Rogue nuns face prison and bloodshed in anti-Communist protest
Breakaway Orthodox nuns running a campaign against the Church’s collaboration with the Communists are going to the European Court to defend their right to free expression, following violence on the steps to the House of God
“Let’s go to the Sfantul Gheorghe
Church on Blvd Bratianu, at least we
don’t get beaten up there.”
For Paula Bulgaru, aged 26, the choice of a church to attend Sunday mass always comes with the question “Will I get beaten up?”
This morning she and her friends did not get whacked the moment they entered the church and started to shout, in the middle of the mass, their allegations: “The Patriarch Teoctist is not worthy to have his name mentioned in the house of God! He collaborated with the Securitate and had churches demolished during the Communist regime!”
A few seconds later churchgoers push them onto the street.
“We are protesting against the hierarchs of the Church, not against the Church,” Bulgaru says. “We protest against the hierarchs with a dark past, who cooperated with the Securitate and do not represent the Christian morale.”
Bulgaru alleges that leader of the Romanian Orthodox Church, Teoctist, is a former collaborator and that almost none of the hierarchs is worthy to lead the Church, because they are tainted.
She is part of the Orthodox Nunnery of Vladimiresti, around 30 women in Bucharest and various locations near Galati and Braila who travel as missionaries around Romania protesting religious gatherings.
But their ecclesiastic status is shaky.
Members of the clergy have labeled them as heretic and “fake” nuns.
“They are not nuns, they are just women dressed in black,” says Father Constantin Stoica, spokesman of the Romanian Patriarchy.
“Of course we are nuns,” says Bulgaru. “I made my vows in front of a priest and indeed, not in front of a bishop, because the bishop of the Lower Danube,” she alleges, “is tainted.”
On Patriarch Teoctist’s birthday, 7 February 2006, three nuns and two other supporters shouted outside the Metropolitan Cathedral: ‘Down with the Communist Synod led by Teoctist!’
“The bodyguards of the Patriarch intervened, manhandling us,” Bulgaru says. “They pushed a very old nun, aged 86, pulling her scarf as if to strangle her.”
The police then fined the nuns the equivalent of 140 Euro for disturbing public order.
Bulgaru still has a scar on her forehead she received last autumn at the Sfantul Mihail si Gavril Church, in Muncii, Bucharest.
The moment she shouted her protest against the Orthodox leaders, a man employed by the church to chase the beggars away, took up a club and hit her in the head, she claims.
Bulgaru says the entrance to the church was splashed in her blood.
“By the time the Police came the man had disappeared,” she says. “The priest said that nobody had beaten me and that I had smashed my own head against the church door.”
The man is now under investigation for the alleged attack.
The nuns also face prison.
“Since I have started my active protest against the hierarchs of the church five years ago I have received many fines and because I don’t have a salary to pay them, I have been in prison twice,” says Bulgaru.
Romanian weekly satire Academia Catavencu has supported the nuns’ protest and paid some of their fines, to prevent further prison terms.
“It is a clear case of trespassing of human rights, as, when wanting to express their opinions and beliefs, they are arrested and beaten,” says Mircea Toma of Academia Catavencu. “They get beaten by priests and by the Police alike… they go through three to five violent episodes per year.”
Nevertheless Toma does concede that in the rebel group there are individuals with psychiatric issues.
The group has image problems and is often labeled as “mad”.
Another supporter has been the local branch of the Association for the Defence of Human Rights – Helsinki Committee (APADOR-CH).
Bulgaru has handed the European Court of Human Rights a complaint against the Romanian state for repeated trespassing of her rights to the freedom of conscience and expression.
“The disturbance of public order is not a reason to get beaten up,” says Bulgaru’s defending lawyer Adriana Dagalita of APADOR-CH.
However, for the church, it is not a question of one person’s freedom.
“We all have the freedom of expression, but the exercise of our own rights stops where the rights of our peers begin,” says Father Stoica. “They trespass on the right of the believers to attend the holy service in peace.”
Her says the nuns have a rich imagination.
Few in the Church support their protest. Mitropolite Nicolae Corneanu of Banat is the only Orthodox hierarch to publicly admit collaboration with the Communist regime.
“I have made compromises for the Salvation of the Church,” he says. “It is normal to admit one’s mistakes and hierarchs should not make an exception from this Christian rule.”
He believes the nuns should find another way of making their voices heard.
“I understand their discontentment,” he says. “They can protest, but, because they are nuns, they should respect certain limits.”