Yet another church property dispute: Greek-Catholic Parish of Lupeni & Ors v Romania

The applicants, the Greek-Catholic Parish of Lupeni, the Diocese of Lugoj and the Archpriesthood of Lupeni, sought the restitution of property belonging to the Church that had been transferred to the Orthodox Church under the Ceaușescu regime.

The Greek-Catholic Church of Romania [Biserica Română Unită cu Roma, Greco-Catolică] was dissolved by Nicolai Ceaușescu and its property expropriated to the Orthodox Church by decree. After the fall of Ceaușescu in 1989, Legislative Decree No. 126/1990 was passed to provide that the legal status of property which had belonged to the Greek-Catholic Church would be determined by joint commissions comprising representatives of both the Greek-Catholic and Orthodox Churches, taking account of the “wishes of the adherents of the communities which own these properties”. In the event of disagreement, a party with an interest in bringing proceedings could do so under ordinary law. 

In 2009 the applicants were successful at first instance; but that decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal in 2010. By final judgment of 15 June 2011, the Supreme Court held that the Court of Appeal had been correct in applying the criterion of the wishes of the (mostly Orthodox) congregation that owned the building and that the reasoning of the first-instance court had been defective because it had merely looked at the title deeds without reference to the special legislation.

In Greek-Catholic Parish of Lupeni & Ors v Romania [2015] ECHR 487 [French only] the applicants complained of the infringement of their right of access to a tribunal and of the principle of legal certainty under Article 6 § 1 ECHR (fair trial within a reasonable time). They also complained about the length of the restitution procedure. They further contended that the judgment of the Supreme Court had violated their right of respect for their property, contrary to Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 and their freedom of religion contrary to Article 9. They also argued that the decision was a violation of the prohibition of discrimination under Article 14.

The Third Section held unanimously that there had been:

  • no violation of Article 6 § 1 as regards the right of access to a court and the question of legal certainty;
  • a violation of Article 6 § 1 concerning the length of proceedings; and
  • no violation of Article 14 in conjunction with Article 6 § 1.

The Court found in particular that the mere fact that the applicants considered the criterion laid down in a special law (Legislative Decree no. 126/1990) unfair was insufficient to render their right of access to a court ineffective.

It further held that the Romanian courts had weighed up the interests at stake and delivered detailed judgments containing reasons. Reiterating the role of states parties as the neutral and impartial organiser of the practice of religions, the Court noted that the Constitutional Court had emphasised the need to protect the freedom of religious communities and the freedom of others, while having due regard to the historical background to the case.

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Yet another church property dispute: Greek-Catholic Parish of Lupeni & Ors v Romania" in Law & Religion UK, 19 May 2015, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2015/05/19/yet-another-church-property-dispute-greek-catholic-parish-of-lupeni-ors-v-romania/

3 thoughts on “Yet another church property dispute: Greek-Catholic Parish of Lupeni & Ors v Romania

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