Moldova, The Catholic Church in
MOLDOVA, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
The Republic of Moldova is located in eastern Europe, and is bound on the north and east by Ukraine, and on the south and west by Romania. A landlocked region, Moldova is characterized by hilly steppe areas rising to the Carpathian Mountains in the east. The region's mild climate and fertile soil make it excellent for agriculture: among the crops grown are grapes, tobacco, grains, sugar beets and fruits and vegetables. In contrast to its abundant agricultural potential, the region's natural resources are limited, consisting mainly of lignite, phosphorites and gypsum. Wine, tobacco and fruits and vegetables were the basis of the region's economy in 2000.
Known as Bessarabia until it proclaimed independence from Russia in 1917 as the Moldavian Republic, the region was annexed to Romania under the Treaty of Versailles in 1918. In 1940 it was occupied by the USSR and renamed the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. Despite a brief occupation by German troops from 1941–44, the region remained under Soviet control until the fall of the USSR in 1991. A new constitution defined the region as a parliamentary republic, and elections were held in 1994. Attempting to establish the new government of Moldova, the region's new democratic leaders weathered unsuccessful secessionist movements in the east (Transnistria) and the south (Gagauzia), before being financially hampered in 1998 by a decline in the Russian economy, on which the country was dependent for trade. Corruption, organized crime and poverty remained problems in the region through 2000.
History. The region's Christian origins can be traced to the Roman occupation of Dacia (modern Romania, Bulgaria and Serbia) and the movement of Roman colonists during the 2nd century. Romans left the region in 271, after which Huns, Slavs, Magyars and Mongols passed across the region, some ruling for brief periods. Hungary expanded into the area in the 13th century and ruled until the region declared its independence under Prince Bogdan in 1349. Bodgan established the principality of Bogdania, later renamed Moldavia, which extended from the Carpathian Mountains east to the Dniester River. Under Constantinople since Roman times, Moldavia remained predominately Orthodox, its patriarchate in Bucharest.
By the late 15th century most of southeastern Europe was under the control of Turkish invaders and Moldavia fell to their incursions in 1512. For the next three centuries it existed as a tributary state ruled by representatives of the Ottoman Empire, and also suffered through invasions by Turks, Tatars and Russians. During this upheaval, the Orthodox Church remained steadfast in its efforts to preserve both Christianity and regional culture from the incursions of Islam and other religions. The region was a point of contention between the Turks and the Russians through most of the 18th century, and in 1792 the Ottomans finally withdrew. Most of far-eastern Moldavia was ceded to Russia by the Treaty of Bucharest following the end of the Russo-Turkish war (1806–12); the rest, the region known as Bessarabia, was ceded to Romania by the Turks in 1918. Of the territory gained by Romania, that west of the Prut River was united with Walachia and permanently incorporated into Romania, while that to the east had a more difficult future. Despite the political lines drawn through the region, most of the population of the region to the east of the Prut, ethnic Romanians, retained their affiliation with the Romanian Orthodox Church— and Romanian culture—into the 20th century.
Eastern Moldavia remained under Russian control through the rest of the 19th century, during which time it was subjected to a policy of Russification. In reaction, a nationalist movement had taken root by 1905, and this group seized the opportunity, during the Russian revolution of 1917, to declare independence as the Moldavian Republic. Unfortunately, this independence did not last long: in 1924 the region was incorporated into the USSR as an autonomous soviet republic, and in 1940 was rejoined to the Bessarabian lands held by Romania since the Turkish withdrawal, thus creating the boundaries of the modern state. A focus of Romanian aggression in World War II, the region remained under Soviet control—disputed for decades by Romania— until the fall of the USSR in 1991.
The communist government strictly limited the activities of all religions, including the Romanian Orthodox Church, and worked to ultimately quash all religious activity. During the early 1940s most Orthodox churches and monasteries in the region were confiscated by the state and either demolished or converted to other uses,
some even becoming warehouses. Clergy were put under constant observation, harassed and often punished for practicing their faith. As communism evolved, the role of the Russian Orthodox Church increased throughout the Soviet Union, and it eventually absorbed the Orthodox Church in Moldavia, as it absorbed similar churches throughout the Soviet sphere. Although by the 1950s Soviet dictator Josef Stalin had lifted much of the persecution with respect to the favored Russian Orthodox Church, other churches were not so fortunate, and many Latin-rite Catholics were forced to practice their faith "underground." Ethnic Ukrainians living in the region east of the Dniester River, most members of the Ukrainian-Greek Catholic Church, were put in such a situation when the government declared their Church illegal and forcibly united it with the Russian Orthodox Church in 1946.
An Independent Moldova. By the late 1980s many of the Soviet republics were experiencing Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika as a rising nationalism, and Moldavia was no different. In August of 1989, unopposed by local communist officials, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of the capital, demanding freedoms and official status for the Moldavian language. In the late summer of 1991 Boris Yeltsin staged a bloodless coup against the Gorbachev government, resulting in confusion throughout the now-disintegrating USSR. As 400,000 marchers took to the streets in Chisinau, Soviet attempts to impose a state of emergency in Moldavia were repulsed by the region's own government, and on Aug. 27, 1991 Moldova declared its independence from the Soviet Union. This action sparked a second move for independence, as Transnistria, the region to the east of the Dniester River that was home to a Ukranian/Russian majority, attempted to separate from the ethnic Romanian west. As tensions flared in Transnistria in 1992, Soviet troops entered the region to support the separatists. In response, the fledgling nation of Moldova reinforced its military, hoping to avert a spread of violence into the rest of the country. After a new constitution was promulgated on July 28, 1994, that clearly granted the "preservation, development and expression of ethnic and linguistic identity," and which gave Transnistria autonomous status, a cease-fire was negotiated and Moscow agreed to withdraw its 14th Army in 1995. The first multiparty presidential elections were held in Moldova in 1997.
A Divided Orthodoxy. During the Russification process that was ongoing during communist rule, the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow patriarchate) had been given almost complete jurisdiction over all Orthodox formerly under the patriarchate in Bucharest, and at independence had 853 churches and 11 monasteries still under its control. In late 1992, the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia issued a decree upgrading the eparchy of Chisinau and Moldova to a metropolitan see. In contrast to the vigor of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Old Russian Orthodox Church (Old Believers) had only 14 churches and one monastery in the country, while the small Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church remained a tiny minority in the east. Other religious denominations that survived decades of Soviet oppression included the Armenian Apostolic Church, Seventh-Day Adventists, Baptists, Pentecostals and Molokans (a Russian Orthodox sect); by 2000 nine synagogues had been restored for use by the country's small Jewish community.
Legislation passed in 1992 guaranteed religious freedom but also required that all religious groups be officially registered with the government. Laws were also passed to prohibit proselytization, a protection primarily for the Russian Orthodox Church in the face of the country's new spiritual independence, although these laws were amended in 1999. While over 98 percent of the population declared themselves Orthodox, during a post-communist resurgence of religious fervor, many Orthodox with ties to Romania wished to return to the Bucharest patriarchate. In appeasement, the Moscow patriarchate granted autonomous status to its Moldovan diocese, hoping to retain its hold over the new country. However, the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church decided in December of 1992 to reconstitute its own metropolitanate of Bessarabia in the same territory. Thus Orthodoxy in Moldova was split between two rival jurisdictions, the great majority of parishes remaining loyal to Moscow. By 2000 the Moscow patriarchate claimed over 1,000 parishes, while the Bucharest patriarchate declared only 100. The newly reconstituted Bessarabian Orthodox Church made four efforts at registration with the government in the decade after independence; each time its application was refused, the government claiming it a "schismatic movement" and listing unresolved claims against church property.
Into the 21st Century. The Moldovan Orthodox Church remained the predominate religion in the country in 2000, and as such it was at the forefront of efforts to promote Christian values within a country secularized as a result of decades of communist rule. In November of 2000 it flexed its muscle by announcing that it would excommunicate any member of parliament voting in favor of a proposed law legalizing abortion, a law intended to extend the Soviet policy of the pre-independence period. Ukrainian Greek Catholics, who sided with the Orthodox in this matter, remained a small minority unrecognized by the state; by 2000 they had fewer than ten parishes, tended by six diocesan and seven religious priests and 20 sisters. In addition, a small number of Latin-rite Catholics were living in the country, most of Polish or German descent. While there were no Catholic or other Christian schools operating in Moldova, beginning in 2000, instruction in the Christian faith was made mandatory in the country's state-run primary schools, and optional for older students. As the nation moved into a new century, the construction of new churches and the restoration of over a hundred existing but damaged religious buildings was soon under way, although clergy remained in short supply throughout the country.
Bibliography: p. mojzes, Religious Liberty in Eastern Europe and the USSR: Before and After the Great Transformation (Boulder, CO 1992). s. p. ramet, Nihil Obstat: Religion, Politics, and Social Change in East-Central Europe and Russia (Durham, NC 1998).