Orthodox Seizure of a Church Roils Greek-Catholics in Romania

Forceful Takeover Sours Ecumenical Relations

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BUCHAREST, Romania, MARCH 20, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The Greek-Catholic Church in Romania publicly expressed its indignation over the violent attacks by Orthodox who have repossessed their churches by force.

Tension escalates around churches confiscated by the Communist regime, which were forced to become part of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Bucharest.

The latest incidence of violence occurred in the city of Ocna-Mures, in Transylvania. Early on March 15 a group of about 40 Orthodox forced their way into a church that had been returned to Greek-Catholics, Metropolitan Lucian Muresan, archbishop of Blaj, reported in statements sent to ZENIT.

At the end of eight years of legal procedures, the Greek-Catholic Church had obtained a sentence Court of Justice of Alba-lulia stating its right of property of the church. A Court of Pitesti ruling gave the Greek-Catholics the right of possession and execution.

The Greek-Catholic Church was declared by the rightful, de facto and official owner of the church in a definitive sentence issued Feb. 7. The Court of Aiud later passed a judicial sentence of re-execution.

On March 8, following the latter sentence, a group of Orthodox believers carrying iron bars and led by two Orthodox priests, Father Marcu Cornel and Father Ioan Tocanel (Aiud´s parish priest), tried to force their way into the church, where Greek-Catholic priests and faithful were praying.

«It should be noted that all the police forces from Alba county were present: the local and country police forces, and the Romanian Intelligence gendarmerie,» Archbishop Muresan said.

The Greek-Catholics inside the church halted the attack peacefully, and managed to keep the intruders out of the church courtyard.

On March 14, the Court of Justice of Alba-Iulia examined the Greek-Catholic Church´s request to suspend the «re-execution» order released by the Court of Aiud.

Around 3 a.m. the next morning, while the Greek-Catholic parish priest, Father Alexandru Biris, and a group of parishioners were praying inside, a group of Orthodox faithful, led by Father Cornel and Father Tocanel, broke into the church by smashing the doors.

Police forces on the scene simply evacuated the church and handed it over to the Orthodox, without any official legal justification, said Archbishop Muresan.

«The situation in Ocna-Mures, which very much reflects the situation of the Greek-Catholic Church since 1948, proves the fact that the right to religious freedom in Romania, and any democratic principle of the state, are constantly and grossly violated,» the Greek-Catholic archbishop stressed.

The Council of Romanian Greek-Catholic Bishops issued a statement saying that «the requests of the local administration and of the Orthodox Church to abusively prolong the legal procedures of the Count of Justice of Aiud» are unjustified.

The council´s members expressed «their consternation with regard to the attitude of the Orthodox hierarchy, whose untrue and unlawful claims» damage «the ecumenical relations built over the last 10 years.»

Orthodox Archbishop Andrei claimed that for 300 years, «the presence of the Greek-Catholic Church has been an occasion of discord, division and bitterness for the Christians of Transylvania.»

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