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The Romanian Catholic Church

Transylvania, presently one of the three major regions of Romania along with Wallachia and Moldavia, became part of Hungary in the early 11th century. Although the principality was also home to large numbers of Hungarians and Germans, who were mostly Latin Catholics, Orthodox Romanians made up the majority of the population. Soon after the province was taken by the Turks in the 16th century, Calvinism became widespread among the Hungarians, and Lutheranism among the Germans.

In 1687, the Hapsburg Austrian Emperor Leopold I drove the Turks from Transylvania and annexed it to his empire. It was his policy to encourage the Orthodox within his realm to become Greek Catholic. For this purpose the Jesuits began to work as missionaries among the Transylvanian Romanians in 1693. Their efforts, combined with the denial of full civil rights to the Orthodox and the spread of Protestantism in the area which caused growing concern among the Orthodox clergy, contributed to the acceptance of a union with Rome by Orthodox Metropolitan Atanasie of Transylvania in 1698. He later convoked a synod which formally concluded the agreement on September 4, 1700.

At first this union included most of the Romanian Orthodox in the province. But in 1744, the Orthodox monk Visarion led a popular uprising that sparked a widespread movement back to Orthodoxy. In spite of government efforts to enforce the union with Rome – even by military means – resistance was so strong that Empress Maria Theresa reluctantly allowed the appointment of a bishop for the Romanian Orthodox in Transylvania in 1759. In the end, about half of the Transylvanian Romanians returned to Orthodoxy.

It proved difficult for the new Greek Catholic community, known popularly as the Greek Catholic Church, to obtain in practice the religious and civil rights that had been guaranteed it when the union was concluded. Bishop Ion Inochentie Micu-Klein, head of the church from 1729 to 1751, struggled with great vigor for the rights of his church and of all Romanians within the empire. He would die in exile in Rome.

The Romanian Greek Catholic dioceses had originally been subordinate to the Latin Hungarian Primate at Esztergom. But in 1853 Pope Pius IX established a separate metropolitan province for the Greek Catholics in Transylvania. The diocese of Făgăraş-Alba Iulia was made metropolitan see, with three suffragan dioceses. Since 1737 the bishops of Făgăraş had resided at Blaj, which had become the church’s administrative and cultural center.

At the end of World War I, Transylvania was united to Romania, and for the first time Greek Catholics found themselves in a predominantly Orthodox state. By 1940 the church was the second largest in the country with five dioceses, over 1,500 priests (90% of whom were married), and about 1.5 million faithful. Major seminaries existed at Blaj, Oradea Mare, and Gherla.

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Tags: Romanian Greek Catholic