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Romania: The hypocrisy of public financing of the Church

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.nineoclock.ro/the-hypocrisy-of-public-financing-of-the-church/ The hypocrisy of public financing of the Church April 11th, 2013 USL MP Remus
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 12, 2013
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      http://www.nineoclock.ro/the-hypocrisy-of-public-financing-of-the-church/

      The hypocrisy of public financing of the Church
      April 11th, 2013

      USL MP Remus Cernea’s proposal of financing the religious denominations
      by having each taxpayer earmark a part of the income tax to the
      denomination he or she belongs to has scandalized both the Orthodox
      Church and most of the political class.

      Apart from the hysterical reactions that some religious representatives
      and politicians have had (“Remus Cernea is an idiot… I’ll break his
      legs,” Radu Mazare said), maybe it’s time for us, as a secular society
      that seeks to be modern and European to hold an honest and transparent
      debate on the current relation between state and church. And, in the
      most democratic way, maybe to put this initiative up for popular
      consultation through a referendum. The most correct way in which we
      could separate Church and state for good would be by clearly
      circumscribing the relations between politics and religion and this
      could be done very clearly by eliminating the financing of the Church
      from public funds managed by politicians.

      Cernea’s proposal, as long as it would be correctly given media coverage
      and explained to the public in its wholeness not in the alarmist fashion
      it was presented by the tabloid media, as a project that does not attack
      the Church but that offers a transparent financing mechanism based on
      individual and voluntary contributions (not imposed unilaterally as
      happens now), would stand a chance if not of being successful in the
      first stage then at least of changing the Romanians’ retarded
      mentalities towards their relations with the Church.

      In today’s Romania, a country in which the large majority of the
      population is Orthodox Christian, priests have the same influence on
      churchgoers as they had one hundred years ago. This is due to the fact
      that many people confuse religion with the bureaucratic institution of
      the Church but particularly to the lack of education. And this is the
      reason why politicians don’t want to jeopardise their relations with the
      very influential clergy. A hand washes another, as they say…As a
      trade-off, most educated Romanians who declare themselves religious
      agree with giving up the financing of the Church from public funds. And
      both politicians and priests would be surprised to find out that a
      significant percentage of elderly persons, considered the most
      religious, embrace this idea. Romania is a backward country from many
      points of view, as shown by most statistics on living standards,
      education, population’s health, life expectation and infant mortality.
      As a coincidence, in the issue we published yesterday we presented a
      UNICEF study that placed Romania at the bottom of a 29-country table in
      which austerity policies affect children. The poverty caused by the
      previous governments’ chaotic and inhumane policies has seriously
      affected children and has led to a 40 per cent hike in the cases of
      desertion of children. While it showed ruthlessness towards Romanians,
      cutting the public sector employees’ salaries by a quarter and the
      social benefits, the Basescu – Boc right-wing government showed a lot of
      generosity towards the Church, hiking the salaries of clerical
      employees, priests and auxiliary personnel alike. The precarious
      conditions in which numerous families are living in Romania, where the
      poverty rate approaches 50 per cent (46 per cent in June 2012, the
      highest rate in the EU), especially in rural areas, do not seem to
      represent such a big concern, neither for politicians nor for the heads
      of the Orthodox Church. According to a survey conducted last year by the
      National Trade Union Bloc, children are worst affected by poverty and
      social exclusion, 48.7 per cent of them being in this situation,
      compared to 39 per cent of the working-age population and 39.9 per cent
      of the 65+ age group. In 2011, while 1,500 mothers were abandoning their
      children because of the dire poverty, the PDL government was hiking the
      state’s contribution to the clerical employees’ salaries by no less than
      30 per cent. Nevertheless, Romanian Patriarchy representatives claim
      that the priests have “the lowest” salaries in Romania. “A debutant
      priest has a salary of RON 1,100, while the salary of a priest that has
      all professional degrees reaches RON 1,800 – 1,900, which is very
      little,” the Patriarchy stated last year. But there are 35,000 priests
      and the auxiliary personnel totals another 15,000. To that one has to
      add the salaries of bishops, which vary from RON 6,200 in the case of
      substitute bishops to RON 7,567 in the case of metropolitan bishops. The
      Patriarch earns RON 8,200, more than the Romanian President. In
      contrast, a resident physician has a salary of RON 700 per month, a
      little over the minimum salary. The third-world salaries paid in the
      health system are the main cause of the generalized corruption there and
      of the mass exodus of physicians. If we are to compare the financial
      situation of a debutant physician to that of a debutant priest the
      latter would be the net winner. According to the College of Physicians,
      most resident medics cannot afford a house and still live in students’
      hostels, while priests not only have free “work” homes but also a
      multitude of privileges and extra revenues which are undeclared, untaxed
      and greatly profitable. Romania has more churches than schools and
      hospitals and churches continue to be built (take for example the
      Pharaonic construction of the National Cathedral, which costs EUR 120
      M). While the number of physicians has dropped to 39,000, clerical
      employees total over 55,000. This is the reality. The Patriarchy’s
      argument for the financing of religious denominations from the state
      budget is that the state owes the Church as a result of the
      secularization of the monasteries’ properties in 1863. However, is that
      a valid argument? This calls for a debate between historians, clerics
      and, last but not least, financial experts. It would be very useful for
      a financial expert to calculate how many times the Orthodox Church’s
      properties were paid back during the 150 years in which the state
      financed the Church. In my opinion they were paid back at least several
      times their worth. Nevertheless, the Church claims that it has the right
      to be given the properties back in full in case the financing from
      public funds is dropped. It’s important to know that the measure adopted
      in 1863, four years after the Principalities united, was fundamental for
      the formation of the Romanian state, since one quarter of the country’s
      arable land belonged to monasteries that were under preponderantly Greek
      influence. These properties were generating annual revenues of
      approximately 7 million Francs, money that were taken abroad and that
      the Greek monks were spending without being held accountable by the
      authorities and without bringing a real benefit to Romanians. Hence, why
      does the Romanian Orthodox Church consider it would be so bad for every
      Romanian citizen to be given the right to choose what religious
      denomination to finance, or, if he is an atheist (there are around
      23,000 atheists), not to be forced to pay for a denomination he does not
      believe in? Especially since the Orthodox Church would be the net
      winner, considering that 86 per cent of the citizens are Orthodox.
      Moreover, as shown by a GfK survey, 29 per cent of taxpayers that
      redirect 2 per cent of their income tax for charitable purposes prefer
      the Church and its various foundations (SMURD is next with 10 per cent,
      Save the Children with 9 per cent, Children in Need with 6 per cent, Red
      Cross with 6 per cent). The Patriarchy is showing that Remus Cernea’s
      draft law is “unrealistic and inadequate” for the “current” Romanian
      context, being of the opinion that it would not solve the economic
      crisis but would on the contrary create “a crisis in the relation
      between the state and religious denominations.” Priesthood should be a
      profession of faith, a spiritual calling. However, in today’s Romania
      priesthood has become a trade, and a profitable one at that, and the
      priests, well aware of this, are reluctant to give up any of their
      privileges. With all due respect for the priests that have the calling
      and values of Orthodoxy, it’s clear that the Church is going through a
      crisis of morality and is proving to be hypocritical when it opposes
      rendering its finances transparent.

      The Orthodox Church’s worth is estimated at some EU4 billion euros and
      to continue to ask for money from all taxpayers, irrespective of their
      religious affiliation, is proof of hypocrisy.
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