Romanian bishop tells of the difficult situation of the Catholics

Source: FSSPX News


Four years after the historic visit of Pope John Paul II to Romania, the first country with an Orthodox majority to receive a Pope, the prelates of the Greek Catholic rite are quite pessimistic. Interviewed by APIC, Mgr. Florentin Crihalmeanu, bishop of the Greek Catholic diocese of Cluj-Gherla denounced, in particular, the Orthodox desire to "annul" the Catholic roots of the country. Of the 10% of Catholics that make up the Romanian population, half are of the Greek Catholic rite and live mainly in the West of the country. We quote here some extracts from this interview.

Apic: After Pope John-Paul II’s visit in 1999, then that of the Theoctist Orthodox patriarch to the Vatican in October last year, ecumenical relations would seem nevertheless to be going well…..

Mgr. Crihalmeanu: At the present time Romania is under pressure because she wishes to be admitted into the European Union. The government, in its desire to look good, is therefore obliged to vote for laws which give the impression of national unity, in favour of the Greek Catholics in particular. So at the end of last year a law was passed, assuring them of the restitution of their property, hitherto nationalized. However, if you examine the small print, you realise that in reality the government has set up a commission to study the possibility of giving back some of the 220 school buildings confiscated by the communist regime for the benefit of the Orthodox Church in 1948. Even if this gesture can be considered as a good start, the law makes no mention of 537 churches and chapels and 387 parish houses, which were our property until 1948. At the moment we have recovered only 19 of these churches and 6 houses. As for the three Catholic monasteries, they are definitively in the possession of the Orthodox Church.

Apic: What role do the Orthodox play in this affair?

Mgr. Crihalmeanu: They exert a fierce pressure on us. Every month the Romanian minister for religious affairs asks for a report on our activities. The majority of the members of this office are Orthodox, so they follow very closely everything we do. They are afraid that the eventual restitution of our properties will give us more power. Their objective is to slowly kill the Catholic faith by targeting young people. Those who have lived though the communist era have been forced to be baptized into the Orthodox Church. Few of them still have their sense of faith, and if their grandparents are not there to tell them the truth, they end up completely losing their faith.

Apic: How does the Catholic Church react to this?

Mgr. Crihalmeanu: We try to make people aware that this unjust situation is abnormal. It is unacceptable that a country which recognizes 14 religions forces us to celebrate Mass in churchyards or houses, when there are closed churches just a few yards away. One does not have the right to judge a person by his faith. It has already happened, for example, that a person has declared himself a Catholic within an Orthodox parish. The priest threatened to no longer give him his blessing, nor to bury his parents, which is very important for the Romanians. This eventually leads to a great hostility towards Catholics. In order to prevent this we have launched a church building campaign in order to provide for our needs. Today we have already built 32 and another 18 are under construction. In the places where we have a new church, we have left the building that had been confiscated from us without any problem. However, the Orthodox do not reciprocate. They too are building new churches, and rather than give us back our own churches, they are destroying them, little by little. Their method is very simple: they start by building a wall round the church, and as soon as it can no longer be seen, they demolish it and finish constructing their own! They intend to completely destroy the Catholic roots of the country and rewrite the history of Romania with an incredible serenity.

Apic: Did not John Paul’s visit in 1999 open the way to ecumenical dialogue?

Mgr. Crihalmeanu: The Pope’s visit was an extraordinarily beautiful and intense occasion. But to what purpose? This is the question we are asking ourselves today. It is true that dialogue between the two Churches has made progress. Now the Orthodox peasants, who had never been outside of their villages and who accused the Pope of being the Devil’s representative, have been able to see that he is nothing of the sort. Some people, seeing John Paul II and the Teoctist patriarch shaking hands, went as far as to think that the two religious leaders had made their peace and had reached an agreement between their Churches. But the day after the Pope’s visit, Orthodox leaders announced that nothing had changed. In my opinion, they were unwilling to take any risk.

Apic: What happened to the Joint Commission, created in 1998, which allowed the first visit of a Pope to a predominantly Orthodox country?

Mgr. Crihalmeanu: We were disappointed in the Orthodox contribution. They had nothing of any substance to say, rather they had their own ideas that they wished to impose on us. I do not think that they are truly ready to have a discussion, to speak as Christians to Christians. For us the word "ecumenism" has become meaningless – a sham.