Yet another Greek-Catholic property dispute: Siseşti Greek-Catholic Parish v Romania

And it’s back to something less exciting…

The Romanian Greek-Catholic Church [Biserica Română Unită cu Roma, Greco-Catolică] is one of the Eastern-rite sui iuris jurisdictions in communion with the Roman Pontiff. The Siseşti Parish brought an action to recover possession of property confiscated from it when the Greek-Catholic Church was dissolved by the Communist regime in 1948. At the dissolution the Church’s property had been transferred to the state, apart from parish property, which was transferred to the Orthodox Church.

The Greek-Catholic Church was officially recognised again after the fall of Ceaușescu in December 1989. As regards the legal position of former Greek-Catholic property, the Legislative Decree laid down that disputes should be adjudicated by joint commissions of representatives of the clergy of both denominations and that, in reaching their decisions, the commissions should take account of “the wishes of the adherents of the communities to whom the properties belong”. In the event of disagreement between the clerical representatives, proceedings could be commenced under ordinary domestic law.

The facts

Between 1998 and 2002 several unproductive meetings were held by representatives of the Siseşti Parish and Orthodox Church representatives. Siseşti Parish brought proceedings in the domestic courts and in 24 February 2004 its action was initially dismissed under a final judgment of the Supreme Court of Justice, on the ground that the commission had not yet assessed the legal situation of the property and that, moreover, part of that property came under special legislation. In April 2005 Siseşti lodged a fresh claim with the Regional Court to recover possession, claiming rightful ownership of the property. The claim was dismissed, after which the Court of Appeal referred the case back. The Regional Court then adjourned consideration from June 2008 to February 2009 on the ground that an objection as regards constitutionality had been transmitted to the Constitutional Court. In September 2011 the court ordered the restitution of the church and the land at issue. The appeals lodged by both parties were dismissed. By judgment of 21 November 2012 the High Court upheld those decisions.

Relying on Article 6 § 1 (fair hearing), Article 9 (thought, conscience and religion), Article 1 of Protocol No 1 (property), separately or in conjunction with Article 13 (effective remedy) and Article 14 (discrimination), in Siseşti Greek Catholic Parish v Romania [2015] ECHR 973 the parish complained of the legal uncertainty arising from the way in which the domestic courts had adjudicated its claims to recover possession of its places of worship and the length of the proceedings. It also complained of a discriminatory breach of its right to respect for its religion and property and the lack of any domestic remedy.

The Government contended that, as a result of the action for repossession the parish had secured the restitution its the place of intended worship and the adjoining land and stressed that by August 2012, the applicant parish was actually in possession of its real estate [28]. The parish, on the other hand, argued that it was still victim of the alleged violations: following the internal procedures – which it regarded as excessively long – it had received only partial recognition of the alleged violations, that it had still not obtained restitution of all the immovable property to which it had laid claim before the domestic courts, that all the disputed property, including agricultural and forestry land, was part of its heritage and that the material and moral injury caused by the alleged violations had not been adequately compensated [29].

The judgment

The Third Section was satisfied with the review of the matter by the domestic courts and considered that they had acknowledged, at least in substance, the violations of Articles 6 and 9 and of Article 1 of Protocol No 1. As to the adequacy of the relief offered, the parish had had access to a court and had obtained restitution of its place of worship. The Court therefore concluded that, in the circumstances, there had been adequate and sufficient reparation [35]. However, the protracted length of the proceedings had violated Article 6 § 1 [48].

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Currently, there are two similar cases pending: Greek-Catholic Parishes Comana de Jos (no. 35795/03) and Greek-Catholic Parish Sura Mica (Sibiu) (no. 46347/08).

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Yet another Greek-Catholic property dispute: Siseşti Greek-Catholic Parish v Romania" in Law & Religion UK, 5 November 2015, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2015/11/05/yet-another-greek-catholic-property-dispute-sisesti-greek-catholic-parish-v-romania/

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