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European Court rules against Romanian parish

BRUSSELS (SE): The European Court of Human Rights overturned a case filed by a Romanian Greek Catholic parish seeking the return of a property it claimed had been confiscated in 1948 by the Romanian Orthodox Church during the suppression of the Catholic faith by the Communist government.

The Romanian Greek Catholic Church is an Eastern rite Catholic Church in full communion with the Holy See. It said in its claim that it was forced to turn 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 the property. After exhausting all roads of appeal 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 ($148,730) in damages to the Catholic parish.

However, it upheld a key ruling of the Romanian court saying that the Church building covered by the claim, as well as too priest’s residences in Lupeni had been constructed jointly between 1906 and 1920 by members of the Eastern rite Orthodox and Greek Catholic Churches.

The court then noted that since its construction, the Church building had been used alternately for services by both denominations.

The most recent census shows that there are 24,968 Orthodox as against 509 Greek Catholics in Lupeni, so the disposition of property must be determined by taking account of the wishes of the people of the community that are currently in possession of the properties.

However, 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.

They said that 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.

However, they noted that unfortunately this case shows that states are often reluctant to undo the injustice committed against religious minorities when the interest of the majority is at stake.

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