The Transylvanian Reformed Church District's battle with the Romanian government concerning the re-naturalization of church-owned property will come to a head 21 January when the court will reconvene for the next court session. It will likely be the final turning point in the prolonged legal battle. Bishop Béla Kató released the following statement on 18 January concerning the case:
"We look at the confiscation of our rightful property under the communist tyranny as historical injustice, and now we must suffer the fear and pain of loss again. We recognize with bitter displeasure that the Romanian administration of justice and current political powers will polish their worn prestige by once more taking away – based on half-truths and false testimonies – what was already lawfully returned and dragging through the mire the names of those who simply performed their duties in this matter."
--Originally published article--
Bishop Béla Kató of the Transylvanian Reformed Church District (Hungarian Reformed Church in Romania) recently sent a letter concerning the continued battle against the Romanian government's re-nationalization of church-owned buildings to the current United States Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Victoria Nuland, preceding her scheduled visit to Romania. The letter provided Assistant Secretary Nuland with pertinent information regarding the ongoing struggle for Hungarian churches (located within Romania) to obtain church properties previously detained during the Communist rule. Bishop Kató urged her to use her time in Bucharest to discuss and encourage the government's duty to return these buildings to their rightful owners.
Together, the four traditional Hungarian churches in Romania (Roman Catholic, Reformed, Unitarian and Lutheran) had 2,140 properties confiscated during the Communist regime. Two separate laws, in 2002 and 2005, and various ordinances ruled that the Romanian state must return all church properties to their original owners. However, to date the Hungarian denominations still have not received legal control to the entirety of their rightful property.
Despite various government ordinances, two laws (Law 501/2002 and Law 247/2005) and countless deadlines for implementation, the Hungarian denominations have regained legal possession of only half of their property, as of August 2013. Actual usage has yet only been granted to less than one third of their property.
- 2013 Memorandum
One startling case is the ownership of the Székely Mikó Reformed High School, which was given back to the Transylvanian Reformed church district in 1999. A Buzău court decision on 28 June 2012 saw the high school handed over once more to the Romanian State. Furthermore, the government took further steps to disrupt the process of property re-acquisition, making it nearly impossible for the Reformed Church to substantiate its claim and appeal the buildings' ownership. More specifically property records proving church ownership were not allowed as evidence for the appeal, the Transylvanian Reformed church district was penalized 1,137,000 Lei ($ 318,000), and what is most shocking of all, the Romanian Court sentenced three members of the church's Property Restitution Committee to three years in jail for legally transferring the real estate back to its rightful owner.
Following the re-nationalization of Székely Mikó Reformed High School in 2012, several church organizations, including the Church and Society Commission of the Conference of European Churches as well as the World Communion of Reformed Churches, expressed solidarity with the Transylvanian Reformed Church District and indeed all Hungarian churches in Romania facing the same discrimination. The letters also asserted outrage over the government's actions, most notably the three committee members' arrests.
30 August 2012
Bishop Dr. Géza Pap
Transylvanian Reformed Church District
It is with a great sense of shock that the Council of the World Communion of Reformed Churches in Europe has heard about the decision of the Buzau Court to 'renationalise' the Székely Mikó Reformed High School in Sepsiszentgyörgy/Sfântu Gheorge.
Sadly, as fellow members of the Reformed Church family, we are very familiar with the stories of these kinds of actions which have been taking place in Romania for years. We know of the good work of the Transylvanian Reformed Church in spreading the Gospel, in caring for those in need and in educating the young. We know well the difficult circumstances in which you work and are dismayed to hear that these unjust practices by the judiciary are continuing. WCRC has always been clear that the rule of law must be upheld and we stand in prayerful solidarity with you in the face of this injustice.
President: WCRC Europe
Secretary: WCRC Europe
30th August, 2012
H.E. Prime Minister Victor Ponta
We appeal to you, without wanting to undermine the independence of the Romanian judiciary, to do everything in your power for the school to be returned to the Church as quickly as possible, for the decision to fine the church to be reversed and for the three members of the Special Committee on Church Property Restitution to be released and all reference to this unjust conviction to be expunged from their records. In line with the resolution of the European Parliament (A6-0344/2005) we emphasize “the need to speed up implementation of the law on the restitution of property” and to establish legal security, so that your citizens, in common with citizens across the European Union, may hold property without the fear that it will be taken from them unjustly.
Rüdiger Noll, director CEC Church and Society
In a 2013 memorandum, the four traditional Hungarian Churches stated that they "consider that this current phenomenon in the Romanian administration of justice is a harsh assail against the Church, the Hungarian minority, the Rule of Law, and also an offense against the citizens of the European Union."
The Hungarian Churches hope that by reaching out to Assistant Secretary Nuland, she will come to know the situation and offer further pressure from the U.S. State Department thereby forcing the Romanian government to rectify its injustices toward these four Hungarian institutions.