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The ongoing restitution procedure, in the interest of all participants — the State and the Churches — must be based on the principles of Rule of Law, good faith and very important: on a real knowledge of history and of often complex internal structures of each Church, to avoid the frequently occurring mis­interpretation of law and of facts.


WHITE BOOK ON CHURCH PROPERTY RESTITUTION IN ROMANIA


WHITE BOOK ON CHURCH PROPERTY RESTITUTION IN ROMANIA With special regard to Reformed, Roman Catholic, Unitarian and Evangelical Lutheran Churches

Transylvanian Reformed Church District Kolozsvรกr | Cluj-Napoca 2016


With special thanks to the following contributors: Transylvanian Reformed Church District Királyhágómellék Reformed Church District Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia) Roman Catholic Diocese of Szatmár (Satu Mare) Roman Catholic Diocese of Nagyvárad (Oradea) Roman Catholic Diocese of Temesvár (Timişoara) Hungarian Unitarian Church Evangelical Lutheran Church in Romania and János Antal Tibor Kiss Dr. Emőd Veress © Transylvanian Reformed Church District, 2016 Editor: Zoltán Ballai Consultant: dr. Emőd Veress Design and layout: Ferenc Sütő • Tipoteka Labs

Printed at Reformated Press Center Misztótfalusi Kis Miklós Descrierea CIP a Bibliotecii Naţionale a României White book on church property restitution in Transylvania : with special regard to Reformed, Roman-Catholic, Unitarian and Evangelical Lutheran Churches. - Cluj-Napoca : Az Erdélyi Református Egyházkerület Igazgatótanácsa, 2016 ISBN 978-973-7971-93-7 348.73(498.4)


Contents

I. Executive Summary

n 6

II. Short Overview — History of Reformed, Roman Catholic, Unitarian and Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Transylvania

n 13

III. Nationalization of Church Property

n 20

IV. Legal Background of the Restitution Process

n 26

V. Causes of Fragmentation of the Restitution Process

n 38

VI. The Current State of Restitution 6.1. The restitution of properties relating to nationalized buildings that used to belong to the Churches 6.2. The restitution of the formerly Church-owned nationalized agricultural land and forests 6.3. Compensations and the costs of property restitution

n 43

VII. Conclusions

WHITE BOOK ON CHURCH PROPERTY RESTITUTION IN ROMANIA

n 46 n 77 n 82 n 87

5


I. Executive Summary 1. In 1949, the Communist regime illegally confiscated over 2,100 properties from the four traditional Hungarian-speaking churches in Romania (Roman Catholic, Reformed, Unitarian, and Lutheran). To date, only less than half of these church properties have been successfully reacquired — on paper — by decisions of the government’s Special Restitution Committee.

I. Executive Summary

2. This publication is a critical account on the post-1989 church property restitution process in Romania; however the process certainly has positive results as well.

6

3. For 26 years, successive Romanian governments have impeded the country’s full democratization by delaying and obstructing the restitution process with impunity. In doing so, the state was able to retain abusively confiscated properties as long as possible. By now, most of the buildings need extensive renovation. In the worst cases, they are dilapidated and uninhabitable.


4. The problems which occurred during the painfully slow restitution process of the church property, which was confiscated (“nationalized”) by the Communist regime by a stroke of pen, justifies a thorough analysis on the current status of church property restitution — focusing on shortages; some of these have been common to all churches in Romania, some others have been specific only to the Hungarian-speaking minority churches of Transylvania.

WHITE BOOK ON CHURCH PROPERTY RESTITUTION IN ROMANIA

5. The aim of this book is to foster a dialogue for the correct — i.e. nonbiased and non-discriminatory — application of the Romanian laws on restitution, in order to attain better administrative practices and to exclude uncertainties. The ongoing restitution procedure, in the interest of all participants — State and Church(es) — should be based on the principles of Rule of Law, good faith, acceptance of historic facts, and knowledge of the complex internal structures of the affected churches. This is indispensable to avoid abuses against churches by “misinterpretations” of both laws and facts, which have occurred on multiple instances. 6. Communist dictatorship effectively outlawed denominational schools. Movable and immovable possessions used for educational purposes in Romania were simply confiscated by the State. Totalitarian law allowed that any person opposing “nationalization” could be sentenced from 5 to 10 years of forced labor, and could have his/her private property confiscated.

7


7. For the Hungarian minority churches in Transylvania the consequences were devastating. More than 1,000 Hungarian-speaking denominational schools were confiscated by law; 531 schools were operated by the Reformed Church, 468 by the Roman Catholic Church, 34 by the Unitarian Church and 8 by the Evangelical Lutheran Church. 8. Historically, church-owned facilities hosted denominational schools and charitable institutions. Further, schools and charities were operated and maintained from the income generated by church-owned agricultural lands and forests, and these were also confiscated. Churches therefore were left practically without any means of subsistence.

I. Executive Summary

9. In their complex structures, churches owned different types of properties: schools, hospitals, orphanages, retirement centers, houses for elderly people, etc. It is very important to emphasize that churches used to perform a wide range of social activities, not only in the life of a national minority, but in their whole communal environment. Via these charitable and educational activities, churches were often complementing the deficiencies of state structures, or counterbalancing the negative effects of particular state strategies against minority groups.

8

10. “Nationalization� was fast, simple and effective: it was implemented overnight. Contrary, property restitution is acrimonious and proceeds at a very slow pace.


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9


11. Despite various legal instruments on property restitution and countless deadlines for implementation, the political will to enforce them has remained absent or severely limited. 12. The slow pace of reform in the justice system directly affects religious freedom in Romania. Most notably, refusals to execute final judicial verdicts establishing property rights of churches; the refusal to implement or enforce the law or government decisions referring to the restitution of properties; misinterpretation of facts and legal provisions; acceptance of legality of unlawful sales contracts concluded by the state before the start of the restitution process; and even bad faith interpretation of legal provisions.

I. Executive Summary

13. In response to pressure from the European Commission, the Government passed an Emergency Ordinance no. 94/2000 approved and modified later by the Parliament trough the Law no. 501/2002, which constitutes the legal basis of restitution of properties illegally confiscated from religious denominations under Communism in the period 1945-1989. The legal solution came after more than a decade after the end of Communism. This Act was followed by other laws and decrees all flawed and ineffectual.

10

14. The current status of restitution is determined by the interaction between legislation, the staggered evolution of this jurisdiction (fragmented evolution), the limited efficiency of public administration, the general problems of the Rule of Law, the predictability of


application of normative acts, the contradictory jurisprudence of the Courts. Another factor in the slowdown of the process is that Romania has already reached its main external policy goals (i.e., NATO membership in 2004, EU membership in 2007), and the burden to prove its commitment to church property restitution seriously weakened. 15. The sixth chapter of this publication is trying to give an account on the current status of the church property restitution process, acknowledging the results but also evincing the shortages.

WHITE BOOK ON CHURCH PROPERTY RESTITUTION IN ROMANIA

16. The central and actual problem of restitution refers to the cases in which a certain educational, cultural or scientific institution of the church figured in the land register as the owner of a certain building. The restitution committee rejects the claims motivating that the Church is not entitled to restitution, because not the Church, but a different legal person was the owner. This approach is totally wrong and disregards the complex internal structure of churches, which are constructed from a very complex organization but each structure of them belonging organically to the body of a certain church, as stated very clearly also by the ecclesiastical law. Also this approach does not take into consideration the fact that the organization which figured in the land register as original owner, ceased to exists precisely due to the nationalization measure. This approach of the restitution committee needs urgent revision and the correct and definitive legal solution must be identified urgently.

11


12


II. Short Overview — History of Reformed, Roman Catholic, Unitarian and Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Transylvania

WHITE BOOK ON CHURCH PROPERTY RESTITUTION IN ROMANIA

The Reformed (Calvinist) Church The Reformed Church of Romania is formed by the Királyhágómellék Reformed Church District and the Transylvanian Reformed Church District. In 1568, the Reformed confession was declared an official religion by the Diet of Torda (Turda). The history of the independent Reformed Church in Romania starts from the second decade of the 20th century, when as a result of the Treaty of Trianon, the circumstances made necessary the religious self-organization of the Hungarian communities living in the territories that were annexed to Romania.

13


II. Short Overview — History of Reformed, Roman Catholic, Unitarian and Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Transylvania

The Reformed Church of Romania is structured based on the Synod-Presbyterian principles.

14

The current bishop of the Transylvanian Reformed Church District is Rt. Rev. Béla Kató, while that of the Királyhágómellék Reformed Church District is Rt. Rev. István Csűry. The Reformed Church is the Hungarian church with the highest membership in the country. At the 2011 census 600,932 people declared themselves Reformed, 563,611 of whom were Hungarians. The Reformed Church in Romania, its parishes, dioceses and church districts are self-governing legal entities. Following the fall of the Communist regime in 1989, the Reformed Church in Romania constantly fought for the free, unrestricted right to worship, religious, human and community rights of its members, as well as for the recovery of its educational and social institutions. The Roman Catholic Church The Catholic Church of Romania denotes the totality of the Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Armenian Catholic and Bulgarian Catholic church districts in Romania.


WHITE BOOK ON CHURCH PROPERTY RESTITUTION IN ROMANIA

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II. Short Overview — History of Reformed, Roman Catholic, Unitarian and Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Transylvania

From the perspective of confessional distribution (in terms of Hungarian Historic Churches), the Roman Catholic Church has the second highest number of members among Hungarians in Romania. At the 2011 census 500,444 Hungarians declared themselves Roman Catholic.

16

The Roman Catholic Church of Transylvania is formed by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia), the Roman Catholic Diocese of Szatmár (Satu Mare), the Roman Catholic Diocese of Nagyvárad (Oradea), and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Temesvár (Timişoara). The Bishopric was founded by King Saint Stephen of Hungary around 1009, with the Castle of Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia) as its centre. His Excellency, Monsignor dr. György Miklós Jakubinyi was appointed Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia) in 1994. The mission of the Roman Catholic Church is the dissemination of the message of Jesus Christ, the serving of the Sacraments, and the exercise of brotherly love. The Hungarian Unitarian Church in Transylvania The Hungarian Unitarian Church in Transylvania is the community of Unitarians living in Romania. It was founded by Ferenc Dávid in 1568, following the proclamation of the freedom of belief and religion at the Diet of Torda (Turda).


The Unitarian Church was then officially accepted besides the three acknowledged confessions – Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed. In 2010, the Unitarian Church of Transylvania united with the Unitarian Church of Hungary resulting in the Hungarian Unitarian Church, with Cluj-Napoca as its headquarters. The Unitarian Church is structured based on Synod-Presbyterian principles.

WHITE BOOK ON CHURCH PROPERTY RESTITUTION IN ROMANIA

Since its establishment, the Church has consisted of a single Bishopric, with Rev. Ferenc Bálint Benczédi as its current bishop, elected in 2008. According to the data of the 2011 Census, the Church has 55,794 members of Hungarian nationality. The universal church and its self-governing organizational units – congregations and church districts – are all legal entities. The areas of their mission include: worship, charity, teaching, education, culture and social responsibility. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Romania The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Romania consists mainly of Hungarian Evangelical Lutherans living in Romania. Its centre is in Cluj-Napoca. The

17


18 II. Short Overview — History of Reformed, Roman Catholic, Unitarian and Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Transylvania


Saxon Lutherans form a separate church with its centre in Sibiu, called the Evangelical Church of Augustan Confession in Romania. The 1557 Transylvanian National Assembly proclaimed that “everyone should live by the confession of their choice, provided they do not disturb people of other confessions”, thus making the first step towards religious freedom and making the Lutheran confession legal.

WHITE BOOK ON CHURCH PROPERTY RESTITUTION IN ROMANIA

In 1920, the Synod of Cluj marked the establishment of the Evangelical Lutheran Church District of Transylvania and Banat, but it was not acknowledged by the State Authority. Finally, after several attempts, the new church structure was finally recognized in 1926. Governance is based on the Synod-Presbyterian principles. The language of sermons is Hungarian, Slovakian, German and Romanian, depending on the mother tongue and tradition of the member of the Church District. Since 2014, the bishop is Rev. Dezső Zoltán Adorjáni. As the data of the 2011 census in the case of Evangelical Lutherans was not issued based on reliable criteria, according of Church Registers the denomination keeps count of 27,000 church members. The parishes, dioceses and the church district, as well as the legal institutions founded by them are all legal entities.

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III. Nationalization of Church Property

III. Nationalization of Church Property

The Romanian state after 1945 performed nationalization in several waves: health and social institutions, land areas, private properties, private companies, cultural/social institutions and last, but not least, educational establishments. The nationalization of Church property was an important station in the establishment of the Communist regime because the Churches operated numerous educational, social, cultural and missionary institutions.

20

The adoption of a new Constitution (Official Gazette, Part I, nr. 87, April 23, 1948) at the beginning of the year 1948, was an important legal step which shaped the Soviet-style organization of the state. Among other provisions, the article 6 of the Constitution also states that the forests are owned by the state as public property. The Article 22 states that, the State provides for everyone the right to education and according to the article 27 a Church or confession cannot maintain general education facilities. Prior to the Constitution, already the 1945 agrarian law prepares (Official Gazette, Part I, nr. 68, March 23, 1945) the nationalization of the agricultural land. Later a whole variety of additional legislations completed this process.


WHITE BOOK ON CHURCH PROPERTY RESTITUTION IN ROMANIA

21


On August the third 1948 were issued two Legislative Decrees which completely supplanted churches from educational activities, plundered them out from any kind of property and through these means was created a Soviet-style school structure accomplishing the fully (financially and ideologically) State controlled education.

III. Nationalization of Church Property

The “educational reform” Decree no. 175 (Official Gazette, Part I, nr. 177, August 3, 1948) which was, in fact an administrative regulation invested by legislative enactment, in its first phrase declares, that the uniform public-education structure was created, organized exclusively by the State.

22

According to this legislative decree all schools operated by churches or private bodies became public schools. According to the Regulation (article 37), all the persons resisting the implementation of these rules can be deemed from 5 to 10 years of forced labor and the confiscation of property. For the entire Romanian educational system the “Educational Reform” law opened a new era. For the Hungarian-language education, however, the abolishment all the elementary- and secondary schools, which until then in several cases for three or four centuries were operated by the Historical Hungarian Churches brought forth a severely acute and crucial situation. Altogether 531 schools operated by the Reformed Church, 468 schools of the Roman Catholic Church, 34 schools of the Unitarian Church and 8 schools maintained by the Evangelical Lutheran Church were nationalized.


Together with the real estate, the State nationalized the associated moveable assets as well, including furniture, libraries, equipment, scientific collections and so forth. The Decree No.176 of the (Official Gazette, Part I, nr. 177, August 3, 1948) which is also Council of Ministers regulations with legislative enactment, based on the Decree no. 175, constrains the nationalization of all religious schools along with all its assets.

WHITE BOOK ON CHURCH PROPERTY RESTITUTION IN ROMANIA

Within the meaning of the first paragraph of this law, “for the good organization and operation of the state-owned public education, as well as for the democratization and expansion of education, all the movable and immovable assets which belong to the churches or any kind of congregations, religious communities, private associations, or if they were held by private physical and legal entities or they served the nationalized educational institutions according to article 35 of the Public Education Act, they are transferred into the state property under the care of Ministry of Education.� Any property serving the operation of schools, boarding schools, student homes, canteens fell under the impact of this law. According this regulation, all those bodies which organized and operated private schools were disbanded. These Laws effectively proscribed all the church and private schools. The movable and immovable assets used for purposes of education were sim-

23


ply confiscated by the State. The nationalized schools and their detailed related lists of properties are to be found in the Annex of Law no. 176. The list reveals a ruinous assault on the Hungarian Historical Churches in Romania. Based on the ethnic partition of the nationalized schools and the confiscation of belonging assets, it is obvious that the Hungarian minority Churches in Transylvania in Romania were dramatically impaired. From the 1.611 religious schools which were nationalized by law, as we stated before, 531 schools operated by the Reformed Church, 468 schools by the Roman Catholic Church, 34 schools by the Unitarian Church and 8 schools by the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

III. Nationalization of Church Property

The privately run health and social services were nationalized in 1948 by Decree No. 302 (Official Gazette, Part I, nr. 256, November 3, 1948).

24

The Communist state’s repressive policy towards the churches has become more open in 1948. The mentioned and other legislative measures created new legal foundations for the rapport between the Romanian Communist state and the Churches. The legal framework ensured the closing down of all Church operated educational, social and cultural activities and nationalized every Church property which served these objectives. As for denominations, the general law on Churches (Official Gazette, Part I, nr. 178, August 4, 1948), among other things imposed, that in order to operate lawfully, all confessions should forward their operational and organizational bylaws, which had to be adopted by the Grand National Assembly,


being previously approved by the Ministry of Culture. Article 23 stipulated that the Ministry of Cults has the power to overrule any kind of decisions regarding administration of the church on cultural, educational and charitable dispositions, provisions or instructions, if those endanger the State security and public order. All the pastoral letters, circulars should be sent to the same Ministry for censorship. Article 30 stated the strict financial monitoring of congregations. The budget of the Church Districts and Dioceses required a previous ratification of the Ministry of Cults. Article 40 stipulated that all the Churches may keep contacts with the same denominations abroad only with the approval of the Ministry of Cults and through the mediation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Article 41 forbade the foreign church structures to exercise any kind of jurisdiction over the Churches in Romania.

WHITE BOOK ON CHURCH PROPERTY RESTITUTION IN ROMANIA

Historically the operation of the schools and charitable institutions was provided by the buildings possessed by the Churches. The maintenance of these establishments was assured by the income of agricultural lands and forests also owned by churches. With the expropriation the social and educational service of the Church was practically left without material basis.

25


IV. Legal Background of the Restitution Process

IV. Legal Background of the Restitution Process

26

The overthrow of the Communist regime, based on the dominance of state property in all areas of social existence, opened a new chapter in the history of the Churches. The new Constitution adopted in 1991 declared the freedom of religion, the organizational autonomy of the Churches (“all religions shall be free and organized in accordance with their own statutes, under the terms laid down by law�) and also the support of the state for religious denominations, including the facilitation of religious assistance in the army, in hospitals, prisons, elder homes and orphanages. In general, proper legal settings were implemented to facilitate the functioning of Churches. One essential matter remained open: if the acts of nationalization of the Communist regime are considered abusive and illegal, how to proceed regarding these acts of expropriation? The restitution process envisaged all private owners whom properties were confiscated by the Communist state: agricultural lands, privately owned forests, buildings, industrial property and so forth. The tactic of the first governments after the change


WHITE BOOK ON CHURCH PROPERTY RESTITUTION IN ROMANIA

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28 IV. Legal Background of the Restitution Process


of regime targeted a very limited restitution, gradually expanding, especially after 1996 (when a political coalition less rooted into the Communist past won the election), in a labyrinthine, complicated and contradictory process. The churches in their complex organization were owners of different sort of properties: kindergartens, schools, orphanages, hospitals, retirement centers, elder houses. It is very important to state again, that the churches performed a wide range of social services not only in the life of a national minority, but in their environment as well. These activities were often filling the gaps caused by the inefficient state policy in the field of social welfare, in the same time also correcting the failures of this strategy or contra balancing other State policies with negative effects concerning a minority group. Therefore restitution of this property is seen as crucial, a special query.

WHITE BOOK ON CHURCH PROPERTY RESTITUTION IN ROMANIA

All the shortcomings raised by the State in order to hinder the restitution process are rightfully perceived as further deliberate limitation of these church activities. The first step of church property restitution, based on Emergency Ordinance no. 83/1999 regarding the restitution of property that belonged to communities of national minorities in Romania, was the return of immovable property. Emergency ordinance in the Romanian constitutional order is a normative act adopted by the Government, having the force of the Parliamentary law, conditioned to an exceptional situation that justifies this intervention and to “post factum� parliamentary approv-

29


al. The real estates, consisting of constructions and adjoining land or free urban land were contained in the Annex as integral part of the emergency ordinance. The ordinance empowered the Government to supplement the Annex if necessary, through Government decisions.

IV. Legal Background of the Restitution Process

This Emergency Ordinance established its own scope as the restitution of real estate which belonged to the communities (organizations, religious groups) of national minorities in Romania, which were nationalized after 1940 by the Romanian State by means of coercion, confiscation, nationalization or deceptive maneuvers, to be returned to their rightful owners or their heirs.

30

A Special Restitution Committee was established, with 3 members (a representative of the Ministry of Justice, a representative of the Department for Protection of National Minorities and a representative of the concerned minority organization (depending on the real estate). Another normative act of limited restitution was the Emergency Ordinance no. 94/2000 regarding the restitution of property that belonged to religious cults in Romania. This ordinance, in its initial form, limited the maximum number of real estate that can be restituted to each religious center/diocesan center to not more than ten. A new seven member committee was established, formed only by the representatives of state authorities, the representative of the church having a guest status.


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31


One of the most important general restitution regulations, the Law no. 10/2001 on the legal regime of some buildings taken abusively during 6 March 1945 - 22 December 1989 stated that the legal regime of properties that belonged to religious or national minority communities, nationalized by the state or other legal entities will be covered by special norms. Until such regulations prohibited the alienation of the real estate in question or change of destination, in some cases this interdiction being already too late.

IV. Legal Background of the Restitution Process

The general regime of church property restitution was finally created by Law no. 501/2002 approving Government Emergency Ordinance no. 94/2000 regarding the restitution of property that belonged to religious cults in Romania. This Law approved but also modified the ordinance, creating the general legal framework for church property restitution.

32

The Restitution Committee took a new shape, working in the presence of 5 representatives of the State Authorities, out of 7. A new deadline of 6 months for submitting restitution request was opened, with the express statement that documents proving the required rights may be filed within a reasonable time determined by the committee. (Another 6 month deadline was opened by the provisions of Law no. 247/2005). Decisions of the committee may be appealed on the administrative court within 30 days, calculated from the communication of the decision. The judgment of the administrative court is subject to remedies according to


WHITE BOOK ON CHURCH PROPERTY RESTITUTION IN ROMANIA

33


Law no. 554/2004. Practically, the committee being a central authority of the state, the first instance jurisdiction belongs to the Court of Appeals, and the High Court of Cassation and Justice of Romania has the final verdict. In cases when the restituted property affected activities of public interest, e.g. in education or healthcare, financed or co-financed from state or local budget, the new owner is required to maintain this public interest purpose up to 5 years from the date of issuance of the restitution decision. During this period the new owner will be the beneficiary of rents in the amount established by Government decision. Law no. 165/2013 subsequently prolonged this term from 5 to 10 years.

IV. Legal Background of the Restitution Process

Acts of sale of property covered by the ordinance shall be null and void if they have been concluded in violation of the imperative legal provisions in force at the time of alienation.

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According to this law in case of restitution of an immovable property, also the movable property is restituted, if the movable were taken with the immovable property and exists at the time of the request for restitution filled by the concerned church. For proof of ownership rights the applicant may submit written evidence, certified testimonies, expertise documents, as well as any acts which, combined, attest the authenticity of possession at the date of the abusive nationalization. In the absence of opposing evidence, the existence and,


35


IV. Legal Background of the Restitution Process

where appropriate, the extent of ownership is presumed to be the one resulting from nationalization acts, and also the person/entity determined in the nationalization acts is considered as the owner of such property.

36


If the immovable property subject to this ordinance was legally alienated after December 22, 1989, Churches can opt for indemnification. WHITE BOOK ON CHURCH PROPERTY RESTITUTION IN ROMANIA

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V. Causes of Fragmentation of the Restitution Process The fragmentation of the restitution process was caused by several factors. At first, there was no intention to restitute Church property. In the next stage, only a limited restitution was tolerable for the State and for the governing political parties. Just the latest phase provides for a general restitution.

V. Causes of Fragmentation of the Restitution Process

External and internal factors played a crucial role in the evolution of the restitution process.

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External factors significantly determined the start and development of church property restitution. Romania has received a great deal of international criticism with regard to the restitution of Church properties. The United States of America followed the Romanian restitution process, and it has urged the restitution according to the “restitutio in integrum� principle in all possible international forums. In 2002, in a debate at the Congress preceding NATO enlargement, congressman Tom Lantos, senior member of the Committee on International Relations, as well as repre-


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39


sentatives Tancredo and Robert Matsui criticized Romania over the slowness of the restitution process of the unlawfully confiscated properties. In a resolution, unanimously adopted ten years ago (2005), the House of Representatives of the United States has been urging the Romanian authorities to complete the restitution of church properties as soon as possible.

V. Causes of Fragmentation of the Restitution Process

In order to speed up the restitution processes, dozens of representatives of the US Congress requested from Secretary of State John Kerry to intervene in the matter. In their reply, the US foreign policy structures regarded the issue of restitution as crucial, signaling that they are paying close attention to the development of this issue and find it important that the legislation on property restitution is strictly abided by.

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In June 2015, at the meeting of the Budget Committee of the State Department, Marcy Kaptur, democratic congresswoman of the State of Ohio expressed her concern regarding the way the Romanian government deals with the issue of restitution: “It is our responsibility to stand on the side of human rights and religious freedom, most especially in countries still dealing with the dark legacy of Communism.” Congressman Andy Harris, republican representative of Maryland stated that “The State Department has to take all possible steps to advance church property restitution.” It is for the first time that the Congress of the United States considers a community issue from Romania as their own interest, by making it a part of the budget of the State Department.


Court decisions ruled in several cases question the Rule of Law in Romania, how much more so given that Romania has stated on several occasions in front of international organizations that Church properties confiscated by the Communist regime would be restituted to their original owners. This opinion is shared also by the Conference of European Churches and the United Protestant Church of Belgium. According to these, faith in public authority and a reliable legal environment are the pillars of a State under the Rule of Law. Consequently by ignoring the existing legislation, the Rule of Law in Romania is infringed.

WHITE BOOK ON CHURCH PROPERTY RESTITUTION IN ROMANIA

According the European Commission, the regulation of provisions regarding restitution is a competence falling under the competency of Member States, therefore, neither the European Union, nor the European Commission are competent in this respect. However, respecting of human rights, compliance with law and law enforcement is one of the EU’s important values. As soon as these rights are considered as violated during the restitution processes, the European Union becomes competent as well. Regarding internal factors, for example, the Law no. 501/2002 approving Government Emergency Ordinance no. 94/2000 regarding the restitution of property that belonged to religious cults in Romania was adopted mainly due to the fact that the governing Social Democrat Party had a minority government and for its stability the parliamentary backing of the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania was needed. For this support, the two political organizations agreed to finally create the general church property restitution law.

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42 V. Causes of Fragmentation of the Restitution Process


VI. The Current State of Restitution The current state of restitution is determined by the interaction between the legislation, the staggered evolution of this legislation (the fragmented progression), the limited efficiency of public administration, the general problems of Rule of Law and predictability of application of normative acts, the contradictory jurisprudence of the Courts. Also a significant factor in the slowdown of the process is that Romania reached its main external policy goals (NATO membership in 2004, EU membership in 2007), and the compulsion to prove its commitment toward church property restitution has weakened.

WHITE BOOK ON CHURCH PROPERTY RESTITUTION IN ROMANIA

The aim of the analysis in this chapter is to provide a comprehensive image about the restitution issues of the historical churches in Transylvania of the Hungarian minority, of their solved and unsolved problems, thus facilitating the understanding of the complex problems of restitution. There has not been conducted a comprehensive survey giving precise information about the restitution process so far, thus the importance of the collected data reaches even beyond our White Book.

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VI. The Current State of Restitution

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This chapter of the White Book was edited using the data provided by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Alba Iulia, the Transylvanian Reformed Church District, the Királyhágómellék Reformed Church District, the Roman Catholic Bishopric of Satu Mare, the Roman Catholic Bishopric of Oradea, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Romania and the Hungarian Unitarian Church. The aim of this presentation is to draw a comprehensive picture about four important problems. The White Book presents the is-


sue of the restitution of properties relating to nationalized buildings that used to belong to churches, focusing briefly also on the problems of the restoration of agricultural lands and forests. In the final part of the White Book we can read about the total and proportion of the restitution given to the churches, and the estimated expenditure related to the properties, as long as there will be enough information provided.

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6.1. The restitution of properties relating to nationalized buildings that used to belong to the Churches State of property restitution Based on internal church records as of 1 September 2015*

VI. The Current State of Restitution

Denomination

46

Nr. of applications

Decisions

Restitution in kind**

Compensation

Rejection

Roman Catholic Archdiocese Alba Iulia

476

187

136

33

18

Reformed Church District of Transylvania

835

413

349

64

0

Királyhágómellék Reformed Church District

348

224

145

57

22

Roman Catholic Diocese of Satu Mare

170

140

113

19

8

Roman Catholic Diocese of Oradea

197

127

110

17

0

The EvangelicalLutheran Church of Romania

35

24

24

0

0

The Hungarian Unitarian Church

86

52

43

4

5

2.147

1.167

920

194

53

TOTAL

* The chart does not include the properties of Roman Catholic convents. ** Property restituted in kind does not mean in all cases that the actual possession is granted.


The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Alba Iulia claimed back 476 nationalized properties from the Restitution Committee. The Restitution Committee solved 187 applications for restitution of which in the case of 136 properties restitutions in kind were enacted. In the case of 24 properties restitution was adjudicated, 18 applications were traversed, in 7 cases the Archdiocese withdrew the applications for restitution and in 2 cases the applications were redirected to local Land Division Committees.

WHITE BOOK ON CHURCH PROPERTY RESTITUTION IN ROMANIA

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Alba Iulia had a special institution, the Status Catholicus, which ran seven funds. The funds served defined objectives (school fund, superannuation fund, academic fund, etc.) and owned properties. After 1948 the properties were nationalized. Pursuant to Act No 501/2002 the Archdiocese claimed back the nationalized properties that once belonged to these funds, 82 buildings in total. In 2004 the Restitution Committee disposed the restitution of 9 buildings out of the 82. Since 2004 the Restitution Committee has not disposed of any application. As a reply to the repeated inquiry of the Archdiocese it was told that the funds have an unclear legal status and the committee cannot bring in a verdict until it is clarified. In 2008 there was a discussion between the Restitution Committee and the Archdiocese, where jurists and historians were also present. The aim of this discussion was to clarify the legal status of the funds, but unfortunately the discussion did not reach any results. The Archdiocese claimed the decision about the applications for restitutions even if these are unfavorable for the church, because the decision of the committee can be contested at court. However, there were no decisions made regarding these real estates.

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48 VI. The Current State of Restitution


The restituted properties were put into possession; most of them were registered in the Land Register. Putting the properties into possession did not happen in a smooth manner, because most of the time local governments or institutions functioning in the property impeded the procedure. There were several peculiar cases of restitution within the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Alba Iulia. One of them was the above mentioned case of the funds managed by the Status Catholicus. There are problems regarding the denomination of church orders abolished in 1948 and re-established in 1989, because there are differences that cause problems in proving succession. Difficulties occur at succession of church orders ceased definitively and of different church institutions (orphanages, retirement homes, hospitals, etc.) because in many cases the deeds of foundation can be interpreted as well. There are lawsuits where the Archdiocese asked the law court to establish that the Church is the successor of the certain nonexistent institution and it is entitled to the restitution of the nationalized institution. These lawsuits are ongoing.

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There are many cases where nationalization was not registered in the Land Register and the Church does not possess documents proving nationalization. In many cases properties were simply taken and usurped. However, the Restitution Committee demands that the Church should prove the deed of nationalization and its exact time with documents and witnesses. Since there are no available documents and after 67 years it is difficult to find witnesses, the committee rejected the applications for restitution declaring that the time of nationalization is unproven.

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VI. The Current State of Restitution

Another peculiar case is the cause of Batthyaneum Library and the observatory. Pursuant to Emergency Government Ordinance No 1998/13 the building of the Batthyaneum Library should have been restituted to the Church. In this case the restitution concerns the building itself not the goods in it. The handover of this building did not happen; a committee should have been formed with representatives of the Government and the Church in 30 days after the appearance of the Emergency Government Ordinance, which would establish the circumstances of handover. This did not happen because on 29 September 1998 the county branch of the Social Democrat Party (PSD) brought a suit against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Alba Iulia, the Romanian Academy and the Government of Romania. The pretext of the lawsuit was that bishop Ignác Batthyány in his will bequeathed the library to the province of Transylvania, and since the Treaty of Trianon in 1920 and the union of Transylvania with Romania (1918), all common and private goods vested in possession of Romanian State, and the State is entitled to the ownership of the library. This points to the fact that the Emergency Government Ordinance is unconstitutional and they demanded that henceforward the real estate should belong to the state.

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People, groups, parties who contest the ownership of the Bishopric, whose successor is the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Alba Iulia, try to misinterpret half a sentence taken from bishop Batthyány’s will. According to the whole text of the will it is unequivocal that Batthyány bequeaths the library to the all-time bishop, and in case of vacancy, to the Chapter of Alba Iulia. The case got to the Constitutional Court, where the Social Dem-


ocrat Party demanded that the Emergency Government Ordinance be pronounced unconstitutional and the property be erased from the Emergency Government Ordinance. The Constitutional Court adjudged for the Archdiocese with Decision No 8/16.01.2001. The hearings were referred back to the Court of Alba Iulia. Throughout the hearings, the Archdiocese objected to the fact that a local branch of a political party does not have locus standi in a lawsuit where it is not directly interested, and anyway an Emergency Government Ordinance can be modified only by the Parliament. The statement was accepted at every level, so the legacy was never discussed on the merits, the discussions were always about the pleas. Meanwhile the National Library was subordinated to the Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs, thus the Batthyáneum Library was subordinated to this Ministry. Following this the Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs was also at court as stakeholder. At this time the Archdiocese objected and pleaded that pursuant to Law no. 213/1998, in lawsuits regarding national public property the Financial Ministry is competent in representing the State.

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On the 7th of March 2002 in Civil Decision No 1193 the Court of Alba Iulia accepted the pleas of the Archdiocese and rejected the demand of the Social Democrat Party and of the Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs. Following the appeal of the plaintiffs, judgment was ratified by the Court of Law of Alba county with Decision No 859/A on 25 October 2009 and with Decision No  160 made by the Court of Appeal. After this the property still could not belong to the Church because the Social Democrat

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VI. The Current State of Restitution

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Party demonstrated at the court saying that their request was rejected by mistake and the demand of the Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs was not justified. The court accepted the complaint and the locus standi of the Social Democrat Party, it set aside its prior decision and in its Decision


WHITE BOOK ON CHURCH PROPERTY RESTITUTION IN ROMANIA

No 961/15.04.2003 it ordered that the Romanian State and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Alba Iulia are joint proprietors of the building and of the Batthyaneum Library. According the Archdiocese this decision is legally unfounded from several points of view:

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1. The lack of locus standi was admitted with an irrevocable decision, this should not have been re-discussed; 2. The Social Democrat Party could not submit complaint on behalf of the Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs, only on its own name;

VI. The Current State of Restitution

3. The Social Democrat Party demanded the acknowledgement of the locus standi, but the Court decided on the ownership as well. Thus re-opening and retrial from first instance should have been ordered. Following this the Archdiocese filed a complaint to the Court of Alba Iulia for the cassation of Decision No 961/2003 and for bringing Decision No 160/2003 into force. At the same time it demanded at the High Court of Cassation and Justice that the hearing should be transferred to another court. The demand for the transfer was rejected, the complaint for the cassation was approved, the appeal was accepted and the prior decision was set aside, thus Civil judgment No 1193 made on 7 March 2002 remained in force.

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Following this the Romanian State was not willing to hand over the library, so the Archdiocese appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which on 25 September 2012 approved the demand and ascertained that Romania infringed Protocol No 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights, since it did not solve the restitution of the building in 14 years and it obliged the Romanian State to pay a 15,000 Euros compensation for non-material damage.


After receiving the compensation for non-material damage the Archdiocese requested the Restitution Committee that the library should be handed over as soon as possible, in light of the decision. But in September 2015 the restitution committee rejected the restitution claim, motivating their position with tha lack of locus standi: in the land register the owner is the Roman Catholic Library and Astronomical Observatory, so the Archdiocese is not entitled to restitution. This approach is based on a serious legal error. The Library and Astronomical Observatory was an internal structure of the Church and ceased to exist in its original form due strictly to the nationalization by the communist state.

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There are three more cases where the Archdiocese appealed to the European Court of Human Rights: the status houses at Str. Iuliu Maniu nr.1-3 in Cluj-Napoca, and two agricultural lands, but the Court rejected the requests in these cases. The Transylvanian Reformed Church District submitted 941 applications for restitution to the Restitution Committee through the Bishop’s office of the Church District. In several cases the application for restitution was withdrawn or joint applications for the same property were submitted. Thus, by 2009 the number of applications was reduced to 835. Each application was submitted by the Church District respecting the deadline. We can talk about several unsolved restitution causes, of which the most important ones will be listed. The case of the new building, yard and gym

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56 VI. The Current State of Restitution


of the Reformed College of Cluj (str. Avram Iancu nr 29-31) is still unsolved. The property of the Reformed College under topographical number 617 was restituted to the Transylvanian Reformed Church District by the decision brought in 1999. In 2003 Gheorghe Şincai College submitted a claim for rectification of Land Register, in which it requested that the Court should order that the decision applies only to the property in str. Kogălniceanu nr. 16, and not to the property in str. Avram Iancu nr. 2931. The Court approved the request of Gheorghe Şincai College and with its final decision it ordered the division of the topographical number 617 and the modification of the Land Register. The so-called Ancient College in str. Kogălniceanu nr. 16 (topographical number 67/2) remained in the possession of the Church District and the property at str. Avram Iancu nr. 29-31 was transcribed to the Romanian State (topographical number 67/1). The Church District submitted an application for restoration to the Restitution Committee for the property under 617/1. Although the nationalization decree adjudges that the Reformed College is the property of the Church District and part of the property was restituted, the committee is not willing to restitute the other buildings.

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The case of the property at Cluj-Napoca, str. Brătianu nr. 14 is still unsolved. In his will, Miklós Bánffy bequeathed the property to the Transylvanian Reformed Church District. The property was registered in Land Register No 304 with topographical number 603 and it was nationalized by Decree No 106/1949, and later given to the Victor Babeş University. The Church District submitted an application for restitution to the Restitution Committee in Bucharest. The request was rejected with decision

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no. 2067/2009, and this was contested at the Court of Appeal by the Church District, but it lost the suit and the appeal was also dismissed. They justified the dismissal saying that at the time of nationalization the owner was Miklós Bánffy and not the Church District, so the property cannot be restituted with Emergency Government Ordinance No 94/2000. Only properties nationalized from the Church, once belonging to the Church, can be restituted. Our complaint is currently being analyzed by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg under no. 54087/2010.

VI. The Current State of Restitution

Moreover, the case of several flats for teachers is still unsolved in ClujNapoca, Târgu Mureş, Aiud, Odorheiu Secuiesc and Sfântu Gheorghe. The anomaly of the situation is that after the state restituted the buildings of the college (Târgu Mureş, Aiud, Odorheiu Secuiesc) for the Church, acknowledging as being legitimate Church properties, the restitution of other connected possessions has not been ordered.

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Among the unsolved restitution cases is the Reformed Old Hospital in Cluj-Napoca, which is an ambulance station today (str. Horea nr. 55). It was built by the Reformed Church in the 1930s. Until 1944 it functioned as a Reformed Hospital when it was partially bombarded and then changed into an ambulance station. The state has been using it arbitrarily because is registered in the Land Register under the name of the Church. The Church District wishes to obtain that the Ambulance Station should pay the rent for the real owner, the church, and not for the state. The aim is not the cessation of the ambulance station, but the settlement of tenant relations.


Another unsolved case of the Church District is the building of Hotel New York in Cluj-Napoca. The case was finished without being clarified, the building was restituted neither to the College of Debrecen, nor to the Church District. The case of the Reformed Szekler Mikó College in Sfântu Gheorghe, plots of land at str. Kogălniceanu nr. 12-14, the building of the Children Hospital in Cluj-Napoca, the building of Metropol at str. Horea nr. 5 in Cluj-Napoca, the building of the Charity House in Târgu Mureş are also problematic and unsolved.

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In letter No 1864, dated 4 August 2009 the Restitution Committee informs the Church that out of the 835 applications for restitution submitted by the Transylvanian Reformed Church District, decision was taken only in the case of 300 requests, which means 35.95% of the applications. This comprises the decisions about the restitution of the properties, decisions about compensation and about the rejection of applications. Since August 2009, the restitution process has gradually slowed down (only 700 decisions were made between August 2009 and December 2012), and today restitution is almost totally stopped. In the period 2012–2014 only 15 decisions were made, so 46% of the applications were completed (restitution in kind, compensation and rejection). Apart from this the 560 mother congregation submitted applications in their own name, representing also 79 filia congregation and more than 300 Diaspora congregation to the local and county Land Division Committees. The Land Division Committees took favorable decision in 413 cases, of which in 349 cases restitution in kind and in 64 cases compensa-

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tion was ordered. The putting into possession often fails to materialize. This happens because the local governments contest the decisions of restitution, the cases run along more years, so the factual putting into possession lasts for years. After the nationalization of the established and well-functioning school system the congregations reclaimed 282 schools, 55 cantor lodgings and 194 buildings of other designation (parishes, nursery schools, country houses, tenement-houses). Following the restitution they could factually take possession of 144 schools, 39 cantor lodgings, and 79 buildings of other designation. The Church District does not have a record about the putting into possession through litigation because the congregations are legal entities, and they administered their own cases.

VI. The Current State of Restitution

The Church District referred to the European Court of Human Rights in 12 cases, 8 of which were restitution of properties in Cluj, 3 in Aiud and in one case restitution of property in Dej.

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One peculiar issue related to the restitution was that in many cases the handover did not take place as the local administrative authorities fail to convoke the Restitution Committees for years. In many instances the local administrative authorities appealed against the restitution decisions, which remained pending. The issue of the library collections, inventory items and various collections that were not recovered by the Churches has still not been solved (e.g. the collections, library, manuscripts etc. of the high schools of Cluj-Napoca, Aiud, Odorheiu Secuiesc and Târgu MureĹ&#x;).


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All properties were furnished and equipped according to their destination when they had been nationalized and still, they were returned used up and ruined. One of the most frequent problems is related to the Romanian denomination of the various parishes in the Land Register, which were recorded as loan translations in the Register. Neither the courts nor the committees recognize the same legal entity behind the various names: e.g. Reformed Church = Reformed Congregation = Reformed Denomination = Calvinist Church etc.

VI. The Current State of Restitution

Pursuant to Emergency Government Ordinance no. 94/2000 and Law no. 501/2002 approving and supplementing the former Government Ordinance, in February 2003, the Királyhágómellék Reformed Church District submitted 311 applications for the restitution of Church properties to the Property Restitution Committee located in Bucharest. In 2006, pursuant to Act No 247/2005, parishes submitted 37 additional requests through the Church District, thus amounting to a total number of 348 such registered applications.

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One of the most important unresolved restitution issues of the Királyhágómellék Reformed Church District is that of the Wesselényi Reformed College building in Zalău, and the associated courtyard and garden. Beside the restitution claim, the church submitted detailed documentation to the Committee concerning the property, thus wishing to justify the legitimacy of the Church’s request. The Committee repeatedly asked for additional


documentation over the years, but has not yet made a decision concerning the claimed property. Another unresolved restitution case is that of the Reformed High School of Sighetu Marmaţiei. No decision has yet been taken concerning this property either. The registration date of the claim and the attached supporting documents is 28 February 2003. The Committee requested some missing documents in the spring of 2015, thus requesting that the Reformed Church of Sighetu Marmaţiei prove its ownership of the property.

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In Oradea, the Church District could only take possession of the building in the Kossuth Street No. 3, which was returned to the Church after lengthy litigation. However, the registration of ownership of the building as a whole into the Land Register has not yet taken place. After its nationalization the building was divided into living areas, which were rented by physical entities. Five apartments have been, however, sold by the State. Although the Court Decision regarding the above mentioned five apartments was favorable to the Church, three apartments were sold again during the lawsuit. In 2014 the Church District filed separate lawsuits in the case of each of the three apartments, which are still ongoing. It may be considered a success that in the case of one apartment the court ruled the removal of the defendant’s ownership right from the Land Register. The property in question has been returned into church ownership in poor condition and a great financial investment was/is needed to ensure that it remains habitable and usable.

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There are also properties that the State returned to the Királyhágómellék Reformed Church District; however, the latter cannot exercise its ownership right in an undisturbed manner. Such a specific situation is that of the inner area Church property in Bratca, Bihor County. The property was returned to the Church based on the Government Emergency Ordinance No 83/1999, after which it was recorded in the land register in favor of the Church.

VI. The Current State of Restitution

The Bihor County Council filed four lawsuits between 2011 and 2014 for the expropriation of a total of 5,873 square meters of land. Two lawsuits are still pending; two were concluded in favor of the Church District. The Bihor County Council disputes the legitimacy of the restitutions to the Church District. The primary ruling of the Oradea Court of Appeal dated 25 May states, that the land in question was returned to Church ownership based on the legislation in force at the respective time, and, consequently, the ownership right of the Church District concerning the lands cannot be questioned. The Bihor County Council filed an appeal against this decision.

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At the moment, the Királyhágómellék Reformed Church District has submitted 124 restitution claims waiting to be decided upon. Some of these claims refer to not just one, but several properties. The restitution of these properties will be based on the new Law no. 165/2013. Within the Church District there are altogether 135 restitution claims referring to buildings and associated in lot properties or just in lot properties, to which no response whatsoever has been received from the relevant com-


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65


mittees. Based on Government Emergency Ordinance no. 94/2000 and Law no. 501/2002 ratifying and amending the former Ordinance, several restitution claims were filed on 28 February 2003, however, in many cases no response has been received.

VI. The Current State of Restitution

The Church District has so far received 224 resolutions, according to which the nationalized buildings of some congregations were returned in kind, others received financial compensation, or their restitution claims were rejected. The Church District does not have a cumulative record of the number of cases in which the restitution issues were completed with the congregations taking possession of the properties and registering them into the Land Register. Taking possession of the properties and their registration was done individually by each congregation.

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In addition to the aforementioned lawsuits, the former seat of the Church District in the former Városháza Street No. 27, Oradea, was also returned to the Church as a result of a lawsuit. The Church took possession of the property and had it registered in the land register. Several parishes also needed to file lawsuits in order to recover their properties, since the law stipulated that in the case of alienated Church property, the nullity of the sales contract had to be stated by a Court of Law. In most cases the parishes addressed the issue and assigned a lawyer for court representation on their own and have requested legal assistance from the lawyer of the Church District less frequently. The Királyhágómellék Reformed Church District has not yet sought legal aid at the European Court of Human Rights.


Regarding the movable property within the Church properties, the Királyhágómellék Reformed Church District reclaimed the movable property in three cases, namely in the case of the Lorántffy Zsuzsanna Reformed High School’s effects (library, furniture and archives), the Sighetu Marmaţiei Reformed High School’s effects (library, antique furniture and archives) and the Satu Mare Reformed Girls’ High School’s and Boys’ High School’s effects (library, antique furniture and archives).

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The Church District received a negative decision in 2008 with regard to the effects of the Lorántffy Zsuzsanna Reformed High School and the Satu Mare high school. The Church District submitted an appeal against these decisions to the courts of law in Oradea and the Satu Mare, however, both appeals were rejected. Following these appeals, the cases were forwarded to the Oradea Court of Appeal and the High Court of Cassation and Justice, but both ruled against the Church District, even though the latter provided State archival material as evidence in both trials (the handover-protocol concerning the movable property of the Lorántffy Zsuzsanna Reformed High School drafted upon its nationalization). The Roman Catholic Bishopric of Satu Mare submitted 170 restitution claims to the competent committees. Out of these, 132 restitution cases were resolved favorably, partly by in-kind-restitution, and partly by financial compensation. In the case of properties returned in kind – 74 claims – they were taken into possession and registered into the Land Register as well. The payment of the compensation amounts ruled by the court did not take place in all cases. 14 claims lacked every kind of response from the authorized

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68 VI. The Current State of Restitution


committees, out of which the oldest requests were submitted in 2003. The Bishopric took possession of only one property through legal action. The unresolved issues mostly regard internal areas, or such properties, the returning of which in kind is no longer possible. This is due to the fact that the buildings no longer exist, or the grounds were built upon. In Sighetu Marmaţiei there are two very significant properties that once belonged to the Piarist Order. As these properties have more than one topographical number, they were the subject of several restitution claims. For some of the claims, the rejecting decision has already been issued. In one of the buildings a school (Dragoş Vodă) is currently functioning, and a new sports hall was built on the premises. The other property holds the Maramureş Museum.

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The reason for rejection is that the nationalization did not take place in the time interval specified in the restitution acts. In 1937 the properties were indeed recorded in favor of the Romanian State based on a so-called “Official Report”, however, according to the Bishopric, this cannot be considered nationalization. Several lawsuits are currently pending concerning these decisions. Two lawsuits are being debated by the High Court of Cassation and Justice, one by the Cluj Court of Appeal and one by the Sighetu Marmaţiei Court of Law. The Roman Catholic Bishopric of Satu Mare has not yet applied to the European Court of Human Rights.

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VI. The Current State of Restitution

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The Roman Catholic Bishopric of Oradea filed a total of 197 applications for restitution in cases of nationalized property. Currently there are five important unresolved restitution issues. The first one concerns the building of the Palace of Finance, which was the former property of the Mercedarian Order in Oradea. After its nationalization it functioned as a hospital, but for years now it has been empty and in poor condition. The restitution committee’s decision was contested by the Bihor County Council. The property is still subject of a trial. The second one is the building of the Catholic Circle in Oradea, which currently holds the State Philharmonic and a part of the Arts High School. Before its nationalization, the property served as a Catholic youth center. Its current owner is the Bihor County Council. According to the Committee’s ruling, the Bishopric should receive compensation for a portion of the plot; this was not contested by anyone. A decision has not yet been issued concerning the building. The third property is the St. Ladislaus hostel in Oradea. Before its nationalization this was a home for the elderly and an orphanage, with a school and a chapel. Currently it holds a state public school. The Committee has rejected the restitution claim of the Bishopric, thus currently they are attempting to achieve restitution of the property through legal action. Prior to its nationalization the building of the St. Joseph Institute in Oradea held a boarding school, currently the Bihor County Main School Inspectorate operates within the premises. The fifth unresolved restitution case is that of the Roman Catholic Boys’ School and Community center in Şimleu Silvaniei. The building currently holds trading units, a warehouse and a community center.


Mostly requests for missing information were received to the applications for restitution filed by the Bishopric. The requests for additional information were generally sent as replies to the preliminary requests for information filed by the Bishopric. 127 applications for restitution were favorably solved so far, from which 110 properties were delivered into its possession and registered in the Land Register and in 17 cases they set damages, which have already been partially paid.

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The Roman Catholic Bishopric of Oradea currently has four ongoing lawsuits. Two refer to properties of the highest importance and two to provincial estates. However, during the years there were several lawsuits that led to partial results (the Bishop’s Palace and a tenement house in Arad). The Bishopric turned to the European Court of Human Rights in two matters. 37 buildings and the land pertaining thereto within the built-up area were nationalized from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Romania. The Church filed applications for restitution for 35 seized estates out of which 24 were favorably solved so far. The aforementioned 24 estates were delivered into the possession of the Church and were registered in the Land Register. There are 11 ongoing or rejected applications. The restitution matter of two important estates in Cluj-Napoca has not been solved up to this day. One refers to the 420 square meter land within the built-up area located in P-ta Mihai Viteazu nr. 39. The Evangelical Lu-

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72 VI. The Current State of Restitution


theran Church of Cluj was forced to donate the land to the State of Romania for “urban planning” purposes in 1965. The building erected on the land (3 shops and a house made up of one-room plus kitchen) had been torn down prior to signing the donation contract and a new three-storey building was erected in its place already in 1958–1959. The restitution is still in progress; the first feedback was received in August 2015 under the form of a request for missing information. The other unsolved matter is related to a 2.381 square meter plot located in the built-up area of Cluj in Str. Viilor. The application was registered on 16 January 2006 but until now there has been no reply from the competent authorities.

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During the restitution process a problem has arisen regarding the building of the school located in Braşov at str. Păltiniş nr. 6. The Church received the building back pursuant to Decision No. 2035 in 2009 with the obligation to pay damages to Braşov City Hall for the part of the building that was later attached to the property by the State. They did not succeed in agreeing upon the amount due as damages and for that reason the City Hall delayed actually delivering the possession to the Church. By this the condition of the otherwise deteriorated building decayed even more. The matter was finally solved in 2012 by court settlement according to which the Church paid the City Hall the amount of 487,000 RON. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Romania turned to the European Court of Human Rights only on one occasion namely in the matter of the torn down church and parish of downtown Târgu Mureş. Instead of the church it was given some houses in the outskirts of Târgu Mureş, which

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are inadequate as convention places. The application for damages filed by the parish was rejected by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Many seized and returned properties got back to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Romania in a completely or partially decayed and unusable condition. The main reason is that the Communist regime neglected them for long decades and did not perform any repairs on the buildings. The congregation centre in Săcele (BraĹ&#x;ov County) had to be completely torn down and thus practically only the land was returned into the Church’s property. The rehabilitation of the ruinous or almost unusable buildings means of great financial effort for the Church and in most cases the parishes do not have the necessary financial resources to rehabilitate them.

VI. The Current State of Restitution

Another problem is the situation of the moveable belongings existing in the seized properties such as the archives and the records in the case of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Romania, which were not returned to the Church in the majority of cases.

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The Hungarian Unitarian Church filed 86 applications to the restitution committee in all, out of which there is a decision in 52 cases and for each application there was at least one request for missing information. From all these there were 4 compensations, 43 restitutions of the properties and 5 rejections, which are currently on trial. The returned properties were actually delivered to its possessor, but the registration in the Land Register is in default in several cases.


There are several unsolved matters of the highest importance. In ClujNapoca, the matter of 3 downtown residences and other 9 flats is still pending. In this matter the Unitarian Church lost the final-instance appeal and consequently turned to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which were also rejected by this Court. The Church is still awaiting decisions in the matter of other lands located in Cluj-Napoca for which it applied for restitution. The Committee rejected the matter of a school building located in Turda, motivating that there is no legal continuity between the Hungarian Unitarian Church before the Treaty of Trianon (1920) and the present-day Hungarian Unitarian Church. The case is still pending. There is still no restitution decision in the matter of other properties in three towns: the cultural centre in MoldoveneĹ&#x;ti, 3 houses in Cristuru Secuiesc, 1 house in Sfântu Gheorghe.

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76 VI. The Current State of Restitution


6.2. The restitution of the formerly Church-owned nationalized agricultural land and forests The restitution of agricultural lands and forests is not clear either. There are quite many unsolved matters and in many cases the land was returned to the Churches only on paper, thus no land registration is possible. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Alba Iulia has no exact record of the reclaimed and actually rendered agricultural lands and forests. The reason for it is, that the applications for restitution were not filed by the Archdiocese but rather each parish filed its own application locally. There is a recording process in progress in the Archdiocese but the data are not final yet. The Archdiocese found that the restitution of the agricultural lands and forests takes place in many cases in an intransparent manner, being largely influenced by the impedimental attitude of the local land committees to the matter. In most cases the former owners do not receive the nationalized properties but rather other quality-wise poorer plots of a different category. In some cases the title of ownership is issued very late, moreover the mensuration is also difficult, because many town halls do not have a topographer. Consequently, there is a great deal of overlap in the recovered land as well as additional inconvenience. These problems emerge mostly in the land registration process, and at that point it is very costly to annul or rectify the land records.

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According to the surveys conducted by the Transylvanian Reformed Church District 577 congregations filed applications for the restitution of agricul-

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tural lands and forests for an overall surface of 17,176 hectares. Out of this, 13,186 hectares were recovered. According to the centralized data, almost 8,921 hectares of plough land – pasture – hayfield, 8,255 hectares of forest were reclaimed and 6,139 hectares of land and 7,047 hectares of forest were returned.

VI. The Current State of Restitution

The Transylvanian Reformed Church District reclaimed 717,772 hectares of land and 1,884,515 hectares of forest in its own name. Out of it, it recovered (plough land – pasture – hayfield) 159,731 hectares of land and 200,710 hectares of forest. There are pending trials for 345,573 hectares of land and 1,486,539 hectares of forest. It also claimed 195,414 hectares of land and 191,1367 hectares of forest, but no replies concerning the applications were received from the competent authorities. Application withdrawn in favor of other church institutions: 16,713 hectares of land and 6,130 hectares of forest. Damages were paid for 0.34 hectares of land.

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There is no centralized record of the restitution applications filed by the Királyhágómellék Reformed Church District concerning the formerly churchowned nationalized agricultural lands and forests because the applications must be submitted before the local Land Committees and thus the congregations filed their restitution applications on their own through their ministers or the churchwarden and not via the Church District. The Roman Catholic Bishopric of Satu Mare also applied for the restitution of around 1,787 hectares of land within and outside the built-up area, agricultural lands and forests before the local Land Restitution Committees


around the district. The title of ownership was issued in the case of 971 hectares of land within and outside the built-up area and in the case of 189 hectares there is a restitution- or compensation-related decision, which have not been finalized yet. There is no decision whatsoever in the case of around 500 hectares of land. The Bishopric owned about 1,932 hectares of land before the nationalization (within and outside the built-up area), out of which approximately 1,200 hectares of plough land, 270 hectares of pasture/hayfield (we do not know the shares in the co-possessorates), 265 hectares of forest (we do not know the shares in the co-possessorates), other (moors, dikes, charging, grooves etc.) 45 hectares, 151 hectares of land within the built-up area. The forests represent 225 hectares of the total reclaimed 1,787 hectares. From the 971 hectares of land returned, 540 hectares are plough land, 228 hectares are pastures/hayfield, 85 hectares are forest, 18 hectares are other categories (dikes, roads etc.), 99 hectares are land in the built-up area. For almost 186 hectares of land outside the built-up area, there is a decision for compensations, or a promise for measuring out the respective land or issue the title of ownership, however, these processes have not been completed yet.

WHITE BOOK ON CHURCH PROPERTY RESTITUTION IN ROMANIA

We have data about the agricultural land and forests nationalized from the Roman Catholic Bishopric of Oradea only from the centrally managed applications. The centrally managed applications mean the applications for restitution filed by the Bishopric that do not contain the data of the parishes. Based on these data, the Bishopric reclaimed 8,358 hectares of land, out of which 5,198 hectares were approved, 5,186 hectares were delivered to possession and 2,930 hectares have not been recovered, yet. The

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Bishopric reclaimed 808 hectares of plough land, 19 hectares of pasture, 27 hectares of hayfield and 7,507 hectares of forest and it was delivered the possession of 480 hectares of plough land, 19 hectares of pasture, 27 hectares of hayfield and 4,658 hectares of forest. 823.94 hectares of agricultural land and forest were nationalized from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Romania. From these applications for restitution were filed for 812.81 hectares of land and a little more than half of it i.e. 454.925 hectares were delivered to Church possession.

WHITE BOOK ON CHURCH PROPERTY RESTITUTION IN ROMANIA

The pastures/hayfields represent 190.1 hectares of the nationalized Churchowned land. The Church filed applications for restitution for 178.97 hectares and it was rendered 120.2 hectares. 50.81 hectares were not returned to Church property. 242.01 hectares of forest were nationalized by the State. The Church filed applications for restitution for the entire land but restitution was done only for 151,145 hectares. The restitution of 107.62 hectares of forest is still unsolved. From the nationalized 391.83 hectares of plough land 183.58 hectares were rendered although the Church applied for the restitution of the entire land in this case, too. The matter has not yet been solved in the case of 159.08 hectares. The Hungarian Unitarian Church has not been rendered around 900 hectares of agricultural land and forests, out of which 275 hectares of forest, 450 hectares of plough land, 20 hectares of hayfield, 141 hectares of pasture and 14 hectares of other categories.

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6.3. Compensations and the costs of property restitution

VI. The Current State of Restitution

The payment of the compensations granted prior to the enactment of the new restitution Law no. 165/2013 started on 1 January 2014 and shall stretch over 5 years in equal installments in amounts not lower than 5,000 RON by installment.

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The Transylvanian Reformed Church District has been granted minimal and infinitesimal compensations aside from a few larger amounts. The Church District received 3,237,883 Fondul Proprietatea shares in all (Romanian compensation fund), the Bucharest-Piteşti parish received 6,000,000 Fondul Proprietatea shares, the parishes in Braşov received 4,500,000 Fondul Proprietatea shares, Bucharest-Piteşti parish revoted 1,5 millions euro compensation, the Braşov Parish received 2,5 millions euro compensation, the Reformed Church of Oraşul de Jos in Cluj received 3,500,000 Fondul Proprietatea shares as compensations. In some cases, pursuant to the new restitution Law no. 165/2013 they are to receive yearly a compensation amounting 5,000 RON. Up to now, the costs of property restitution, including court cases, incurred by the Church District have amounted to 2,5 millions euro. The Királyhágómellék Reformed Church District has submitted a file based on 17 decisions for compensation that already contains concrete compensation amounts. The settlement of the compensations by installments to the entitled parishes started on 1 January 2014 based on the said files. The payment of the granted compensations is still in progress this year of


WHITE BOOK ON CHURCH PROPERTY RESTITUTION IN ROMANIA

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2015. The payment title related to the due amounts has already been sent out to several congregations, the settlements have already taken place, thus the entitled congregations have already received the second financial compensation installment. The Church District keeps no centralized record of the property restitution costs. Decisions for compensations were issued for 19 applications for restitution filed by the Roman Catholic Bishopric of Satu Mare, out of which 10 have already been settled. The remaining compensation yet to be paid amounts to 819,296 RON. None of the decisions for compensation have been claimed against in court by the Bishopric. The Bishopric paid approx. RON 200,000 for property restitution and various fees, which does not contain the land registration fees incurred after the restitution of the properties.

VI. The Current State of Restitution

The Roman Catholic Bishopric of Oradea has been granted compensations in 17 matters, which have already partially been paid. The Bishopric has no record of the property restitution costs related to the restitution process.

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The applications for restitution of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Romania having positive outcome have been closed by restitution in kind in all cases and there has been no compensation granted in any of the matters. The Church has no centralized record of the property management costs. The costs have been borne by the concerned parishes.


The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Alba Iulia has no centrally managed record of the granted compensations or the costs borne during the restitution process. The Hungarian Unitarian Church received compensations in two cases, in one case it received 5,000 RON cash, and in the other it received Fondul Proprietatea shares namely 2,300,000 shares in all. It has no record of exact property restitution costs.

WHITE BOOK ON CHURCH PROPERTY RESTITUTION IN ROMANIA

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86 VI. The Current State of Restitution


VII. Conclusions Based on the data presented in this White Book one can undoubtedly draw the conclusion, that restitution of Church property is not a goal in itself for the Romanian State. The nationalization, confiscation of such property was forced by a totalitarian regime serving an obsolete ideology. After the change of the political regime, the restitution of such properties should be an objective of the State to repair the abuses of the past. Churches seek restitution of such properties in order to resume their traditional activities for public benefit.

WHITE BOOK ON CHURCH PROPERTY RESTITUTION IN ROMANIA

The White Book aims to foster a dialogue for the achievement of correct application of the Law, to reach an administrative best practice and to exclude uncertainty. Nationalization was so rapid, simple and effective, yet restitution is too slow, analyzable, manifold and complicated. The ongoing restitution procedure, in the interest of all participants — the State and the Churches — must be based on the principles of Rule of Law, good faith and very important: on a real knowledge of history and of often complex internal structures of each Church, to avoid the frequently occurring misinterpretation of law and of facts.

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The ongoing restitution procedure, in the interest of all participants — the State and the Churches — must be based on the principles of Rule of Law, good faith and very important: on a real knowledge of history and of often complex internal structures of each Church, to avoid the frequently occurring mis­interpretation of law and of facts.

Profile for Magyarországi Református Egyház

White Book On Church Property Restitution in Romania  

With special regard to Reformed, Roman Catholic, Unitarian and Evangelical Lutheran Churches, Transylvanian Reformed Church District, Kolozs...

White Book On Church Property Restitution in Romania  

With special regard to Reformed, Roman Catholic, Unitarian and Evangelical Lutheran Churches, Transylvanian Reformed Church District, Kolozs...

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