Two churches at war in the land of Dracula
CHRIS STEPHEN IN BUZAS, TRANSYLVANIA
WHEN Dumitru Butuza's wife died earlier this year, the Transylvanian farmer went to his village priest to ask that the church bell be rung, a tradition in this part of Romania. The priest refused: he is an Orthodox Christian, while Mr Butuza is a Catholic.
Mr Butuza's reaction was to take matters into his own hands. Determined to honour his wife, he went to the church belfry and pushed the button that activates the bells. The priest responded by calling the police. Officers arrived, bundled Mr Butuza, 71, into a squad car and then threw him in jail, charging him with burglary.
He was later released without charge, but the incident is one of hundreds in an undeclared war between members of the Catholic and Orthodox churches raging through this region of forests and mountains.
The cause of the unrest is simple. When the Communists seized power in Romania after the Second World War, they banned Catholicism, then transferred more than 2,000 Catholic churches to Orthodox control. Now the Catholics want those churches back, but in all but a handful of cases, the Orthodox church has said no.
Catholics have been trying to reclaim their churches ever since the Communists were overthrown in the 1989 revolution.
A restitution law passed in 2002 has allowed Romanians to reclaim property confiscated by the Communists, most notably the so-called Castle Dracula at Bran, the country's top tourist spot, which was handed back earlier this year to a member of the Austrian Habsburg family.
But in apparent deference to the wishes of the Orthodox Church, a powerful force in today's Romania, the 2002 law made an exception for Catholic churches. As a result, a total of 2,200 Catholic properties remain in Orthodox hands.