basis of the new People's Democratic Constitution, the Grand National Assembly enacted a decree whereby the Romanian People's Republic revoked, immediately and for all time, the Concordat between the Holy See and Romania of May 10, 1927.13 As this was an international treaty, it could be revoked only after the abolition of the 1923 Constitution. The annulment of concordats and the breaking off of diplomatic relations with the Vatican occurred all over East Central Europe during this period: in 1945 Poland broke off relations with the Vatican, as did Czechoslovakia in 1950 and Yugoslavia in 1952. Only later did a certain degree of normalization take place.
The annulment of the Concordat brought the almost thousand-year-old independence of the Roman Catholic Church to an end. Furthermore, unlike the other Romanian churches, it thereby lost its legal status as well. At the same time, the Holy See lost its supremacy over the state in ecclesiastical matters, a supremacy hitherto expressed in the fact that the Vatican had been the mediator between the church and the state. At this time the Orthodox was still a privileged Church; and the revocation of the Concordat affirmed its dominant position. Nonetheless, the legal status of the Orthodox Church was soon to be considerably restricted.
The foundations of the new policy towards the churches (a policy still in effect) were laid by the Law on Cults (Legea cultelor),14 of August 4, 1948, which provided a "general regulation of the practice of religion." The new law abolished the decree of 1928, which had defined the legal position of the churches in Romania and had already instituted a certain degree of state control over the churches; in essence, the new law completed the absorption of the churches by the state. This meant that the state subordinated the freedom of action of the churches, which had autonomous rights, to the immediate control of state organs, ordered a revision of the organizational rules of the churches, and took full control of the higher ecclesiastical administrative, financial, and economic institutions, restricting the activity of the churches to liturgical and pastoral matters. Control over the churches was henceforth in the hands of the Ministry of Religious Affairs.
In principle, the law guaranteed freedom of religion (Article 1), as well as the form of organization appropriate to each religious community, so long as "this does not threaten public security and order or morality" (Articles 6 and 7). However, all ecclesiastical organizational activities and functions were to be subject to prior approval by the Presidium of the Grand National Assembly, which meant, in practice, that even the continued existence of legally recognized religious communities was dependent on the good will of the state.
According to Article 13, legal recognition of a religious community could "be revoked at any time in cases where this is justified." According to Article 40, Romanian religious bodies and their representatives were forbidden to have any type of connection with foreign religious communities, institutions, or official personages; foreign contacts -- which had still been free at the time of the Concordat -- henceforth required the permission of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This legal measure was aimed primarily at restricting the freedom of the Catholic Church in Romania, abolishing papal jurisdiction over it. According to Article 42, subsidies from abroad were also to be subject to state control. Article 21 stipulated that the heads of the churches could hold office only with the approval of the highest state organs. The members of the clergy were to take an oath of loyalty to the Romanian state, its Constitution and laws.
Decree No. 1,388/1948, which was issued as a supplement to the Law on Cults, and the law relating to educational reform of August 3, 1948, further established the state's right to unrestricted supervision of the activities of the churches.15 Article 35 of the educational law stipulated that "all ecclesiastical and private schools are to be reorganized as state schools." At the same time, the state expropriated the existing properties of the churches, without compensation. This legal measure destroyed the centuries-old ecclesiastical school system of the national minorities. It is well known that the churches and schools of the Hungarian and German nationalities in Transylvania were traditionally closely linked to one another providing a basis for the continuing cultural survival of those national minorities. The role of the Hungarian churches became even more important after 1918, when most of the leadership of the Hungarian community was drawn from among the clergy.
The educational reform decree instituted complete separation of church and school, a state of affairs which exists in only two other socialist countries -- the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. The Catholic Church protested against this measure at a synod of bishops held in Oradea on August 26-27, 1948.
In further support of the Law on Cults and the educational reform, the government issued a number of administrative measures aimed at the liquidation of the Roman Catholic and Romanian Uniate Churches. In order to break the growing resistance of the Churches, the government issued a decree on September 18, 1948,16 arbitrarily stipulating (on the basis of Article 22 of the Law on Cults) the number of dioceses of episcopal rank.
According to this measure, each diocese had to have at least 750,000 faithful under its jurisdiction; as a result, only five of the hitherto existing ten Catholic dioceses (five Roman Catholic and five Greek Catholic) were retained -- three Roman Catholic and two Greek Catholic (Uniate). As a result of the measure, three Uniate and two Roman Catholic bishops were removed from their posts, and even the bishops who retained their sees were exposed to constant attack in the press.
At the end of September 1948 the government called on adherents of the Uniate Church to convert to Orthodoxy; for the time being, however, actions were limited to individuals and small groups. The Cluj Congress of October 1, 1948, sought to mobilize larger masses for the merger.17 As a result of governmental actions, by November 1948, 600 Uniate clergymen had been arrested; with one exception, all the Uniate bishops perished in prison. In its campaign of conversion by coercion, the government made use of Article 27 of the Law on Cults, which stipulated that after the conversion of adherents of one faith to another, the property of the former was to become that of the latter, in proportion to the percentage of converts. Furthermore, if 75 percent of the adherents of one Church were converted to another, the former Church was to lose all of its wealth, including its buildings, properties and churches.
With these developments, the government of the Romanian People's Republic felt certain of soon achieving its goal of eliminating the Greek Catholic (Uniate) Church. On October 21, 1948, the "return of the Uniate Church into the Orthodox Church as historical act" was celebrated at the Romanian Cathedral in Alba Iulia. Finally, a decree issued on December 1, 1948, officially abolished the Romanian Uniate Church after 250 years of existence, and its property was transferred to the Orthodox Church.18 Significantly, the 1948 Constitution did not provide specific protection for the Uniates.
The rejection by members of the Greek Catholic Church of the forced unification into the Orthodox Church resulted in a protest demonstration in Cluj. In 1977 the Committee To Save the Romanian Uniate Church sent a letter to state and party chief Ceausescu, requesting the repeal of the ban on the Uniate Church; the request was rejected by the new Orthodox Patriarch, Justin Moisescu.
As a result of an order of the Minister of Religious Affairs on February 5, 1949,19 the state finally assumed control over all religious denominations in Romania. Only the Catholic Armenian Church was permitted to maintain its foreign ties (with the Armenian Republic of the USSR).
The Romanian Orthodox Church was the first Romanian church to have its legal status recognized by the government, on October 20, 1948; this was publicly approved by a February 23, 1949 decree of the Grand National Assembly. On June 1 and 6 of the same year the legal status of the following religious communities in Romania was officially recognized: the Reformed (Calvinist) Church, the Saxon Evangelical Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Unitarian Church, the Armeno-Gregorian Church, the Russian Old Believer community, the Jewish and Moslem faiths, and a few, small Neo-Protestant religious communities (Baptists, Adventists, Evangelicals).
After the elimination of the Romanian Uniate Church, new and even more severe attacks were begun against the Roman Catholic Church, which still had no recognized legal status. These attacks, which reached their peak in June and July of 1949, were aimed at the higher clergy. The day after the state's official recognition of the status of the Orthodox Church, on February 24, 1949, Áron Márton, a Hungarian Roman Catholic bishop, submitted a protest to the government over the abolition of the Uniate Church and the extension of arbitrary state power over the Roman Catholic Church.
Finally, between June 20 and 26, 1949, the two Catholic bishops who had remained in their posts were arrested and imprisoned. With the loss of these bishops, Áron Márton and Anton Durcovici, the Catholic Church was left leaderless.20 According to reports, four of the five Catholic bishops who had remained in the country later died in prison.21 Soon after the arrest of the Catholic bishops, a decree issued on July 29 by the Council of Ministers dissolved 15 monastic orders and congregations of the Roman Catholic Church, as well as those Catholic charitable and welfare institutions which had provided education, health care, and social services.22 Two monasteries and three convents were permitted to remain in existence. Most of the deported Catholic priests and nuns were taken to the forced labor camp, and many of them died there.
|Elemér Illyés : National Minorities in Romania|