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The state now had a free hand to transform the structure of the Catholic Church, and only the stubborn resistance of the clergy saved the Church from being finally abolished altogether. First the government selected those "progressive" members among the higher clergy who were ready to obey the will of the government, to use them in controlling the rest of the clergy. The government plan was to bring together the more "progressive," ecclesiastics, to separate the Catholic faithful from the hierarchy, and to gain a proclamation of loyalty to the state through the creation of a so-called "Catholic Action Committee." This committee held its first meeting in Tirgu Mures on April 27, 1950, under the leadership of the left-wing priest András Agotha, and it called on the Catholic faithful of Romania to join in the "struggle for peace." In the context of the time "peace" amounted to an acceptance of the measures contained in the Law on Cults of 1948 and general submission to the will of the state. The final aim of the state was the creation, through the destruction of the Catholic Church and with the aid of the "Catholic Action Committee," of a new "national Church," which it could fully control. The committee held a second session on September 6 in Gheorgheni/ Gyergyószentmikló s, despite the fact that the Holy See had excommunicated its leaders. In the meantime, the Apostolic Nuncio had been expelled from Romania. Despite the continuous pressure exerted by the state, the Catholic Church expressed its allegiance to the Holy See and world-wide Catholicism. The continued resistance of the Catholic clergy led to further drastic measures by the state. Thus, for example, on September 17, 1951, several Roman Catholic priests were sentenced to life imprisonment or forced labor on the charge of "espionage in the service of the Vatican."

The losses suffered by Catholics living in Romania between 1945 and 1953, according to a survey made by "Documentation Catholique" are listed in Table VI-2.

After the death of Stalin (March 1953) there were signs of liberalization in ecclesiastical policy here as elsewhere in the Soviet bloc. However, at the end of the 1950s, during the "de-Stalinization campaign," the persecution of the churches and the elimination of the monastic orders began again in Romania, as elsewhere in East Europe. In 1963, more than half of the still-existing theological colleges were closed, 1,500 priests, monks, and active laymen were arrested, and approximately 2,000 clergymen were dismissed.23



Losses Suffered by the Catholic Church in Romania, 1945-1953

1945 1953 Comments
archbishops and bishops 12 arrested, sentenced, and
deported; three died in prison;
priests and monks, nuns 3,331 1,405 55 executed, 250 died or exiled, 200 sentenced to forced labor, 200 imprisoned;
churches and chapels 3,795 700 all the churches of the Uniate Church, numbering 2,734, became the property of the Orthodox Church; a further 300 Roman Catholic churches were expropriated;
parsonages 2,490 683 all the parsonages of the Uniate Church, numbering 1,807, became the property of the Orthodox Church;
Church homes 160 25 85 percent were abolished;
Catholic boys' schools 224 all abolished;
Catholic girls' schools 152 all abolished;
Charitable institutions 160 all abolished;
Catholic journals and press 30 all abolished.

Source: Rev. Don Brunello, "La Chiesa del Silenzio," in Documentation Catholique, No. 1156, September 20, 1953; see also P. Gherman, L'ame roumaine écartelé e, (Paris: 1955), p. 197.

The Romanian Policy of Independence and the Churches

When, in the middle of the 1960s, Romania sought to achieve a certain independence in the political and economic spheres vis-à -vis the Soviet Union, it attempted to establish closer links with the Western countries. As a result, there were certain -- even if not very significant -- improvements in the status of the churches in Romania. On one hand, there was a need for an internal policy that could mobilize all forces in the cause of national "independence," and, on the other hand, it was important -- particularly for economic reasons -- to portray Romanian policy as a liberal one for Western audiences. The role of the national-minority churches, which traditionally had ties with the West, -- at least superficially -- became more important in internal politics; the international connections of the Romanian Orthodox Church were likewise expanded.


The representatives of the Romanian Orthodox Church and the Romanian Evangelical Church were able to participate in international ecumenical conferences in the early 1960s. At the beginning of the sixties the Romanian Orthodox Church became a member of the Christian Peace Conference and the Ecumenical Council of Churches and has since participated in the Conference of European Churches.24 In this regard, it should be noted that the Hungarian Bishop of Alba Iulia, Áron Márton, was permitted to leave his residence for the first time since his release from prison in 1955, on the occasion of a church jubilee celebration. (This did not mean, however, that he was thereafter free from house arrest.)

A subsequent liberalization in the life of the Romanian churches came about as a consequence of the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia in August 1968. As long as there was a danger of a Soviet invasion of Romania as well, it was in Ceausescu's interests to gain the trust of the representatives of the churches and to hold out the prospect of certain concessions. In fact, this liberalization was only apparent and temporary, as was demonstrated by the restrictions introduced shortly thereafter in nationality and religious policy. Thus, in July 1970, an organizational decree, issued on behalf of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, extended the unrestricted authority of state organs over all aspects of the life of every religious community in Romania.25 The so-called "Little Cultural Revolution," launched on July 6, 1971, brought about even more profound transformations in social, intellectual, and economic life. At the heart of this campaign lay the notion that the primary aim of cultural education should be the service of "socialist patriotism" and the ideology of the party. Obviously, the churches also had to play a role in the realization of these new principles. The first specific step was a 1974 declaration urging religious communities to join the Socialist Unity Front. The "Congress of Political Education and Socialist Culture," held on June 2-4, 1976, announced as its aim the realization of "socialist culture and education" in every sphere of public and private life. There is no doubt whatsoever that the new cultural policy, whose goal was ideological unification, restricted the possibilities of religious education even more than before.


The Minority Churches in Romania Today

The Romanian state has accorded legal recognition to 14 religious communities, in contrast to the approximately 60 recognized religious denominations before 1948. The Roman Catholic Church has two bishoprics: those of Alba Iulia and Iasi; the four dioceses which existed in Transylvania between the two world wars have been merged, leaving only that of Alba Iulia. The former Satu Mare-Oradea Diocese has been divided into Hungarian and a Romanian part under a Hungarian and Romanian deputy vicar; the Bishopric of Timisoara is not recognized.

The number of adherents of the Roman Catholic Church in Romania is approximately 1,300,000, of whom approximately 850,000-900,000 are Hungarian, and 240,000-250,000 German, predominantly Swabians of the Banat; the rest include Armenians, Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Croatians, and a small number of Romanians. The greatest concentrations of Roman Catholics of Hungarian nationality are found: in northwest Transylvania, along the Hungarian border, in the Szé kler region, in Bucharest, and in the Moldavian counties Bacau and Roman (CsángóHungarians). The bulk of the Roman Catholics of German nationality live in the Banat and in Satu Mare County (Swabians of the Banat and Sathmar), as well as in Bucharest and, in smaller numbers, in Maramures and South Bucovina.

There are 875 priests active in the 660 parishes of the Roman Catholic Church; 668 of them receive a state subsidy. There are a total of 967 churches and chapels. By contrast, according to the data from the Romanian Department of Religious Affairs (Directiunea Cultelor), Hungarian-speaking Roman Catholics have 515 churches and 500 priests.26 According to data dating from the end of the 1960s, the diocese of the Swabians of the Banat under the leadership of Canon-Vicar Konrad Kernweiss had 164 parishes and 210 priests;27 their number has now been reduced to 123 (1980). The Diocese of Alba Iulia has approximately 250 parishes and about 320,000 faithful, mostly Hungarian, under the leadership of Bishop Áron Márton, one of the most outstanding leaders of the Hungarians of Transylvania. Áron Márton was imprisoned during the great religious persecutions, on June 21, 1949, and was released only in 1955, and even thereafter was forced to remain under house arrest until 1967. Even for some time after that he was required to obtain official permission in order to leave his residence. His freedom of movement is no longer restricted, but for a decade he was excluded from the ongoing life of the Church. The Roman Catholic Church is one of those religious communities not recognized officially by the state and having no legal statutes or hierarchy. The celebration of the liturgy is only possible under the supervision of the Department of Religious Affairs and the appointment of bishops requires the approval of the state. Roman Catholic priests are appointed by the bishop, subject to the approval of the Department of Religious Affairs.


In accordance with the Law on Cults, priests are state employees and receive salaries of 700 lei per month (approximately 55 US dollars), which the parishioners supplement by payments in kind. Bishops receive salaries of 8,000 lei per month (approximately 620-650 US dollars); they are members ex officio of the "National Peace Committee" and of the "National Council of the Socialist Unity Front." Only those priests recognized by the state receive salaries; the rest have to rely on gifts from the faithful. Thus, for example, parishes and settlements with fewer than 400 adherents are not entitled to their own state-subsidized parish priest; these communities become affiliates and their churches, without financial support, eventually fall into disrepair. Between the two world wars, the churches, which still had considerable properties, took care of the payment of the clergy.

The Roman Catholic Theological Institute, an institution of university status with a six-year program for training Roman Catholic priests, continues to function in Alba Iulia, receiving financial support from the state. It has two faculties, one, in Alba Iulia, offering instruction in Hungarian, and the other, in Iasi, in Romanian. Admission is on the basis of an entrance examination. The numerus clausus introduced in the 1950s is still in effect; this means that the number of students is limited and based on "need", something which the heads of the Theological Institute have little influence in determining. There is even a very small number of scholarships for study abroad (four in 1974-1975). On average, 120-130 Hungarian students of theology attend the Alba Iulia Institute each year;28 this figure is, however, subject to variation. In general there are fewer departments in the theological faculties than at the universities, a fact which reflects the ecclesiastical policy of the state.

Training for German-speaking Roman Catholic priests has been provided in Alba Iulia, since the abolition of the seminary for priests in Timisoara.

The Iasi faculty is formally a branch of the Alba Iulia Theological Institute. It can accept only six to eight students per year, and its function is the training of Romanian-speaking priests. The separation of the two faculties occurred because Hungarian influence was deemed to be too strong in Alba Iulia.


The foreign contacts of the Roman Catholic Church in Romania, which were broken off during the great religious persecutions of the 1950s, have been restored to some extent; however, foreign contacts are still possible only with the permission of the Department of Religious Affairs and under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Thus, for example, the Department of Religious Affairs inspects every ecclesiastical letter sent abroad, and the conditions it sets for the participation of Romanian bishops in synods held abroad are such that the bishops cannot accept them. Although the state no longer regards the Roman Catholic Church as a foreign agent, as it did during the 1950s, the control exerted by the state security organs over the Church is still just as strict.

In sharp contrast to its extensive activity during the interwar period, the Catholic Church press is the poorest among all the Hungarian churches in Romania today.29 Prayer books are published in very small editions only, and even those are subject to strict censorship.

The small number of Latin-Rite Catholic Armenian parishes in Romania are under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Alba Iulia. It should be noted, however, that a large number of the Armenians living in Transylvania have been Hungarianized over the course of time.

The Reformed (Calvinist) Church in Transylvania is entirely Hungarian in character and has approximately as many members as there are Hungarian-speaking Roman Catholics, i.e., about 850,000. The other Protestants in Transylvania include 70,000-75,000 Unitarians, about 35,000 Hungarian Lutherans, and 200,000 Neo-Protestants, half of whom are Hungarians. There are, at present, two Calvinist bishoprics in Transylvania: the Diocese of Cluj, headed by Bishop Gyula Nagy and the Diocese of Oradea, led by Bishop László Papp.30 Above the two bishoprics is the Convent, the highest executive organ of the Hungarian Reformed Church. The two bishoprics consist of thirteen deaneries with 732 parishes, 836 churches, and 773 clergymen.31 There are 500,000 members in the Diocese of Cluj (formerly the diocese of Transylvania), which has 500 parishes, and 460 clergymen, and is divided into 8 districts.32 The Diocese of Oradea (formerly the diocese of Kirá lyhá gó mellék) has 300,000-350,000 faithful in 232 parishes, with 254 clergymen; the diocese is divided into five districts.33

The Unified Theological Institute of University rank in Cluj, founded in 1568, providing the training for Protestant clergy, has two faculties, one in Cluj, where Calvinist, Unitarian, and Hungarian Lutheran theologians are trained, and one in Sibiu, which is attended by Saxon Lutherans. The language of instruction in Cluj is Hungarian, and in Sibiu, German.


At present, the Protestant theological college has 120 Calvinist, 30 Unitarian, and 10 Hungarian Lutheran students; the Sibiu faculty has approximately 50 German-speaking students. Appointments of priests are made by the bishop, but state approval is also required; in recent times, the state has interfered less frequently with appointments. Very few scholarships are awarded for study abroad, and those that are usually go to clergymen with families, since there is a fear that single men might not return to Romania.

The Calvinist and Evangelical Churches jointly publish a journal, the bi-monthly Reformá tus Szemle (Reformed Church Review) which is produced for internal use only. In any case, it appears in a limited edition of 1,000 copies. There is clear state discrimination in the conditions under which the journal is published; both paper and printing facilities are inadequate.34

The Reformed (Calvinist) Church is represented in the World Council of Churches, in the Conference of European Churches, in the World Alliance of the Reformed Church, and in the International Union for Religious Freedom.

The Lutheran Church of the Transylvanian Saxons, the Evangelische Landeskirche Augsburgischer Bekenntnisses had, in 1978 approximately 166,000 adherents (162,000 Transylvanian Saxons and approximately 4,000 adherents in Bucovina) with 174 parishes and approximately 162 clergymen under the leadership of Bishop Albert Klein in Hermannstadt and was divided into six church-districts.35 Historically, the Evangelische Landeskirche A.B. has been a major factor in the political and cultural life of the Transylvanian Saxons and amounted in essence, to a national Church.

Since the enactment of the Law on Cults, the Sibiu faculty of the Unified Protestant Theological Institute of Cluj has trained the Lutheran clergy. At the end of the 1960s, the institute had only 29 students, the result of state restrictions on admissions; in 1958, for example, 70-80 students were enrolled in the faculty.36

The constant emigration of the Saxon population of Transylvania to the West -- in particular, to West Germany -- and the conversion of many by some of the newly formed sects has resulted in a serious loss of membership by the Saxon Lutheran Church. The fact that so many of its adherents have joined Neo-Protestant communities reflects the limitations placed on the free practice of religion by the state and the decline in the quality of traditional pastoral care.


State pressure on the Lutheran Church is constantly increasing, as it is against the national-minority churches in general. The Church, the bearer of Transylvanian Saxon national consciousness over centuries, has, however, been able to resist the tendency toward Romanianization. Its journal, the Kirchliche Blä tter, was banned for some time but was able to resume publication in 1973.

The Unitarian (Anti-Trinitarian) Church, which has an exclusively Hungarian character, is a peculiar feature of Transylvanian Protestantism. Its seat is in Cluj, under the leadership of Bishop Lajos Kovács, once the seat of the only Unitarian bishop in the world. In 1968, the Transylvanian Unitarians celebrated the 400th anniversary of the founding of their Church. The leader of the Church, as President of the International Union for Religious Freedom, has a large number of foreign ties. It is perhaps precisely because of these important foreign connections that the Unitarian Church enjoys certain privileges over and above those accorded to the national minority churches in general.

The Transylvanian Unitarians number approximately 72,000-75,000. Their diocese consists largely of village congregations; 12l parishes are under the jurisdiction of the Bishopric of Cluj. According to the Department of Religious Affairs, the Unitarians have 138 churches and 130 clergymen.37

The press organ of the Unitarian Church is Kereszté ny Magvetö (Christian Sower), which appears quarterly in an edition of only 500 copies.38

The Hungarian Lutheran Church -- a typical diaspora community -- is widely scattered; its adherents live mainly in villages around Brasov and are known as the Csángós of Sacele/ Hétfalu. The Church has approximately 35,000 adherents under the leadership of their Bishop Pál Szedressy, in Cluj. They recently joined the Lutheran World Federation. The Church has 40 congregations and 30 clergymen, but according to the data of the Department of Religious Affairs, it possesses 46 churches and 44 clergymen.39

Due to their small numbers, another community of Hungarian Lutherans who inhabited lands annexed by Romania after the First World War were unable to found a bishopric and instead organized themselves into a superintendency with Arad as its seat. At that time, 25 parishes, with approximately 32,500 adherents belonged to the Church. A decree issued on March 3, 1940 gave the Church legal recognition and provided it with a state subsidy.


The Protestant religious communities of the national minority churches in Eastern Europe have through the course of history often been victims of oppression, and after the Second World War found themselves isolated. The Neo-Protestant denominations recognized by the Romanian state have been subjected to increased official harassment since 1970. These include the Baptists, Adventists, Pentecostalists, Brethren, and Reformed Adventists. According to scholarly estimates, the Neo-Protestants had a total membership of between 500,000 and 700,000.

The situation of the Romanian Baptists since 1948 is characterized by the same patterns as those typical of the larger churches. State interference has significantly restricted free religious observance, and this is a continuing source of difficulty. Since some of the Romanian Baptists have resisted some measures taken by the state, their Church has been the victim of increasingly arbitrary attacks by the state, which have involved not only arrests but sporadic violence as well. The Romanian Baptist Church has approximately 150,000-200,000 members, 1,300 churches, 150 clergymen and a theological college in Bucharest. The journal of the Church is Indrumatorul Crestin Baptist (Baptist Christians' Guide), a Romanian-language monthly which, also publishes some articles in Hungarian.

Among the other officially recognized Neo-Protestant groups, the Seventh-Day Adventists have about 70,000 members, and a theological college in Bucharest. The Pentecostal community numbers approximately 75,000.

In 1976, the Romanian Jewish community numbered approximately 50,000 adherents, with two rabbis serving all the communities.40 The position of the Jewish faith was regulated not by the 1948 Law on Cults but by a 1949 statute,41 which stipulated that urban areas whose Jews were members of the Federation of Jewish Communities could have only one Jewish organization.

The other national-minority religious communities in Romania have a combined total of fewer than 100,000 adherents.

A part of the Uniate clergy were kept in prison even after the 1964 amnesty; those who were released were integrated into the Greek Orthodox Church. Even so, the Uniate Church has continued to function to this day as a clandestine community. According to estimates, 600 of the 1,800 clergy who once belonged to that Church not only did not convert to Orthodoxy or become Roman Catholics, but have continued to carry out pastoral work and preaching as itinerant clerics, despite the fact that this is against the law.


Relations Between Church and State

Historically, the churches of Romania played an extremely important role in the life of the people. With the establishment of communist power, however, the role of the churches was limited to liturgical affairs. The ultimate goal of the post-war Romanian state has been to exclude the churches entirely from social and political life. On the other hand, the mere existence of the churches has been used by the state to create an external appearance of religious freedom, formally guaranteed by constitutional law. Essentially, the religious allegiance of its citizens is of only secondary concern to the state. At the same time, however, the churches, which have been deprived of their legal identities and, consequently, of their public rights, have become the instrument of the state for the realization of the ideological and political aims of the party and the "building of socialism." Leading members of the clergy in Romania participate in elections and become parliamentary representatives, but in their capacity as private individuals, not as representatives of their churches. The limits of church participation in public life have been clearly determined: the public functions, ceremonies, and other activities of the churches must be of a purely religious character, carried out under state supervision.

State control extends to the most minute phenomena of church life. For example, church conferences are generally attended by party functionaries. The Party also determines the themes for sermons. Pastoral letters and the resolutions of church conferences must be formulated in a "progressive" spirit. Attendance at religious services is not forbidden by law, but mass organizations engaged in ideological propaganda, generally hold their meetings on Sundays and holy days in order to prevent participation in religious services. It is well known that the clergy has been infiltrated by agents of the state, a situation which creates fear and insecurity among the Church leadership. Methods of intimidation include frequent accusations of "national separatism" and "isolationism" against the churches of the national minorities .


During the liberalization at the end of the 1960s, the churches in Romania regained some of their authority, which the state has sought to counteract through an extensive atheist propaganda campaign in the press, mass media, and the schools. On the other hand, although the churches formally have press organs of their own, these are limited to dealing with internal church affairs, their numbers are restricted, and their publication dates uncertain.

In socialist countries, the state has removed all religious instruction from the schools. The strictest measures of this kind are found in the Soviet Union, Romania, and Bulgaria.42 In Romania, for example, all religious instruction in the schools has been outlawed since 1948. The special schools for training the clergy are an exception to this rule, although the training of the clergy has itself been altered. Socialist doctrine regards religion as a threat to the development of socialism, sees the churches as the one-time allies of capitalism, and assumes that they possess a subversive potential.

Religious instruction for the national minorities between the two world wars was carried out in church schools, as part of the general curriculum. In Romania today, religious instruction is provided voluntarily by members of the clergy, usually on Saturdays or Sundays in a church or other church building. Religious instruction is not compulsory, but, nonetheless, attendance is fairly high. The nature and extent of the catechism are determined by the Department of Religious Affairs, and church leaders are responsible for any irregularity that may occur.

Religious instruction at the theological colleges and seminaries in Romania is permitted in accordance with a syllabus prescribed by a decree of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, issued on November 15, 1948, which stipulated that instruction was to be purely religious in character and was to be aimed at the training of candidates for the clergy and priesthood. The state reserved the right, however, to examine the nature of the lectures and the way in which they were delivered, and to intervene in various ways if -- in the opinion of the authorities -- "outdated prejudices," contrary to the "progressive spirit," were promoted. There are a relatively large number of theological colleges and seminaries in Romania.


At the same time, the communist party has endeavored to develop anti-religious attitudes among the population, primarily among school children and young people. For that reason, on the basis of the resolutions of the "Little Cultural Revolution`` of 1971, all organs dealing with educational policy or under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education have been placed directly under the control of the propaganda department of the Communist Party Central Committee. This has given a new meaning to the increasing stress placed on Marxism-Leninism throughout the entire educational system. The propagation of atheism is carried out by communist mass organizations, the Uniunea Tineretului Muncitoresc (Union of Working Youth) and the Pioneers. More recently, in 1976, a mass organization, "The Falcons of the Homeland," was founded, with the aim of involving children from an early age in communist education. Intensive programs of atheistic "enlightenment" are also carried out at universities and colleges as well as through the so-called "Scientific Brigades."

Following the persecution of the churches in the 1950s, during the "de-Stalinization" campaign of the 1960s, and particularly since the Second Vatican Council, there has been a certain "normalization" in Church affairs in all the socialist countries, including Romania. This has meant an end to the open religious persecution and harassment of earlier periods. The churches have also sought to reach a modus vivendi with the state, but problems continue to crop up in church-state relations. The state perceives religious education as a threat to the process of technological and industrial development and even suspects the churches of subversive activities. This provides it with sufficient justification for increasing atheistic propaganda.

Despite the obstacles put in the way of religious activities, there are signs of a religious reawakening within Romania; on the other hand, the restrictions placed on free religious observance have led to a phenomenal growth in the membership of various sects. At any rate, it is clear that under an atheistic state, the survival of the churches depends on their internal vitality and the preservation of their centuries-old traditions. Further, it also depends on how far the clergy goes or can go in reaching compromises with the state. Unquestionably, the process of urbanization and the influx of the rural population into the urban areas is one of the greatest concerns of the churches. Modern ways of life themselves have had a transforming effect on Romanian society; the very existence of the parishes, losing members as a result of migration and legal restrictions, has been threatened.


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