eurel     Données sociologiques et juridiques sur la religion en Europe et au-delà


  • November 2020 : State-Faith dialogue in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic

 On 12 November, a working meeting was held at the General Secretariat of the Government, attended by representatives of religious denominations and the central public authorities responsible for fighting the spread of SARS-CoV-2. According to the press release, “the meeting was intended, through dialogue and partnership between religious groups and public authorities, to take decisions in the near future to limit the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that will meet both public health protection needs and the religious needs of the faithful”.
 The State authorities have stressed the importance of dialogue with the representatives of faith-based communities, asking for their support during the coming months, during which the Romanian State will make a major drive to limit the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus” ;
 The State Secretariat for Religious Affairs published a set of recommendations to outline how the measures ordered by the public authorities to fight the COVID-19 pandemic could be implemented in practice for conducting religious activities.
 The government has decided that religious services during the winter holidays can also take place inside religious buildings, provided that social distancing rules are respected ;
 According to the press releases published by the State Secretariat for Religious Affairs and the National Committee for Coordinating the COVID-19 Vaccination (Government of Romania) on 14 December, all religious denominations in Romania will be involved in the vaccination campaign against COVID-19 at national level. Their role will be to ensure that the population is properly informed. Similarly, the press release highlighted the utility of the (online) Dialogue Platform between religious denominations and state representatives. It will also become a communication tool for the COVID-19 vaccination campaign. At the same time, it was agreed that such meetings should be held on a regular basis to strengthen an institutional framework for dialogue.

  • Restrictions on religious pilgrimages due to the coronavirus have been overturned by a court ruling

The Bucharest Court of Appeal annulled the decision to limit participation in religious festivals to those who are resident in the locality where they take place.
The restrictions imposed by the National Emergency Committee’s Decision 47/2020, preventing believers from outside a local area from participating in pilgrimages, were annulled by the Bucharest Court of Appeal.
The court’s decision cannot take effect, however, as the provision is also included in a current governmental decision, which has not been challenged before the court. The decision by the Bucharest Court of Appeal is not final and may be appealed.

  • Barometer of religious life

On 16 December 2020, the Romanian Academy, in partnership with the State Secretariat for Religious Affairs, published the Barometer of religious life in Romania.
According to the study :
 More than 90% of respondents believe in God, regardless of their membership of a religious group. Only 4% said they don’t believe in God ;
 63.8% would describe themselves as religious ;
 71.2% said they have a high level of confidence in the Church, followed by the Army with 61.8% and the Romanian Academy with 45.6% ;
 63.2% think that relations between denominations/religions are good ;
 36.1% participate in services at least once a week and 68.2% pray daily ;
 88.5 % think that religion has nothing to do with Romania’s membership of the EU or NATO ;
 72% said that religious education should be taught in schools ;
 46.5% said that churches tend to be presented negatively in the press, with 34.9% taking the view that they tend to be presented positively.

  • Pro-Christian Party enters parliament

Following parliamentary elections, the AUR Party (Alliance for the Union of Romanians), a political group that promotes nationalist and pro-Christian principles, entered the Romanian Parliament with 9.17% of the vote.

  • October 2020 : Church-State relations and the COVID pandemic in the run-up to the elections

In order to combat the spread of SARS-COV2, the authorities restricted a number of civil rights. Many of the measures directly or indirectly affected religious freedom, including the two major pilgrimages that take place every year in Romania : St. Parasceva on 14 October and St. Demetrios on 27 October. On these two occasions, the public authorities did decide to allow these pilgrimages to go ahead, but only for the inhabitants of the cities where the celebrations were held, i.e. Iasi and Bucharest. This was enforced by checking identity documents.
These restrictions come in addition to previous measures that affected Easter celebrations, as well as those announced for the Christmas holidays. Representatives of the religious denominations have interpreted these restrictions as acts to deliberately target religious freedom and not as objective measures to combat the pandemic. They condemn, in particular, the lack of transparency and dialogue on the part of the State authorities, who imposed these restrictions without prior consultation with religious leaders.
In the sermon during the St. Demetrios church service, the Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church went as far as to oppose the measures imposed by the State. In his speech, he referred to the atheist communist regime, during which Christians were persecuted :
“In the autumn of 1989, on the feast of St. Demetrios the New on 27 October, the communist authorities forbade people to venerate the holy relics of St. Demetrios, on the grounds that an important meeting was being held on the same day in the adjacent building, where the Grand National Assembly was located. So Patriarch Teoctist was forced to move the reliquary from the cathedral. […] This humiliation of St. Demetrios the New was requited a few months later when the communist regime fell, ... We see here that, in the words of the Holy Apostle Paul (Galatians 6:7), “God cannot be mocked”. He is long-suffering, but He is also just. First of all, His merciful love does not preclude His justice. His justice is revealed when He wants to correct people, sometimes using bitter medicine, not just sweet medicine, to correct people, and so He allows them to be disciplined through various hardships.”

The Patriarch’s message is unprecedented in the recent history of Church-State relations in Romania. The reactions of civil society have been numerous, quick, and extremely acidic. They are mainly divided into two camps : on the one hand, criticism of the Patriarch, the Romanian Orthodox Church and the Orthodox faithful (a well-known journalist has even compared Orthodox believers to cattle), and on the other hand, comments that are clearly favourable. A third type of comment draws attention to the fact that the background to this conflict is not religious, but political, given the approaching parliamentary elections scheduled for 6 December 2020.

Local politicians’ oath of allegiance

As newly elected politicians start their mandate, old controversy has been reignited, relating to the oath of allegiance that all dignitaries have to take when they enter office.
By law (Art. 117 of the Administrative Code), local/county councillors take an oath by placing their left hand on the Constitution or the Bible, and saying : “I swear to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the land and to do, in good faith, what is in my power and competence for the good of the people of the area/city/county/etc. So help me God.” The religious reference will respect the freedom of religious beliefs, or the oath can be taken without using this final sentence.
Several newly elected local or county councillors, in a number of localities, have refused to swear on the Bible, either individually or en bloc. The councillors are representatives of a political party with more than 40 members in the Romanian parliament and 8 members in the European parliament. In the run-up to the December 2020 parliamentary elections, since this political party claims to be progressive and anti-system, the alleged boycott of the Oath of Allegiance has been interpreted as an anti-Christian electoral message, directed against the majority religion.

  • June 2020 : National Day of Awareness of Violence against Christians

The Romanian Parliament has proclaimed 16 August “a national day to commemorate the Brancoveanu martyrs* and to raise awareness about violence against Christians.”
The law aims to inform the public, including young people, about the role of Christianity in Romania’s history and the nature and extent of persecution suffered by Christians around the world, even today. At the same time, the law aims to encourage Christians to defend their right to practise their faith without fear or obstruction.
Accordingly, every year on 16 August, from 8p.m. to midnight the following buildings will be lit up in red : the Romanian Parliament, the Government of Romania, central and local public authorities, the Triumphal Arch and the Mogoşoaia Palace. Public events and religious services will be organised in places where commemorative events will take place. The Romanian Broadcasting Corporation, Romanian Television Corporation and national news agency AGERPRES will give priority to broadcasting programmes and information about the persecution of Christians.

*Constantin Brâncoveanu was Prince of Wallachia from 1688 to 1714. He was canonised by the Romanian Orthodox Church on 15 August 1992. His feast day is 16 August. He was beheaded along with his four sons and other boyars of his court for refusing to abandon the Orthodox Christian faith and convert to Islam, on 27 August 1714 (15 August in the Julian calendar) in Constantinople, in the presence of Sultan Ahmet III.

  • June 2020 : The Romanian Orthodox Church and the Covid-19 epidemic

The Romanian representative on the OSCE expert panel on freedom of religion has written a new article on the Orthodox Church, the pandemic and the rule of law.

  • May 2020 : Polarization and radicalization of religious discourse, effects of the health crisis

The Covid 19 epidemic brought the authorities to suspend certain rights and freedoms, particularly those concerning collective religious life. This has led to a return of the question of religion to public debate, and a sometimes tense exchange between secularisation activists and defenders of religion on different debates. Paradoxically, the image of the religious groups with an ancient presence in the country, and their capital of confidence, has benefited from this. Discussions have been sparked in particular by restrictions on freedom of worship, a poster campaign exploiting traditional holy imagery, false information provided by religious sites, the treatment of a religious figure infected with Covid 19, and various criticisms of religions and religious leaders.
A full article detailing all these debates is available in pdf.

  • April 2020 : The position of religious groups regarding the introduction of sex education in schools

On April 3, 2020, the law that introduces compulsory education programs in school units came into force. Law no. 45/3 of April 2020, which amends and supplements Law no. 272/2004 on the protection and promotion of the rights of the child, provides "the systematic organization in school units, at least once a semester, of education programs for life, including sexual education for children, in order to prevent the infection with sexually transmitted diseases and the pregnancy of underage girls".
The usefulness or relevance of such law has been debated several times over the past decade. The adoption of this measure finally took place under the pressure of the civil society, but also due to the proactivity of state authorities regulating this field (see the position of the president of the National Council for Combating Discrimination), amid alarming statistics on the increase of the number of births or abortions among teenage girls. Romania has one of the highest teenage girls abortion rates, but also the highest number of teenage mothers in the entire European Union.
Still, there were voices from civil society, such as those of religious denominations, who opposed the entry into force of such a regulation. Even after the law was passed, the Romanian Orthodox Church issued a press release to argue for the optional nature of these programs. In this sense, based on the interpretation of the Constitution and the Law of Education, it is argued that the State does not have the right to impose an ideological model in the education of children, beyond parental consent and beliefs. It is also affirmed that the main goal of educating children is to train the skills necessary for personal fulfilment and development according to the interests and aspirations of each, and not to connect the minds of students to harmful ideologies. The statement said that, "the compulsory inclusion of children in sex education programs is an attack on their innocence hindering their natural development and marking them for life".
The press release cites studies from other countries that have already introduced sex education in schools, which would have shown that "such an approach to educating children resulted in an earlier start of sex life, with the necessary implications, without any social improvement". It is also emphasized that the education offered to young people in order to better face the challenges of today’s society must at least inform that life has also a spiritual dimension, and that "the identity and the life of the human person are not limited to an exclusively biological or socio-cultural reality".

Addition of May 2020 : Legislation adopted in early April 2020, which introduced compulsory sex education in schools, has been amended (Art. I, para. 10). The amendment to this law provides for the replacement of the term "sex education" with the term "health education". In addition, sex education classes will only take place with the "written consent of the parents or legal guardians of the children".
Following the enactment of the first version of this legislation, the Romanian Orthodox Church and the Romanian Catholic Bishops’ Conference issued communiqués expressing their opposition to sex education programmes.

  • April 2020 : Religious freedom during the COVID pandemic

In order to prevent the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, Romania declared a state of emergency on 16 March 2020. During this state of emergency, several rights were restricted, including freedom of movement and freedom of assembly. Limiting citizens’ freedom of movement and assembly inevitably led to a deterioration of public religious life.

In this respect, rules for social distancing have been gradually introduced.
All places of worship are currently closed to the public. Church services continue to be held by ministers of religion, but they are held without public participation, and can only be attended online. However, places of worship may open to the public in special situations. Weddings, baptisms and funerals are allowed in places of worship, with the attendance of up to 8 people.

The social activity of most religious groups has also adjusted to the new social and healthcare requirements. Extensive social assistance programmes have been launched to help people who cannot get out and about (such as isolated or quarantined people and isolated elderly people). The healthcare system has also received donations of money and medical supplies and equipment.

Given that over 86% of Romanians are Orthodox, and in the lead-up to Orthodox Easter, which is to be celebrated on 19 April 2020, the Ministry of Internal Affairs reached agreement with the Romanian Orthodox Church to preserve the spirit of Easter traditions and show respect for the Church. This agreement set out the conditions under which Orthodox believers could receive the Holy Light and traditional holy bread of Easter.

The provisions of this agreement were considered a risk to public health, as they could encourage the spread of the virus due to a lack of social distancing. The agreement was modified following a strong intervention by the country’s President. Orthodox believers will not therefore be able to leave their homes to receive the Holy Light, but will do so either on their doorstep or through the window of their home, or through a representative, should they live in collective housing. The Holy Light will be distributed on 18 April from 8p.m. by volunteers appointed by the Orthodox parishes (maximum 5 per parish). The same volunteers, respecting all the current standards of protection and hygiene, will distribute the traditional holy bread (called paști) on 17, 18 and 19 April, on request. In social centres, quarantine centres and hospitals not served by a priest, the Holy Light will be distributed by Ministry of Internal Affairs employees.

Addendum May 2020 : Comment on the situation in Russia, the USA and the UK, by the Romanian expert to the OSCE on religious freedom in Romania during and after the pandemic.

  • February 2020 : New Statute for the Organisation and Functioning of the Romanian Orthodox Church

On 10 February 2020, the new Statute for the Organisation and Functioning of the Romanian Orthodox Church (the majority church in Romania) was published in the Official Gazette of Romania (first part, No. 97/10.02.2020, p. 12-47). It had been approved by the State Secretariat for Religious Affairs, which is part of the Romanian government. This is the most recent amendment to the statute, which had not been officially modified for 12 years. The most important changes include tightening the criteria for preselection and eligibility of candidates for the office of Patriarch of Romania, strengthening clerical discipline (by creating specialised central bodies for the disciplinary judgement and sanction of bishops), and strengthening centralised control over the church press and religious NGOs.

The first statute of the Romanian Orthodox Church (ROC) dates from 1925, when the Romanian Church became a patriarchate within Greater Romania (1918). This statute was amended in 1949 under the auspices of the communist regime and remained in force for 59 years, until 2008, when a third statute of the ROC was formulated in accordance with the 2006 Law on Religious Denominations, which in turn was drafted in the spirit of the standards of the European Union, which Romania was to join in 2007. Therefore, the latest version of the statute, in 2020, is the fourth amendment of the ROC constitution in 123 years (the ROC obtained the status of autocephalous Church in 1885). It is the Church’s response to the diverse, mobile and increasingly secularised society that has developed over the last twelve years.

Among the most important changes brought about by the new Statute is the tightening of eligibility and pre-selection criteria for candidates for the post of Patriarch (the current patriarch, His Beatitude Daniel, was elected by the ROC Holy Synod in September 2007). The new statute provides that only metropolitans, archbishops and bishops with at least 7 years’ experience as head of a bishopric can apply for the office of patriarch. The old statute did not include this requirement of experience. As a result, vicar bishops, or hierarchs with experience as a vicar bishop, are not eligible for the office of patriarch. Furthermore, the number of candidates selected by the Holy Synod through consultation has been reduced from 3 (or exceptionally 5) to 2 (or 3 at most).

Another substantial change in the new statute is the creation of new central judicial bodies for the clergy. Thus, tribunals for the trial and punishment of hierarchs - metropolitans, archbishops and bishops - are to be set up. Until now, the Holy Synod (composed of all the hierarchs of the ROC) was the only canonical court that could judge its members for any deviation from the teaching and discipline of the Church. The new statute provides for the creation of a First Episcopal Consistory and a Last Episcopal Consistory as substantive and appellate courts for disciplinary matters concerning metropolitans, archbishops, bishops and vicar bishops. The Holy Synod is appointed as the final ecclesiastical judicial authority. Another new element is that the Holy Synod is the canonical disciplinary investigating and sentencing authority of first and last instance for the patriarch (Art. 13.3), a provision that was not in the former statute. Other new central judicial bodies were also created : the Higher Ecclesiastical Consistory, as a court of appeal for members of the “myrrh clergy” (the name for priests and deacons who are not monks), who were sanctioned in the first instance by reduction to the lay state, and the Higher Monastic Ecclesiastical Consistory, as a court of appeal for monks who were sanctioned in the first instance by reduction to the lay state.

A number of changes are aimed at strengthening the ROC Holy Synod’s centralised control of the Church press and religious NGOs. This is motivated by the need for better financial management, better co-ordination of the Church’s mission, and to strengthen the unity of Church life. New written media entities (magazines, newspapers and periodicals) and audio-visual media channels (radio, television and others) can now only be created or closed down with the approval of the Holy Synod. Consequently, local bishops will no longer be able to create local religious media channels on their own initiative (as has been the case until now), as they would risk competing with the patriarchate’s existing central religious media.

Similarly, national or local associations and foundations “with [ROC] religious entities as their sole founder or associate members” must submit a twice-yearly activity report (spring and autumn) and an annual financial report to the Patriarchal administration. In addition, the Romanian Patriarchate’s Financial Control and Audit Authority may carry out an unannounced audit of these associations and foundations’ assets and financial situation.

Another new element is that the new statute regulates the movement of sacred relics, specifying that, within the ROC, only the Patriarch can approve bringing relics of saints from abroad, whether for pilgrimage or as a gift.

If a monk wishes to move to a monastery belonging to another Orthodox Church, a bishop from the sister Orthodox Church must submit a request and obtain written approval from the Romanian Orthodox bishop on whom the monk canonically depends, as well as the agreement of the Romanian patriarch.

The clergy and monks are not allowed to create or join a trade union.

Finally, the last new element introduced is the option for priests, deacons and bishops to voluntarily retire from clerical ministry. Until now, leaving the clergy was only possible by laicisation or death.

Despite these changes strengthening the authority of the Church’s central governing bodies, Romanian society is not expected to react strongly to this latest version of the ROC Statute. The recent changes have mainly focused on two areas : unity of action by the Church and discipline of the clergy. They are only temporary measures aimed at responding to the problems the Church has faced over the last decade.

These types of decision, such as the creation of a tribunal for bishops, were therefore more or less anticipated by civil society and even by followers. Moreover, some of these changes had already been announced by the Church when they were implemented, i.e. when the Church dealt internally with a particular event or problem. Some of these changes had been known to the ROC clergy for several years, but have only now been officially announced (see the changes made by the Holy Synod in 2011). Moreover, according to the Law on Religion 489/2006, “amendments and updates to the Statutes for Organisation and Functioning of the ROC or to Canon Law shall be communicated to the State Secretariat for Religious Affairs for recognition” (Art. 22.1). In this case, it was only in 2020 that the Church considered it appropriate to request state recognition for the changes to its statute, even though these changes had been made in previous years.

  • January 2020 : Religions are co-opted by the State for the reintegration of prisoners

The Romanian Ministry of Justice recently opened up the National strategy for the social reintegration of prisoners 2020-2024 for public debate.

According to reports from the Ministry of Justice, prisoners face a number of difficulties during their incarceration, and especially when they return to their community.
At the end of June 2019, approximately 20,500 individuals were being held in the Romanian prison system. Most of these people belong to the Orthodox religion, therefore the Ministry asserts that it is relevant to involve the Romanian Orthodox Church in their reintegration.

The prisoner reintegration strategy for the next 4 years puts forward a series of recommendations that can be applied at community level : the creation of volunteer networks, the involvement of religious organisations and the use of day centres and social centres belonging to the Romanian Orthodox Church.

According to the strategy developed by the Ministry of Justice, “it is also relevant to involve the Romanian Orthodox Church (and representatives of other nationally recognised denominations and religions) in actions aimed at reducing social marginalisation and supporting individuals who have served a custodial sentence, upon their return to their original environment. The prison chaplain’s collaboration with the parishes, socio-philanthropic centres and Orthodox monasteries could use the Romanian Orthodox Church’s socio-philanthropic support network to offer significant support to prisoners who have to return to their community of origin.”

D 18 décembre 2020    AGabriel Birsan

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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