Deisis (Novogorod)

EU court rules against Romanian Catholic parish that sought return of its property

CWN - The European Court of Human Rights has ruled against a Romanian Greek Catholic parish that sought the return of its property from the Romanian Orthodox Church.

In 1948, Romania’s Communist regime violently suppressed the Romanian Greek Catholic Church, an Eastern Catholic church in full communion with the Holy See, and turned over its properties to the Romanian Orthodox Church. In 1990, following the fall of Communism, Romania granted legal recognition to the Romanian Greek Catholic Church.

Since 1996, the Romanian Greek Catholic parish in Lupeni has sought the return of its property. After exhausting all appeals at the domestic level, the local diocese turned to the European Court of Human Rights.

The court ruled that Romania violated two principles of the European Convention on Human Rights—“the breach of the principle of legal certainty” and “the length of the proceedings”—and awarded 17,821 euro ($19,191) in damages.

However, the European court upheld a Romanian court’s key ruling that

the church building being claimed and two parsonages in Lupeni had been constructed between 1906 and 1920 by Eastern-rite Orthodox and Greek Catholic worshippers and that, after its construction, the church building had been used alternately for services by both denominations …

[A]ccording to the most recent census, there were 24,968 Orthodox worshippers and 509 Greek Catholic worshippers in Lupeni ...[The disposition of property] must be determined taking account of the wishes of the worshippers in the community that is in possession of the properties.

In a dissenting opinion, four European court judges wrote that

the protection of minorities is almost always unpopular and the protection of religious minorities is even more so. Europe has a long history of religious majorities disregarding the rights of religious minorities. This is an area where present-day democratic standards oblige a majority to show restraint, for the sake of respecting minorities. Unfortunately this case shows that States are often reluctant to undo the injustice committed to religious minorities when the interest of the religious majority is at stake.

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