Slow progress to reform in Romania
ADHERENCE to atheist ideology still threatens the emergence of religious freedom in Romania, a Baptist pastor from the East European nation told a press conference in London this week.
Pastor Paul Negrut, whose church in Oradea is the largest Baptist church in Europe, spoke of the "severe crisis" facing his country. Romanian economic and political affairs were in a state of disarray, Pastor Negrut said. And the government of the ruling National Salvation Front, which assumed power after the overthrow and execution of President Nicholae Ceausescu last December, had failed to tackle effectively the legacy of religious oppression carried over from the old regime.
Concern was being expressed by churchmen in Romania that the old ministry of culture, which had controlled the country's religious organisations under Ceausescu, had been
replaced with a ministry of religious affairs staffed by many of the same officials, Pastor Negrut said.
The new ministry was several times the size of the old, Pastor Negrut explained, having more than six different departments where before there had been two. The official who had had responsibility for the evangelical churches during the Ceausescu years was still in his post, he said.
"1 don't know why they need such a large staff to supervise churches that are supposed to be free," Pastor Negrut said.
The revolution had been a spiritual one which had begun with people singing Christian songs in support of the dissident Pastor Laslo Takes in Tirnisoara. But the expectation that moves towards religious freedom would keep pace with events had so far not been realised, he said.
Churches had not yet been
granted the right to possess printing presses, Pastor Negrut reported. And although the restoration of the freedom to teach religion in the schools would prove popular, the National Salvation Front has so far declined to issue a clear statement as to when this would take place.
Restrictions on the building of churches imposed under the old regime have not yet been fully lifted, Pastor Negrut noted. And he added that the church buildings now in use were often too small for the numbers wishing to attend services. The scarcity of financial resources in the country meant that there was little left over for restoration and the building of new churches.
Commenting on the appalling conditions in many of Romania's orphanages, Pastor Negrut, who is supervising the administration of supplies to orphanages in the region of Bihar, said that immediate action was needed to bring standards to acceptable levels.
Many of the children in the orphanages have been infected with the AIDS virus as a result of the constant re-use of needles in injections, the pastor said. And he called on institutions in the west to adopt individual Romanian orphanages to assist them in their efforts to overcome the years of neglect suffered under Ceausescu.
Pastor Negrut criticised some church leaders in Romania for their willingness to switch allegiances to the new government as soon as it became clear where power would lie. He cited the former Orthodox patriarch Arapasu Teoctist, who had declared his admiration for Ceausescu only days before appearing on television to support the new government.
But Pastor Negrut expressed his admiration for leaders of the Catholic Church in Romania.