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New International, March 1949


Valentin Toma

The Rumanian Church Is Statified

How Stalinism “Coordinates” the Orthodox and Roman Confessions

(November 1948)


From New International, Vol. XV No. 3, March 1949, pp. 95–96.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


In spite of their avowal of militant atheism, the Communist Parties in the Russian satellite countries have not scrupled to use the Orthodox churches of the Eastern European lands for their own political ends. This has been going on since their rule began.

Stalin’s puppet “popular democracies,” like all other totalitarian dictatorships, are driving hard toward the integration of every section of social life into their regimes. Nothing – absolutely nothing – is permitted to escape this drive. Sooner or later the ruling Stalinist party gets around to the gleichschaltung (as the Nazis used to call it) of the smallest youth organization, the most timid women’s movement, the most insignificant sport association, the most distant reading circle, and finally even the humblest parish. Willy-nilly all of them are laced into the strait jacket.

What has been taking place in Rumania is an especially illuminating example.

It should be explained first that most of the Rumanian people belong to the Orthodox Church. The spiritual head of this church was once the Greek patriarch, but with the Great Schism the religious center of Eastern European Christianity shifted toward the Russian church. After the First World War, each of the various national Orthodox churches (with the Rumanians in the lead) declared its complete autonomy, proclaimed itself autocephalous, and set up its own patriarch.

But in Transylvania, a Rumanian province which for a thousand years belonged to the Catholic Austro-Hungarian empire, the population of four million Rumanians found themselves divided along religious lines. A good half of them are Orthodox. Another section opted for Catholicism 250 years ago; this section constituted itself an important branch of the Greek Catholic Church, called the Uniate. This split was effected by the traditional policy of the House of Hapsburg – which was to create, through the Catholic Church, a spiritual basis for the denationalization of the backward peoples of its multi-national empire.

The Greek Catholic Church was thus founded in order to serve as a center of Rumanian loyalty to the Austrian empire, but it soon became instead the center of a Rumanian national and cultural renascence (the movement called “Latinism”). It supplied the main support of the nationalist party; indeed the majority of the nationalist leaders were from the clergy of the new Uniate church.

The Church Under the Dictatorship

The Rumanian Communist Party, whose leaders came riding in on the gun carriages of the Russian army and took control of the country, set about bringing the church into line with their new despotism.

To achieve this end they had to turn to the extreme right-wing clerical elements, as the only ones they could utilize. Thus, for example, the first minister of culture they appointed was “His Holiness” Burducea, who had held high office under three fascist dictatorships and belonged to the elite of the Iron Guard.

At the time of his appointment, this gentleman was the head of the organization of “democratic” priests (how the dictatorship loves to use the “democratic” camouflage!). Such of the opposition press as still existed denounced him; since public opinion had not yet been completely gagged, the truth could not be hidden. M. Burducea was withdrawn from circulation.

Immediately after the armistice, the Rumanian Orthodox Church resumed relations with the Russian church, for the first time in about three decades. A made-in-Moscow rapprochement was inaugurated by an exchange of visits between the leaders of the two churches. Then one fine day the Rumanian church found itself without a head, and the Stalinist party seized on the occasion to get their own candidate elected as patriarch.

This was the former archbishop (metropolitan) of Moldavia, Justinian Marina, the former vicar of the metropolitan see of Iassy. Ambitious and unscrupulous, His Holiness Justinian has carved out an unparalleled career under the Stalinist dictatorship – in record known to have been a fascist sympathizer, but he quickly mounted up the various rungs of the ecclesiastical hierarchy.

The Persecution of Catholicism

As supporters of the Vatican, the Uniate Church of Transylvania and the Rumanian Catholic Church, which included an important religious minority in Moldavia, became the butt of systematic persecution. In May 1947 about 350 Greek Catholic priests were arrested in order to intimidate the believers and prepare for the liquidation of their church. Already with the occupation of Eastern Galicia in 1939 the Russians had taken the first steps toward the fusion of the Ukrainian Uniate Church with the Russian Orthodox Church, to take place after the war. Stimulated by this “success,” the Rumanian leaders of church policy tried the same persuasive methods there employed.

First of all, the Catholic bishops were convened in May 1948 at the ministry of culture and advised to go over to the Orthodox Church. On their refusal to submit, the attacks and persecutions multiplied. The high dignitaries of the Greek Catholic Church were publicly denounced by the Orthodox Church of Transylvania for endangering “the religious peace of the country.”

The new patriarch Justinian went even further: on the occasion of the installation in office, he called them “the tools of the imperialists.” And along with these denunciations and verbal darts went more concrete measures: the denunciation of the Concordat, governmental steps against the confessional schools, recall of bishops, and arrests among the members of the clergy.

The Fusion Is Put Through

Under this attack the Uniate clergy’s will to resistance was quickly broken. And so we find that 38 Greek Catholic priests and archpriests were assembled at a recent conference at Cluj, representing 423 priests in Transylvania and Banat, and there they “unanimously” decided to return to the bosom of the Rumanian Orthodox Church. The farce of “unanimity” in such cases is met with magical regularity in all the totalitarian regimes.

The Communist Party leaders were in a hurry. By October 3 the Greek Catholic delegates had already been received at Bucharest by the patriarch and the Holy Synod. The ceremony for this long- delayed but now precipitate reunification was fixed for October 21.

In a solemn reception Justinian, Patriarch by the Grace of the Communist Party, announced the “reestablishment of the spiritual unity of the people.” The strayed but happily rescued sheep saluted the “Constitution of the Rumanian Popular Republic” and “the future of the nation,” and motivated their fusion by the necessity of organizing the movement for “the defense of peace” all over the world.

Thus – for the greater glory of Father Stalin, and without any other benediction – ended an old spiritual and cultural institution which had survived through the vicissitudes of endless discussions and merciless struggles. Next on the agenda for the new despots? It is soon going to be the turn of the Rumanian Catholic Church to bend the knee before the persecutions.

November 1948

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