The Romanian Orthodox Church’s failure on the referendum: more humility would not go amiss
It is hard to imagine a more difficult context for the inauguration of the Cathedral of the Salvation of the Nation than the one given by the painful failure of the Romanian Orthodox Church in the referendum aimed at redefining marriage. With this referendum the Romanian Orthodox Church (BOR) leadership is paying for all the griefs gathered by Romanians over the past 30 years: the arrogance of many of the high hierarchs in relation to the faithful, complicity with politicians, the growing arrogance of priests, the break-up with society (see the reaction to the Collective fire accident) , the disregard towards small communities manifested through building churches in the small playgrounds and parks between the blocks of flats.
This is a turning point for an institution that has its definite place in society. No one questions the importance of the Romanian Orthodox Church. However, what needs to be discussed is how it is managed, which resembles more a corporation focused on financial balances, becoming more and more distant from the people it is supposed to serve. It is not accidental that Patriarch Daniel is seen by more and more hierarchs, as well as by observers of spiritual life, as a perfect CEO. It’s just that the Church’s purpose is supposed to be larger than that.
After the Revolution, BOR missed some essential moments of reconciliation with the past. It stubbornly protected those in its ranks who collaborated with the Securitate, and refused or hardly yielded the properties acquired unlawfully from other churches. It also had some really bright moments, completely supporting EU and NATO membership, the Russian church’s swan song.
The referendum is a time for an objective evaluation and hopefully a restart for the BOR.
The Patriarch’s major mistake was to follow in the footsteps of the Family Coalition, an obscure collective organization with intransparent funding and a completely different agenda from that of the Romanian society, even that of the Orthodox Church. Clearly, the Patriarch was caught in a political trap: if there was no rally to the CpF campaign, there was the risk that the radical voices in the church would revolt; if he rallied, the Church was exposed to the risk of entering a subject far removed from the concerns of the parishioners and in a political game it did not control. The second risk was chosen, giving in to easy populism.
The second error was the acceptance of massive politicization. This referendum could not have been held otherwise, and the Patriarch, used to political games, knew it too well. But the attachment of the BOR to the SDP (and the National Liberal Party to a slightly lower extent) seriously affected its credibility among many citizens.
Even the Patriarch’s Sunday afternoon appeal showed weakness and a dose of despair. The last tone showed an uncertain leader, panicked about losing a big fight. The BOR, in the midst of a regional dispute between the Patriarch of Moscow and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, did not need that.
In order to be strong, BOR must accept its weaknesses and face them.
The last few days have borne witness to some unacceptable moments. The round table of politicians in the church of Campina, the sermon of Mihai Neamţu on the church page, the threats of priests to the parishioners who boycotted the referendum – all showed the ugly face of the institution that Patriarch Daniel is leading. Eternal complicition with politicians is all the worse in the Internet era, when inappropriate gestures in churches and monasteries are so easy to discover.
Yet, the problems are much bigger than that. The race for money exhibited by many priests and high hierarchs is shamelessly defiant. News about priests who condition different religious services, high hierarchs using luxury cars, church representatives who condone acts of corruption or the corruption files of the Tomis Archbishop, Theodosius, have been become banal. Let us not forget the scandals involving priests involved in pedophilia and homosexuality, which have kept the front page in recent years. They have discredited the moral outlook of the Church in the case of a referendum centered on family values.
The break-up with the community is also seen in the zeal with which churches are erected in all possible spaces. It does not matter that there are children’s playgrounds, green spaces between the blocks of flats, or the courtyards of the hospitals. Often, the church fought in court with dozens of citizens who wanted the park left alone. A little humility would not go amiss in these case.
I’m not talking here about the referendum topic, about whether it is right or wrong; but it seems to me a great strategic error on the part of BOR not to understand the grass roots pulse, and the fact that – as Daniel David said in the analysis for Edupedu.ro – the Romanians refute authority and the imposition of a certain attitude, even by the Church. Massive absenteeism at the referendum is a clear failure for the Orthodox Church.
The failure of the referendum strongly promoted by the BOR will open the discussion about the public funding of the Orthodox Church. There are already voices in the public space that say that an institution sanctioned by its own parishioners must no longer receive so much money from the state. There is a wide open breach on this front and we will have to talk about it.
Now is the time for a BOR evaluation. I do not know the details of the internal reflection process, but I am convinced that the Church has the wisdom of managing the moment. I think we can ask for two things, us, common Romanians: more humility and more attention to society, and its profound changes in mentality.
Traducerea: Ruxandra Stoicescu
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