‘Unauthorised’ clergy, criminal sanctions and Article 9 ECHR: Tothpal and Szabo


Romanian criminal law makes it an offence to act as a cleric without due authorisation from a religious organisation. Article 23 § 4 of Law no 489/2006 provides that:

“The exercise of the priestly office or any other function that involves the exercise of the priestly prerogatives without the authorisation or the explicit agreement of religious structures with or without legal personality shall be punished as provided criminal law”[28].

Furthermore, Article 281 of the former Romanian Criminal Code, in force until 1 February 2014 – which was carried over into the current Penal Code as Article 348 – made the illegal practice of a profession an offence, in these terms:

“The illegal practice of a profession or any other activity for which the law requires an authorisation … shall be punished with imprisonment [ranging] from one month to one year or a fine” [29 & 30].

In Tothpal and Szabo v Romania [2019] ECHR 157 (French only), the Court considered applications from two ministers, Bela Tothpal and Csongor Szabo, who had been suspended from the exercise of ministry by their respective Churches. Because of the similarity of the facts, the cases were joined under Article 42(1) of the Rules. Continue reading